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.


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!


A Holiday Color Scheme

Client’s routinely ask me for things I would never think of. That is just one of a hundred reasons why I like having clients. People know what they like, and they will tell you, if you ask the right questions.  This client is hosting a holiday event tomorrow. She called me well in advance to discuss what work she wanted done. I have done winter pots for her for quite some time-since we installed the landscape and gardens at her new house. But a request for a special holiday installation was not part of our history. After some discussion, I still felt unsure.  So I asked if she had a color scheme in mind. That question produced a lengthy reply that did not surprise me a bit. She had a color scheme in mind. Loved that!!!

A discussion of color is a bridge upon which a designer and client can meet. Most people have strong feelings about color. I admit to it myself.  Certain colors attract me-others leave me cold.  Some colors are not so swell on their own, but in combination with another color-all of a sudden there is an idea brewing. Most gardeners are big fans of green. But some like green with white.  Others like green with yellow orange and red.  Still others like their green limey, with a side of pale lavender or purple. There are infinite variations in color, if you consider all of the possible tones and shades. A client who speaks to a color scheme is a gift to this designer.

Make no mistake, I have more than my fair share of spectacular misses, trying to read what a client will like. Most landscape design projects are forgiving of what I miss.  A landscape project takes place over a long period of time.  Mistakes can be corrected. A point of view can be tuned up before the installation. A holiday installation is a brief moment in the gardening year. I take special pains to be sure I am on the right track.

The question about color proved to be a good question. My client was sure that she wanted a gray and white holiday outdoors, with some accents of maroon or claret red. I was surprised, and intrigued. Rob sees to my having an ocean of materials available to me-thank you Rob.  Once I started scouting the materials we had that available, I was able to put together a palette of materials that I thought would satisfy her request.

The installation yesterday involved garland on her low fencing out front, and her gates.  We spent a good deal of time hanging a garland over the entrance to the front door.

Gray and white, in a number of different forms and materials, would play a prominent role in the creation of the holiday and winter arrangements in a singular large stoneware pot, the planters surrounding her fountain.

We took particular care to hang the heavy garland with zip ties and wires.

The garland is asymmetrical and quirky-appropriate to the architecture of the front door.

The front yard fountain had 5 curved Branch lattice boxes surrounding it. We plant those boxes for every season. For holiday and winter, we stuffed each box with noble fir, with a center ring of sparkly white picks, gray pod picks-and a dash of merlot dyed pods.

The fountain is shut don for the winter, but the surrounding planters make a big statement about the holiday, and the winter to come.

Though I would have never imagined a holiday decor scheme with white, gray, and a splash of maroon red, I was delighted by the outcome.

My client is a  serious gardener, through and through. This arrangement in white, gray and maroon per her holiday color scheme is my best effort to represent her relationship with the garden at the holidays.

Though this color scheme for the holiday is a first for me, I quite like the outcome.

The big idea here? Be confident in every idea you have about your garden. Or your holiday or your winter. Turn your imagination loose.

This late day November sun yesterday set the centerpiece of this winter pot on fire. Love the fire.