Winter Red

Our second winter/holiday project comes with a story, just like our first. If you were to ask how I schedule all the work, I am sure I would hesitate before I answered. There are many factors, some involving the availability of materials and other logistical issues. But personal issues for clients play a big part in the scheduling.  A client whose daughter was getting married as I began writing this came first.  No doubt someone else will be first next season. Our second project involves a landscape client who is hosting 19 members of his greater family for Thanksgiving at his home. They live a long ways away; the earliest arrivals are tomorrow. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they are leaving on an extended trip. They wanted their holiday/winter pots to be in place well in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday with family, as they would be celebrating both holidays at once.

We began the fabrication of all of their pots and holiday decorations this past Wednesday. They had a specific request for red, in any form we might manage.  I understand that. The winter landscape in Michigan is varying shades of brown set against interminably gray skies. Our winter daylight is watery and wan. Some of my favorite shrubs and trees feature a red berry set for the winter.  A well grown stand of Michigan holly (ilex verticillata) in full berry mode electrifies our winter landscape. Funny this – I have a love for red in the landscape at the visually hungriest times of year.  Red tulips in the spring are such a welcome and cheery burst of color. A plan for red in our winter landscape is equally as celebratory. Our second year red twig dogwood bunches are especially beautiful this year. We rarely have the opportunity to purchase old growth red twig of this caliber. The thick stems are heavily branched, and arch outwards as if they were still growing. Long faux berry stems zip tied to the natural twigs make a big statement about winter red. Our winter and holiday container arrangements are as much about sculpture as they are about nature.  We know whatever we fabricate has to endure a entire winter’s worth of windy and snowy weather, unfazed. A construction site in our garage means we are able to recreate natural and graceful shapes that are able to endure the worst of our winter weather.

Our clients have one container that is 42″ by 42″ square, by 40″ tall. This is an incredibly large container that is home to a tree sized banana plant over the course of the summer.  Of course the size of a container asks for an arrangement of a proper and proportional size. The centerpiece for this pot needed a good deal of mass and volume. A galvanized tomato cage was perfect for zip tying individual cut stems of second year red twig dogwood all around the outside to create the illusion of great mass. It took 8 bunches of fuchsia eucalyptus to match the scale established by the height and diameter of the dogwood centerpiece, and the size of the container.

The upper galvanized steel ring of the tomato cage is evident in this picture. Topiary forms, or in this case, a heavy gauge galvanized tomato cage, can provide a key sculptural element to a container. I am grateful for topiary forms that enable my mandevilleas to climb skyward during the summer. Those forms can be strung with lights and grapevine for the winter season. In this case, the tomato cage provides an unseen structure for the twigs. Am I concerned that I can see this top ring? No. As you will see in the following picture, this pot is viewed from afar, rather than up close.

Not all tomato cages are created equal. Rob buys very heavy gauge galvanized steel rod cages in a variety of sizes. They provide significant support for vines, and in this case, twigs.  This very large container has a centerpiece appropriate to its size. The fuchsia and red echoes the late fall color of the hedge of the oak leaf hydrangea “Ruby Slippers”.

I asked Dan to take this picture down into the centerpiece from high on the ladder. The red twig is zip tied to the form at the soil line, and again 2/3rds of the way up. This takes some time to do, but it insures that the twigs will stay put throughout the winter. Illuminating this centerpiece from within would take a lot of light, so we installed four strands of 25 count C-9 incandescent lights.

The greens were liberally dosed with Lumineo LED light strands. Barely visible during the day, they will do a great job of illuminating the greens and exterior of the centerpiece at night. This pot will light up a fairly dark spot on the driveway all winter long.

The four boxes at the front door feature lots of that winter red. Marzela stuffs the noble fir into dry foam in the studio, and David constructed all of the centerpieces. The centerpieces are secured with steel rebar and concrete wire. The bottom portion of the foam form is wedged into the box.

 Marzela adds the last element to the pots on site.

The red/red violet seed pods on stems provide a transition from the greens to the centerpiece, and conceal any zip ties from the centerpiece construction. The greens are deliberately shorter in the center, so the entire centerpiece can be seen.

The lighting of the pots comes last. The light fixtures on the house are large, but their light is more glowing than illuminating. The lights in the pots will brighten the entrance walk with lots of light.

David and Dan rewind all of the strands for the pots, so they are easy to install.

