Holiday Garnish

A holiday garland is an especially festive and personal garnish to an outdoor holiday display. There are few parameters and no rules about what constitutes a garland, but for the fact that it has length and continuity such that it can hang from something. A garland does for a winter garden what a vine does for a summer garden. Vines grow up, and garlands hang down, but the big idea is the same. I am sure that vining plants were the inspiration for the first winter garlands, aren’t you? Every garden has a place for something that climbs, or something that drapes. Vines and garlands take up no room on the ground plane, but they can endow the airspace with so much visual interest. A new gardening season asks for a new approach. That every gardener in a northern zone is about to turn to the winter, some talk about garlands might be useful. Most of the garlands we do are placed over the front door, but they are equally at home attached to an arbor, pergola, a gate or a fence. A garland can wreathe a large window, or a favorite garden sculpture. They can be wound around a lamp post, or the trunk of a favorite tree. A garland can also be pooled on the ground around that same light post or tree. Think winter scarf, stole, wrap, or boa. We begin with a simple mixed fir garland custom ordered in advance from our farmers market, to which we add additional greens. A mass of greens has a quiet and substantial look. Any number of other materials can be added to that length of greens. If the garland is to be lighted, I like winding a spiral of grapevine that stands proud of those greens.  It provides a perfect place to attach the lights. If we add cluster LED lights, we attach them to the underside of the grapevine.  There is no need to be looking at those wires during the day. An underside installation directs the light down onto the surface of the garland. Lights buried in the greens of a garland gives an uneven and not entirely satisfactory night time appearance.

Once we have lighted and adorned a holiday garland, it takes most of us to pick it up, and load it in the truck for delivery.  Evergreen garlands are heavy. The needles weigh next to nothing-but the woody branches to which those needles are attached weigh a lot.  If you are able to make your own garlands from scratch, wire together short evergreen tips that have a lot of needles, and not so much wood. Anything that gets added to a garland adds more weight. Really heavy garlands drape beautifully-thanks to that phenomena known as gravity. That weight also requires a thoughtful and secure installation.

We are fortunate to have a truck that can hold and spread out a 25 foot garland on the floor. All the work that goes into attaching all of the garnish to that long length of evergreens does not need to be flattened.  What we arrange in the stock room that is three dimensional needs to get to the job with all of that dimensional quality intact.

This garland took a number of people to unload and hang. Your garland project may not need four people.  You may be able to construct a garland all on your own, and hang it on your own, start to finish. Any gesture in the garden and landscape, no matter the season, that features the work of a pair of hands greatly interests me. The clear evidence of the human hand is what makes the work visually compelling.

To follow are a number of pictures about the installation of this particular lighted garland. We have been constructing garland for this client for the past 10 years.  I am happy to say that this year’s garland is exuberant.

 

  Happy holidays!

 

A Holiday Color Scheme


Client’s routinely ask me for things I would never think of. That is just one of a hundred reasons why I like having clients. People know what they like, and they will tell you, if you ask the right questions.  This client is hosting a holiday event tomorrow. She called me well in advance to discuss what work she wanted done. I have done winter pots for her for quite some time-since we installed the landscape and gardens at her new house. But a request for a special holiday installation was not part of our history. After some discussion, I still felt unsure.  So I asked if she had a color scheme in mind. That question produced a lengthy reply that did not surprise me a bit. She had a color scheme in mind. Loved that!!!

A discussion of color is a bridge upon which a designer and client can meet. Most people have strong feelings about color. I admit to it myself.  Certain colors attract me-others leave me cold.  Some colors are not so swell on their own, but in combination with another color-all of a sudden there is an idea brewing. Most gardeners are big fans of green. But some like green with white.  Others like green with yellow orange and red.  Still others like their green limey, with a side of pale lavender or purple. There are infinite variations in color, if you consider all of the possible tones and shades. A client who speaks to a color scheme is a gift to this designer.

Make no mistake, I have more than my fair share of spectacular misses, trying to read what a client will like. Most landscape design projects are forgiving of what I miss.  A landscape project takes place over a long period of time.  Mistakes can be corrected. A point of view can be tuned up before the installation. A holiday installation is a brief moment in the gardening year. I take special pains to be sure I am on the right track.

The question about color proved to be a good question. My client was sure that she wanted a gray and white holiday outdoors, with some accents of maroon or claret red. I was surprised, and intrigued. Rob sees to my having an ocean of materials available to me-thank you Rob.  Once I started scouting the materials we had that available, I was able to put together a palette of materials that I thought would satisfy her request.

The installation yesterday involved garland on her low fencing out front, and her gates.  We spent a good deal of time hanging a garland over the entrance to the front door.

