Hooping It Up

If you’ve frequented Detroit Garden Works during the winter/holiday season in the past 4 or 5 years, you’ve seen Rob’s light rings. Inspired a number of years ago to wrap a trio of vintage grooved wagon wheels with string lights, he went on to design and have manufactured steel hoops specifically engineered to light the winter night with circles of light. Our clients responded in kind. He has had plenty of fans, both residential and commercial, purchase his light rings over the years. Heavy gauge steel channel of an appropriate depth is rolled into a circle and welded.  His first rings, produced in a number of different sizes, were designed to be hung from a stout branch of a tree, or in a window. Each ring comes with a generous width and length of jute rope as a hanging apparatus. The plug end of the light strand (or strands, in the case of the really large hoops) was concealed within the jute. An exterior rated extension cord ran up the back side of the tree trunk, and was plugged into the lights from the top.  This is his ingenious way of concealing the cord. Some large hoops hung in trees were stabilized with heavy weight fish line attached from the sides of the hoop to neighboring anchor branches to prevent them from swinging in windy weather. A year later, he came out with spiked light hoops, that could be inserted into the ground, or into a pot. The bottom of that spiked hoop is welded to a steel rectangular base. Detroit Garden Works places so many of his lighted hoops in both commercial and residential settings.  I greatly appreciate the opportunity to specify them for an installation. We had occasion to install a pair of 5′ diameter spiked light hoops in some large pots this past week.

In this picture, the spikes at each corner of the frame have already been pushed down through the foam form which had previously been stuffed with greens in the shop. Given the size of these hoops, steel rebar was pounded down into the soil at all four corners of the hoop base. Each piece of steel went deep into the soil in the pot, and is secured to the hoop framework at the top of the base with steel concrete wire.

Securing the hoops take some time, but my idea is any element in a winter pot that goes sideways in bad winter weather is a poor look indeed. I like winter containers whose every element persists, in spite of whatever the winter weather has to dish out. That these lighted hoops will remain in place the entire winter is the best reason to make sure they stay put. Our winter weather can be nasty as well as inhospitable. Winter containers that endure are beautiful.  Lighting the landscape via winter container arrangements is a good idea.  Our winters are gray and blah – visually tedious. Some light and some warmth makes everyone feel better. That light makes the winter landscape look better.

The red twig dogwood was secured to a tomato cage in a way similar to a previous project. We did have to remove the bottom ring from this tomato cage so the dogwood and cage would fit over the bottom portion of the hoop. I have the Branch staff to thank for their adaptation that made this installation work. The middle ring of the tomato cage is attached to the base assembly of the hoop with more concrete wire.

A 50 light strand of C-9 LED lights was installed inside the funnel of dogwood. It is remarkable how much this gesture adds to the glow. Someone once said that the difference between very good and stellar in any gesture amounts to about 10 percent. This additional string of lights is a gesture aimed at stellar.

Once the centerpieces were set, several more layers of materials would be added. Those intermediary layers soften the intersection of the vertical centerpiece, and the horizontal blanket of greens. That intersection needs some intervention. Though our winter containers are engineered, they don’t need to look like it. An installation of this scale asks for thoughtful construction, but the look needs to be graceful and natural. Additional layers are cozy and warm. These boxes measure 40″ by 40″ on the outside. This is a very large space, calling for appropriately sized containers. They look like they are the right size in this environment. Only when people are photographed next to these pots do you realize how large they are.

A layer of red berry picks were inserted into the foam base.  The height of these berries conceal the top ring of the tomato cage, and the zip ties that hold the dogwood to the form. Bring on the red! Oh yes, these are faux berry stems. They will see service for a number of years, unfazed by the sun or the winter weather.