The bed to the right of the walk is already planted with tulips for the spring.  It is planted with seasonal plants in the summer and fall.  This year, my clients requested a winter vignette with cut trees and grapevine deer, to add to the festivities. The trees were lighted in the garage before we brought them. The heaviest concentration of light is on the trunk. The lighting on the branches is lighter, both in density and color. The Lumineo strands are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. That design works. It is hard to spot them during the day.

This is the finished installation, as seen from inside our box truck.

the finished front walk

At 5pm, the natural light has all but faded. The length of the exposure taking the picture intensifies the light more than what it looks like in person, but you get the idea.

Their landscape is ready for their holiday, and their winter.

The Beginning of the Winter Season

Our winter/holiday season began the moment that our cut greens arrived. Why so early? The daughter of a long standing client is to be married this Saturday the 18th. Lots of family and friends from places far away will be attending.  I promised that her winter pots would be done before the first of their out of town guests were scheduled to arrive. On the face of it, that seemed easy enough. To say we carry cut greens is an understatement. Our west coast grown greens are premium length and fine quality boughs that permit us to provide the proper scale and density to our winter pots.

Those greens were scheduled to be delivered this past Monday. But on Monday, our driver was still in Nebraska. Shipping delays are not that unusual, but I had a deadline that had no wiggle room.  I talked to my client, and assured her that the moment those materials arrived, we would be on her project.  Tuesday morning we were breaking in to the 40 pound boxes of greens as they came off the truck. Wednesday morning first thing we were ready to install.

All of the work of our winter containers is done in the stockroom/garage at Detroit Garden Works. The materials for the centerpieces are arranged around and zip tied to a stout bamboo pole. That pole gets driven down into the pot with a padded mallet once we determine the exact location for that centerpiece. That long stake driven down into the pot provides ballast that keeps that centerpiece perfectly vertical.  Of course smaller pots get smaller stakes. The greens are cut to the length we need, and sharpened at the ends before they are inserted in thick dry foam forms.

Those double layered dry foam forms are cut to the interior dimensions of the pot in question. The bottom layer is inserted into the container.  The top layer stands proud of the rim of the pot.  This enables us to stick greats horizontally – a look which is graceful and natural coming over the edge of the pot. Once the greens in the form are wedged into the pot, and the centerpiece set, we add lights. Winter pots provide an opportunity to light that dark time of year.

We exclusively use Lumineo LED light strands available from Detroit Garden Works for our winter containers. The strands are so lightweight, and entirely flexible. I can easily hold a 110 foot long strand in one hand. They drape beautifully. The lights are shatterproof – stepping on them does no harm. You can count on 50,000 hours, or at least ten years of longevity. The dots of light are set on top of long black green stems. This design makes it simple to hide the lightweight wire, and have the lights proud of the greens. They come in a range of lengths and light densities. They also come is a classic warm color mirroring the color of traditional incandescent strings, or a warm white which is a clearer and brighter white.  These LED light strands do not have the fire power of traditional incandescent winter and holiday lighting, but they make up for that in longevity and economy. Interested in more firepower? Try the cluster lights, which are set very close together. They draw so little power, that they eliminate the need for timers. Detroit Garden Works has switched over to this lighting for its signature light rings.

Great technology can be incredible, and shipping can be delayed, but foremost, our first winter project was very personal. We chose materials that seemed celebratory of a very special event. My client was happy about those materials, and the lighting. I put all of my crews to getting the work done. I was so pleased about the look.  I fluffed this, and rearranged that, but by and large my crew did a terrific job of rising to the occasion.

This pot at the corner of the garage features glass drops attached to a weed tree much like what we did for her 9 years ago. She brought the box of drops to me a week ago.  We added some drops, given the size of a weed tree on our landscape property that we cut for this particular pot.

My client took me through her entire house so I could see the views out her windows. She explained to me how the views from inside to the outside meant so much to her. Seeing the landscape from inside out for the first time was a revelation. I have done lots of landscape work for her. Yesterday, I understood what she sees. What I understand from our first winter installation is that what is personal and important is precious.

 

The Holiday Preview 2017

I am chagrined, but not surprised that I have not managed to put up a post in the past 10 days. I have been racing against a November 9th deadline to transform Detroit Garden Works from the fall to the holiday winter season. No one disputes that signs of the winter and holiday in late October or early November is pushing it, but it takes an incredible amount of time to display thousands of small objects in some coherent way. We have to start early.  I have to be ready in advance of those gardeners who will want to assemble winter container gardens, and add outdoor lighting late in November. Designers who shop our store plan in advance too. Every person in all three companies of my companies pitch in. In July, August and September, boxes and more boxes get delivered. Scott checks in every item, and prices them all. They go back on the shelves, until mid October. All of those boxes are brought down, unpacked, and stashed in fiber pots. Out entire stock room is filled to the brim with materials for the holiday and winter. I walk up and down the rows, knowing the design for the display this year’s collection will be driven by the materials. What will we do?

