Christmas In February

 

At the end of the first week of January, I reluctantly took the Christmas light garlands draped around these pots down, and put them in storage.  After all, the holidays were over.  This year I was especially reluctant for the holiday season to end-we had had no snow.  Though the temperature was chilly, we were denied that one ingredient that in my mind makes for Christmas-the snow.   

This photograph with all of the lights blazing taken just before Christmas does seem to lack that special seasonal element-does it not?  I felt we were so ready for the snow-that snow that never came. 

Winters in Michigan are notable for their grey skies, and their abundance of snow.  For whatever reason, our clouds were dry as dust.  It looked for all the world like we had the heat up much too high-and unnecessarily.  We designed a winter display based on the norm for our winters.  The norm went into hiding. 

The collection and placement of these dried stalks of asparagus-Rob had an idea to fragment and diffuse an intense source of C-9 light with those stalks.  This is his version of snow or ice defining every branch distinctly-only that distinction was drawn with light.  Snow on the evergreen boughs in this window box would have added a whole other dimension to this arrangement.  Nature was not interested in cooperating.

I took photographs anyway.  But I so would have loved seeing the front of the shop buried in snow, with the lights running.  Who knows what that might have looked like. 

I took the lights down January 7.  But if you happened to drive by the shop in the past few days, you would have seen those lights going back on the containers.  Lest you think I have gone way over the deep end, Better Homes and Gardens has a photographer arriving Saturday to photograph some of my holiday and winter pots.  The lights had to go back on the pots, as they want to photograph them.   They were insistent that they wanted snow on all of the containers they wanted to photograph.  So the holiday lighting came out of storage. 

 Needless to say, we have been talking about this photo shoot for several months.  This snow squall in late January, just about our only snow this winter, lasted for all of about 3 hours.   2 weeks ago,  it looked like we might have snow showers tomorrow and Saturday.  The Chicago based photographer made some plans to travel-we were at a do or don’t moment.  They have 8 winter pots they want photographed.  Saturday. Who knew the weather would deliver in spades.  

This morning I read that our area has 5 to 8 inches coming tonight.  1 to 3 inches on Friday.  Snow squalls and cloudy skies on Saturday.  Mother nature suddenly has a mind to cooperate mind to cooperate in a big way.  8 inches, no kidding?  We loaded a truck today with props for the shoot, branches, snow shovels and brooms.  We loaded up a blower too.  If every pot is buried, we need to do a little uncovering.  I have already told everyone who works at the shop-do not walk across the lawn and come to the front door-take the side entrance.  The photographer has already asked for fresh snow, and not snow with boot prints.

A photograph of a garden in its finest moment bears no remote resemblance to a real garden.  But a beautiful garden photographed at its finest moment might encourage someone who has never gardened to give gardening a try. This is important to me.  Anyone who paints, photographs, gardens, writes, manages,  composes, sculpts, makes movies, or designs-  they all share this in common. That which gets created implies an audience.  There is a story over which a relationship can be forged.  I am so very pleased that we are about to get snow.  That snow means I will be in touch.

The Holiday Landscape: Design Details

 

 

Any design – whether it be landscape, garden or holiday design – pertinent to the front door involves much more than the door.  A front door comes with a house, that has a certain shape and size.  That door comes with a stoop or porch.  There is a walkway that gets you to that door.  There is a landscape that accompanies  that walk to the door.  Some doors have a portico, or a roof, or no shelter from the sky whatsoever. Some front doors are on the side of the house. Consideration of all these factors plays a big part in successful holiday design.  This is a house of considerable stature.  The drive court, walkway, and portico are all of a massive scale.  The house is a long way from the street.  Big and bright helps to make a holiday statement in proportion to all of the other existing elements.

The portico is massive, and supported by massive columns.  The door is somewhat dwarfed by the structure over head.  A garland, and integral wreath over the door visually lowers the ceiling.  The is a friendly gesture aimed at creating a more human scale.

The rectangular pots are large, and were designed to fit in between those columns.  A thicket of Cardinal red twig dogwood and berried Michigan holly stems makes a holiday statement that is visible from a long way away. There are but a four elements in these boxes, but there is a generous amount of each. These boxes also make that porch a more private space.   

This pair of front doors are painted a very dark grey.  The porch is wide, and very simple, as is the brick walk.  A pair of Belgian oak boxes are kept company by a pair of antique English chimney pots, and a single concrete French poodle.  The double ball moss topiaries with their twig top knots and vine swirls are 7 years old-they look great with that poodle.  This fall I added a new layer of moss to the old.  As the boxes are so large, I had no worry that the moss balls would be too big, given a new moss layer.  We stuffed mixed greens into the big boxes, and borth green and variegated English boxwood into the chimney pots.  A smaller scale green is a good choice for a smaller container. 

