RED

There is nothing that provides a better shot of B-12 to a winter landscape than some red. And no material provides that color better in our zone than red twig dogwood. Some of the newer hybrids, such as “Cardinal” have an even lighter and brighter red than the dark red of the species. I love that red! If you are like me, you do not have room to plant and maintain a hedgerow of red twig dogwood. There are other options for red in the winter. The cut branches can endow a winter garden with a little electricity. It was our good fortune this year that Rob was able to secure 50 bunches of red twig branches that were 2 years old. This means they have great size, and are well branched. Pictured above are 2 of 6 centerpieces destined for some very large lead pots. We had just the pots for these large scale branches.

This client is interested that their pots represent the holiday as well as the winter. The red twig does well in either scenario. It can be dressed up with holiday style picks, or made more wintry with the addition of berries. In any event, the red twig will look just about as good in March as it does now. On more than one occasion we have found that the cut stems have rooted into the soil over the course of the winter. Amazing, that.

Like all of our centerpieces, the true center is a stout bamboo pole which will be driven down into the soil as ballast. Nothing worries me more than a winter centerpiece that gets blown over by our winter weather. I like winter pots that can stay the course until March. We make sure that the winter pots are as beautifully constructed, as they are beautiful.

It is a process – creating a centerpiece for a winter or holiday container arrangement. That second year dogwood had other materials added to it. It took plenty of time to get them road ready. If you have a pair of pots that need to be dressed up for the winter, it can be hard to tell how much material you need. More than any other season, filling the winter pots asks for a liberal hand. A skimpy display looks cold. An overflowing look is warm and inviting. No winter container arrangement grows. The look on the day you install is the the look you have all winter long. My advice? Take your own advice.  Start small, and see if an austere look is to your liking.  If not, add more.

This winter pot has a very tall centerpiece. Visible in the above picture is a length of steel rebar pounded through the foam and into the soil below.  Four of them will be wired together with concrete wire.  The steel provides more stability to a centerpiece that is tall and heavy. Another option to provide volume to a centerpiece is to hand stick each of a number of branches into a foam form or the soil, one at a time. If I were constructing pots on my own, this would be my technique of choice. Lifting and securing a big centerpiece is a job that takes a lot of strength. The eucalyptus in this arrangement is added last. It has an important job visually. It softens, integrates, and relates the vertical elements to the horizontal ones. Sticking each eucalyptus stem into the foam is too flimsy to handle a snow load.  So we zip tie, in two places, 4 or 5 stems to a small bamboo stake. Lots of them. The stake gets pushed through the foam and into the soil.

Arranging the materials is a matter of personal choice. Grouping like materials together into a defined shape or layer is a more formal look.  This densely layered arrangement will also keep its shape in spite of wind, snow and ice. We’ve been known to broom off a container arrangement after an exceptionally heavy snow. The width and density of the branches in the above container helps to break the snowfall. The red twig branches are admirably suited for this job. They will retain their flexibility throughout the winter. The faux red berries will slowly fade over the course of 4 or 5 months, but the red twigs will retain their gorgeous color for the duration.

Curly copper willow applied over red twig takes on a red cast. The colors do not mix to make orange. They interact.

The finished container features a number of shades of red. The base layer of noble fir features a ring of German boxwood at the center.

The foreground pot features dried red Asian willow, faux red berries and green preserved eucalyptus.

I have previously written that our supplier of eucalyptus closed his business.  We bought all of the red that he had left in stock, so Detroit Garden Works does have some available.

ready for snow

The last bale of the 2 year old red twig branches went in this pot, which measures 43″ square at the top. The mass of dogwood looks remarkably graceful, given that it has a very trim waist line. Ha. That was an engineering feat which makes for a satisfying overall shape. We did put a long string of pearl lights in the center, so that red twig will glow red at night. Dressing pots for the season is a way to keep gardening for a little while longer.

At A Glance: The Yellow Twig Winter Installation

The previous post was all about the construction of a winter arrangement for a pair of pots and a sizeable planter.  To follow are pictures of that installation. This is a look see post. I do not much see the need to write any more than what I have already written. Except to say that fresh cut yellow twig dogwood is a most beautiful material that I welcome to our winter season.

The following pictures capture the installation of what we constructed in the shop. Keeping that construction mess in the garage is just about the best idea I ever had. Fabricating arrangements outdoors in the freezing cold means the cold has the upper hand. Creating winter arrangements in a warm and wind free space makes for better arrangements. And so much less mess. Sweeping up outdoors in freezing weather outdoors is frustrating.

This front porch is neat and clean. All of the debris inevitable during construction was swept up off our garage floor, and deposited in our dumpster or in our compost pile, before we ever came to install.

We design and construct our winter arrangements such that they will still look this good in March of 2019. The winter is very long and tough in Michigan. We have endless snow, wind, and ice. So to follow is our answer. Equal parts beauty and durability.

Welcome to the winter on its way

The street view of a front door dressed up for winter.

