Merry Christmas, Luca Della Robbia style

delle-robbia-wreath.jpgAn Italian sculptor named Luca Della Robbia produced many charming works in glazed terra cotta from 1400-1475.  Many of his plaques featured frames depicting fruits and vegetables.  This style of decoration still persists centuries later, in a style of Christmas decorating known in this country as the Williamsburg style.  Someday I would like to go there at the holidays, and see all of the wreaths and architectural elements decorated with the fruits of the harvest and holiday season.  Though the Willamsburg decor is traditionally done with real fruits and vegetables, my interpretation of the style makes use of faux fruit.  The fruit in the above wreath is produced from a weighted core, and a rubbery, almost waxy outer layer.  The color and texture is incredibly realistic.  This magnolia della robbia wreath, with proper care thast protects the dry magnolia leaves, will last many years.

holiday lighting.jpgWhy am I thinking about the della robbia style?  Rob made me 2 sets of Christmas lights-one for my tree and one for my mantel.  The red, yellow and green lights have a remarkably jewel like glow.  They so remind me of the Christmas trees I remember from my childhood.  Those big glowing lights on on our Christmas tree were enchanting.  Seeing anything through a child’s eyes is a way of seeing like no other.  How would I decorate my tree to make the most of these extraordinary lights?  It seemed a natural choice to pair this color and texture with a mantel and tree decorated with ornament of a similar feeling.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy holiday tree does not have ornament with an intrinsic history.  No objects which provoke memories, in and of themselves.    I actually like it that way.  I like having the option to decide on a scheme or a theme that is quite different than the previous year. The challenge of creating a display that reflects the immediate sentiments, importance, and aura of the season is an activity I enjoy.  When the seasonal work for clients comes to a close, it is time to go home, and create a little holiday spirit of my own.

trimming-the-tree.jpgThe della robbia tree had a modest beginning.  A Christmas tree, an evergreen garland, plastic ornament balls in lime green, and lots of faux fruit.  Having been laid low by the worst cold in a decade, Steve saw to getting the tree and mantel garland up, and the ornaments on the tree.  Angie stuck the large fruits with floral picks; it is vastly easier to secure a stick than a heavy round slippery fruit. The rest would be up to me.  For the better part of a day, I worried I might not have the strength to decorate our tree.  Funny how once a project captures your interest, troubles fall away.   Early on it became apparent that the big fruits could not go on the tree.  They were much too heavy.  The big fruits would have to go on the mantel.

Christmas-tree.jpgThe mantel garland was secured around a thick bamboo pole, and secured to the weighty metal mantel lights with zip ties.  I managed to find spots in the evergreen garland that would grip the picks.  As for the tree, I had to change gears. A trip to English Gardens yielded 10 boxes of dark red glass ornament balls.  Miniature limes and green apples could easily be fastened to the tree-after Buck wired bag after bag of them for me.  40 red berry picks, when taken apart, yielded 480 individual berries.  Other bits included 6 boxes of shiny lime green mini berry clusters.

Christmas-tree.jpgI like a Christmas tree that still looks like a tree, even after it is decorated.  This involved wiring on many small bits.  Big bits can engulf a Christmas tree.  I favor lots and lots of just a few types of little things.

decorated-tree.jpgI attached the red berry balls to the tips of as many branches as I could.  At the time of this writing, I still have about fifty to go.

holiday-mantel.jpgThe tree and mantel only have 30 lights, but the bulbs are big, and make an impression.  How this feels to me is nostalgic and warm-just how I like to celebrate the season.

holioday-tree.jpgI owe the look to the inspiration provided by Rob’s lights.  May your holiday be just as warm and bright as mine has turned out to be.

