Night Light

jan7a-017The late fall, winter, and early spring in my zone occupies a solid 6 months of every year. For gardeners, this amounts to being occupied by an army of unfriendly conditions. The cold, the quiet, the somber color of the landscape, the desertion of the birds, the leafless trees, the snow, and the sunless skies that preside over the dormant garden are enough to make any gardener black out. There are a few bright and light spots. The late November and December holidays are a celebration any and all can enjoy. There is nothing like a celebration to banish the winter blues. It is not surprising that the holidays have roots in an ancient late season festival of lights. The quality and duration of light is a major consideration in the planning of a garden or landscape. It is equally important to a warm winter garden.

holiday-17We have sunny skies and 60 degrees forecast for this week, but the beginning of winter is but 5 weeks away. Nature in particularly stingy in the light department given the arrival of that moment. The shortest day of the year, also known as the winter solstice, will be the 21st day of December this year. On that day, my city will have 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight, and 14 hours and 28 minutes of nighttime. At that moment, the north pole will be tilted away from the sun the furthest distance it will be all year. I rue that day. The gray days and the long black nights that attend our winter are tough to take.  I will not be paying so much attention to the beginning of the dark in late December. I have holidays to celebrate. But January, February and March can be dark. A plan in advance to light the winter night just makes sense.

dec-20-2012-038It is a given in my household that all of my containers will be dressed for the winter season. They may have fresh cut twigs, or stems from my garden, fresh cut greens, or holiday picks-but no matter how I choose to handle the decor part, all of them will provide some light. Empty containers over the winter is a lost opportunity. Winter containers without lighting is much the same. Dressing containers for the winter to come is a form of antibiotic that can help make the insult of the winter easier. This rectangular pot which I plant for summer lights the way down the stairs from the deck to the yard. This is a great idea for 2 aging corgis, and my aging self going down those stairs. Incandescent garland light strings have the lights very closely spaced.  There are 300 lights per strand.  This pots has two strands tucked into the greens. I can see this pot from my bedroom window.  This light is the last thing I see before I go to sleep. Sweet.

dec-20-2011-034I go to work, and come home from work in the dark now. The dark days are ascending. This picture of winter container arrangements that were lighted that Rob made for me several years ago at the end of my driveway meant that I had light in my garden, early and late in the day. The morning light was as beautiful as it was cheery. Fiery expressions in the winter-how I appreciate them.

dec-20-2011-007On those winter nights when I was out late, I could see my way to the door, courtesy of these lighted winter pots. I was happy to have my way to the garage door at 8pm easy to navigate. Great lighting not only illuminates the winter landscape, it makes the winter easier to bear. I do have landscape lighting, which I rarely use in the summer months. The summer daylight goes fashionably late in my zone. But come winter, I appreciate my landscape lighting. And a little supplementary lighting in my winter containers makes that just past 4 in the afternoon and at 7am a dose of light that I appreciate. Your containers stuffed with natural materials for the winter, and glowingly lighted, may prove to be an effective antidote to the gray days and the very long dark nights to come.
jan7a-020I do believe that landscape lighting is an integral part of a great landscape design. I routinely plan for my lighting designer, Kevin McMahon from Moonlit Lighting, to propose a lighting scheme. Those lighting schemes are tailored individually to each client. Landscape lighting is not my forte. I take Kevin’s lead.  But lighting containers is a specialty. That specialty evolved from Rob’s interest in lighting, and his passion for lighting up the winter night.

dsc06326We have for many years incorporated his light strands into our winter containers.  Like everything on the planet, lighting has evolved. Though for years we stocked all manner of incandescent light strands for containers, the LED light revolution has changed all of that. Finally LED light strings are available with lights that exude a warm glow. Their initial harsh blue light was unattractive to both the landscape and people. No doubt they are more expensive than the 100 count incandescent light strings that were reliable for one season only. The Dutch manufactured lights that Detroit Garden Works carries now are good for 10 years and 50,000 hours. They draw very little power. The investment up front is greater, but the rewards are better than greater. Lighting your garden in the winter has never been easier. Your electric bill will be small.

dong-2011-020This pot of twigs that Rob designed and installed last year with C-6 incandecent light strings at the base have the fire power that only incandescent lights can deliver. These lights come with a price from DTE energy. The good news is that any gardener seeking to banish the dark has a lot of choices.

nov-25-2012-012The front of the shop in December from some years ago would have been dark indeed without the lighting.  My advice? Dress your pots for the winter season. Do not forget to light them. Light up your night.















Holiday Preview 2016

open-house-7The kick off for the Detroit Garden Works holiday preview weekend is tonight.  I have spent most of the last 2 weeks helping to get the shop ready for our only evening event of the year. It is a party for all of those gardeners who shop here, and help keep our business going. We thank all of you.  It is also an opportunity for Rob to display all of his lighting ideas for the winter to come. If you are in the area, our event runs from 5 to 9.  We have complimentary valet parking, a light dinner, and drinks. It is terrifically good fun, should you have a mind to attend.  If not, the event goes on Friday and Saturday 9-5, and Sunday 12-4.  As there is more I have to do before 5, I will leave you with these pictures. And I will post more of the evening party for those who are too far away to come. Next week, I promise I will be back to writing-of course about the gardening season ahead. Hope to see you later!


















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.