The dark doors asked for a detail that was light, or sparkly, or both.  I glued a pair of vintage gilded angel wings together via a wood plant label.  Short screws through both layers insured the wings would stay together.  A square of foam core board glued to the back was a base for a few layers of magnolia leaves.  A gold metallic bow in the middle speaks to the season.  This detail can be changed after New Years, as the pots will look welcoming all winter long. This detail endows the front door with the greetings of the season.

An asymmetrical placement of a front door asks for an asymmetrical treatment.  A low concrete planter with magnolia and red twig dogwood provides a compact landscape for a trio of nutcrackers.  The magnolia wreath on the front door-a third element providing holiday interest. 

These clients requested a winter theme for their containers.  The pussy willow centerpieces repeat the dark chocolate stain color of the concrete pots.  The curly willow provides a little loosely described volume without interfering to the access to the door.  The decor is very simple and understated, just like the door.  

This front door is part of a large porch which extends across the full width of the house.  The pots on either side of the door are always in shadow, given the roof of the porch.  A pair of pots integrated into the landscape provides an opportunity for winter interest at the half-way point from the sidewalk to the door.  These pots also provide a frame for a stately antique English sundial. This front yard brick terrace is a room of its own.  The stairs are a transition from that public space, to the more private porch space.  The central design issue here was all about making a drastic change of grade from the front yard to the front door seem graceful.

These containers are generously sized, and for good reason.


The house is tall, and a considerable distance from the street. The walkway to the front door originates at the driveway, and is laid parallel and close to the front of the house.  There is a vast amount of lawn between the street, and the front door.  These large pots with large winter arrangements provide a winter outfit for the entire house.

This front door has a small and intimate portico; the holiday garland makes much of this.  A holiday wreath on the glass storm door completes the look.


From the street, an entirely different feeling is at work.  A massive portico covers the front door, and its personal portico.  A pair of Christmas trees set in black ceramic pots make that door seem more important.  The firewood stacked outside and to the left of the front door adds visual interest, and balance, to the treatment of the doorway.  It is important to make much of the front door.  It is the friendliest gesture you might make to your guests.

This recessed front porch features a pair of wreaths hung from the iron fretwork of the pair of front doors.  The white glass ornaments in the wreaths echoes the white light covers on the tuteurs in the boxes.  A trio of coach lights makes this front door, and all that goes with it, seem all of a piece.

This big and rangy contemporary house features a very geometric and formally clipped landscape.  A pair of galvanized pots stuffed with Rob’s signature branches and weeds is a surprising effective foil for all this architecture.  The big idea here?  Study what you have.  Make no plans to cope.  Plan to shine.

Day And Night

 

 The shop this time of year is one of my favorite seasons-but that did not happen by accident.  For years I would watch the good gardening days winnow away, and dread the coming of the dark.  My late fall activites would center around cleaning up, putting away, cutting back, protecting-preparations for the desolation to come.  I still do this.  But there are ways to take the garden with you, when winter calls. 

The shop makes no bones about it-all of our materials and ornament relate in some way to the garden.  Mossed topiary cones can cover a favorite pot brought into the foyer for winter.  Lots of kinds of pine cones can find their way into winter garlands and pots; a plain oval pine cone wreath with a burlap box says gardener in residence.  Rob’s steel rings wrapped with brown corded lights can be hung from a tree branch in a dark corner of the garden. 

An amaryllis growing on a window sill is not only a comfort, they bloom spectacularly and triumphantly in the winter months.  We like them beautifully packaged in a growing kit for gift giving. 

I wish we could be open day and night, at this time of year.  Some materials look so beautiful on a sunny day, but we are fast approaching the time when our sunny days will be at a premium.  What looks good on a gloomy day, or a day that goes dark at 4pm in afternoon?  Faux white berry stems, anything red,  whitewashed eucalyptus, and glass look great outdoors on a grey day.   

This English made pot brush makes specific reference to the garden.  It is a sturdily made handcrafted object that needs to do nothing more than sit there, and be admired.  It reminds me of a place I very much like to be-that is enough.  It would be a great centerpiece for a kitchen table-dressed up with a bow for the holidays.    

Dried natural materials, subtly colored in greys, creams and browns, can be dramatic in winter arrangments, provided they are used in big enough numbers, or dramatically lit. 

Rob walks Larry every day in fields nearby.  It took numerous trips to collect enough milkweed pods to create this stunning arrangement which he then lit dramatically in the shop.  A single milkweed pod in a glass bottle can be just as interesting.  If you collect the pods as the seeds are emerging, they need to be lightly sprayed with Dri-Seal-a sealer specifically made for natural materials.  Otherwise, you will have milkweed seeds floating in the air-everywhere.   

I took these pictures of all of the rooms in the shop last night.  I like to have a record of what we do; this does look like the garden to me.  Rob set giant natural bleached branches into big pots filled with white play sand.  The sand holds the branches exactly where he wants them.  They are hung with paper, wire, and felt snowflakes, felt mushrooms, and stars, felt owls and birch bark balls.  Our pots are full of twine ball picks, berries, and assorted natural materials.        

