Lighting Winter Containers

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The most obvious sign that winter has arrived is the coming of the dark.  By 5pm, our natural light is waning.  If I leave work at 6pm, it is dark outside.  If I leave home at 6am, it is dark.  The dark and the cold can weigh heavily on one’s spirits. No wonder that many people express and celebrate the holiday season with lighting in some form or another.  I have long thought that seasonal lighting is a form of gardening.  I am not in my garden much now, nor will I be for the next 3 months.  The winter garden is not a place to be, it is a place to view passing by, or view from in doors. The winter season has a beauty all its own.  The bare trees and shrubs in the garden have a starkly sculptural appeal. The dried flower heads of hydrangeas are a warm brown-in a mass, dormant hydrangeas are beautiful.  Provided that one can see them. Beautiful lighting in the landscape is an important aspect of good design.  It consoles the spirit of the gardener who has been forced indoors for the duration.

RY winter pots 2014  2If you have ever been to Detroit Garden Works, you know who Rob is.  He does all of the buying for the shop, and is a very talented designer who has helped countless gardeners select ornament, furniture and containers for their garden. At this time of year, he helps people to design their winter and holiday containers. He also creates winter arrangements for clients.  He has an abiding interest in lighting.  He takes great care to redo the lighting in the shop every season.  He has designed lighting sculptures that make a visual statement with a minimum of effort.  One of his steel light rings hung from a tree in the winter is beautiful in the most simple way. Hang it up, and plug it in, and enjoy both its form, and its illumination.  A second series of light rings have a stand comprised of 4 steel rods that can be driven into the ground.  Strategically placed in a garden bed, or in the grass, that ring will light whatever is within range. Over the years, his lighted sculptures have been created from topiary forms and found objects. Invariably, the containers he creates for clients have some form of lighting as a key component.

RY winter pots 2014  5Given that we have just as much night time as day time, planning a seasonal container that has a presence in the dark only makes sense.  We carry brown corded holiday lighting in a number of different lengths.  The brown cords are much less noticeable during the day than the usual green corded mini lights. For these pots, he cut the tops off of a pair of rusted steel cone shaped plant climbers.  This provides an armature for the light string that is floating above the greens.  The steel top ring has been covered in grapevine- the light cords blend right in.  A strand of lights encircles the pussy willow centerpiece.  This light from the bottom helps to make the centerpiece read well at night.

RY winter pots  3I have no idea where these containers will be placed, but wherever that is, they will help light the way. I have a large container which I will light for the winter next to the stairs that go from my deck into the yard.  Should I take the dogs out after dark, I can see my way down those stairs. I do have down lights in my trees, so I can enjoy the landscape at night and from inside.  The additional light from that container puts a little light closer to ground level.  These winter pots will have the same effect.

RY winter pots 2014Even indoors in the garage, the halo light in these containers has a strong visual presence. If the person who ordered these containers is anything like me, they will run the lights all winter, until the days begin to get longer. A lighted winter landscape is a pleasure indeed.

RY winter pots  2014  4early evening

RY winter pots  2014  6mid evening

RY winter pots 2014  6the light at night

Merry Christmas, Luca Della Robbia style

delle-robbia-wreath.jpgAn Italian sculptor named Luca Della Robbia produced many charming works in glazed terra cotta from 1400-1475.  Many of his plaques featured frames depicting fruits and vegetables.  This style of decoration still persists centuries later, in a style of Christmas decorating known in this country as the Williamsburg style.  Someday I would like to go there at the holidays, and see all of the wreaths and architectural elements decorated with the fruits of the harvest and holiday season.  Though the Willamsburg decor is traditionally done with real fruits and vegetables, my interpretation of the style makes use of faux fruit.  The fruit in the above wreath is produced from a weighted core, and a rubbery, almost waxy outer layer.  The color and texture is incredibly realistic.  This magnolia della robbia wreath, with proper care thast protects the dry magnolia leaves, will last many years.

