Festive, Please

to the nines (12)We do have clients who approach the holiday season with gusto.  Projects like these come with a big dose of celebratory feeling attached. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all – I enjoy it. Not all work is work. Some work is satisfying enough to call it fun.  The holiday work comes with some peripheral exposure to important or traditional moments in people’s lives. As in an extended family coming home for the holidays. This is work that has  very personal connotations. For starters, this client wanted every pillar in front festooned with garland. It seems natural that a landscape design and installation company could make the leap to seasonal gardening.

to the nines (5)Her lighting person had already wound strings of lights around each pillar. This was a little harsh looking.It only took a few minutes to take them down, and get the garland up first.  Since we would be adding garland to 6 pillars, it seemed like fewer spirals per column would look better.

to the nines (11)We put one length up from an uncut 50 foot roll, and unwound enough to make a decent puddle of greens at the bottom. We laid out all of the garlands in the drive, and cut them to the proper length. The top of the column has a molding.  It was easy to attach the first circle of garland with a zip tie above that molding. That architectural detail would keep the entire length of garland aloft.

to the nines (4)Yes, there were pots to do. Since there would be a lot of decorating outdoors, we kept the pots simple.

winter red (8)These pots will look as good all winter as they do for the holiday season.  I always appreciate a client who has a preferred color scheme in mind. Once I have that, I can put materials together that I think reflects the taste of the client, and the setting. Red, green and white would predominate.

to the nines (13)The outside of the house is festive indeed. The light strings were reattached on top of the green garland, for a much softer look.

to the nines (6)At the door, we filled another pair of winter pots, and added an artificial garland overhead –  to which we added eucalyptus, faux berries, and those beautiful bleached pine cones.

to the nines (8)That garland was repeated on the inside, over the doorways, and on the stair railings.

to the nines (10)Once we attached them, Marzela went back and fluffed every sprig, and made sure every element was facing towards the primary view.

to the nines (9)The pine cones were attached facing left on the left side, facing right on the right side, and facing down at the bottom of the swoop. If this seems fussy, it is.  But facing the materials on a garland has to do with establishing a visual rhythm, and repeating it. Part of the beauty of it is how it is installed.

to the nines (2)The mantel was done in noble fir attached to a bamboo pole across the top. The drops were lengths of the fir zip tied together.  In the center, a larger bloack of floral foam was stuffed with greens, poplar branches, and birds.  The bleached cones from the garlands were repeated.

to the nines (1)This porch is as green and festive as it can be. It surely is the garden version of “welcome to my home at the holidays”.  I like this.

A Collection Of Cones

bleached pine coneThese bleached pine cones that so enchanted me this season sparked an interest in the cone world. Although pine cones are as familiar to me as the back of my hand, I realized that I did not know so much about them.  These woody structures house the reproductive mechanism of a conifer. The female pine cones are large, and produce seeds.  The male cones are small, produce lots of pollen, and eventually disappear once the pollen is dispersed. Of great interest to me is the fact that the identification of many pines revolves around the particulars of the cones they produce. The conifers existed on earth long before any flowering plant.  These cones are considered the precursors of flowers.  No wonder gardeners prize them.

cedar conesThese cedar pine cones may have lived on a cedar through more than one season.  It takes time for a cone to mature, and drop its seed.  Once the cone has done has produced and dropped its seed, its biological directive has been fulfilled.  The cones then drop to the ground. I spent some time today looking at these cones. I had never really taken the time to study on them them before. How incredibly beautiful they are.

acorn conesThe oak acorn caps are not truly cones, but they share the woody and highly textured appearance of a pine cone. It was easy to like these acorn caps. Once the pine cones mature and drop, they are very persistent. A coulter pine produces the largest pine cones in the world.  I have one that is over 20 years old.  It has not deteriorated in the least bit. It is as heavy as a rock, and as architectural as the most beautiful building in the world.

