Cinderella

A client asked of we would be able to light a pair of London Plane trees that we planted on either side of her driveway near the road – for the winter season. Of course I said yes. But I should back up. To say that we planted them warrants further explanation. I asked Ralph Plummer, owner of GP Enterprises, to locate, secure and plant a pair of London Planes of substantial size at the street entry of a landscape I designed and installed.

He obliged with a pair of eight inch caliper Planes that topped out at nearly 30 feet tall. I like big elements in the foreground of a landscape composition. That size is a request to focus and a visual invitation. These giant trees frame the view ahead. I had been absorbed with the installation inside the gates. My client made a request to me for a pair of big framing trees outside those gates. I can assure you flat out that my best projects as a designer have a committed and passionate client as a partner.

So back to the lighting of these trees. Of course Rob backed us up at Detroit Garden Works with LED compact string lighting strands that were 110 feet in length, and featured 2000 lights each. We wound the trunks and major branches horizontally with these strands – lots of them. This day in November was 20 degrees. The weather was an enormous challenge to the work, but that is not news where gardening is concerned.

Our lighting via ladders took us up close to 20 feet. My client called to ask when were we coming back to do the rest? I should have known that the limit of our reach on our ladders was a self imposed limit. If the sky was the limit, I was going to need some help. Mike Shecter sent two of his people over with a lift. That machine enabled them to wrap both of the trees much closer to the top.

There are a few landscape companies in my area that offer holiday lighting, but that is a very specialized niche. The purchase and maintenance on a piece of equipment like this has to be very expensive. Not to mention the workman’s compensation policy on people who are working this high off the ground. I was happy to get some help with this project, and even happier that I do not own this machine.

Trees densely wound round with lights is not especially unusual. Many commercial businesses feature very elaborate lighting schemes for the holiday season.  I understand why. The light is dazzling, and uplifting. As in festival of lights. As much as I loved this look, something was missing.

We put together a pair of light garlands in our shop, featuring 100 feet of LED compact lighted zip tied to a corresponding length of LED strands with the larger C-7 size bulbs. As there was no way to draw or describe the installation of the garland, I was part of the install crew. We laid the garland on the ground, and dragged and pulled it until it described a large circle on the ground all around each tree. A ladder, a 6′ 2″ tall person, a 10 foot bamboo stake with a hook at the top, and 4 support people were all we had in the way of equipment.

The lowest point of each loop/swoop is just about 6′ 2″ above the ground. It was easy to have Colin stand underneath the loops so we knew how low to make them. As bright as they are at night, these lights are a little tough to see during the day. The tops of the loops were secured to lighted branches via a zip tie. Having learned this the hard way, I would recommend tagging the ends of each strand of lights with its own zip tie. The technology of these lights is amazing, but they are by no means perfect or foolproof.  If you have a strand go out that cannot be fixed with a new transformer, you want to know the location of the end of that faulty strand. Trying to find it on a cold winter’s day is exasperating, especially considering that this work is next to impossible to do with gloves on.

The gardens added a whole other dimension to the lighting scheme. What was impressive in its scope was now a jewel in the landscape. They have that aura of romance.

I posted this picture that David took the other morning at 8am on instagram. Landscape designer Susan Cohan commented: “Cinderellas!” What a wonderful way to describe them! Though London Planes are stately trees with gorgeous exfoliating bark and luxuriously large leaves, dressed in lights and wreathed in garlands, they are the stuff of fairy tales. Wrought from a very static and hard material, the effect is graceful and dressy.

The snow a couple days ago adds yet another dimension-the warm fire contrasting with the cold ice and snow. Winter lighting and weather play off one another in a way that provides a lot of visual punch while the garden is dormant. They shine forth on all but the sunniest winter days. As sunny winter days are few and far between in my zone, I would not do without the lighted winter landscape.

Several of these pictures were taken by my client. I know she is enjoying them.

I am hoping they make her feel like Cinderella.

Comments

  1. Dear Deborah,

    The trees are exquisite. Indeed, you have provided a master class on how to transform a substantial tree into a chandelier in the best sense of the word. But since the trees are so unabashedly over the top, I cannot help but ask if the gate is a place holder? The syncopation of the drive, the geometry of the house, and the insouciance of the roof-line; all seem to ask for more (or less) from the gate. And how does a hedge line play well with all this elegant understatement? Or am I missing the jeans and diamonds story?