 

I know there are people who read here that cannot stop by.  I hope these pictures of the spaces give a sense of the look of the shop now..  It is to my mind and hands, a big space-almost 10,000 square feet.  The work of creating a holiday or winter display, whether in a shop or in a home, involves lots of small objects and lots of time.  I only have so much time in a day.  I would rather devote more time to creating something from the season, as this leaves less time for for mourning the passing of the garden. My butterburr garden is flat to the gound, and mulched for the winter.  It is a big brown blob of a space; there is nothing to be done for it.  But nothing on earth is more forlorn than empty pots in the winter, as there is a season to celebrate on its way.  There is no need for pots to sit idle all winter.   

 I have said before that holiday and winter lighting is a form of landscaping-I stand by this.  I am not so concerned about the lighting in my summer garden, as the sun takes care of that until very late in the day.  But my winter landscape needs light.  How I choose to do that is part an alternate form of gardening. 

The shop greenhouse space goes quite dark in the late fall, given how low the sun is in the sky.  Rob takes special pains to light the  at space beautifully.  There is light directed from the top down.  There is light on the walls.  There are light garlands on the floor.  We have holiday trees that are lit from within.Every material can be transformed by the quality and intensity of the light put to it. 

We are better ready for winter than we were a month ago, and looking forward to our winter gardening.

In Case You Missed It

My heart goes out to all of those people on the east coast who are up their proverbial armpits in snow.  I have never experienced 20 plus inches of snow at one time; this I cannot imagine.  I remember a storm in the late seventies while I was living in Ann Arbor.  I was young, unprepared, and had few options except to go home.  It took a week for me to be able to get there.  I still remember the 6 inch thick ice patches on I-94; the trip home was very, very slow, and very bumpy.  Not so many years ago we got a foot of snow in one fell swoop.  I stayed at the shop, ordered in pizza, and worked on a project during the five days it took for the neighborhood to get shovelled out.      

The snow that just buried New York and New Jersey goes far beyond imposing an enforced time out on the people who live there. They have serious trouble out there.   I am only lucky that weather that threatens lives comes my way only once in a blue moon.  Most of the time, should I be forced to change my schedule to accommodate the weather, I have enjoyed the show.  The winter holiday of 2005 was one of my favorites.  This is not to say that I did not work hard on my end.  The giant grapevine spheres and hickory bark strips Rob brought back from Europe needed a home.  He has this idea that I will figure out what to do with materials he likes.  I can be challenged by this, but I am not shy about taking on trouble.  Four thick 10 foot long bamboo poles buried in the concrete pots captured those spheres.  I cannot remember now how we managed it, but each grapevine sphere had a starlight embedded within. The hickory bark strips were stiff and ornery-they had to be wired on with concrete wire. They may look graceful, but the installation was anything but.  A finishing and thick nest of white pine at the bottom; we had a winter holiday going on.   

Rob had lit all the trunks of the lindens with garland lights. Light strings that have the bulbs spaced close-we like these.  More light, less wire-this makes for a very good winter look.  He always hangs something in the trees.  Who doesn’t have a tree in their yard that could use a winter outfit?  Simple flat gold stars, and red plastic sputnik ornaments-jazzy. 

We looked good at night-which means we looked good at 4:30 in the afternoon.  All the winter blue sky and snow and black trunks were just asking for a little electricity.  Among other things, Rob is incredibly good at designing with light and dark.  2005 was no exception.   

Upon reflection, I think these three dimensional lighted north stars had plastic arms that could be unscrewed. Once the light knob was inside the sphere, we could reattach the arms.  Any material that I can break down is a material that gets my attention.  I may only need half of it, or a wisp of it.  When in doubt about any material, cut it up, and put it back together in your own way. 

The front of the shop was subtly lit; the lights on either side of the front door did the lion’s share of the work.  The warm yellow of the spotlights on the pots-the resulting blue and yellow-we were pleased. 

 I was not much prepared for what nature thought to deliver- a substantial snowstorm.  The snow fall was fast and steady.  I went to bed in one world, and woke up in another, ala JB Priestly.  I think we had 10 inches in all of a wet snow that stuck fast to every surface it touched.

What I thought was a fine holiday display was transformed overnight in a way that took my breath away.  I had no hand in this whatsoever.  I was nonetheless thrilled it came my way, for me to see.   

My shop has never looked like it did this day-not before.  Not since. Very few photographs do justice to an experience, but this is the best record I have for that night.  Moments like this account entirely for my belief that nature rules my roost.  


Don’t be fooled by this picture-it took hours to dig out the front door to the shop. This branchy linden roof of snow-the finest it has ever been my privilege to witness.  My advice?  Be convinced by what you witness.  Once you have done that,  enjoy.