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!


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



glass drops in the rain

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


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

The Beginning of the Winter Season

Our winter/holiday season began the moment that our cut greens arrived. Why so early? The daughter of a long standing client is to be married this Saturday the 18th. Lots of family and friends from places far away will be attending.  I promised that her winter pots would be done before the first of their out of town guests were scheduled to arrive. On the face of it, that seemed easy enough. To say we carry cut greens is an understatement. Our west coast grown greens are premium length and fine quality boughs that permit us to provide the proper scale and density to our winter pots.

Those greens were scheduled to be delivered this past Monday. But on Monday, our driver was still in Nebraska. Shipping delays are not that unusual, but I had a deadline that had no wiggle room.  I talked to my client, and assured her that the moment those materials arrived, we would be on her project.  Tuesday morning we were breaking in to the 40 pound boxes of greens as they came off the truck. Wednesday morning first thing we were ready to install.

All of the work of our winter containers is done in the stockroom/garage at Detroit Garden Works. The materials for the centerpieces are arranged around and zip tied to a stout bamboo pole. That pole gets driven down into the pot with a padded mallet once we determine the exact location for that centerpiece. That long stake driven down into the pot provides ballast that keeps that centerpiece perfectly vertical.  Of course smaller pots get smaller stakes. The greens are cut to the length we need, and sharpened at the ends before they are inserted in thick dry foam forms.

Those double layered dry foam forms are cut to the interior dimensions of the pot in question. The bottom layer is inserted into the container.  The top layer stands proud of the rim of the pot.  This enables us to stick greats horizontally – a look which is graceful and natural coming over the edge of the pot. Once the greens in the form are wedged into the pot, and the centerpiece set, we add lights. Winter pots provide an opportunity to light that dark time of year.

We exclusively use Lumineo LED light strands available from Detroit Garden Works for our winter containers. The strands are so lightweight, and entirely flexible. I can easily hold a 110 foot long strand in one hand. They drape beautifully. The lights are shatterproof – stepping on them does no harm. You can count on 50,000 hours, or at least ten years of longevity. The dots of light are set on top of long black green stems. This design makes it simple to hide the lightweight wire, and have the lights proud of the greens. They come in a range of lengths and light densities. They also come is a classic warm color mirroring the color of traditional incandescent strings, or a warm white which is a clearer and brighter white.  These LED light strands do not have the fire power of traditional incandescent winter and holiday lighting, but they make up for that in longevity and economy. Interested in more firepower? Try the cluster lights, which are set very close together. They draw so little power, that they eliminate the need for timers. Detroit Garden Works has switched over to this lighting for its signature light rings.

Great technology can be incredible, and shipping can be delayed, but foremost, our first winter project was very personal. We chose materials that seemed celebratory of a very special event. My client was happy about those materials, and the lighting. I put all of my crews to getting the work done. I was so pleased about the look.  I fluffed this, and rearranged that, but by and large my crew did a terrific job of rising to the occasion.

This pot at the corner of the garage features glass drops attached to a weed tree much like what we did for her 9 years ago. She brought the box of drops to me a week ago.  We added some drops, given the size of a weed tree on our landscape property that we cut for this particular pot.

My client took me through her entire house so I could see the views out her windows. She explained to me how the views from inside to the outside meant so much to her. Seeing the landscape from inside out for the first time was a revelation. I have done lots of landscape work for her. Yesterday, I understood what she sees. What I understand from our first winter installation is that what is personal and important is precious.


Hydrangea Time

I am somewhat embarrassed about how many posts I have devoted to hydrangeas over the past 8 years. Probably too many. The varieties, the care, the pruning-I have covered this shrub as if I were a preteen age groupie. I am embarrassed about my love for the whole lot of them, but so be it.  Show me a hydrangea – chances are I will fall for it. Nothing says summer in Michigan so clearly and grandly as the hydrangeas in full bloom. Once the hydrangeas come in to bloom, I am not my usual self. My love of geometry and simplicity fades away. The romance of hydrangeas is tough to resist. It is impossible for me to be critical of any summer blooming hydrangeas. Even those that flop over at the slightest threat of rain. Do not count on me to detail what is not to like about hydrangeas. I like them all without reservation.

I grow Limelight hydrangeas at home. They are so showy in bloom, and so easy to grow. Mine are 15 years old. They deliver their gorgeous blooms every year on time, in spite of a lackluster or hurried early spring pruning on my part – or that week that I forgot to water them. They are forgiving of any bad move on the part of a gardener. They thrive with a minimum of care. They give so much more than they ask. They endow my August garden with that special garden magic I call summer. I would not do without them.

My landscape is primarily evergreen.  I like that structure that is evident all year round. But the hydrangeas blooming in my garden speaks to the blooming great Michigan summer. To follow are pictures of my hydrangea bloom time at home.

The Limelight hydrangeas take my late summer garden to another level. I am sure there are other hydrangea cultivars that are ready and willing to take a garden and its gardener in charge over the moon. Do the research, and choose which cultivar fits in your garden. In general, I like shrubs. They provide mass and texture, bloom in both the spring and summer seasons, and fall color. If you are looking for some great shrubs for your landscape, the hydrangeas are a good place to start. Shrub it up – that garden of yours.