    Best Regards,

    Mark

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Mark, I enjoy getting letters from you-thanks. The gate and the low walls seen in the photos are quite contemporary. The landscape is a good example of how a classical formal landscape and a contemporary landscape share key elements, although very little of the landscape is visible here. My friend, landscaper designer Susan Cohan, maintains that contemporary landscapes are virtually equivalent in design to classical formal landscapes, but for the issue of context. I tend to agree with her. It might be useful to factor in that I favor entrance landscapes that are very low key. At the road is not the place I would choose to reveal much of anything. But this “unabashedly over the top” lighting arrangement, set in the context of a Michigan winter, is a pleasure to my clients, and anyone who passes by. The strongest contrast by far is between all that jewel like sparkling, and the dour, cold, unfriendly, scowling and dark Michigan winter. Always a pleasure to hear from you. best regards, Deborah

      • Deborah, shame on me; I did not see the low walls. I thought the horizontal band of light was a passing car’s headlights in time lapse. So obviously your chandeliers need no time lapse to enhance saturation as maximum saturation has already been achieved. Thank you for your gentle explanation. Mark

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Mark, it is hard to make out details when it is dark – no worries. That low wall actually has LED strip lighting under the cap. best regards, Deborah

  2. Brilliant!!

  3. Susan Cohan says:

    So happy you liked my immediate thought! Do they turn off at midnight?

  4. Thank you for sharing your wealth of experience Deborah!
    I just can’t get enough of the details and the problem solving that happens.
    You’re a treasure to all of us!
    Di

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Dianne, I share my process, in the hopes that other gardeners can interpret that in favor of their own garden. The more gardeners, the better. best regards, Deborah

  5. robert syska says:

    Nice Job! Please know that they must come off before the new leaves sprout.

    Robert

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Robert, thank you for your letter. We do not put lights over the top of leaf buds. We stick to the heavy support limbs and trunk. all the best, Deborah

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    They look like big ole chandeliers with those swags on them. Quite impressive. They are very welcoming too in these dark night/day situations.

  7. I love London Plane trees. These two beauties are spectacular! The lighting is perfection! I gasped when i saw them! You always amaze me with your incredible talent!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Jeannine, a little romance is a good thing over a Michigan winter. Several of the pictures were taken yesterday morning-it was 7 degrees below zero. Our winters can be brutal. all the best, Deborah

  8. Just wow! These could be cake toppers in Paul Bunyan’s world!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Gigi, the putting up part was not so much fun. The outcome is loads of fun. I am hoping next year we can put them up in October when it isn’t so cold. all the best, Deborah

  9. lisa naro says:

    Wow, really lovely! Reminds me of Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania!!

    Have you ever had a tree die or suffer any health probs from putting on lights so densely??

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Lisa, in 30 some years in the landscape business, I have never personally witnessed a tree either suffer or die from light strands. Even from incandescent lights. The newer LED light strands do not produce any heat, and draw very little power. The strands are 4″ apart, and the tiny lights are spaced 4″ apart. I cannot imagine how they would adversely affect the health of the tree. best, Deborah

      • lisa naro says:

        Thank you for your reply. You must have such pride in your amazing company and wonderful co-workers. You’ve built quite a dynasty of landscape magnificence! I have a Japanese Maple that has not been doing well for the last 5 yrs. I was so worried it was suffering because I had it wired to be visible from Mars. I even had a tree doctor out for a consultation. Sadly, it will probably not survive this extremely harsh winter in NJ. Today- 5 degrees! I’m so glad to hear that the lights won’t hurt it so I can do other trees in the future without worry. Do you actually wind the lights completely around the branch, or do you run them along the trunk and branches and use zip ties?

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Dear Lisa, we wind the lights around loosely in a horizontal fashion. Each row is about 4″ apart. You can see this in the pictures. We wrapped the large structural branches-not the small branches or twigs with leaf buds.

