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.

holiday-garland.jpg

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.

winter-container-arrangements.jpg
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.

 

The Holiday Inside

Rob’s branch trees have intrigued me for a number of years-I had to have one this year.  These branches came from some remote location where he walks Larry.  It was more than a few trips dragging these a quarter mile out of the woods.  That alone would be enough to make them precious, but the color and surface is really beautiful.  Old wood, as they say.  And certainly perfect for my sole Christmas tree ornaments-3 platinum colored plastic bead garlands.  I love the shapes they make when they are draped. 

Rob was also taken by battery operated LED lights and sticks this year.  He bought them by the caseload.  Very small LED lights on fine silver colored wire of differing lengths-what was not to like?  By the time I got interested in them, we were sold out.  But Restoration Hardware had bought them in by the boxcar load.  The picture on their website of birch branches wound round with these lights was all I needed to see. 

In more skilled hands, every tiny dot of light would look like it was floating.  Not that I didn’t try.  But these lights need much different handling than the traditional lights with their garland like cords.  I think with enough practice, I could delicately place the wire so every light would seem to float.

I also loved how RH paired these delicate lights with heavy vintage style glass ornaments.  Rob was a little taken aback that I would buy Christmas ornaments from another shop, but by the time I was ready to decorate a tree, Christmas was just a few days away.  I rarely carry ornaments that weigh this much in the shop.  They are too heavy for evergreen branches-a douglas fir with weighted branches is not such a swell look.  The primary drawback of most artificial trees is that they are so solid in outline that most of the ornaments lean on, rather than hang.   

Steve took multiple branches, and stuffed them into a terra cotta pot to create a tree like form.  The wood branches interlocked, making for a very strong structure.  The weight of the glass ornaments did not bother these branches a bit.  As each branch is mostly vertical, some ornaments I had to hang from very long wires.  I wanted the glass to appear to float too.

Buck watched with some interest as I layered ornament over ornament on the mantel.  The first groupings of glass had 3 or more ornaments, loosly wired together.  These were the ballast ornaments.  The smaller ornaments I piled on until I thought there was enough.  Next year I may ask for a mantel sized tray with short sides-just so I can pile things up with abandon. 

Another pile of glass is keeping Mary Hode’s stoneware cats amused.  The smoke and crackled glass looks great with my reticulated quartz spheres.

While I was getting the living room decorated, Buck was wrapping packages.  His boxes are impeccably covered with holiday paper.  Every seam meets perfectly.  He is incredibly consistent with this.  I am happy to botch the process, as long as that happens on the bottom.  My love is for what goes over the top of the paper.

All of his presents are wrapped differently, many of them with the bits and pieces from a junk drawer, a tool box, or the workroom shelf.  There’s this one, wrapped in a piece of black poster paper old enough to have faded to gray.

   

And there’s this one.

And there’s this one-with that same vintage poster paper. 

 I am ready, inside and out.  I only have to make sure that all of the lights are off at the shop, and that MCat isn’t stuck in the garage.  In a few minutes I will load up the corgis, Buck’s boxes, and the wreath for the front door.  We will meet at 6 for cocktails, and celebrate our Christmas.  I am ready, with 2 hours and 8 minutes to spare. 

Wishing you a very bright and sparkly holiday.