Those of you have have read this journal regularly over the past 7 years probably recognize my landscape at home. I post pictures of it often, as I find that almost every issue that concerns, delights, or challenges me as a designer are right there brewing in my own back yard. Most every day, I tour my landscape, as there is always something to see and reflect upon. That daily tour sustains me in a way I cannot really explain. I have taken these steps up to my rose garden countless times over the past 20 years. Buck and I, accompanied by the corgis, would make the trip at the end of every day, during the gardening season. In the summer season, we took the steps up in anticipation of the roses, the beautifully aging boxwood hedges, and the quiet. We quit going the year that the extreme winter cold all but killed the roses. The devastation was very tough to take. But late in that summer, we resumed our trips. The white Japanese anemone Honorine Jobert came on strong, swept through the devastated roses, and went on to bloom in profusion for weeks. It was a happening. The four of us celebrated the gift of the season. That next winter that killed all of the last of the life left in my roses was even harder to take. But the anemones were all that much stronger, and all that much more beautiful. Every season has its heartaches, but it is equally true that every season has its gifts. Pictured above is the view of those steps a few nights ago, just after Dan and his crew had been there to install a tree in the pot.
The giant pot in my rose garden organizes that small space, several seasons of the year. I plant it for summer, and for winter. The winter season is at hand. I have for many years installed a cut and lighted Christmas tree in that pot. This year’s tree was incredibly large. My landscape superintendent Dan did not blink. That giant tree dressed with thousands of lights makes me happy. Thousands of lights? Rob’s Lumineo lights from the Netherlands means that my thousands of lights from 8 strands draw next to no electricity. They are good for 50,000 hours, or ten years. I told Dan to fire up the tree. Milo and I made the trek up those stairs that night to see the tree. I was enchanted.
By the next late afternoon, we had had our first snow. It was a big snow. I trudged through 10 inches of that snow after work to see my tree. I was not so keen to walk up the stairs. What nature engineers does not need my foot prints. I like my snow exactly as nature intended it. These LED lights generate very little in the way of heat. The light and the snow were equally compelling. The relationship established by the tree, the snow, the lights and the landscape-perfect.
Be forewarned, there are an astonishing number of pictures about to come your way. Last was a very busy week for us. But for the pictures, it would all be a blur. My crew is great about photographing everything. They pictures of last years work help inform the work we are doing now. Smart phone cameras and text messages mean I can communicate with the group who is doing the installation while they are 0n site. I hate to have to go back and redo, but I hate worse if something does does not seem as good as it should be. How I am able to stay in touch with my crew means the work is all that much better, the first time around. I can be two places at once-in the shop, and on the job. My landscape crew helps on and off, but they have been finishing up the last of the year’s landscape projects. They will be back today to help out with the work ahead. Buck’s crew at Branch is working for me for the winter holiday season. They makes all of our garlands, and install them. They handle lighting issues. They also install containers. Marzela and David have been focused on the construction of green blankets and centerpieces. All of us whittle greens for Marzela, as the lot of us can hardly keep up with her. David and Salvadore do a splendid job with construction centerpieces, and adding elements one at a time. I am lucky to have each and every one of this group of 10 people. They are independent, intelligent, and thoughtful. They express their opinions, but not at the expense of keeping up. We do this work together. They go the extra mile, routinely. You cannot teach what they have to offer. They came to me with good values, not the least of which is a commitment to doing a great job. A lot gets done in a week’s time. You’ll see. What you will see in these pictures is a design direction from me, and a gifted making by them. I help with the fabrication, but I can walk away and come back later, knowing someone will have picked up my part and gone ahead with it. I still have 15 projects to go. I will be happy if I can finish them by Friday next, but maybe I won’t. I will not push a project out there that is not ready. I am stubborn, that way. The work you are about to see has as much to do with the the relationship we forge with a client as the design and fabrication relationships. We make a concerted effort to represent their taste. We try for better than they thought they could have it.
winter arrangements awaiting installation in a pair of Atelier Verkant stoneware pots on the same projectfinished winter arrangement with yellow twig dogwood, yellow fuzz ball picks and variegated boxwood
a second lighted outdoor holiday tree dressed with poplar branches, feathered birds, and faux cherries. For extra light at night, the entire trunk of the tree is wrapped with Lumineo LED light strings, ahead of lighting the branches
This steel Bethlehem star fabricated and lighted for Christ Church Cranbrook was a project designed, engineered and fabricated at Branch. We delivered this sculpture, and we were there to assist with the installation.
I posted some time ago about the landscape I designed for my clients who live in a rural area outside Ann Arbor. They edited and installed that landscape on their own – to everyone’s great satisfaction. I was happy indeed that they took my plan to heart, and edited it to reflect their point of view. Late this fall they planted a wide ribbon of grape hyacinths in the lawn beginning near the large round planter and running all the way to the road. There’s nothing like having a river of grape hyacinths to look forward to in the spring, is there? Eventually, there may be some trees on either side of that river. Their last garden project of the season-the winter pots. They came to the shop the other day to with to consult with me about their plans, and look at materials. Of course they would do their winter pots on their own.
I spent plenty of time talking them through their design process. They knew they wanted to use cut white birch branches, and spruce tips. And they wanted to incorporate the color red. Their taste is tends towards the contemporary, but in a loose and brash way. Containers filled with natural materials informally arranged proved to be a strikingly beautiful contrast to their sober and spare landscape.
This post is not so much about what I advised them to do. It is primarily about what they did on their own. This winter pot is terrific. I was delighted when Rich sent me this group of photographs. The greens in the bottom of this container are spruce tips, from Minnesota. Dan had them shipped in. I have never seen them before. These spruce toppers sunk into the soil of a container looked like a forest of mini trees. This container is as good as it gets, in my opinion. It is relaxed, assured, and striking. The thin red twig branches against the stout birch branches-so beautiful.
I did advise them to light their pots. Their property is in a rural area. Absent a full moon, their property is shrouded in darkness. The light in the winter pots would be key to welcoming guests, and representing a warm winter. It took a bit of doing to convince them to spring for a 3′ diameter spiked light ring encircled with LED lights, but they eventually decided that my advice was good advice. After much discussion, they took that ring home with them. Set into their 5 foot diameter steel bowl container facing the road, that light ring not only illuminated what was in the pot, it lit up the walk to the front door. The materials they chose? Mountain hemlock, for its feathery texture, and its longevity as a cut green. Noble fir is a cut green whose stout stems amicably support lights, and obligingly stay green throughout the winter. The magnolia branches in this container feature big leaves. Those big glossy green leaves are a nod to romance. The Michigan winter is spare and gray. Cut magnolia is luscious – juicy looking. The hollow birch bark rounds are chubby and charming. The faux red berry stems hover over all. Happily, they will represent for many winters to come. The Lumineo warm LED light strings illuminate the greens.