Winter Ready

lighted winter containerWe finished our last winter installation this Tuesday past. A client who is out of town on holiday did not mind if her winter pots did not get done until after December 25th. Her home is now winter ready for her return. Yesterday we finished the winter pots at the store. So we are ready for winter too. The garland got done early in the season. We only have 6 or 7 to do in any given year. Buck’s fabricators at Branch make them, and install them. They do help a great deal with the winter containers, once those holiday garlands are done and hung. Once the first 6 garlands for clients were done and up, they made our shop garland. We had that garland, and not much else until 2 weeks ago, when Rob had a moment to dress this cast iron cauldron for winter. The spruce tips were a new green for us-of course he wanted to try them out. The hand wrought iron topiary form from England is wrapped with Lumineo LED string lights. Not so easy to see in this picture are a number of small scale pine cone picks that for all the world look like they are attached to those spruce tips. For weeks, a garland and a single pot were all we had to show for the winter.

So why wouldn’t I dress the store for winter early in the season? Lots of our shop clients would like to see what we have a mind for the season. Some of them might be inclined to take some aspect of our idea into consideration for their own winter holiday. There are plenty of good answers to that question. The strongest answer is that our clients come first. We did just shy of 60 projects between November 10 and December 24. Just about 200 containers. And two holiday parties. This is a lot of of work to do in a very short amount of time. Not every client can be first, but it is easy to do the shop last.

There is another reason why we dress the shop for the winter last. I consider it a personal challenge to design and install from the left over materials. If you were raised as I was, the meals featuring leftovers were not my favorite. Some were downright unappealing.  But as a designer, I have always been intrigued by the possibility that good design can take a rag tag group of the last of the materials, and make something worth looking at from them. I cannot really explain this, but metaphorically speaking,  making a beautiful meal from a group of leftovers is a challenge that is satisfying.

The greens in the window boxes at the shop were the leftover scraps from a busy season.  Even those scraps proved to be not enough. The day after Christmas we bought 6  Frazier fir Christmas trees at a tree lot for one dollar each.  It took four trees to produce enough greens for the window boxes at the shop. These were trees that were moments from being discarded-  I was happy to rescue them from the discard heap. The labor to cut up the branches was considerable. But the end result was worth it. The window boxes do not look like they were stuffed with a material that no one wanted. The spruce tips in the centerpiece came to us late in the season, so we had those left over as well. I was more inclined to try to put them to use, than pitch them.

It is impossible to tell in advance which twigs will be left over. Every year the twig overage is different. This year, we had curly willow left, and just about nothing of any other type of twig. So curly willow was destined to play a part in the shop winter pots. The sage eucalyptus was not so popular this year, but the color is striking with the curly willow, and the red berries.

I will admit we never have any bleached pine cones left over, no matter how many we buy.  So I did purchase 2 cases of them, just for my clients and the shop winter display. We put them in the garland, and in all of the pots and window boxes.  At the close of the season, we had 2 bags left. Detroit Garden Works has their only sale of the year between December 25 and January 7.  One of those bags of cones was sold yesterday, and I am sure the last one will find a home soon.

lighted winter containerWe also manufacture the most stunning lighted rings for winter gardens; I have posted pictures of them plenty of times. Both the hanging and spiked versions are just about gone now.  But we did have 4 steel rings that had not had lights put on them, so we used those rings as a base for a collection of curly willow wreaths that sit at the back of each window box. Those three foot diameter wreaths are properly scaled to our industrial sized windows, and that vibrant color reads even at a distance.

Lighting is such an essential part of any Michigan winter display. They gray days will vastly outnumber the sunny ones from now until April. We did use left over incandescent garland light strings in the window boxes and pots, as we are transitioning over to stocking only LED lights. The light strings on the garland are attached to the grapevine portion of that garland.  Those light strings are LED lights.  One string is 110 feet long, which eliminates the need to string light sets together.  As the LED lights have a 10 year lifespan, we can store the grapevine with the lights still attached for next year’s garland, and maybe the year after that.  The grapevine is a durable material.

