The Warm Up

Nov 2b 020

No gardener’s November need be drab. Though the time for planting in ground is drawing to a close, we are just warming up for the late fall, winter, and holiday seasons. Since the winter season in Michigan is every bit as long as the summer, why not celebrate it? We have made a specialty of making all manner of natural materials available to anyone for whom a pot sitting empty and forlorn all winter is not an option.  The fantail willow I discussed last week has other equally beautiful relatives. Shrub form dogwood branches are available in a wide range of colors-and I do mean color.  Should I ever decide to take up farming, I think I would grow shrubs for their twigs, and milkweeds.  The above picture of flame willow and milkweeds is just one idea aimed at decorating November.

Nov 8 019

I do have curly willow trees on my shop property.  They can be a headache, dropping twigs constantly; one 30 foot tree fell flat to the ground on a very windy day. But what makes them bad also makes them good.  We topped that tree at six feet, dragged it upright with a truck and chain, and replanted the exposed portion of its rootball; it is back to growing just fine now.  The willows take very well to hard pruning, and provides us with a source of brilliantly colored branches.  Barely worth a glance in leaf, the bare branches are luscious in color, form and texture. 

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Copper red curly willow-the name says it all.  As the new growth has the best color, regular pruning is key.  This fresh growth is known as the coppice wood.  The stout branches that make up our hazelwood fence panels are harvested in the same way. 

Nov 8 071The golden coppery orange is a great foil for the landscape gone to black and white.  The fresh branches are limber and pliable. The curly tops can be tied up in a good approximation of a pony tail, or twisted and tied into new shapes not necessarily natural, and perhaps more contemporary. 

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Red bud willow comes bundled ten stems to a bunch, and ten bunches to a bale.  The stems are straight; the color is good top to bottom. It’s clear these plants are being grown specifically for harvest.  Left outside in a pot all winter, the buds will break in the spring.  This pussy willow will look great from November on into the following May.  Many of the willow stems will root, if they are stuck in soil in a pot.  If you arrange all of your materials in dry floral foam as I do, sometimes a fresh cut and a well watered spot in the garden will produce rooting.   

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (103)The shrubby dogwoods are every bit as useful as the willows.  They also produce the best color on new wood.  If you grow these dogwoods in your garden, be sure to prune them down regularly and hard.  The old bark of shrubby dogwoods is dull, and invariably scarred by exposure to weather. I rarely see yellow twig dogwood planted any more-plants do go in and out of fashion.  This cultivar was specifically bred for color superior to the species- and it delivers.   

Nov 8 022Many cultivars of red twig dogwood are available now. With bark ranging in color from pink-coral to coral, orange red, fire engine scarlet red, and maroon, these twigs make quick work of banishing the winter gardening blues.  This cultivar, aptly named “Cardinal”  is the brightest red bark I have ever seen.  The 1500 stems in this crate makes me wish I could see the entire field from which they were cut-the day the leaves drop. I would bet that view is a perfect gardening moment. 

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (102)Whatever you might fancy, the dormant garden has plenty to recommend it. The gathering of materials, and the act of decorating for the cold season is an act of Mitchell-esque defiance I can get right behind. 

Nov 9 014
These arrangements are the first of the season out the door. The color is subtle, and most of ther materials natural.  The preserved eucalyptus will perform just fine outdoors.  The forms are constructed such that my client has only to drop them in her pots, and level them. She is ready and looking forward to the new season.

On Stick Support

Hofley-Cueter Wedding

Fall weddings are not the norm for me; in addition, this request came from from gardening friends and colleagues.   Jonathon Hofley, publisher of the well-known magazine The Michigan Gardener, and owner of Motor City Publishing, and his part-time art director and full-time firebrand fiancee Celeste were to be married.  I instantly started fretting about what all from the garden would not be available for their date, but I need not have worried.  Lucky for me, they liked the idea of sticks, grasses, mosses, vines and seeds-in season. Framing the doors of the church,  starkly bare beech trees are set in pots finished in mood moss.  These trees supported a smattering of white roses, visible from far away. 

Hofley-Cueter Wedding (14)This gorgeous Melkite Catholic church needed little in the way of decoration; the beautifully vaulted white-walled interior was formally appointed with iconographic paintings of figures central to their faith.  I found four 3″ beech that had not survived the season in my landscape supplier’s bone yard; they would be destined for another kind of life.  Bare grapevine garland would be dressed up with bitterweet vine and the rose “Hollywood”.  No other white rose opens so beautifully, and stays fresh longer, out of water.  The pews we marked simply with  sprays of grasses with seed heads intact, to which we added orange and white roses.   The dressy olive green double faced satin formally acknowledged the space, and the occasion. 

Hofley-Cueter Wedding (2)Even the bride’s bouquet included delicate birch branches.  Variegated miscanthus grass and hosta complimented the orange freesia, ranunculus and roses. The bare stems were dressed in braided satin ribbon; the contrast in materials is particularly lovely. 

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Shades of red, orange and white came primarily from roses; the season for garden flowers had passed.  Always with flowers for a wedding reception is the crucial issue of placement.  Flowers that obstruct the view across the table are unfriendly to conversation between guests.  As reception venues are rarely personal, its important to create a mood and aura specific to the occasion that is evident upon entering the room. That first impression is important.  How the airspace is handled creates an overall impression of happy anticipation at eye level for the celebration to come.  

Hofley Wedding 05 (42)Stout bundles of willow sticks get my flowers in the air.  The rustic fiber pots filled with hemp fiber make an unmistakable reference to the garden.  The metal pole set in concrete not seen here is an apparatus which keeps the flowers aloft securely.

Hofley Wedding 05 (14)The generic quality of the room fades away; what is left is a celebration of saturated fall color, and a very important event involving family and friends.  The tabletop level decor has interest and presence which will please the eye, but not obstruct anyone’s view.