Yellow twig dogwood is a material I treasure for winter. The low winter light sets those yellow stems on fire. To follow? A look at the yellow twig we have used in winter container arrangements in the past.  Enjoy!

yellow twig stuck one stem at a time

yellow twig wreaths

yellow twig centerpieces

winter pots

winter pot

winter pot

winter pot

contemporary winter container arrangement

the pot next to the bench

Few gardeners have the room to plant a stand of yellow twig dogwood. I know I don’t. But I love those cut branches of yellow twig dogwood placed in pots for the winter. They indeed make our long winter worth weathering.

Fabricating Arrangements For The Winter Pots

It is indeed that time again. This past Friday we swept out the garage at Detroit Garden Works, and set up our fabrication shop. The most useful and best part of the shop is its heat. Warm space to work makes for good and thoughtful work. So does good materials.  Rob works his heart out to be sure we have a huge selection of materials for our winter and holiday installations. His fresh cut twigs are the best I have ever seem. Farmed twigs, grown on great soil, mean all the dogwood and willow cut branches we have to offer have superior color and form. Every bunch features unblemished stems typical of the current years growth. Ron snapped up some very tall second year growth red twig which is equally as spectacular. Those glossy colorfully barked stems makes our winter container work easy. We construct forms that fit tight into the intended containers from large sheets of dry floral foam, layered up via hot melt glue.  One layer of foam goes below the surface. The upper layer gets stuck with greens, and whatever else we have in mind. At exactly the angle we like. Of course we save client’s forms from year to year. The above form is for a very large planter box. Note the exterior grade plywood at the bottom. That plywood enables us to transport this arrangement safely. As last year’s form had been reused for the past three years, we added a new layer of fresh foam to the top. The degraded foam goes to the bottom, into the pot.  The new foam gets top billing. This client has a decidedly contemporary view. Their winter container arrangements will follow suit. The center of this form was filled in with dark gray birch branches. More on that decision later.  David stuck every stem of fresh yellow twig dogwood, one stem at a time. I managed to capture him in the act. He is an accomplished fabricator. He knows to look to the airspace to tell him where he needs a branch. Once he claims a visual space for his branch overhead, he inserts that branch in that spot in the foam that puts his branch where he wants it. Does he ever look down at that branch is going into the foam? No. He is always looking at the overall shape from above.

I regret to say that our supplier of preserved and dyed eucalyptus has closed up shop. We bought out every bunch he had available, once we knew he was closing up.  We did have a few barrels of the color “Rain” available.  I liked the idea of those yellow twig branches faced down by this dark blue gray eucalyptus.

I decided to use the materials in a less formal way this year than last. This is a color palette I know my client will like, but changing up the style can make the most familiar materials look fresh and different. Winter arrangements with a simple and sculptural quality look great in all kinds of weather. In addition, this volume of branches will help to shed the snow, or at least keep it from damaging the overall arrangement. This is by way of saying that designing winter arrangements that can withstand snow is a good idea in zones that can rack up the inches in the winter. We will not dismantle this arrangment until mid March, so it has to be winter weatherproof.

This close up of the yellow twig set against the dark gray brown birch bunches on the interior illustrates how the effect of the color can be intensified by way of a contrasting backing. The addition of branches on the interior create the illusion that the form is tightly packed with yellow twig stems. The reality is quite different; there are just 2 rows of them. The matte birch stems also help make the yellow twig bark appear all the more glossy. A third reason for that dark interior?  In a subtle way, their darker color provide a transition from the dark of the blue gray eucalyptus, to the bright of the yellow twig.

A pair of round pots are further from the road, and nearer the house. I want the arrangements in the pots to appear brighter than the planter box. The interior branches in this case are whitewashed birch.

This yellow twig looks brighter yellow to my eye. That brightness will be compounded, once the arrangements are placed in the pots.

It made sense to stuff the rest of the form with variegated boxwood. This green comes to us in 40 pound boxes. The branches are long and densely twiggy. All of our greens are premium grade, like this.  It  means there is great scale, size and volume to every branch, and almost no waste. Greens intended for interior winter and holiday arrangements are generally small, and do not translate so well to use in pots.  We try to keep each stem intact, rather than cutting it up into smaller pieces. For a less formal arrangement, we let the natural grown branch be what it is.

The light gray branches are called natrag. That is the sum total of what I know about them, except that they have a very sculptural and exotic appearance.

The natrag was introduced into the arrangement only on the front and back.  They are so strong visually that more of them would dilute their overall effect.

The arrangements were done and ready to be installed this morning. In the foreground, the forms for our next project. My landscape crew generally handles the installation.  They have a great eye for positioning plants in the landscape.  This skill translates into installing these arrangements so they look like live plant material. If you look at the larger arrangement in the above picture, you can see that the blue gray eucalyptus looks almost black at the base. Part of the design was to deliberately create a shadow, and a sense of depth between the boxwood and the eucalyptus.