Detroit Garden Works for winterI will enjoy being able to walk past all my leftovers every day all winter long.

winter lightingThat pot at the end of the driveway has some company now.

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Gifts For Gardeners

At this time of year I get a lot of queries from wives, husbands, associates, children and friends about what would be a great gift for the gardener in their life. I do the best I can to answer those questions. I can be good, and I can be off. Just saying that my gift guide is no better than my opinion. Like most people, I try to do a good job matching the gift to the person. So to follow is an 11th hour gardener’s gift guide, of sorts. A gift guide for those of you still stymied at the last minute by the gardener on your gift list. I want to preface my remarks with this story. Rob sent me the picture above of an antique staddle stone while he was in England this past September, shopping for the spring 2017 season at Detroit Garden Works.  The stone itself has an incredibly beautiful shape, and an equally beautiful reticulated surface. I loved the stone wall in the background, and the moss at its feet. The fallen green apples and the brown fruit leaves that litter the ground speak to the fall season in Britain. A section of an agricultural wheel in the right of the picture tells me where he was when he took the picture. He has a relationship with a dealer in Britain who farms, and collects fine objects for the garden – many of them with an agricultural history. I am keenly interested in staddle stones, as they are one of many antique or vintage ornaments for the garden that are saturated with the history of a long and strong intersection of agriculture, and the landscape. I like them. But this particular stone takes my breath and my gardening heart away. I of course expected that since Rob sent me this picture, that he had bought this stone. Not so, he tells me today. Dang.  But at least I have learned that objects for the garden redolent with history appeal to me the most.

sneeboer garden toolsThat story told, a stellar holiday gift to the gardener in your life will depend on how far you are willing to go to understand the particular nature of their love of the garden.  Some gardeners are very hands on. The grime under their nails and dirty clothes that have real dirt on them is a clue. The shop carries just about the complete line of gardening tools from the Dutch company Sneeboer. A  hand digging and weeding gardener would love one or a collection of these job specific tools. This company goes so far as to manufacture a left and a right handed trowel.

hori hori garden knifeIf your dirt gardener has no interest in a collection of tools, they might like one tool that does just about all.  Barebones has created a hori hori inspired tool that digs holes, uproots weeds, and incidentally takes the cap of a bottle of beer at the end of a long day in the garden. This tool is hefty and useful.  It can do a job it was never meant to do, and not break.

dibbers and dib dabsIf your gardener likes to grow plants from seed in an orderly way, a dibble or a dib dab is a great choice. Neat gardeners are not so ordinary, but if you have one in your household, it should be apparent. Tools get cleaned off and put away at the end of the gardening day. Dirty boots get scraped, or get left outside the back door. These beautifully made beech wood planting tools may enchant the organized and methodical gardener.

flexi-tieIf your gardener goes so far as to stake wayward perennials and shrubs, a spool of flexi-tie is a great gift.  This chocolate brown stretchy plastic tie is harmless to plants. If the plant grows, the tie stretches.  I have staked big annuals, roses, and the wayward branches of my arborvitae with this tie. Flexi-Tie is English made-we are their only US distributor.

French made black soap with olive oilIf the gardener on your list gardens barehanded, this entirely natural, vegetal, and scentless French made black soap loaded with olive oil is an end of the day treat. Combined with a nail brush, the wash up will make a clean and refreshing ending to the gardening day.

mud glovesOn the other hand, some gardeners prefer gloves. There are plenty gardening gloves out there, but Mud Gloves are inexpensive and durable.

flower press
A flower press is the perfect gift for that gardener who believes that gardening is an art that should be recorded.  It is also a great gift for a young gardener who is just becoming acquainted with the beauty of nature, or an older gardener who is not doing so much digging any more.

vintage watering cansThe container we had delivered from England just this past week features an incredible collection of vintage watering cans. Your gardener may water select plants by hand, or they may be equally happy for a beautiful watering can to ornament their garden. We have a client whose garage has shelves for his collection of vintage watering cans – no kidding.

