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 Grapevine Deer

deer 2014 (2)It is a yearly thing at Detroit Garden Works – the arrival of the grapevine deer.  In celebration, we outfitted a window box with all the fruits of the harvest. Cabbage, romanesco broccoli, lime green cauliflower, white onions, pumpkins and gourds. Tieing all of the individual elements together – one roll of grapevine-a material so versatile and appropriate for display in a garden. The window box turned out to be a perfect spot to place a grapevine sculpture of a doe. The two elements compliment one another, and speak to the time of the harvest.  The rolls of grapevine that we stock year round look great in, under or around containers.  They soften and highlight any fall planting. A deft hand can make the wiry dried vines drape gracefully. A tree trunk gift wrapped in  grapevine for the winter is a lovely wrap indeed.  They can provide a support for a more lax growing vine, such as clematis.  The grapevines that hang over our fence are lush in the summer, and so sculptural in the winter.

grapevine deer (1)These grapevine deer are the most beautiful use of grapevine I know. They rank high on my list of beautiful garden sculptures.  This natural material and the natural form it represents fits into the garden effortlessly. Sections of the sinewy vine are woven over welded steel forms.  They are a powerfully sculptural interpretation of the beauty of nature.  Who makes them?  A group of people who most of the year tend a vineyard full of wine grapes. In the fall, when the vineyard work is done, they collect the prunings from the vines, and sculpt.

grapevine deer (3)
The vines of the grapes are quite stiff, and unyielding. Working with them to create a shape is sure to produce blisters-I have first hand experience. It could be that these vines are soaked and softened before they are fitted over the steel form. I do not know their method of construction, but I do know they are beautiful.  I marvel at these gracefully curving forms.  I further admire the perfectly parallel placement of the vines over the form. These vines woven over a form is a study in strength and endurance.  Just like a garden.

grapevine deer (8)It is striking that such a stiff material could be made to convey  such soft and natural natural emotion as a doe tending her fawn. Though  I have plenty of clients whose gardens are under siege from deer, it is hard not to appreciate this pair. These sculptures are not about the trouble that deer in the garden present.  They are about the the presence and beauty of nature.

grapevine-deer.jpgThe standing buck sculpture is tall. The antlers are woven around square pipe that insets into a larger pipe hidden below the surface.  I could see it placed in a field of hellebores, or in a grove of trees.

Dec 23 2010 047One year I took a buck home, and used it in lieu of a Christmas tree. It spent the rest of the winter outdoors in the garden. With a yearly rubdown of a penetrating oil sealer, they last for years outdoors. If you have ever tried to compost grapevine, you know how long it persists, even in contact with the soil. Should the vines ever need replacing, the forms can be sent back for fresh vines.

grapevine deer (5)The sculptures are remarkably stable.  If they do blow over, they are easy to right.  For a completely sturdy installation, it is easy to hook a heavy gauge steel hairpin through the steel loop at the foot.  All of the sculptures are life size.  The standing buck is about 5.5 feet tall, excluding the antlers.

grapevine deer (6)A family

grapevine deer (5)Garden sculpture, properly placed, is all about adding another layer to the experience. Looking for a garden sculpture that will look like it has always been there?  Consider the grapevine deer.  Interested further?  http://www.detroitgardenworks.com/garden-store/statuary/grapevine-deer-2/

Stick Week

birch-poles.jpg

The lion’s share of what we offer gardeners for winter and holiday pots and decor are fresh cut natural materials.  The fall harvest includes any natural material which is a celebration of the garden, and a feast for admiring eyes.  Just today we took delivery of this load of fresh cut birch poles in three sizes.  A tree farmer far north of us waded into thigh high water to cut these birch poles for us-they have had a lot of rain this season. I greatly appreciate his effort. How thrilled I am with this picture.  Big numbers of hefty birch branches are stable and striking, represented in four hefty steel boxes from our company Branch.  This is a picture which tells our tale.  Want to be comfortable with nature?  Be exposed, learn-and understand.  Looking for beauty that goes beyond any human construct-study nature.

cut-branches.jpgThe arrival of the fresh cut twigs is a sure sign of the winter season.  We deal with a number of twig farmers.  There are those who grow oranges, tomatoes and avocados, but we do business with farmers that grow twigs.  The art of growing twiggy shrubs with the idea of harvesting the current year’s growth at the end of the season is a practice known as coppicing.  Coppice wood has a long and varied history, in both gardening and agriculture.  Twiggy and woody stems have been harvested for fencing for livestock and vegetable gardens.  Branched twigs provided the first plant stakes for lax growing perennials.  Woven twigs make great vine supports.

