New Year’s

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (3)Christmas came and went, without the shop being fully dressed for winter. We had an incredibly busy season – that work has to come first. No one knows that better than I. But I have a love and a mission for making sure that our shop delights the eye of any gardener face to face with the winter season. The Branch crew constructed and hung the garland that is draped across the top of the roof boxes and all the way down to the ground on a Saturday in mid December. They added greens to the leading edge of the boxes behind the garland, for an especially lush look on the roof. That was a huge undertaking. It took 5 people just to haul it up an extension ladder to the roof. That was all we had going on for at least another week. The next Saturday all of the window boxes were filled with greens, and the 2 pots out front had twigs and greens. Christmas day afternoon, I constructed and set all of the centerpieces in the window boxes, and added small scale vine garlands to the greens, and pine cones to drape. Yes, Christmas afternoon.  Buck was rolling his eyes.  New Year’s Eve day, I had help from a sympathetic crew.  David found lights for the window boxes elsewhere, as we were out, and installed them.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (14)I wanted something tree like at the front door. Dan and his landscape crew cut down a Siberian elm that was growing up through the gas meter at Branch, and set them into steel shoes in the bottom of a pair of fiber pots. Once the fiber pots were filled with gravel, these tall branches were stable. As I had a pine cone fest already going on, I decided to hang pine cones on these trees. Marzela and David did all of the work of it. Dan, my landscape super, named these trees Pinus Ulmus.  We all found this incredibly amusing. The fun of hanging pine cones on a deciduous tree aside, I wanted to bring some of the warm orangy brown of the cones and grapevine garland onto these pale gray branches.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (4)The centerpieces in the window boxes are largely comprised of bunches of short branches that Rob had for sale in the shop. I can’t say what they are, I was looking at the height, color, and texture, and not the species.  The white tallow berry picks are artificial. They and the bleached pine cones add punch and punctuation to the mix. The roof garland features our new pin point LED lights. All of the light garlands are attached to the grapevine.

DSC_3726The two little leaf lindens outside the shop fence got a winter coat of natural curly willow. David got all of the bunches up against the trunk with the help of some bungee cords. Once he had every stem arranged to his satisfaction, he wired them on with concrete wire.  He and I covered that wire with two pine cone garlands wound around and secured to each tree. This is a warm look for winter.  Rob’s wire baskets with lights in the bottom, and a mass of twigs, got placed on either side of a birch faux bois bench.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (5)We were looking like we were ready for the winter. This made me happy.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (9)We have a very gray and dark season ahead of us. It is a tough time for anyone who gardens in a northern climate. The dark comes on in late afternoon, and does not abate until 8 am.  The cold has finally caught up with us. Michigan is renowned on the gray skies list-it ranks right up there. Having the shop with a display for winter will make the winter easier to bear. Every day when I walk to my office door, I will be glad for the warm blanket.  It is as simple as that.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (10)I took this picture at 4:40 this afternoon. The yews and boxwood have gone to their winter black green. The dusting of snow looks chilly.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (12)One of my most favorite items we sold in the shop for the winter are these strings of lights with giant bulbs. I have Rob to thank for these. The linden closest to the road will have this string lighted all winter long.  I come to work in the dark, and I park my car here in the winter.  The light these bulbs provide is adding lots of visual vitamin D to my daily life.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (1)Happy New Year.



Nearer To The Last

winter container arrangementsMy entire crew was in today, after a 4 day Christmas break.We had a few late request winter container projects to do. They dove into the work, like they always do. We were down to the very last bits of the hundreds of cases of greens we had delivered in November. The day they arrived, I could not imagine that we would use them all.  Today we took a Korean fir Christmas tree that Rob had placed in the shop, and chopped it up for branches, so we would have enough. This client would get some very special greens. These two centerpieces with pussy willow and blue gray eucalyptus were already installed in my pots at home. They came back to the shop, to be integrated into a new scheme. My driveway pots will need another treatment. I am not the least bit concerned about having to redo them. There are always other choices that work.

December 30, 2015 013This client has a contemporary version of Nantucket style home.  She has a considerable interest in contemporary expression.  For a client like this, we work with materials in a different way.  A more sculptural way. The twigs in the center are artificial, and look like they have ice on them.  If we ever get some winter weather, they will be believable.

December 30, 2015 015No matter the aesthetic point of view governing a winter container design and construction, generosity is an important element.  Our winters are incredibly long, gray, and spare.  All the trees in their leafless state is a study in spare.  This means I like lots of whatever elements I choose to include in a winter container.  I greatly admire the lean chilly look, but what I really like is a warm and toasty response to winter. We shopped the field at Branch for these branches-we bundled lots of them up with steel wire. 4 bunches of a yellow green eucalyptus complete the look. This client has a fairly contemporary mindset as well.

December 30, 2015 017Winter color is the subject of no end of articles about the winter landscape. That color does not need to be rooted in the ground.  Willow and dogwood twigs, in their cut state, will endow a landscape stuffed in to a pot with great color the entire winter. I do not have room to grow yellow twig dogwood or copper flame willow on my small property.  But their cut twigs can energize a landscape gone over to the dark side. The appearance of the color inside the garage under fluorescent lights is a little jarring. Outdoors, on a cloudy day, that color will tone down considerably.