grapevine topiary formsWe manufacture steel topiary forms in a variety of shapes.  These forms have had grapevine added to them.  If the gardener on your list admires anything formal or topiary-like in the garden, these forms could be a hit. The four prongs at the bottoms make them easy to insert in the soil, or in a container.  They would be good looking planted with a small growing vine, or not. Sunne would be able to figure out how to gift wrap these, and Rob would be able to figure out how how to get them in your vehicle. The rest is up to you.

amaryllisSome gardeners focus on the plants. Detroit Garden Works does carry seasonal plants for those gardeners for whom what is green is everything.  We have just about to bloom hellebores, frosty selaginella ferns, and amaryllis.

amaryllis vaseThe gardener who loves the green, but is not so happy handling the dirt would appreciate an amaryllis vase. An amaryllis bulb can be brought in to bloom by filling the bulb portion of the vase with water, and setting the bulb down so only the roots are in water. The high sides of the vase keep will those tall and heavy bloom stalks aloft. This vase makes keeping the garden going in the winter so simple.

hand made terra cotta vase from EnglandThe gardener who loves fresh cut flowers would appreciate this contemporary garden style vase. This hand made English terra cotta vase imprinted with a fern frond is beautiful. Think how great it would look filled with cut flowers.

holiday ornamentSome gardeners would appreciate a quirky gift far afield from the ordinary. Rob’s holiday arrangement featuring vintage bottles, an English vintage tray, and a silver wire string of lights – different. A one of a kind gift.

citrus and herbs scented candlesOther gardeners like to bring the warmth of the garden indoors.  The citrus and herbs candles would make a thoughtful and beautiful gift. The orange and basil scent is my favorite. Any one of this series of candles might make a great gift to the gardener on your list who has had to move indoors.

Garden Design MagazineStill not so sure what the gardener on your list would be so happy to receive? A gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine is perfect for all manner of gardeners. How so? They cover in great depth a wide range of topics sure to interest every gardener. There are gardens from all over the US to see and read about.They write about plants, garden makers, tools, cut flowers, garden ornament and more. This publication is more book like than most magazines-they do not accept any advertising. The articles are thoughtful, and incredibly well written, and are season specific. The photography is stellar. I am so happy to hear they have a winter issue just about to come out. Jim Peterson and his staff have recreated Garden Design Magazine such that any gardener on your gift list would be thrilled with a subscription. I am so impressed with what they have accomplished. I feel sure this would be a great gift to just about anyone with an interest in the landscape and garden, but there is no need to take my word for it. See for yourself. They have made a short video about who they are, and where they hope to take their publication: Garden Design

I am equally happy to oblige with a link to their subscription page:   a gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine

I know this is all last minute, but help at the last minute can be quality help!

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Red And Green

holiday container centerpieceThe 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.

red and green Christmas treeWe 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.

holiday treeThis 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.

red and green holiday arrangementThe 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.

holiday containerThe juxtaposition of the brilliant red of the berry picks, and the merlot red of the eucalyptus is a little jarring and standoffish, rather than pretty.

holiday container centerpieceThe pale limey green of the poly mesh is not what I would call traditional holiday green.

holiday containerThe red berry picks were installed at different heights. The effect is deliberately asymmetrical.

holiday containerYou 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.

holiday potsNo matter whether you source materials from from your garden, the farmer’s market, or a roadside field, getting them to look like what you imagined calls for some design.

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Putting It All Together

cut variegated boxwood branchesWe are in the thick of the winter container gardening season. The shop sees to stocking and restocking great materials, which means that the landscape company has a shop full of cut greens, berries and picks in addition to fresh cut branches from which to choose. Those clients who choose to have us dress their holiday and winter pots keep my crews busy until the end of the year. I am grateful for that, and for the opportunity to do the work. If you are a gardener who chooses to do your own, I have a few suggestions.  If you use any cut broad leaved evergreens in your containers, like the variegated boxwood pictured above, consider spraying them with an antidessicant after you have arranged them. Their broad and thin leaves will lose water quickly after they are cut. An antidessicant will help to slow the drying process. Fresh cut twigs stay fresh looking a long time without any additional help, as the bark keeps the moisture within the stem.

