Be forewarned, there are an astonishing number of pictures about to come your way. Last was a very busy week for us. But for the pictures, it would all be a blur. My crew is great about photographing everything. They pictures of last years work help inform the work we are doing now. Smart phone cameras and text messages mean I can communicate with the group who is doing the installation while they are 0n site. I hate to have to go back and redo, but I hate worse if something does does not seem as good as it should be. How I am able to stay in touch with my crew means the work is all that much better, the first time around. I can be two places at once-in the shop, and on the job. My landscape crew helps on and off, but they have been finishing up the last of the year’s landscape projects. They will be back today to help out with the work ahead. Buck’s crew at Branch is working for me for the winter holiday season. They makes all of our garlands, and install them. They handle lighting issues. They also install containers. Marzela and David have been focused on the construction of green blankets and centerpieces. All of us whittle greens for Marzela, as the lot of us can hardly keep up with her. David and Salvadore do a splendid job with construction centerpieces, and adding elements one at a time. I am lucky to have each and every one of this group of 10 people. They are independent, intelligent, and thoughtful. They express their opinions, but not at the expense of keeping up. We do this work together. They go the extra mile, routinely. You cannot teach what they have to offer. They came to me with good values, not the least of which is a commitment to doing a great job. A lot gets done in a week’s time. You’ll see. What you will see in these pictures is a design direction from me, and a gifted making by them. I help with the fabrication, but I can walk away and come back later, knowing someone will have picked up my part and gone ahead with it. I still have 15 projects to go. I will be happy if I can finish them by Friday next, but maybe I won’t. I will not push a project out there that is not ready. I am stubborn, that way. The work you are about to see has as much to do with the the relationship we forge with a client as the design and fabrication relationships. We make a concerted effort to represent their taste. We try for better than they thought they could have it.
winter arrangements awaiting installation in a pair of Atelier Verkant stoneware pots on the same projectfinished winter arrangement with yellow twig dogwood, yellow fuzz ball picks and variegated boxwood
a second lighted outdoor holiday tree dressed with poplar branches, feathered birds, and faux cherries. For extra light at night, the entire trunk of the tree is wrapped with Lumineo LED light strings, ahead of lighting the branches
This steel Bethlehem star fabricated and lighted for Christ Church Cranbrook was a project designed, engineered and fabricated at Branch. We delivered this sculpture, and we were there to assist with the installation.
I posted some time ago about the landscape I designed for my clients who live in a rural area outside Ann Arbor. They edited and installed that landscape on their own – to everyone’s great satisfaction. I was happy indeed that they took my plan to heart, and edited it to reflect their point of view. Late this fall they planted a wide ribbon of grape hyacinths in the lawn beginning near the large round planter and running all the way to the road. There’s nothing like having a river of grape hyacinths to look forward to in the spring, is there? Eventually, there may be some trees on either side of that river. Their last garden project of the season-the winter pots. They came to the shop the other day to with to consult with me about their plans, and look at materials. Of course they would do their winter pots on their own.
I spent plenty of time talking them through their design process. They knew they wanted to use cut white birch branches, and spruce tips. And they wanted to incorporate the color red. Their taste is tends towards the contemporary, but in a loose and brash way. Containers filled with natural materials informally arranged proved to be a strikingly beautiful contrast to their sober and spare landscape.
This post is not so much about what I advised them to do. It is primarily about what they did on their own. This winter pot is terrific. I was delighted when Rich sent me this group of photographs. The greens in the bottom of this container are spruce tips, from Minnesota. Dan had them shipped in. I have never seen them before. These spruce toppers sunk into the soil of a container looked like a forest of mini trees. This container is as good as it gets, in my opinion. It is relaxed, assured, and striking. The thin red twig branches against the stout birch branches-so beautiful.
I did advise them to light their pots. Their property is in a rural area. Absent a full moon, their property is shrouded in darkness. The light in the winter pots would be key to welcoming guests, and representing a warm winter. It took a bit of doing to convince them to spring for a 3′ diameter spiked light ring encircled with LED lights, but they eventually decided that my advice was good advice. After much discussion, they took that ring home with them. Set into their 5 foot diameter steel bowl container facing the road, that light ring not only illuminated what was in the pot, it lit up the walk to the front door. The materials they chose? Mountain hemlock, for its feathery texture, and its longevity as a cut green. Noble fir is a cut green whose stout stems amicably support lights, and obligingly stay green throughout the winter. The magnolia branches in this container feature big leaves. Those big glossy green leaves are a nod to romance. The Michigan winter is spare and gray. Cut magnolia is luscious – juicy looking. The hollow birch bark rounds are chubby and charming. The faux red berry stems hover over all. Happily, they will represent for many winters to come. The Lumineo warm LED light strings illuminate the greens.
The combination of red and green at the holidays is bound to elicit some yawns or boos from those who would suggest there are more innovative and creative color combinations a gardener might pursue. I find fault with this idea. Color combinations in and of themselves do not suggest traditional or contemporary. Color is a design element that takes its emotional cue from the organizing efforts of a designing eye. Red and green might typically be very traditional colors at the holiday season, but they can be used in a way that is anything but traditional. These clients favor a decidedly contemporary and color rich holiday expression. Red and green – this is what they like. Their steel topiary form from is stuffed full of cardinal red twigs, or whips, that have very little in the way of side branching. This choice of material accents the strong vertical element established by the form. The form itself is lighted with LED lights from Lumineo. The spare vertical element represented by the lighted form and the red twig branches is countered by a group of lax red berry picks. The sculptural effect is anything but traditional. Holiday red in this instance is quite contemporary in feeling.
We also set up and dress their Christmas tree. The tree is decorated with red and lime green ball ornaments, both matte and shiny, stuck with paper wrapped wire stems. The ornaments are not hung from the tree branches in the traditional way. They are laid into and onto the tree as if they were a pick. The balls are next to weightless, so the stiff stems of the tree hold them up. My crew was certain we would not be able to put all 280 ball picks into this tree, but once they got they got the hang of laying them in, the tree easily handled them all.
This method allowed us to place ornament very close to the trunk of tree, as well as on the tips. The long wire acts as ballast, and helps to balance them on the tree. The ornaments nearest to front edge appear to be floating. Once the ball ornaments were placed, we added a single white LED light garland. I would say this representation of holiday red and green is layered, crisp, clean, and sculptural. This traditional holiday element, the Christmas tree, has a more contemporary look.
The deck off the kitchen has one pot for the winter. Imagine this winter view from the kitchen without that container. A foreground element in a landscape is an important one, as is possible to focus on every detail. What is happening at a distance is visually hazy at best, but it is what I would call a traditional suburban landscape. The contrast between the pot and the landscape is considerable. The design upshot of of the relationship between the foreground and the background elements is the creation of a sense of depth. Interesting spatial relationships make a composition lively. Why would I think the red and the green elements in this container are non traditional? The green portion of the arrangement is the smallest element in size and supports a red top which is over scaled and dominant in feeling. A more traditional arrangement would be more conventionally balanced, with lots of greens at the bottom, and a smaller and less prominent mid section.
You may or may not be convinced by anything I have had to say about these pots, but that was not my intent. I had an interest in explaining the design process for this project. It is a challenge to warmly represent red and green at the holidays in a non traditional way. In a bigger sense, is even more of a design challenge to avoid visual stereotypes. I planted my first and one and only dwarf Japanese maple for a client this past spring – in a container. As beautiful as they can be I have yet to figure out how to place one in the landscape that does not look routine.