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Bar tops were simply decorated with clusters of roses fruits and vegetables.  Peppers and peaches take on an entirely different aspect, out of the garden or the kitchen. The ability to visualize materials out of context can expand your decorating repertoire. Orange bell peppers are not only delicious, they are strikingly attractive.

Hofley Wedding 1005 (3)Celeste provided the table numbers, the calligraphy of her own hand. Large pieces of mood moss, when grooved, made naturally beautiful stands.  The fresh green acorns-another nod to the season. 

Hofley Wedding 05 (53)The effect of these flowers is so enhanced by the company of a length of bittersweet vine.  The vine creates a visual context for the flowers. The creation of a visual world complete and believable is a daily challenge in the store;  important events demand this too.

Hofley Wedding 1005 (1)

It is hard to go wrong with flowers-no one disputes how beautiful they are in their own right.  But the support from the sticks enabled me to generate some atmosphere.

A More Friendly Halloween

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These massive stone columns have another life this week; these ghosts have the look of a pair of running backs from the NFL.  The kids did not pick up on this-any big expression is a good expression.  Painting pumpkins is a good way to extend your holiday season; carved pumpkins deteriorate fast. A simple rendering of a face is a strong one; these ghouls look plain scared by the spiders drawing near.  The kids got this part, loud and clear.   

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One client whose landscape was designed by me features a center planting area perfect for seasonal vignettes.  The walkway enclosing it on all four sides makes for theatre in the round.  The granite wall-Rob and I built this ourselves, many years ago, one heavy stone at a time.  I remember this experience as if it were yesterday.  I am pleased it still looks great some fifteen years later.  

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Given that the space is large, I needed lots of elements, set at different heights. The textured pots you see here are liners for wire tree forms.  These liners are made from recycled asphalt and cardboard, ground up and poured into molds made in the 1940’s.  They make great rustic and inexpensive containers for special events.

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I have never forgotten the young person working for one of my clients in Indianapolis who thought “Hardy Mums” was a person running for office.  He saw the signs everywhere, and connected his own personal set of dots.  Every time I see a sign for hardy mums from the road, I laugh all over again.   Given that this scene was a big one, I bought the biggest hardy mums I could find in tight bud, and planted them in fiber pots.  Hardy Mums for President-what do you think?

Prowse (3) The centerpiece of my vignette-a straw scarecrow.  He is not very scary-the crows are perched all over him. The clothes and boots were contributed from the lot of us; the face got painted on a pillowcase.  His hat-some left over erosion mat from a hydroseeding job on a slope. He is one hundred percent straw stuffed-as he should be.  The corn shocks add height, and set our fall figure down-he looks pleased to be settled in where he is.  A hedge of gazanias knits everything together.

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This vignette is all about the growing and farming, the land, the harvest, and the garden, in a very gentle way.  Not every Halloween needs to be about terror.  Very young children can be easily frightened-I try not to get ahead of them.  There is plenty of time time for them to grow up into a love for skeletons dripping fake blood and severed plastic fingers littering the ground.
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I have a soft spot for this blue-eyed scarecrow and his crow friends.  Perched on an embarassment of riches in straw and pumpkins, he is the centerpiece of this sunny fall display.  Happy Halloween.

Allie,Snoopy,and Vladdy

Lerner 48As my clients were bound and determined that Allie, Snoopy and Vladdy would be members of their wedding party, their choices for a wedding venue were slim to none.  I was happy for them to get married at the shop, and equally happy to welcome the canine members of their family.  Since the decision was made some six months prior to the ceremony, I had the chance to plan a garden that would look great on their late, late summer date.   

Lerner 55A copper pergola would provide the chuppah necessary for the ceremony.  We infilled the poles at each corner with birch bark tubes.  This blue and white scheme dictated the selection of plants as much as the season would.  A collection of Italian cypress, giant rosemary topiaries, kales and cabbages would look swell come wedding time.  Luckily a local grower has a very late batch of sunflowers, including the ultra double “teddy bear”.  That intense yellow would warm up the arbor in a happy and sunny way.  A goldenrod garland casually draped over the chuppah provided the roof necessary for the ceremony.

Lerner 58Silver dichondra has a distinctly blue cast; its diminuitive felted leaves were a great contrast to the giant blistered kale, “Nero di Toscano”. Short blue foliaged fescues, white million bells and showy oregano made good companions for the massive cabbages.  White iron urns showed off the long tails of dichondra to good advantage.

Lerner 60As the ceremony required a table be available for the Rabbi, my clients chose a carved concrete faux bois piece whose legs were carved and acid stained to look like birch. The wedding party flowers in lime green, white, and lavender repeated the color scheme of the garden.  Is that old rosemary topiary not a dream come true?

Lerner11The plan for the reception involved nine 8′ long tables set end to end in the drive.  Small glass vases covered in short birch bark tubes held late summer garden flowers available from the growers at my local farmer’s market. These 45 small arrangements centered on the tables would run for the entire 72 foot long reception dinner table.

Lerner30Allie and Snoopy were nervous, but they did take their big lime green satin bow and flower collars in stride. They did mill around-but just a little bit.  All in all they were very well behaved.

Lerner31Vladdy was ordinarily fairly dignified and unflappable; he sat calmly through the entire ceremony. 

Lerner33It was a beautiful wedding, and I was happy to have a part in it.  There is something so satisfying about a small ceremony for everyone involved. When there are but a few details, every detail can be very personal and thoughtful.  I think they were so pleased to be able to have their dog family there that day.

Lerner 62
I have no pictures of the reception.  I was a guest, and I participated rather than recorded.  But the next day the flowers from the evening before were everywhere-a reminder of what a happy place the garden here had been everyone in attendance.