German boxwoodWe spray our cut branches of boxwood with Vapor Gard, which is a non toxic natural pine resin based wax that coats and seals the leaves. This prevents or slows the evaporation of the moisture inside the leaves that are no longer absorbing water from the roots of the plant. An antidessicant will help to prevent winter burn on broad leaved evergreen plants as well. Newly planted boxwood, or boxwood planted in an exposed location will benefit from an antidessicant spray. The label will tell you what plants will benefit from this treatment. Vapor Gard is a commercial grade antidessicant only available by the gallon, but Wilt-Pruf is available ready mixed in a spray bottle, a more appropriate size for the greens in a few pots. Spray the greens on a rain free day at the warmest moment of the day.  When I say spray, I really mean soak.

mountain hemlockMountain hemlock does not need any antidessicant spray. The cut branches are always in short supply. These trees grow at extremely high altitudes, and if snow comes early in the mountains, the harvest will be small. We stock as much as we can of this cut evergreen, as it will stay obligingly green the entire winter. Evergreens have needle like foliage for a reason. Each needle has a very small surface area, which means the rate of transpiration is correspondingly small. Evergreens continue to photosynthesize, even though the roots cannot absorb water from the frozen ground in the winter. This is why it is so important that evergreens be well watered prior to the ground freezing. Evergreen foliage structure has evolved to keep moisture loss during the dormant season to a minimum. This mountain hemlock is Michigan winter proof.  These cut stems will look as good next March as they do now.

winter berryThe berried stems of ilex verticillata  are a favorite at the holidays.  That vibrant red has yet to be matched by any artificial stem. However, cut ilex stems tend to shed berries at an alarming rate. An antidessicant will greatly slow that shedding. The winter berry stems that I soak with Vapor Gard insure that those berries hold on for a good portion of the winter. We spray all of the branches that come in to the shop with Vapor Gard.

sugar pine conesThese sugar cones are not native to trees in my zone, but they naturally express the season. We group them on winter garlands, and stuff them into the greens of winter pots. The big scale, obvious texture and durable quality make them a candidate for inclusion in winter containers. Pine cones are tough as nails. Their scales are as woody as a tree branch.

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-13We have a variety of pine cones and stemmed seed pods dusted with white wash. I like this frosty look. A pairing with with tiger branches is a monochromatic color scheme that is quite wintry.

 

white washed pods for winter containersLike this.

dsc_1141Fresh cut bunches of southern magnolia provide big leaves – green on the upper surface, and fuzzy brown on the obverse. The leaves curl beautifully as they dry, and will stick tight to the stem the entire winter. Our supplier is known for her heavily branched bunches that are like bouquets.

red bud pussy willowThis winter installation from last year is all about the layering of materials.  The effect is warm and inviting.

materials-for-winter-pots-4Plastic is not my first choice for a winter container, but plastic berry picks are entirely waterproof and winter proof.  They can be reused for a number of seasons. Some of ours have stems that are wrapped in brown paper which is then waxed. They may not seem so appealing in their raw state, but placed in a container full of natural materials, they are quite believable.

white berry pickswhite plastic berries and plum eucalyptus

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-11This red felt ribbon finished with a white hemstitch is handsome.  The oversized width makes it great for holiday decorating.  Would I be concerned about using it outside? No. Most materials do not mind cold or snow. But some materials are not happy subjected to late fall rains.  Ask or test before you put a material outdoors for the winter.

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-8These felt birds would look great perched on a window sill all winter long.

materials-for-winter-pots-8We have a client with an entire family of our grapevine deer. As they spend the winter outdoors, we seal them with Waterlox once a year. This helps to keep the grapevine from deteriorating.  Every holiday, we make collars for them – this year is no exception. The idea here is that materials traditionally used indoors can be equally effective outdoors.

holiday wreathThis plain lighted artificial wreath got an upgrade from a 6′ pine cone garland, and some pods and berries.

materials-for-winter-pots-5This sphere is encircled by greens, lights, pods, magnolia, and gold berry picks.

materials-for-winter-pots-7Today is a relaxing day, with time available to reflect. Tomorrow we will be back to the making. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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