IMG_7765How I decide to dress a client’s containers for the winter-I cannot really explain that process even to my own satisfaction. I favor a subtle expression on this porch, as the architecture is so strong. Some yellow undertones are good with the warm color of the cedar shakes, and the wood pots.

IMG_7766These wood boxes are greatly over scaled for this front door. This was not my choice, but I have come around to like them. I like how much they make me think, before I do. Were these pots placed in a more open location, I would do them much larger. The space on this porch is restricted. How to make the arrangements large enough without them looking overbearing or obstructive is always a challenge, no matter the season. On occasion my client protests that the winter pots cannot be seen from the road. I don’t mind how much they blend into their surroundings. To my eye, the star of this porch is that dark blue lacquered door.

IMG_7772A rear porch has a pair of very large white boxes just outside the doors. Some years I try to match all of that white. As they are viewed from the porch windows that are close by, dark colors read equally as well.

IMG_7771Proper proportion is a design element that drives all of my design.  These greens are very low and very wide. Appropriate for these massive and simple containers. The dark blue eucalyptus has a cube of white eucalyptus underneath it.  This adds visual mass to that dark blue, while helping to bring out the blue color.

IMG_7769I do want to speak to the beauty I see in mixed greens for winter containers. We have so many conifers that grace our zone. Conifers that grow in the Pacific northwest are represented in our mix as well. Many conifers that would suffer in our extreme winters thrive there. I suspect the long and fairly mild growing season out there means that conifers can bounce back and regrow quickly when they are pruned for cut branches. Our mountain hemlock comes from very high elevations, and are only available for a very short time in early November.  Once the snows come to the mountains, the trees are impossible to reach. Silver fir was in very short supply this fall, for the same reason. On any given winter day in Michigan, the evergreens greatly endow the landscape.

IMG_7782The driveway pots we plant up for all four seasons.  Spring, summer, fall and winter. No pot needs to go empty over the winter.

IMG_7784The color of the yellow twig is indeed more subdued when it is placed outdoors.  Even so, it is visually lively, in a landscape that has gone neutral in color.

Flame willow is aptly named.

IMG_7779The 10 containers we fill for winter here add a lot of look to the winter landscape.

IMG_7785We are wrapping things up.

The Next To The Last Of The Winter Work

winter 2015 (3)A lot of work got imagined and fabricated in this garage in the past 6 weeks. A big landscape project that needed Dan and his crew ran late – as in until December 23.  This made me send an SOS to Buck December 1-would his fabricators be able to lend me a hand? Lend me a hand they did.  Lucio, Marzela, David, Owen, Riley, LaBelle, Sal and I produced a boatload of work, with intermittent help from Dan and his group.

winter 2015 (13)A boatload of work does not necessarily imply a beautiful boatload, but I am happy for what is out there. Once my crew is intent on a fabricating project, they proceed at the proper pace, taking great care to do it right.  Should I have a mind to rush anything along, Marzela will look up at me and say, “everything is under control here, Deborah”.  And then she will laugh. Then the whole crew will laugh. Then I laugh, and relax. I could not have a better group. They do prodigious in a beautiful and thoughtful way. They never let me get in the way of that. Each project is particular to the client, the architecture, and the landscape. I figure that part out.  winter 2015 (2)The construction in the shop is a comfortable affair.  The space is big. It is warm enough that we are able to concentrate on the work at hand, and not the weather. We can draw on all of the materials that Rob has on hand in the shop for the winter season. A store chock full of beautiful materials makes all the difference in the world.  I don’t always know exactly what I would like to use for a particular project. If I am interested in good options, I can cruise my own store. No need for a coat and hat and the car keys. This was on my mind, when I decided to open Detroit Garden Works.  First and foremost, I wanted anyone to have access to beautiful objects for the garden. But I also wanted that access to beautiful materials and objects for the garden for the work I do for my clients.  This has been a happy association-between Detroit Garden Works, and Deborah Silver and Co Inc, for going on 20 years. The groundwork of it was considerable.  It took years to make that shop friendly to gardeners and my landscape company- but every bit of the work was worth it.

winter 2015 (14)We don’t worry about making a mess in the shop-it is easy to sweep up at the end of the day.  Where we do not want to make a mess is on the porch of a client, in cold weather. We do not come to construct on site – we come to install.

winter 2015 (4)Creating a centerpiece for a winter pot can be an involved affair. There can be a number of different elements, all of which need to be deliberately placed. An installation mechanism needs to be in place – ahead of time.  The stout bamboo stake at the center of this centerpiece is not visible here-but it is there.  Pounded into the soil in a pot, it will provide much needed anchor once the ground freezes. Picks need to be fluffed.  Some picks have to be bent in a certain direction. Some materials require a lot of fussing before they represent the idea we have in mind.