A final layer of tall fresh cut magnolia branches cover the lowest ring on the dogwood form.  The large size of these glossy green leaves is an effective contrast to the smaller texture of the other elements. Magnolia is one green that dries beautifully. That dark green will fade to a beautiful pale green, and the reverse side of each leaf will hold its cinnamon brown color for a long time.
The lights in the greens come last. Each small dot of light sits atop a dark green stalk which is easily an inch long. That stalk is attached to  base of wire. We thank the Dutch for these well designed light strings. Their longest strand is 110 feet, and features 1500 lights. Their design makes it possible to have the wiring and stalks set into the greens and out of sight, with just the dots of light on top. We lay the light strands on the surface until there is a pattern and coverage we like. When their are multiple pots, the same person does the layout for all. This makes for a consistent appearance from pot to pot. This may seem like a very small and unimportant gesture, but it does in fact contribute to the overall formality and quality of the installation. Though many hands take part in most of our projects, the finish needs to look focused and polished.

Once the lighting is arranged, we tuck in as much of the wire and light stalks as possible. Our daylight begins to fade at 4pm this time of year, and dawn straggles in about 8am. The challenge of winter pots is to design them them to work both day and night. All of the day time materials need to be natural and believable. A mechanism by which the pots can be appreciated at night is a big plus.


This finished container was photographed during the day. As for the size and scale of this container, I can assure you that two of my staff people were behind this pot, hooking up the final electrical. I am not surprised that I cannot see them. I am satisfied that we addressed the issue of scale and proportion accurately.

This late afternoon photograph was taken by my client. She is a passionate photographer, among a whole host of other things, including a keen interest in the landscape and garden. I love this picture from her. It tells me she feels like she got what she was looking for. The result pleases the both of us.

At A Glance: Holiday Garlands


To follow are pictures of garlands we have installed at one time or another. Why so many pictures? I like them. I treasure making them. I like that no matter how different they may be, each and every one celebrates the home and garden. It is just that simple. Winter garlands ward off the winter. I do not take so kindly to the coming of the winter.  My garden gone down and dark is a dark day indeed. The work I do outside now that enlightens and cheers the winter landscape is work I welcome.

Yes, I wrap my trees with garland. I doubt the grapevine and evergreen garland keeps my trees warm, but the act of wrapping the tree trunks comforts me, and keeps me warm.  No matter what a garland wraps, the big idea is about warmth. Gardeners in northern climates have a few months of bitterly cold weather ahead of them. Any expression of warmth is welcome now. Yes, please.

garland detail

a light garland

garland over the windows

magnolia garland

tree wrap

garland for an outdoor fireplace

window garland

burlap garland

asymmetrical garland

garland detail

light garland

I will confess that I go to great lengths to ward off the winter.  I am guilty as charged. Beyond those charges, the construction and the installation of garlands for the holiday and winter keeps me happy, and busy.

 

The Holiday Preview 2017

I am chagrined, but not surprised that I have not managed to put up a post in the past 10 days. I have been racing against a November 9th deadline to transform Detroit Garden Works from the fall to the holiday winter season. No one disputes that signs of the winter and holiday in late October or early November is pushing it, but it takes an incredible amount of time to display thousands of small objects in some coherent way. We have to start early.  I have to be ready in advance of those gardeners who will want to assemble winter container gardens, and add outdoor lighting late in November. Designers who shop our store plan in advance too. Every person in all three companies of my companies pitch in. In July, August and September, boxes and more boxes get delivered. Scott checks in every item, and prices them all. They go back on the shelves, until mid October. All of those boxes are brought down, unpacked, and stashed in fiber pots. Out entire stock room is filled to the brim with materials for the holiday and winter. I walk up and down the rows, knowing the design for the display this year’s collection will be driven by the materials. What will we do?