holiday lighting.jpgWhy am I thinking about the della robbia style?  Rob made me 2 sets of Christmas lights-one for my tree and one for my mantel.  The red, yellow and green lights have a remarkably jewel like glow.  They so remind me of the Christmas trees I remember from my childhood.  Those big glowing lights on on our Christmas tree were enchanting.  Seeing anything through a child’s eyes is a way of seeing like no other.  How would I decorate my tree to make the most of these extraordinary lights?  It seemed a natural choice to pair this color and texture with a mantel and tree decorated with ornament of a similar feeling.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy holiday tree does not have ornament with an intrinsic history.  No objects which provoke memories, in and of themselves.    I actually like it that way.  I like having the option to decide on a scheme or a theme that is quite different than the previous year. The challenge of creating a display that reflects the immediate sentiments, importance, and aura of the season is an activity I enjoy.  When the seasonal work for clients comes to a close, it is time to go home, and create a little holiday spirit of my own.

trimming-the-tree.jpgThe della robbia tree had a modest beginning.  A Christmas tree, an evergreen garland, plastic ornament balls in lime green, and lots of faux fruit.  Having been laid low by the worst cold in a decade, Steve saw to getting the tree and mantel garland up, and the ornaments on the tree.  Angie stuck the large fruits with floral picks; it is vastly easier to secure a stick than a heavy round slippery fruit. The rest would be up to me.  For the better part of a day, I worried I might not have the strength to decorate our tree.  Funny how once a project captures your interest, troubles fall away.   Early on it became apparent that the big fruits could not go on the tree.  They were much too heavy.  The big fruits would have to go on the mantel.

Christmas-tree.jpgThe mantel garland was secured around a thick bamboo pole, and secured to the weighty metal mantel lights with zip ties.  I managed to find spots in the evergreen garland that would grip the picks.  As for the tree, I had to change gears. A trip to English Gardens yielded 10 boxes of dark red glass ornament balls.  Miniature limes and green apples could easily be fastened to the tree-after Buck wired bag after bag of them for me.  40 red berry picks, when taken apart, yielded 480 individual berries.  Other bits included 6 boxes of shiny lime green mini berry clusters.

Christmas-tree.jpgI like a Christmas tree that still looks like a tree, even after it is decorated.  This involved wiring on many small bits.  Big bits can engulf a Christmas tree.  I favor lots and lots of just a few types of little things.

decorated-tree.jpgI attached the red berry balls to the tips of as many branches as I could.  At the time of this writing, I still have about fifty to go.

holiday-mantel.jpgThe tree and mantel only have 30 lights, but the bulbs are big, and make an impression.  How this feels to me is nostalgic and warm-just how I like to celebrate the season.

holioday-tree.jpgI owe the look to the inspiration provided by Rob’s lights.  May your holiday be just as warm and bright as mine has turned out to be.

The Details: A Story Board

glass-drops.jpgPart 3 of my tutorial about the construction of  winter containers has to do with bringing the special details to life.  Evergreens stuck into a foam form the base of the winter container.  A structure upon which to build.  A centerpiece, no matter whether it is tied up tight and of a piece, or stuck individually, provides an element upon which to focus.  Up next-the details.

evergreens-destined-for-a-winter-pot.jpgA blank canvas can be lush in and of itself, but it asks for those details that make for an individual design.  The third element of any winter pot-those thoughtfully constructed and expressed finishing details.  Pistou is a vegetable soup of French origin, , made with vegetables, various beans, and small macaroni.  This is an overview- their are many individual recipes.  Upon serving, the soup is topped with a large dollop of basil pesto which is showered with grated parmesan cheese.  The addition of the pesto and its parmesan  is an individually imagined finish.  Pistou has no end of recipes, should you look it up on line.  Individual chefs individually imagine and cook the soup, and finish it to their taste.  The finish of your winter containers should reflect your own particular point of view.

light-rings.jpgA winter container has several elements, each of which are interpreted by the gardener in charge.  The finish is about the fine tuning.  The little bits that take construction to another level.  Those little bits can be imagined, and sorted out in the shelter provided by the garage.  These winter pots included light rings on stands of Rob’s invention, stout cut twigs, garland lights, big C-9 light strands, and glass drops.