Gray and white, in a number of different forms and materials, would play a prominent role in the creation of the holiday and winter arrangements in a singular large stoneware pot, the planters surrounding her fountain.

We took particular care to hang the heavy garland with zip ties and wires.

The garland is asymmetrical and quirky-appropriate to the architecture of the front door.

The front yard fountain had 5 curved Branch lattice boxes surrounding it. We plant those boxes for every season. For holiday and winter, we stuffed each box with noble fir, with a center ring of sparkly white picks, gray pod picks-and a dash of merlot dyed pods.

The fountain is shut don for the winter, but the surrounding planters make a big statement about the holiday, and the winter to come.

Though I would have never imagined a holiday decor scheme with white, gray, and a splash of maroon red, I was delighted by the outcome.

My client is a  serious gardener, through and through. This arrangement in white, gray and maroon per her holiday color scheme is my best effort to represent her relationship with the garden at the holidays.

Though this color scheme for the holiday is a first for me, I quite like the outcome.

The big idea here? Be confident in every idea you have about your garden. Or your holiday or your winter. Turn your imagination loose.

This late day November sun yesterday set the centerpiece of this winter pot on fire. Love the fire.

The Details

Better than twenty years ago, before a cell phone had been invented or a world wide web established, I would drive Rob to the airport for a buying trip to Europe. In those days we could have a cocktail in the lounge, and I could accompany him all the way to the boarding chute for a goodby. It was an emotional experience, that send off. The trip itinerary was sketchy at best. He had little idea where he was going, but that his plane would land in London or Paris or Brussels. Our main clues for overseas shopping came for foreign language magazines and travel books. I would be lucky to hear from him every 10 days for a few very scratchy phone moments. Few hotels had overseas phone service.

As anxious as I was to hear from him once he was abroad, he had his hands full, trying to locate his car and his lodging, driving in a foreign country, driving to shops that were either impossible to find or no longer in business. By the time he was able to call, I was beside myself with worry. He dealt with that in his usual bemused way. No one can dial down a fret fest better than he can. In retrospect, I incredibly admire his raw determination and courage. I doubt he knew at the time that he was charting unknown waters. Why would he? We were in the thick of trying to establish a shop devoted to fine objects for the garden. If you know Rob, you understand that his idea of fine objects and good design is never about money. Some things he purchases for the shop-ouch.  Others are eminently affordable. Witness the lighted winter pot detail above-all those weedy sticks came from the field next door. Add some lights, and voila.

Once he would return home, I would pour over his photographs. I was keen to absorb every detail. These were places I had never been. I wanted to experience his travels as best I could.  In those days, I studied his photographs with a magnifying glass. That close up view revealed so many of the details of the places he was seeing.  Those things that he arranged to have shipped home – that magnifying glass helped me to see those details that won him over. I cannot really explain this, but the magnifying glass helped make the photographs seem a little more real.

Our IT person extraordinaire Jenny explained to me how I could crop my photographs to make the details clearer. I will admit I have been playing around with the idea of magnifying certain details, given her instruction.  What I like is that I am able to focus on details that speak so much to the evidence of the human hand, and the relationship of one material, color, mass or texture to another.

This winter container arrangement was photographed in place after we installed it in the box.

The details are much magnified and easier to see now.

My crews are on a 6 day a week schedule right now. We have taken over the shop stock room for all of the construction. People who find there way back there are able to see how much time and skill it takes to put it all together. Then there is the installation phase, which we always hope is as quick and efficient as possible. The pictures of the finished work do not always do a good job of describing the details, both visual and physical. When it comes time to do this project next year, I will mark up the picture with the new design.

To follow are are some photographs of previous work under a digital magnifying glass. To any gardener who reads my journal, I suspect that the looks close up are the most descriptive view of the work. If you click on any of these pictures, you will get yet a closer look. Not all of them are in sharp focus-that is why I call them pictures and not photographs.

eucalyptus drifting down into the greens

a wreath on a second story window is artificial-“store bought”. We added 2 pine cone garlands in neutral colors on the edges, and spiced up the top.

winter berry

a layered look

grapevine deer with a holiday collar

white grassy picks

lighted

asymmetrical

glass drops in the rain

the natural shape and drape of the greens create an overall shape

detail

We get to see all the details up close, just like this.

Winter Red

Our second winter/holiday project comes with a story, just like our first. If you were to ask how I schedule all the work, I am sure I would hesitate before I answered. There are many factors, some involving the availability of materials and other logistical issues. But personal issues for clients play a big part in the scheduling.  A client whose daughter was getting married as I began writing this came first.  No doubt someone else will be first next season. Our second project involves a landscape client who is hosting 19 members of his greater family for Thanksgiving at his home. They live a long ways away; the earliest arrivals are tomorrow. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they are leaving on an extended trip. They wanted their holiday/winter pots to be in place well in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday with family, as they would be celebrating both holidays at once.