December22, 2015 033How pine cones came to be associated with the holiday and the garden season’s end, I have no idea.  But they have adorned many a wreath and garland. A bowl full of these ponderosa pine cones would be simply beautiful.  We are able to purchase pine cones which have picks attached.  This makes them easy to use in decorations. We also attach them via wire that is wrapped around the scales.  Pine cones with tight scales-such as these cones-may need to be drilled.  Having done this, I am amazed at how hard and dense their wood it. Plan for some drilling time.

pinus nigra conesThese cones are produced by pinus nigra.  From the front, the scales are a rich cinnamon brown.  From the side or back, the cones are black.

dried pine cone baseThese dried “flowers” were made from the base of a pine cone.

split pinus maritima pine conesThese half pine cones come from pinus maritima. Pine cones split in half are great for places where a full cone would be too wide. This picture of the split side illustrates the density and strength of the cone.

gray washed pine conesWe carry many species of pine cones for the winter season. Some are native to our zone.  Others come from places far away, and have that exotic look. These pine cones have had a gray wash applied to them. They can take paint as well as any piece of wood furniture.

December22, 2015 035 Sugar pine cones rank among the longest cones in the world.  They regularly grow to 24″ long. Thy are sold by their length.  The long cones are especially prized. The scales are tight, when they are fresh harvested.  With age, those scales expand and flair out. A pine cone is a very familiar object indeed. But it is an enduring object whose appeal never fades.

December22, 2015 025flocked cones

pinus sylvestris conesa bowl of cones from pinus sylvestris

unknown pine conea cone whose species is unknown to me

December22, 2015 032These natural cones have been attached to an artificial garland, and sprayed with sparkle. I feel sure that they will endure as long as the garland. As in just about forever. Just about forever-that surely describes every gardeners relationship with the natural world.

The Pine Cones

019Every holiday and winter season presents material that quickly becomes a favorite.  My favorite this year? Giant bleached pine cones from Spain. Don’t ask me the species-I do not know. They could be Ponderosa pine cones-but do Ponderosa pines grow in Spain? I can’t answer that question, but I can speak to the incredible beauty of these cones.  Most natural pine cones are dark in color. This means their shapes and forms are not so easy to see.  These bleached cones make every detail of their form strikingly clear. Anything pale colored in the landscape reads well from a distance.

IMG_1500I do have a landscape client with a big love for birch trees.  When she built a new house, her only particular request was for birches.  We did plant 4 Himalayan white barked birch in her drive court.  Yes, they are susceptible to borers.  Judging by how they look some 3 years later, she is doing a great job of looking after them. The white trunks look particularly beautiful with the pale stone walls and the cast limestone pots.

IMG_1480Her request for her winter pots came in the form of one word. birchy, please. Placing sections of birch logs in containers is not so easy. For 5 of her smaller containers, I opted for a collection of materials that might recall that pale cream to white birch bark.  The three small pots on this wall featured cream white berry picks, paired with white eucalyptus. The cream berry sticks make the eucalyptus take on a blue cast. As the house has pale blue accents and blue stone, that blue in the pots is welcome. One very beautiful winter pick featuring match stick sized wood stubs attached to a stem was placed front and center. A dash of red with that blue white eucalyptus says holiday.  But the star of the show are those pine cones.
IMG_1499Winter containers in the landscape help to keep the gardening season alive. These espaliered katsura trees in  have shed all of their leaves.  They have gone quiet and dark. The boxwood in this planter box have assumed their winter color.  What is bright and beautiful right now are the pots.

IMG_1482Great winter pots recall in miniature a certain conversation between a gardener and nature. Those winter pots can shine, in this season noted for its darkness. Pale colors in a winter container landscape look fresh. The winter in my zone is known for the gloom and dark. A winter expression that is light, delights.

IMG_1483The bleached pine cones from Spain are a feature in these winter pots.  Their mass and texture stand out. The creamy color is good with just about any other color you might have in mind. I have used them in both traditional and more contemporary settings.  They are as architectural as they are natural.

006A representation of birch in the largest of my client’s pots involved some engineering. Owen is a fabricator at Branch.  He approaches every project with his own fabulous mix of gusto and sound engineering. Setting them perfectly upright is fairly simple. All the force of gravity is straight down.  Setting them on an angle means they need a little more in the way of support.

007This centerpiece of birch logs would need an anchoring mechanism. Owen took the largest of the birch sections over to Branch, and drilled a deep hole large enough to accommodate a bamboo pole.  That pole would go deep into the pot.  For additional strength, 4 short pieces of steel rebar would be wired together around the birch.

