A Holiday Color Scheme


Client’s routinely ask me for things I would never think of. That is just one of a hundred reasons why I like having clients. People know what they like, and they will tell you, if you ask the right questions.  This client is hosting a holiday event tomorrow. She called me well in advance to discuss what work she wanted done. I have done winter pots for her for quite some time-since we installed the landscape and gardens at her new house. But a request for a special holiday installation was not part of our history. After some discussion, I still felt unsure.  So I asked if she had a color scheme in mind. That question produced a lengthy reply that did not surprise me a bit. She had a color scheme in mind. Loved that!!!

A discussion of color is a bridge upon which a designer and client can meet. Most people have strong feelings about color. I admit to it myself.  Certain colors attract me-others leave me cold.  Some colors are not so swell on their own, but in combination with another color-all of a sudden there is an idea brewing. Most gardeners are big fans of green. But some like green with white.  Others like green with yellow orange and red.  Still others like their green limey, with a side of pale lavender or purple. There are infinite variations in color, if you consider all of the possible tones and shades. A client who speaks to a color scheme is a gift to this designer.

Make no mistake, I have more than my fair share of spectacular misses, trying to read what a client will like. Most landscape design projects are forgiving of what I miss.  A landscape project takes place over a long period of time.  Mistakes can be corrected. A point of view can be tuned up before the installation. A holiday installation is a brief moment in the gardening year. I take special pains to be sure I am on the right track.

The question about color proved to be a good question. My client was sure that she wanted a gray and white holiday outdoors, with some accents of maroon or claret red. I was surprised, and intrigued. Rob sees to my having an ocean of materials available to me-thank you Rob.  Once I started scouting the materials we had that available, I was able to put together a palette of materials that I thought would satisfy her request.

The installation yesterday involved garland on her low fencing out front, and her gates.  We spent a good deal of time hanging a garland over the entrance to the front door.

Gray and white, in a number of different forms and materials, would play a prominent role in the creation of the holiday and winter arrangements in a singular large stoneware pot, the planters surrounding her fountain.

We took particular care to hang the heavy garland with zip ties and wires.

The garland is asymmetrical and quirky-appropriate to the architecture of the front door.

The front yard fountain had 5 curved Branch lattice boxes surrounding it. We plant those boxes for every season. For holiday and winter, we stuffed each box with noble fir, with a center ring of sparkly white picks, gray pod picks-and a dash of merlot dyed pods.

The fountain is shut don for the winter, but the surrounding planters make a big statement about the holiday, and the winter to come.

Though I would have never imagined a holiday decor scheme with white, gray, and a splash of maroon red, I was delighted by the outcome.

My client is a  serious gardener, through and through. This arrangement in white, gray and maroon per her holiday color scheme is my best effort to represent her relationship with the garden at the holidays.

Though this color scheme for the holiday is a first for me, I quite like the outcome.

The big idea here? Be confident in every idea you have about your garden. Or your holiday or your winter. Turn your imagination loose.

This late day November sun yesterday set the centerpiece of this winter pot on fire. Love the fire.

Red And Green

holiday container centerpieceThe combination of red and green at the holidays is bound to elicit some yawns or boos from those who would suggest there are more innovative and creative color combinations a gardener might pursue. I find fault with this idea. Color combinations in and of themselves do not suggest traditional or contemporary. Color is a design element that takes its emotional cue from the organizing efforts of a designing eye. Red and green might typically be very traditional colors at the holiday season, but they can be used in a way that is anything but traditional. These clients favor a decidedly contemporary and color rich holiday expression. Red and green – this is what they like.  Their steel topiary form from is stuffed full of cardinal red twigs, or whips, that have very little in the way of side branching. This choice of material accents the strong vertical element established by the form. The form itself is lighted with LED lights from Lumineo. The spare vertical element represented by the lighted form and the red twig branches is countered by a group of lax red berry picks.  The sculptural effect is anything but traditional. Holiday red in this instance is quite contemporary in feeling.

red and green Christmas treeWe also set up and dress their Christmas tree. The tree is decorated with red and lime green ball ornaments, both matte and shiny, stuck with paper wrapped wire stems.  The ornaments are not hung from the tree branches in the traditional way. They are laid into and onto the tree as if they were a pick. The balls are next to weightless, so the stiff stems of the tree hold them up. My crew was certain we would not be able to put all 280 ball picks into this tree, but once they got they got the hang of laying them in, the tree easily handled them all.

holiday treeThis method allowed us to place ornament very close to the trunk of tree, as well as on the tips.  The long wire acts as ballast, and helps to balance them on the tree. The ornaments nearest to front edge appear to be floating. Once the ball ornaments were placed, we added a single white LED light garland. I would say this representation of holiday red and green is layered, crisp, clean, and sculptural. This traditional holiday element, the Christmas tree, has a more contemporary look.

red and green holiday arrangementThe deck off the kitchen has one pot for the winter. Imagine this winter view from the kitchen without that container. A foreground element in a landscape is an important one, as is possible to focus on every detail. What is happening at a distance is visually hazy at best, but it is what I would call a traditional suburban landscape. The contrast between the pot and the landscape is considerable. The design upshot of of the relationship between the foreground and the background elements is the creation of a sense of depth. Interesting spatial relationships make a composition lively. Why would I think the red and the green elements in this container are non traditional? The green portion of the arrangement is the smallest element in size and supports a red top which is over scaled and dominant in feeling. A more traditional arrangement would be more conventionally balanced, with lots of greens at the bottom, and a smaller and less prominent mid section.

holiday containerThe juxtaposition of the brilliant red of the berry picks, and the merlot red of the eucalyptus is a little jarring and standoffish, rather than pretty.

holiday container centerpieceThe pale limey green of the poly mesh is not what I would call traditional holiday green.

holiday containerThe red berry picks were installed at different heights. The effect is deliberately asymmetrical.

holiday containerYou may or may not be convinced by anything I have had to say about these pots, but that was not my intent. I had an interest in explaining the design process for this project.  It is a challenge to warmly represent red and green at the holidays in a non traditional way.  In a bigger sense, is even more of a design challenge to avoid visual stereotypes. I planted my first and one and only dwarf Japanese maple for a client this past spring – in a container. As beautiful as they can be I have yet to figure out how to place one in the landscape that does not look routine.

holiday potsNo matter whether you source materials from from your garden, the farmer’s market, or a roadside field, getting them to look like what you imagined calls for some design.

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