fresh-cut-branches.jpgThe nursery industry world wide is responsible for the breeding of shrub cultivars whose twigs have great and enduring color.  Spring Meadow Nursery, in our country, is both proactive and successful in breeding shrubs of note in stem, leaf, and flower.   In the late fall, I am happy to be able to offer fresh cut twigs that are enchanting in color and form.  Stick week-a favorite week of my gardening year.

curly-copper-willow.jpgCurly copper willow might be my personal favorite.  The glossy stems are cinnamon brown.  Just a bunch or two can endow a winter display with a volume, texture, and motion that delights the eye.  The striking color will persist in completely exposed locations throughout the toughest winter.

grapevine-deer.jpgLet’s talk about grapes.  A few vines some 15 years old cover the steel pergola at the shop.  The sinewy vines have been trained to wind round the poles of that pergola.  Grapes need a very strong structure on which to grow.  The leaves cover the pergola roof during the heat of the summer.  The clusters of grapes-beautiful in the early fall.  Those vines, once harvested, are the basis for these deer sculptures.  Our supplier owns a vineyard.  She makes sculptures from the trimmings of the grape vines by forming them over handmade steel armatures.

grapevine.jpgThe cuttings of the vines can provide a material focal point for a winter gesture.  Detroit Garden Works is stocking for this winter season rolls of muscadine grape vine-twigs in the round. These long rolls of twigs in a curled form is the focus of this year’s winter decor.  We interfere with the natural curves of these rolled vines as little as possible.  They have a life all their own, which we mean to feature.  The most beautiful celebrations of the winter season are about letting the natural materials shine.

grapevine-and-rusted-steel-garland.jpg
When we dressed our linden trees with the grape vines, we following the vine lead.  Once the vines were round the linden tree trunks, we added rusted steel lead garlands.  This look to me is a good partnership.

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpgThe red bud pussy willow in the fall is strikingly beautiful.  I use it over and over again in winter and holiday containers.  More often than not, these cut twigs survive the winter, bloom, and leaf out.  Miraculous, this level of giving.

fresh-cut-twigs.jpgIt is stick week.  What sticks and twigs do you have in your garden that might provide a foundation for your winter garden expression? Looking to winter, those woody plants which have grown and matured might enlighten your winter garden.

The Grapevine Deer 2012

We have offered these life size grapeview deer sculptures at Detroit Garden Works for many years now-I never tire of them.  Unlike the deer that can devastate a bed of hostas, or chew the bark from treasured trees, these deer sculptures are beautiful in almost any landscape or garden.

On the inside, they are heavy gauge welded steel rod.  This makes them incredibly strong and sturdy.  If we place one in a landscape bed, we drive steel rebar deep into the ground next to each leg, and wire the steel frame of each foot to the rebar pins.  This keeps them in place and upright, in all kinds of weather.

In spite of the steel inside, the sculptures are very graceful, and capture the spirit of the beast.  The long legs and overscaled ears of this pair instantly identifies them as fawns.

The grazing doe has a long graceful neck and petite sized legs.  The doe, buck and fawn are life size, and can be sculpted in a standing, grazing, or lying down position.  Whether a single deer, a trio,  or a herd, they are beautiful in a garden.  Some of that beauty has to do with the material itself.

Vitis, or grape, is hardy in many places in the US.  Wild concrod grapes are common in my area.  The vines, harvested after the leaves fall, are the basis for many natural sculptural forms.  We have had grapevine cones, spheres, garlands, baskets, trellises, plant climbers, rustic fencing and wreaths.  The vines dry a beautiful cinnamon brown color, and are amazingly durable.

We recommend sealing these sculptures once a year with WaterLox, or a similar sealer.  Properly sealed, they will give many years of service in the garden.  Only one client of mine has had one long enough to send it back to be redone

But the real beauty of the sculptures is the hand of the sculptor.  A small group of perople make these deer.  Once you see enough of them, you recognize the hand.  I do not know their process, but I would guess the vines are soaked until they are pliant, and then applied and worked around the forms one strand at a time.  Once vine section is parallel to the next, and very densely woven.

I feel sure the vines are sorted and graded.  The larger vines form the body of the deer.  Much smaller vines are used to finish the legs, and fashion the feet.  The forms are sinuous and rhythmic.

I am not sure what is so compelling about them, other than to say they are a story about nature in form, material and narrative.  They are not a graphic representation-they capture a certain wild spirit that is hard to ignore.

I still remember the year of the Christmas buck.