The Holiday Tree

The history of the Christmas tree is long, and well documented.  How amazing-people from very different backgrounds and points of view bring a tree indoors, for the holidays.  As a landscape designer, this process not only interest me-it enthralls me.   A decorated Christmas tree is one of the most iconic holiday expressions imaginable.  My late season landscaping makes the transition to the expressions of the holiday season without much fuss-I am still installing trees in December.  Farmers who grow Christmas trees, I admire them in the same way that I admire farmers who grow brussel sprouts, or tomatoes.  Do I see holiday decorating as a form of gardening-oh yes.    

These holiday trees dressed in glass ornaments and wired gold bows are simple clusters of branches fixed to a second floor railing.  They are a personal and individual interpretation of a Christmas tree.  This expression suits the taste of my client, and looks great in her house.  I have other clients with fairly modern tastes that still want a very traditional holiday tree.  Sometimes there are children and family involved in that decision.  But this is a matter of choice, not necessity.  All that alternative tree takes is an alternative point of view.   

Rob’s constructions of branches and lights recasts the tree as a burning bush.  It would look great inside or out.  With ornaments, or without.  Once a decision is made to take another direction, an idea can evolve.   

This past winter, I sunk a cut Christmas tree into the pot in my side garden.  8 strands of gold lights got wound around that tree.   This was my garden Christmas tree.  I so delighted in the light that drenched the south side of the house.  I will confess I lit this tree until the end of February.  If it haqdn’t been visible from the sidewalk, I probably would have kept it lit through March.     


I put up and decorate this tree for a client with small children every year.   This tree revolves around ornaments created and chosen by their children.  Other ornaments symbolize their family history.  Every year, the Christmas tree is laden with the evidence of their family history.  You would be surprised at how many adult children do not want there parents to change anything about the family tree.  Those kids are clearly kids who have good memories of their childhood holiday.  

Rob’s latest idea of a holiday tree-astonishing.   He arranged a number of poplar branches in a glass vase.  He went on to hang wood bird ornaments, and cream colored pompom garlands  on those branches.  Spare, architectural, and dramatic, it features the gnarled branches and elongated buds of the poplar.   

A Christmas tree taken to the minimum- this diminuitive steel wire interpretation of an evergreen holiday tree looks great, hung with pewter colored glass ornaments.       

I myself change up, and reinterpret the Christmas tree, every year.  I like to try new things at the holidays, as much as I like to plant my containers differently every year.  I stuffed tall cut magnolia branches into a foam form set in a concrete footed urn.  The classic Italian style of the pot looks good in my 1930’s vintage house.  Boxwood and lights at the bottom completed the look.        

This artificial tree is incredibly good looking to my eye.  It makes no pretense of copying the look of a live tree-this I like.  It is a sculptural interpretation of a tree.  The brown/olive color of the branches reminds me of a dead hemlock.  The branches are sparse, making it easy to hang lots of ornaments, or none at all.  It reminds me of the Victorian feather trees so popular in the late 19th century. 

These metal Christmas trees are tall, and have but a few branches.  They look great with just a few ornaments.  The size makes it possible to have a tree in a small space.  The shelf where these trees sit is but 12 inches wide.  The flexible metal branches make it possible to have all of the bulk of the tree in the front, and none in the back.      



kThis client likes having a Christmas tree in his study.  The glass ornaments are simple, and jewel colored.  The dark olive green, burgundy, brown gold is an alternative color scheme. 

This little tree is comprised of small scale branches set in a vintage bucket.  Small berries were glued to the stems.  Short stems of eucalyptus were stuffed into the base.  A collection of red felt bells topped in holly is the only other decoration.  It doesn’t seem to need anything else.  Just to its left, a cardboard cone covered in dried lichens.  I like this tree too.

What will I do at home this year?  Last years holiday tree was in fact a holiday buck.  I put a sheet of plastic on the floor, and puddled 50 feet of evergreen roping around the Buck.  Several sizes of lights are kept company by a few lichen balls.  A collar of oversized sphere lights completed the look.  Deciding what to do this year-that is much more than half the fun of it.