The shop landscape is very simple. A rectangle of boxwood set in a generous plane of decomposed granite, a pair of Techny arborvitae bookends, and a pair of lindens is about all there is. These plants, almost 20 years old, occupy a modest percentage of the overall space. This means there is room for a temporary, ephemeral, and seasonal garden expression. Gardening in a zone which features four distinct seasons is a challenge and an opportunity I would never want to do without. The chance to start fresh given the change of the season-love that. The holiday/winter garden is no different.
The inspiration is almost always driven by a natural material that catches my eye. This year, the curly copper willow branches are incredibly beautiful. The color is rich and saturated. The stems are fat and juicy-there is no hint of stress from the drought they endured all summer. They have a distinctly fresh fragrance. Each stout stem was topped with a cloud of delicate branches-breathtaking. I ordered extra, so I would have enough to do the garden in front of the shop.
What would I do with them? Fresh willow is incredibly flexible. One could make baskets, fencing, wreaths-just about anything the eye could imagine, and the hand construct. But I wanted a structure that would permit those thousands of tiny branches to make their own statement. I use these steel forms at home to give my asparagus some support-I knew they would be perfect. Attaching the thick stems, one stem at a time to this form, would provide stability without interfering with the natural form and inclination of the branchlets.
Zip tying each branch was time consuming, and not so easy. Each stem needed a friendly neighbor. My landscape crew does a superb job of all of my landscape installations-their seasonal winter work is no exception. They are not only incredibly talented and willing, they have an understanding of natural forms that comes only with many years of exposure to plants. They never force anything to be. They let the material dictate the construction, and the overall shape. They use whatever they need to make the overall shape complete-even if that means I need to order more.
The douglas fir boughs have been stuffed into dry floral foam, some 6 inches thick. The bottom 3 inches are wedged into the rim of the pot. The six inches above the rim are a home to all of the boughs that are set horizontally. A form this high off the rim of the pot needs reinforcing. 4 pieces of steel rebar are driven through the corners of the foam, and into the soil in the pots. Once the soil freezes around that steel, it will take gale force winds to dislodge the curly willow.
A cloud of copper willow and a low wide base of douglas fir- this year’s holiday/winter expression. The time it takes to construct what will go on in these pots all winter is time I don’t spend moping about the closing of the garden. Should everything come together, these pots will make a statement about what is good about the winter season. A customer in the shop yesterday lives in San Francisco. He tells me the climate and weather is the most consistent and unchanging of any city in the US. Though he misses the change of the seasons, he does not miss the gray skies. He is right. Michigan is one of the grayest and gloomiest of all of the states in the winter.
So a good part of our winter garden is about turning the lights on. The light garland draped over the empty window boxes is comprised of three different strands of three different types of lights. The weight of multiple light strings twisted around each other makes them drape gracefully-they are heavy. Inside each willow cloud is a spot light, wedged into the floral foam. A collar of dry limelight hydrangeas flowers conceals it from view. The spot light illuminates the willow from within. How I like this idea, and and how it looks. A light garland would around the base of the willow illuminates them from the outside. A pair of ball and cone topiary froms are wound solid with ordinary garden variety mini lights. Ordinary materials do not have to be used in an ordinary way.
Having turned the lights on, I have no idea what I will do with this next. Part of the joy of a winter garden is having the time to tinker with it. The spring and summer garden-I am always running to try to keep up. This and that always needs something. Though I have a lot of work yet to come helping clients with holiday and winter containers and decorating, there will be time to figure out what else this garden might need.