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.

 

Light Up That Night

My garden is poised to take a three month sabbatical – Bon Voyage, dear garden.  This state of affairs is sad enough, but there is more.  Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the cloudiest, greyest, gloomiest and darkest states in the union.  We rank right up there on that list of most consecutive sunless days.  A sunny day in my winter is cause for celebration, but I had better be quick about enjoying it.  Daylight gets off to a slow start, and gives up early.  At 4pm, it will be dark.  It will still be dark at 7am. I have no plans to live on that schedule.  I do have plans to light up that night.  This garden bench in the shop greenhouse looks cheery and inviting draped with a light garland.  Light garland?  Multiple strings of holiday lights in various sizes and colors twisted and zip tied together makes for a brilliantly lit garland that can be swagged in a favorite tree, or over a door or arbor.       

 

For whatever reason, I love a flocked tree.  Years ago, there was a place down river from me that would flock any tree in any color, for 35.00. Apparently they still offer this service-you need to get a quote.  Courtesy of our client and friend Brandon, the Harry Pinter Greenhouse at 6830 Rawsonville Road in Belleville still offers this service, on real or artificial trees.  1-734-482-2776.   A client who was expecting a baby girl December 23 one got a pink flocked tree, loaded with pink glass ornament from us.  It was loads of fun-truly.   I like how the holiday season has the potential to value expression over good taste and design.  I think thats’s fine.  There are beautifully constructed artificial trees that come loaded with the flock.  At night, the tree lights play off of and compound those white branches beautifully.  This tree is decorated in small chickadee shaped birds with sparkling white feathers, white moire glass and clear glass ornaments.  In the daytime, a flock of long sleek partridges in their typical black, brown and grey feathers take a bigger visual role.  

By this time, I am sure it is clear that I enjoy the holiday season. Why wouldn’t I?  It is a great antidote for that big dark.  The greenhouse at night, lit with holiday lighting, is a completely different visual experience than the daytime look. No other season, indoors or out, looks quite like this.      


Candlelight is always a romantic and warm accompaniement to an event.  Candles, that civilized version of burning logs in a galvanized bucket, can create a friendly and congenial atmosphere.  It is amazing how a collection of votive candles can banish the dark.  Be generous with the numbers-everyone will appreciate that.

 We have little artificial lighting in the greenhouse, as most of the year we get light at no charge from the sky.  The sun is no longer directly overhead, so that space can be surprisingly dark on a cloudy day.  In the evening, it can be difficult to navigate.  For an evening event, we are lavish with the light.  Votive candles deliver a lot of light; their small space makes it easy to mass them, or tuck them in smaller spaces.  Candle light makes everyone look good-that is a happy byproduct of this kindly light.

The landscape gets the same attention to lighting as the indoors, only on a bigger scale.  Every year Rob creates lighting for the winter landscape that is simple to install, and dramatic in its impact.  I for one will not be climbing in my trees, to string holiday lights on the branches.  I value something that is simple to install, and beautiful to look at.  This year, per Rob’s design,  we fabricated channeled steel rings in three sizes, and filled the channels with brown corded holiday lights.  Hung in a tree or window, from a pergola or arbor, these rings of light are beautiful.  The largest of the rings makes a very dramatic statement. 

He took that circle of light idea, and took it a step further for the pots on the shop pillars.  Simple rod steel spheres were wound in the round with a combination of garland lights, ands pearl lights.  Garland lights have bulbs spaced very close together-the effect is more light, with less wire.  Pearl lights are just how they sound-these small spheres look just like pearls.

The tour de force of his winter lighting creations has to be this arrangement in an antique cast iron trough we have situated at the entrance to the shop.  Rob covered the soil surface with translucent C-9 and C-7 white light strings.  He then set a few stems of cut “tree of heaven” branches, and filled in between the wires with the dry remains of some unknown dried weed from a neighboring field.  

For all the world, Rob’s pot looks like it is on fire.  The most modest of materials are dressed to the nines for the winter season. 

The 6 pots out front-they have a beginning.  Single sterms of red bud pussy willow have been zip-tied tightly, and all around a plant climber that holds up my asparagus in the summer.  A single globe of light sits at ground level inside.  The globe by the way, is a lightbulb frequently used in bathroom light fixtures-of course Rob dreamed up this part.  That globe of light illuminates those branches.

What will I do now?  I am not sure.  I have the finishing on the pots, the windowboxes, the windows, and the front door to consider.  It is good to have a holiday/winter project underway.

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.