0083 bunches of white eucalyptus softens the juncture of the birch poles. The conversation and fabrication that goes on in our garage in December is interesting and lively. I thoroughly enjoy every moment of this.

IMG_1488 (3)A winter container featuring the cut birch sections and pine cones seems tuned into the landscape.

IMG_1504In sunny, rainy or snowy weather, winter containers bring a lot of warmth to the landscape.

At A Glance: Other Garlands

holiday garland
This is a very big porch, that features a pair of large Branch boxes. Lacking a garland, this front door would look uninviting. A front door that makes a strong welcoming statement at the holidays is a front door that anticipates holiday gatherings between family and friends – that front door says come inside! A holiday landscape is celebratory. Friendly. And most of all, warm. A porch of this size is a lot of brick, stone and wood. Some green helps to warm the space. The magnolia garland is simple, and is lighted. Warmer for winter?  This makes sense in my zone.

holiday garland with a wreathA wreath at the top of the garland adds a lot of visual weight. This wreath has lots of materials attached to it. Though the garden has gone dormant, a holiday expression born from the garden is a pleasure all around.

holiday and winter garlands (1)I cannot explain why I am drawn to anything that has grapevine on it.  Rob found a local artisan who has been covering steel topiary forms and spheres with grapevine for the shop. We cannot keep up with the demand. A roll of grapevine provides incredibly stability and strength to an evergreen garland. The strength of a twirling roll of grapevine reflects the strength and purpose of every gardener. Our warm December aside, our holiday weather can be very cold and blustery. A grapevine adds a lot of volume to a garland with very little mass. Lights on that grapevine help to illuminate all of the other garland elements evenly.

holiday garlandAn artificial garland is fine on a covered porch.  Exposed to the sun and elements, an artificial garland will fade, no matter how beautiful it represents the forms and shapes of the real thing.

holiday and winter garland (2)With multiple garlands, plain and simple can be very effective. If I wind garland around a column, I like enough length to make a puddle of greens on the ground. I wind the evergreen garlands in opposite directions, given pairs of columns.

holiday and winter garland (11)Southern magnolia garlands have a strong visual presence. Those large glossy green leaves with their velvety brown obverse are beautiful.  Magnolia branches, leaves and garlands will dry.  Those glossy dark green leaves turn to a pale green, and finally to bronze. They curl as they dry. The leaves stick tight to the branches, all winter long. In mid December, a fresh magnolia garland is a delight.

DSC_7011My garland at home is different every year. This past year, faced with a number of leftover pink eucalyptus bunches, I took the plunge for pink.  After adding some orange in the way of copper curly willow to the mix, I was surprised at how much I liked the look.  A garland is usually viewed from afar. This means  big gestures and bold color choices may be pleasing.

garlandGarlands can be incredibly heavy. Hanging a garland is always in defiance of gravity.  A hanging mechanism is essential.  Years ago I would ask my clients if I could drill into the mortar between their bricks, and set screws to hold the garland. I have had clients forego garland, as they were worried this would damage the integrity of the brick, or be noticeable the remainder of the year. I can report that those homes where I have been hanging garlands from screws set into the wall for 20 years are still standing. A proper hanging mechanism is not only necessary, it makes the hanging easier.

holiday garlandIn this case, a light fixture over the door bore most of the weight of the garland. A substantially thick stone surround to the door provided a safe ledge for this garland.  Any garland more complex than this would require fasteners set in to the wall. So much of what is beautiful at the holidays and into the winter is the beauty of the construction and installation. I find this is true of anything in the landscape. A beautifully imagined dream for a landscape only becomes a dream come true when it is properly planted, or installed.

holiday and winter garlands (2)I have a particular interest in making and hanging holiday garland.  I would guess that springs from the idea that I need to wrap my winter season in something not only beautiful, but warm. The gray and the cold is next up for my garden-and me.  I am not a fan of the dormant season.  That said, I do what I can to make the winter a little more tolerable.

the front door for the holidayYesterday we planted tulips and daffodils for this client. We also hung a garland, and installed cut Christmas trees in their pots. The garland and these trees are lighted.  Their front door at dark will be welcoming. They are also ready for the spring. We planted lots of spring flowering bulbs. They are ready for holidays, and the coming of winter-and the spring to come. Every great moment in the landscape twinkles.