  10. These are the most beautiful light display I have ever seen!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Sandra, thank you for your letter. Even the crew who did the work putting them up appreciates how beautiful they are. That is saying a lot, as it was miserably cold the day of the install. best, Deborah

  11. Cinderella….swoon! They are magical.

  12. Brilliant design and stunning! You and your team never cease to amaze us. This warmed me up today when it is well below zero in my neck of the woods – MN.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Mary, it has been below zero for us the past 2 days too. Warmer today. I am very pleased with how they look. all the best, Deborah

  13. The trees look very ball gown like. Tiny lights and lots of them are very magical.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Susan, each individual light is very small. Each strand is 110 feet long and has 2000 lights. They are so much easier to work with than the old incandescent light strings that had 100 lights each. We roll them up into a giant ball before we start wrapping. best, Deborah

  14. Michaele Anderson says:

    Absolutely magnificent…what makes it so grand is the quantity of light strings as well as the quality.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Michaele, these lights can have their problems. But the length and ease of use makes a project like this much easier to install than it appears. They are user friendly. best, Deborah

  15. Carolyn Hefner says:

    ..and just when I thought all the holiday gifts had been opened…love getting this surprise gift! Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Carolyn, the winter season is a long one. Why not run them all winter long? They are cheery. best, Deborah

  16. A truly spectacular display. But, you’re quote “I can assure you that my best projects as a designer have a committed and passionate client as a partner” made me stop and grab my pen and write these words down. I’m stealing this line from you as I’ve never heard it summed up so perfectly. I had to reflect that my floral design work, too, is always the best when the client is committed, passionate and trusting. I work harder, I think bigger, I design my best. Thank you for this quote. It was inspirational.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Jody, there are designers who have a look, and their clients are people who want that look. I am more oriented towards an expression that reflects the client, not so much me. Their style and voice, well done. I am not afraid to tell a client I do not believe the direction they want to go is a good one. Clients who can see that you value and respect them tend to listen. Listening is not always easy, but it is essential. Thank you for your letter. best regards, Deborah

  17. Joyce Baker says:

    In my opinion, the trees would be breath taking without the swags.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Joyce, I did post a picture of them without the swags. If you like them better that way, so be it. Everyone’s taste is different. best regards, Deborah

  18. They, and your vision, Deborah, never fail to take my breath away. Brava.

  19. OMG just like the fairy tale……. it welcomes all to come inside.
    If I lived close to there I would just sit on the street and gaze. They would have to run me off I think…lol
    ITS BEAUTIFUL I saved the pictures to my Christmas/Winter folder I would just leave it up all winter !
    The Garlands are perfect!
    L Miller

  20. Marguerite says:

    Dear Deborah, It is frigid cold here in CT today and I just read your post as my break in a day of many tasks and errands. Your post gave me insight into how these effects are designed and engineered as well as showed me crafts/trades people who are not only skilled at what they do, but delight in pushing the design envelope to bring their skills to the next level. I so enjoyed reading this that when I was done it felt as if I had taken a small vacation. Thank you so much, Deborah, I want to assure you of the restorative effects of your posts for those of us near and far.Just looking at such beauty is a tonic.

  21. Northmoon says:

    The effect is beautiful. Will the lights be left on the trees all year? And could this eventually damage them as they grow in diameter?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Northmoon, and Joanna, I am only sure that she will run the lights all winter. And I can tell you that no one loves those trees more than she does! But trees of this size take a long time to come out of transplant shock, and grow. Think 1 year for every inch of caliper. So 8 years it will take for them to settle in and grow. We are only 2 years in to that 8. The wire in the lights is incredibly thin, and it is covered in a soy based plastic. The tree growth would break the string long before it became a health issue to the tree. Their maintenance company is terrific-I am sure they will keep track of this. best, Deborah

  22. “A jewel in the Landscape”……”romance”……If ever I get money……!

  23. Signhh….I am continually enchanted !!

  24. Just lovely! So glad your client is clearly delighted.

  25. Joanna Ecke says:

    Gorgeous, but must these light be removed to keep the wires from digging into the trunk and limbs? Or is there plenty of time ahead before one needs to think about that?

  26. That is just so magical and totally unexpected! Every time I think everything’s been done, you surprise us!

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