lighted-topiary-form.jpgSummer topiary forms which provides a climbing venue for mandevillea vines in the summer are strung with garland light vines for the winter.

holiday-garland.jpgA thick evergreen garland is wrapped with grapevine.  Loose and loopy.  The materials are as subtle as they are simple.

winter-container.jpgThis container features one of Rob’s light rings constructed on a stand.  The branches we cut from a tree at our Branch property.  The glass drops will pick up the light from a string of 50 clear C-9 lights.  Part of the story board of these winter container involve light.  No, you cannot see the wires or the bulbs.  The big idea detailed on this story board-the twigs, the glass, and the light.  A story board is a group of images representing an idea.  Any creative expression should tell a story-from start to finish.

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winter garland

winter-container-arrangement.jpgThe story?  Welcome to winter.

 

Holiday Garden

holiday-decoration.jpgIt is no secret that I enjoy decorating the garden for the holidays.  The gardening season has come to a close-there are reasons to celebrate.  I am not watering,  grooming, transplanting, replacing, pruning or fertilizing.  This is a long way of saying I have respite from the chores that make the idea of a good garden a reality.  Though I was content to haul the hose around, I am equally pleased that it has been put away.

holiday-garland.jpgA lot of the work that goes into a landscape is as much fun as a dose of cod liver oil.  I have never been invited to a party to celebrate a grading project that eliminated a swampy spot in the yard.  Nor has any friend invited me to admire their new drain field.  A diehard gardening friend did invite me to admire the pruning on her front yard full of old oak trees-I don’t blame her.  I might not have noticed, had she not drawn my attention to it.   There is some sunlight in the yard now, and the work was very expensive-she wanted me to see.  The pruning was in her mind, just cause for celebration.

holiday-garland.jpgA garden decorated for the holidays is a whole other experience.  There is the opportunity to add some color to a landscape which has gone as gray as the winter skies.  Materials from the garden can be arranged in any configuration or shape without regard to lighting or growing conditions.  There is no planting, nor is there any watering.    Only at the winter holidays can I have a perfectly lush evergreen and perfectly spiralling grapevine growing over the doorway.  There are lots of things not available to me in the garden, but I can have whatever look I want for the winter.

holiday-decoration.jpgThe illusion of the decorated winter garden doesn’t ask for a skilled gardener.  A holiday display is not limited to the realm of possibility.  It is the one time of year I can have magnolia grandiflora, and sugar pine cones, red bud pussy willow,  and winterberry-each stem at their peak.  Each positioned in a display, just so.  All this garland requires is the support of the light fixture, and strategically placed masonry screws, and enough 22 gauge paddle wire to keep every element securely attached.

holiday-decoration.jpgFrost proof pots that had summer flowers are an obliging vehicle for an arrangement celebrating the season.  There are so many beautiful fresh cut materials available-twigs, berries, branches and greens.  The variegated boxwood I grew in a pot over the summer has gone into storage.  I worry it is not hardy in my zone, so I will protect it from my winter in an unheated but enclosed space.  I don’t have to worry about cut variegated boxwood in a winter arrangement.  The understanding is that this material has a shelf life.

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Growing a garden is one part skill, 3 parts hard work, 3 parts endurance and patience, and 3 parts luck. Sometimes even that is not enough. Plants routinely refuse to perform, even when given the best and most thoughtful care. The winter garden has no dead branches, or insect ravaged leaves.  A boxwood or lavender hedge with a dead plant right in the middle is an ordinary sight in a landscape.  No gardener has to put up with that in their winter arrangements.

holiday.jpgI have read the predictions that we will have a very cold, snowy, and lengthy winter.  That season usually begins in January.  I may take the holiday ornaments, picks and bows off after New Years, but my winter pots will keep visual company during those lengthy and dreary months.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy summer garden has little need for lighting beyond what the sun provides.  In the winter, every gardener has to fend for themselves.