How we do this is very difficult to photograph, so suffice it to say that there is a 4″ wide band of incense cedar that is installed flat to the base of the form. An incense cedar moat, if you will. That space is what creates the shadow.

The eucalyptus and boxwood are both fairly tall. The cedar is inserted into the form on a horizontal angle, so it is barely an inch tall. I will post pictures of the finished installation tomorrow. For anyone who is new to our work, or has questions about the construction, I have posted many times over the past 9 years about them. You can click on and read my November posts from past years, if you are so inclined.

 

 

Recent Work

One of my crews has been planting fall containers full time and just about non stop for going on a month. I suspect we will be able to finish up by the end of this coming week. I am pleased that the warm weather has finally retreated. Really? Great seasonal container design is all the better for the inspiration that comes standard issue from nature. Our most colorful season is nigh upon us. The dogwood leaves have turned red and orange. The green leaves of the oak leaf hydrangeas everywhere are trending towards maroon. At the shop, the leaves of a single branch on the 5500 square feet of wall covered in Boston ivy are a brilliant red. This is a signal. Our fall season is underway. Cooler temperatures are a signal to deciduous plants to shut down their production of chlorophyll. Soon enough the green landscape will give way to the yellow, red, orange and purple we associate with fall. The rosemary in the above containers I would call a plant for all seasons. Planted in early April, these plants have grown on and still look great, seven months later.

Cooler temperatures means the ornamental cabbage and kale are beginning to color up. The color of their leaves will continue to intensify once the temperatures are reliably below 50 degrees. The most intense color will surface after a frost. That color will be more saturated after several frosts. Gardeners have a lot to look forward to. What you see in the picture above is a pale version of the the final mile. The changes to the leaves in the ornamental cabbage and kale as a result of dropping temperatures are part of the bigger process we call fall.That visual leafy change from summer to fall is the best reason for planting containers for fall. Should the experience of every season enchant you, bring that joy home. Pots at the front or back door, or on a terrace, are a daily reminder to enjoy the season at hand.

Ornamental cabbage and kale differ from the vegetable versions in several significant ways. Ornamental varieties form large flat rosettes.  The centers of these rosettes is what will eventually show color. The outer leaves stay green. The colder it gets, the more striking the color.  It won’t hurt you to eat ornamental cabbage, but the leaves can be shockingly bitter. You are on your own with that. Cabbage for consumption eventually form heads as part of their natural cycle of growth. Cabbage grown for consumption is mild. Cabbage meant for fall pots is all about the look of the leaves.  Kale meant for consumption evokes widely differing and strong opinions. Suffice it to say not everyone loves that taste. But kale representing in fall pots is about a visual discussion of the season.    The intersection of agriculture and landscape design is my most favorite place to be. Vegetables provide food. But the history and practice of growing plants for food contributes much to the ornamental garden. One obvious example is the corn maze. The availability of fresh sweet corn is a highlight of the summer. A field of late planted, late to mature corn bred and grown for silage with a maze cut into it is an experience of the farm enjoyed by many in the fall. This ornamental form of agriculture brings visitors to farms to buy pumpkins and apples at a time when their growing season has come to a close.  Interested in more information on local harvest events open to the public?   Michigan corn mazes

There are few fall container plants as showy as the ornamental cabbages and kale, but their true strength lies in their persistence. They are not only cold tolerant, they are frost tolerant.  I have seen them endure temperatures as low as 20 degrees without harm. Clients often ask me how long a fall planting will last. Each if our four seasons lasts 3 months, give or take. I value container plantings, as they celebrate the season at hand, so I’ll take three months.

Everything in the garden is ephemeral to one degree or another. A white oak tree can survive 300 years, and the lilac bloom time in my zone is 2 weeks in a good year.  The crocus can be felled by frost the first day they open, or with cool days and nights, last a few weeks. The transitory nature of life is part of what makes it so precious. The Rosebud cabbages in the above picture were grown from seed, probably sown in late June or July. Three or four months past the germination of that seed, they look as luscious as they are robust. I expect this pot will look good throughout the fall, and into early winter.

Broom corn is a crop grown for just that reason-corn brooms. The seed is a favorite of birds.  We have to keep the garage door at the shop closed, otherwise we would be inundated by birds. But this material has interest even when the seeds are gone. The long stringy stems would persist all winter and then some. We use all sorts of materials in concert with the cabbage and kale-some natural and some not. The big idea is to represent the fall season in a satisfying way.

dyed birch branches, faux seed ball stems and Rosebud cabbage

bleached sticks, broom corn and Coral Prince cabbage

broom corn, eucalyptus, faux orange seed ball stems and Coral Queen cabbage

Himalayan white barked birch under planted with Prizm kale and creeping jenny

fall pot set in ornamental grass

pair of pots with Ruby Queen cabbage

Lemon cypress and Coral Prince cabbage

centerpiece with the kids in mind

A trio of pots are all dressed up for fall.