We allocate a bit more than two weeks to remake all 10,000 square feet of the shop.  Every one of thousands of objects gets a hands on treatment. David and Marzela do the lion’s share of the actual display work. I do not envy them their job.  I may move something five times before I settle on something. But they both are good natured and tireless in their efforts to get everything arranged just right.  Both of them have an excellent instinct for good design-we three have worked together a long time. They know my process, and they are not afraid to say no. I treasure this about them. Yes, I have lots of bad ideas. They like me enough to save me from bad decisions.  These two are the stars of the get ready part of the holiday season. They have brought around many a display from ordinary to stellar – plenty of times. Once the big design gestures are complete, we pick out those materials that support this idea for this room – and that idea for that room.

We tackle the airspace first. It only makes sense that anything to be hung from the ceiling needs to be in place before we load up the ground plane with materials. The Branch crew comes on occasion to help with this.  After the airspace, we vignette the walls.  Both David and LaBelle from the Branch Studio hung all of our wreaths. Anything that needs screws or nails are displayed from the top of our walls down.

If there are big and heavy pieces that need moving, my landscape superintendent Dan and his crew come in lend a hand.  I try to be very organized about what I need, as they are still working on late fall landscape projects. Pots get moved up high, into the stock room, or outdoors. Their work clears the deck for the new season.  Just one day before our evening holiday preview, they installed a lot of our outdoor lighting.

The work involved in that transformation from fall to holiday/winter dates really back almost a year.  Rob and Sunne shopped in January of 2017 for what we have available for purchase now. Their work was months in the making.This list is not in order, nor is it definitive. Holiday and winter picks for containers, bulk sphagnum moss in a variety of colors, Edison style light strings and bulbs, state of the art LED holiday and winter lighting, candles of every description from the US and overseas, holiday ornaments and garlands, felt figures and lighted wood holiday villages, hand blown and painted German glass ornaments, garland of every description, ornaments for holiday trees, preserved boxwood wreaths, wood buckets, galvanized metal bread trays so perfect for a holiday table – the list of the materials we have available for winter is long and varied. Many thanks to Rob and Sunne. Their January shopping trip was every bit of 5 days. What they purchased began trickling in to the shop this past July. August and September were noted for holiday deliveries. October meant boxes and boxes delivered just about every day. This past week, our regular UPS driver was saying hello twice a day.

Our once a year evening winter/holiday preview event was this past Thursday night.  I am relieved to say that we finished the last of the display work 30 minutes before our opening. The Detroit Garden Works staff say it was our best holiday party ever. Rob’s lighting was in evidence everywhere. Fresh cooked pizza was available by the slice in the driveway.  Christine manned the bar as she always has. Snow flurries appeared as if we had called them up! Ha. Hooray. Those months of planning in advance helped to create a perfect moment.

To follow are an embarrassing number of pictures of our shop dressed for holiday and winter. Forgive me, but this is a time of the gardening year that I truly enjoy. The fact that the garden is going dormant is a bruising concept. I choose to brush that moment off. Every gardener has a winter season ahead of them that can be delightful. One has only to decide to garden on.

My favorite part of this early holiday/winter season is the challenge to make good design sense of an ocean of materials. Like the landscape, I am looking at architecture, style, mass, color, line, shape and form. My more than favorite part are those people who make a point of seeking me out to talk to me. They respond to work we have done, and make a point of engaging me. That talk, person to person, gardener to gardener, is the best part of every gardening season.

Should you be near enough to our shop, I would urge you to visit. You will not be disappointed.  I rather think you would be energized, and inspired.  If you are too far away to visit our shop, enjoy these photographs. From me, to you.

shop vignette

dressed for the winter/holiday season

leaf ornaments

rustic wood villages

stocked for the holiday and winter to come

gold

winter vignette

gorgeous velvet pumpkins

holiday ornaments

rustic wood boxes

German hand blown and colored holiday ornaments

winter picks for winter container arrangements

winter vignette

small glass balls in neutral colors

The shop

The winter and holiday season to come? The shop is ready to help with that.

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The Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store.  Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade.  An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website    Boston ivy    I  have copied and posted the following:    “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an invasive plant species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken notice. Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful energy saving plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow.  It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.  The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored.  The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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