Holiday Garden

holiday-decoration.jpgIt is no secret that I enjoy decorating the garden for the holidays.  The gardening season has come to a close-there are reasons to celebrate.  I am not watering,  grooming, transplanting, replacing, pruning or fertilizing.  This is a long way of saying I have respite from the chores that make the idea of a good garden a reality.  Though I was content to haul the hose around, I am equally pleased that it has been put away.

holiday-garland.jpgA lot of the work that goes into a landscape is as much fun as a dose of cod liver oil.  I have never been invited to a party to celebrate a grading project that eliminated a swampy spot in the yard.  Nor has any friend invited me to admire their new drain field.  A diehard gardening friend did invite me to admire the pruning on her front yard full of old oak trees-I don’t blame her.  I might not have noticed, had she not drawn my attention to it.   There is some sunlight in the yard now, and the work was very expensive-she wanted me to see.  The pruning was in her mind, just cause for celebration.

holiday-garland.jpgA garden decorated for the holidays is a whole other experience.  There is the opportunity to add some color to a landscape which has gone as gray as the winter skies.  Materials from the garden can be arranged in any configuration or shape without regard to lighting or growing conditions.  There is no planting, nor is there any watering.    Only at the winter holidays can I have a perfectly lush evergreen and perfectly spiralling grapevine growing over the doorway.  There are lots of things not available to me in the garden, but I can have whatever look I want for the winter.

holiday-decoration.jpgThe illusion of the decorated winter garden doesn’t ask for a skilled gardener.  A holiday display is not limited to the realm of possibility.  It is the one time of year I can have magnolia grandiflora, and sugar pine cones, red bud pussy willow,  and winterberry-each stem at their peak.  Each positioned in a display, just so.  All this garland requires is the support of the light fixture, and strategically placed masonry screws, and enough 22 gauge paddle wire to keep every element securely attached.

holiday-decoration.jpgFrost proof pots that had summer flowers are an obliging vehicle for an arrangement celebrating the season.  There are so many beautiful fresh cut materials available-twigs, berries, branches and greens.  The variegated boxwood I grew in a pot over the summer has gone into storage.  I worry it is not hardy in my zone, so I will protect it from my winter in an unheated but enclosed space.  I don’t have to worry about cut variegated boxwood in a winter arrangement.  The understanding is that this material has a shelf life.

Growing a garden is one part skill, 3 parts hard work, 3 parts endurance and patience, and 3 parts luck. Sometimes even that is not enough. Plants routinely refuse to perform, even when given the best and most thoughtful care. The winter garden has no dead branches, or insect ravaged leaves.  A boxwood or lavender hedge with a dead plant right in the middle is an ordinary sight in a landscape.  No gardener has to put up with that in their winter arrangements.

holiday.jpgI have read the predictions that we will have a very cold, snowy, and lengthy winter.  That season usually begins in January.  I may take the holiday ornaments, picks and bows off after New Years, but my winter pots will keep visual company during those lengthy and dreary months.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy summer garden has little need for lighting beyond what the sun provides.  In the winter, every gardener has to fend for themselves.


An Approach To The The Work

constructing-holiday-garland.jpgEvery holiday expression asks first and foremost for all of the senses in concert with an active imagination.  Once the design presents itself, the next move is to design the construction. A project in its imagined state can be described with a pencil and a piece of paper.  A gesture.  A project under construction has a whole other set of issues.  Every project requires fabrication.  A strong fabrication plan brings an idea to life.  A great idea lacking a solid construction plan may fizzle.  From Buck I have learned that once a project is approved, an approach to the work is the next step.    Position the work where the task can comfortably be accomplished. In simple terms, any fabrication requires a fabrication set up.  A good setup puts the materials where you need them.  Working in poor light may result in work that does not stand up to the light of day.  A good set up facilitates a great quality product.

garlands.jpgThe only time I put work on the floor is when I am finished making it.  I can sit at a desk if I am writing, but if I am making anything-whether it be a topiary, a container arrangement, or a garland, standing up is a comfortable place to be.  This means a layout table that is of a comfortable height-counter height or even higher. We have lots of garlands under construction for a project.  We set up a long series of cardboard boxes at waist height to handle the 50 foot lengths.  The approach to the work doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to work.  The finished garlands were taken off our cardboard tables once they were constructed, and moved to the floor.

evergreen-garlands.jpgAny work I do, I want to be right side up. I want the materials close to my eye.  I have no interest in working on the floor, in the dark, or in an environment that is just too cold. A project that is set up properly makes for accurate and efficient work.  The best fun and the hardest work of the holiday season is how every step requires great attention to detail and hand work.

holiday-garland.jpgThis means that the work done in the shop goes faster, and makes the installation so much easier. A holiday garland is about great fresh greens, but it is also about what gets added to those greens. Dressing a garland asks for a sense of rhythm. Sometimes,  boom-boom-boom.  Other times boom-boom-boom-ah. An evergreen garland is a big thick and unwieldy object.  With the garland set at waist height for me to decorate, I can concentrate on on the finer points of the construction.   This garland was all set to represent the moment it was installed.

holiday-evergreen-garland.jpgWhat Angie added to this garland in the shop she was able to do with dispatch.  She had figured out an approach to the work.  I would go so far as to say her construction was elegant.  A shop setup enabled her to do what she knows how to do.  My advice is to do as much of any holiday construction-whether it be a wreath or a garland or a pot-inside. A garage is a much more comfortable place to work than on the sidewalk.  A garage floor is easy to sweep-outdoors in winter weather, the cleanup is tough.

hanging-the-garland.jpg We do not approach the work in the field.  This takes too much time.  It is very hard and extra time consuming to put something together with gloves on.  We approach the work in our garage.  The morning we travel to install for the winter or the holidays, we have already sorted out how the installation will proceed.

holiday-arbors.jpgThese garlands were constructed in our shop. Once they were outside, the job at hand was to was to attach, and fluff.  All that was left to clean up were the cutoffs from the zip ties, and some stray needles.  Our garage is a big hot mess this time of year, and I like to keep it there.  The time will eventually come when I decorate at home.  Taking the time for those little personal touches at home is part of the pleasure of the season.

evergreen-garland.jpgIf you are a gardener in sole charge of your winter garden, I would suggest that you sort out an approach to the work first.  Gardening is real work, no matter the season.  A  friendly set up with the proper tools is a great headache preventative.


holiday-installation.jpgThose cardboard boxes came in very handy.