We began the fabrication of all of their pots and holiday decorations this past Wednesday. They had a specific request for red, in any form we might manage.  I understand that. The winter landscape in Michigan is varying shades of brown set against interminably gray skies. Our winter daylight is watery and wan. Some of my favorite shrubs and trees feature a red berry set for the winter.  A well grown stand of Michigan holly (ilex verticillata) in full berry mode electrifies our winter landscape. Funny this – I have a love for red in the landscape at the visually hungriest times of year.  Red tulips in the spring are such a welcome and cheery burst of color. A plan for red in our winter landscape is equally as celebratory. Our second year red twig dogwood bunches are especially beautiful this year. We rarely have the opportunity to purchase old growth red twig of this caliber. The thick stems are heavily branched, and arch outwards as if they were still growing. Long faux berry stems zip tied to the natural twigs make a big statement about winter red. Our winter and holiday container arrangements are as much about sculpture as they are about nature.  We know whatever we fabricate has to endure a entire winter’s worth of windy and snowy weather, unfazed. A construction site in our garage means we are able to recreate natural and graceful shapes that are able to endure the worst of our winter weather.

Our clients have one container that is 42″ by 42″ square, by 40″ tall. This is an incredibly large container that is home to a tree sized banana plant over the course of the summer.  Of course the size of a container asks for an arrangement of a proper and proportional size. The centerpiece for this pot needed a good deal of mass and volume. A galvanized tomato cage was perfect for zip tying individual cut stems of second year red twig dogwood all around the outside to create the illusion of great mass. It took 8 bunches of fuchsia eucalyptus to match the scale established by the height and diameter of the dogwood centerpiece, and the size of the container.

The upper galvanized steel ring of the tomato cage is evident in this picture. Topiary forms, or in this case, a heavy gauge galvanized tomato cage, can provide a key sculptural element to a container. I am grateful for topiary forms that enable my mandevilleas to climb skyward during the summer. Those forms can be strung with lights and grapevine for the winter season. In this case, the tomato cage provides an unseen structure for the twigs. Am I concerned that I can see this top ring? No. As you will see in the following picture, this pot is viewed from afar, rather than up close.

Not all tomato cages are created equal. Rob buys very heavy gauge galvanized steel rod cages in a variety of sizes. They provide significant support for vines, and in this case, twigs.  This very large container has a centerpiece appropriate to its size. The fuchsia and red echoes the late fall color of the hedge of the oak leaf hydrangea “Ruby Slippers”.

I asked Dan to take this picture down into the centerpiece from high on the ladder. The red twig is zip tied to the form at the soil line, and again 2/3rds of the way up. This takes some time to do, but it insures that the twigs will stay put throughout the winter. Illuminating this centerpiece from within would take a lot of light, so we installed four strands of 25 count C-9 incandescent lights.

The greens were liberally dosed with Lumineo LED light strands. Barely visible during the day, they will do a great job of illuminating the greens and exterior of the centerpiece at night. This pot will light up a fairly dark spot on the driveway all winter long.

The four boxes at the front door feature lots of that winter red. Marzela stuffs the noble fir into dry foam in the studio, and David constructed all of the centerpieces. The centerpieces are secured with steel rebar and concrete wire. The bottom portion of the foam form is wedged into the box.

 Marzela adds the last element to the pots on site.

The red/red violet seed pods on stems provide a transition from the greens to the centerpiece, and conceal any zip ties from the centerpiece construction. The greens are deliberately shorter in the center, so the entire centerpiece can be seen.

The lighting of the pots comes last. The light fixtures on the house are large, but their light is more glowing than illuminating. The lights in the pots will brighten the entrance walk with lots of light.

David and Dan rewind all of the strands for the pots, so they are easy to install.

The bed to the right of the walk is already planted with tulips for the spring.  It is planted with seasonal plants in the summer and fall.  This year, my clients requested a winter vignette with cut trees and grapevine deer, to add to the festivities. The trees were lighted in the garage before we brought them. The heaviest concentration of light is on the trunk. The lighting on the branches is lighter, both in density and color. The Lumineo strands are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. That design works. It is hard to spot them during the day.

This is the finished installation, as seen from inside our box truck.

the finished front walk

At 5pm, the natural light has all but faded. The length of the exposure taking the picture intensifies the light more than what it looks like in person, but you get the idea.

Their landscape is ready for their holiday, and their winter.