winter 2015 (6)Once we arrive to install, all of the decisions regarding materials, shapes, textures and mass have already been made.  That time spent outdoors is short and sweet. I am very grateful for the existence of smart phones.  Every one of my crew send me pictures.  What they choose to photograph tells me what they most focus on.  A group of pictures sent before they leave the job enables me to tweak this or that, or give the go ahead. This technology helps us to provide the best quality installation possible.  I will say there are times that what I thought would be perfect is not so great. I like every opportunity to tune up whatever we do. Sometimes it takes the third try to get it right. I am never afraid to redo. Redoing is a sign of sincere interest in a project.

winter 2015 (11)To follow are some pictures of our projects from the past few weeks. We have 4 projects yet to get done-which we will do next week.  I am not so worried that we have work yet to do – nor are my clients. The winter has barely begun.

winter 2015 (8)curly copper willow, red picks, and cream decor mesh

winter 2015 (23)a fountain surround of Branch lattice boxes, filled for the holiday and winter

winter 2015 (24)Silver fir installed up side down-for an especially silvery look

winter 2015 (15)copper and orange willow.  cut magnolia branches

winter 2015 (10)This Branch 48″ wide break form pot is so wide that we had to create a plywood form with foam on top to get this winter pot as wide as it needed to be. Proper proportion is so important. We buy premium evergreen branches that are very long lengths. We need that width.  We are filling pots, not holiday table top centerpieces.  But beyond 16″, a branch will sag under the weight of the winter snow. This pot needed a special form to get the proper proportion to the width of the greens, without compromising the strength of the arrangement.  The greens are thick and luxuriant. Exterior grade plywood helps to make that happen.

winter 2015 (12)contemporary pots for winter

winter work 2015a mass of cardinal red twig dogwood

December 17 2015 103blue white, cream, and taupe

winter 2015 (26)curly copper willow and fuchsia eucalyptus

winter 2015 (9)domed

winter 2015 (18)simple, for winter

winter 2015 (5)eucalyptus and magnolia

IMG_7379 (2)
lighted topiary forms

winter 2015 (1)a low key centerpiece with lots of noble fir as an anchor

winter 2015 (16)blue and lime

winter 2015 (25)The purple berry picks in this pot are on their third year out. We cut them short this year, and paired them with lavender eucalyptus and magnolia.

winter 2015 (17)muted lime berry picks and merlot eucalyptus

holiday and winter containers (9)all green

winter 2015 (19)We have a plywood form for this fountain.  We have replaced the foam only once in the past 6 years. A fountain full is better than an empty fountain.

winter 2015 (22)Red bud pussy willow in a dome of boxwood. noble fir to finish.

holiday and winter containers (10)winter white

winter 2015 (21)We took these great galvanized containers to Rob’s house, and filled them full of greens.  We dropped of an array of other materials we thought he might like. He is a great designer, and he has ideas about how things should look. We never take his pots to the finish.  We are his supporting cast. Does he have time to do winter containers at home at this time of year? No. He runs the shop better than full time, all year round. What we managed to get done for him last week is our version of a leg up. I like the idea that the winter containers provide a winter garden with a leg up.  Think of it.

Red and Green

red and green 2015 (3)Popular wisdom says that red and green is the traditional color scheme for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it is. The December landscape in my zone is notable for its evergreens, and deciduous plants that bear red fruit. There are many theories about how those colors came to be associated with Christmas-most of them reference practices dating back to the middle ages. Insofar as holiday decor is concerned, there are lots of ways to say red and green. For those that appreciate a little variation on a much loved and traditional color scheme, there are infinite shades of red, and infinite shades of green.  The lime green of this flocked pick is striking in a sassy way.  The accompanying maroon red of the eucalyptus is muted, even a little moody.  The combination of the respective shades of red and green is interesting. Not at all what I would call the traditional Christmas red and green.  Each color is all the better for its visual relationship with the other.

red and green 2015 (1)On a cloudy day, the daytime color relationships are even more muted. Come dusk, that will change.  The topiary form is strung with red and lime green lights and glass garlands that will pick up that light. Every so often, a cluster of shiny lime green glass balls have been wired to the form. The greens in the bottom have 600 white lights, courtesy of two strings of garland lights. What at this moment has a very reserved appearance will amp up after dark.

red and green 2015 (2) The lights and glass balls on these forms have to be updated once in a while.  The winter weather is tough on them. This updating serves another purpose. Every year, little changes in the color and materials makes the winter pots look fresh. The dark red decor mesh is not a traditional red. It invites a second look.

red and green 2015 (4)My clients were surprised and pleased about this rendition of red and green. Though I have been doing their holiday pots for a number of years, no two seasons look quite the same.

red and green 2015 (6)The one pot off their second floor terrace is always viewed through the glass of the door wall. I think the brighter red is called for. I like it, paired with the maroon red of the eucalyptus. To follow are some pictures of other year’s red and green schemes.

Dec 19, 2011 028

Michigan holly

Creed 2 (12)

michigan holly 2

wreath 2014So should you like your Christmas pots any color scheme at all, as long as it is red and green, you still have plenty of possibilities to choose from.

red and green 2015 (5)They always ask me to place a little something on the gates into their neighborhood.  Here I always opt for the brightest version of red and green that I can muster. As in, Merry Christmas!