We allocate a bit more than two weeks to remake all 10,000 square feet of the shop.  Every one of thousands of objects gets a hands on treatment. David and Marzela do the lion’s share of the actual display work. I do not envy them their job.  I may move something five times before I settle on something. But they both are good natured and tireless in their efforts to get everything arranged just right.  Both of them have an excellent instinct for good design-we three have worked together a long time. They know my process, and they are not afraid to say no. I treasure this about them. Yes, I have lots of bad ideas. They like me enough to save me from bad decisions.  These two are the stars of the get ready part of the holiday season. They have brought around many a display from ordinary to stellar – plenty of times. Once the big design gestures are complete, we pick out those materials that support this idea for this room – and that idea for that room.

We tackle the airspace first. It only makes sense that anything to be hung from the ceiling needs to be in place before we load up the ground plane with materials. The Branch crew comes on occasion to help with this.  After the airspace, we vignette the walls.  Both David and LaBelle from the Branch Studio hung all of our wreaths. Anything that needs screws or nails are displayed from the top of our walls down.

If there are big and heavy pieces that need moving, my landscape superintendent Dan and his crew come in lend a hand.  I try to be very organized about what I need, as they are still working on late fall landscape projects. Pots get moved up high, into the stock room, or outdoors. Their work clears the deck for the new season.  Just one day before our evening holiday preview, they installed a lot of our outdoor lighting.

The work involved in that transformation from fall to holiday/winter dates really back almost a year.  Rob and Sunne shopped in January of 2017 for what we have available for purchase now. Their work was months in the making.This list is not in order, nor is it definitive. Holiday and winter picks for containers, bulk sphagnum moss in a variety of colors, Edison style light strings and bulbs, state of the art LED holiday and winter lighting, candles of every description from the US and overseas, holiday ornaments and garlands, felt figures and lighted wood holiday villages, hand blown and painted German glass ornaments, garland of every description, ornaments for holiday trees, preserved boxwood wreaths, wood buckets, galvanized metal bread trays so perfect for a holiday table – the list of the materials we have available for winter is long and varied. Many thanks to Rob and Sunne. Their January shopping trip was every bit of 5 days. What they purchased began trickling in to the shop this past July. August and September were noted for holiday deliveries. October meant boxes and boxes delivered just about every day. This past week, our regular UPS driver was saying hello twice a day.

Our once a year evening winter/holiday preview event was this past Thursday night.  I am relieved to say that we finished the last of the display work 30 minutes before our opening. The Detroit Garden Works staff say it was our best holiday party ever. Rob’s lighting was in evidence everywhere. Fresh cooked pizza was available by the slice in the driveway.  Christine manned the bar as she always has. Snow flurries appeared as if we had called them up! Ha. Hooray. Those months of planning in advance helped to create a perfect moment.

To follow are an embarrassing number of pictures of our shop dressed for holiday and winter. Forgive me, but this is a time of the gardening year that I truly enjoy. The fact that the garden is going dormant is a bruising concept. I choose to brush that moment off. Every gardener has a winter season ahead of them that can be delightful. One has only to decide to garden on.

My favorite part of this early holiday/winter season is the challenge to make good design sense of an ocean of materials. Like the landscape, I am looking at architecture, style, mass, color, line, shape and form. My more than favorite part are those people who make a point of seeking me out to talk to me. They respond to work we have done, and make a point of engaging me. That talk, person to person, gardener to gardener, is the best part of every gardening season.

Should you be near enough to our shop, I would urge you to visit. You will not be disappointed.  I rather think you would be energized, and inspired.  If you are too far away to visit our shop, enjoy these photographs. From me, to you.

shop vignette

dressed for the winter/holiday season

leaf ornaments

rustic wood villages

stocked for the holiday and winter to come

gold

winter vignette

gorgeous velvet pumpkins

holiday ornaments

rustic wood boxes

German hand blown and colored holiday ornaments

winter picks for winter container arrangements

winter vignette

small glass balls in neutral colors

The shop

The winter and holiday season to come? The shop is ready to help with that.

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The Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store.  Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade.  An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website    Boston ivy    I  have copied and posted the following:    “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an invasive plant species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken notice. Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful energy saving plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow.  It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.  The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored.  The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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