The Finishing Touch

The moment I saw this winter project, I knew a lighted garland wrapped around the front door surround would bring all of the winter elements together. A garland attached to that limestone surround some 25 feet off the ground that would describe the entrance to this home is the stuff of fairy tales. I told my client it would take a lot of people and equipment to make this happen. There would be no ladder tall enough and safe enough for an installation at this height. Expecting her to say no, she said yes. Given her go ahead, Templeton Building Company was kind enough to send out four sections of scaffolding, and two of their people to set screws in the mortar over the doorway, and down the sides. Four of my crew met the two from Templeton early one morning.

I was not especially happy about the process. The scaffolding was on wheels, for starters. Really? It got built skyward, section by section, until it was high enough to provide a place to work. Would I want to be up there working? No. Was I worried about each and every one of them climbing this expanded ladder to the sky-yes I was. It only took Matt 40 minutes to set the screws that would hold both the magnolia garland, and the light garland. So far, so good. My crew on the ground delivered the materials to those people who were aloft.

Once the screws were in place, LaBelle made his way up the scaffolding, hauling one end of the magnolia garland. David LaBelle is a leading fabricator for my company, the Branch Studio, and he has no fear of heights, or scaffolding. I cannot imagine how that can be, but he seemed relaxed about it, and I knew he would be entirely capable of wiring on the garlands. As the scaffolding was but 7 feet wide, we would have to install one side of the garland at a time, and then move the scaffolding to the other side.

The top surface of the top layer of scaffolding was only one board wide. LaBelle was not in the least bit concerned. The best part of all of my companies are the people who make things happen. Our group of 20 something has varying skills. The variety of work we are able to do depends on this.

Once the first sections of garland came down the right and left side, I knew the big effort to set lighted garland over this two story doorway was a good idea. The final sections of garland could be attached from a ladder.

Once the magnolia garland was secured, the light garland went up next. The garland is 50 feet long overall, and is comprised of a 100 foot strand of LED C-9 lights, and a 100 foot strand of Lumineo mini LED lights, each folded in half, and twisted together. Frequent zip ties keep the twist from unraveling.

LaBelle was ready to take this light garland up high. The LED lights represent a vast improvement in exterior lighting. This garland is amazingly light weight. LED’s now have a quality of light very similar to warm incandescent lighting.  They consume very little power, and are economical to run. But the best feature for us is the fact that the light covers are plastic – not glass. They are shatterproof.  So no harm if you drop them, or bang them against a brick wall. When first introduced, the big bulb LED lights were very expensive. 1 25′ strand would run 27.00. That same strand is less than 10.00 now.

The lighted magnolia garland over this door is beautiful – day and night. The backs of the leaves echo the color of the brick and wood architectural elements.

From the drive court, the scale of every winter element looks appropriate. From the ground plane to the sky, this winter landscape has a lot going on. That lighted magnolia garland better than two stories up over the front door does not look too big or overly elaborate. It is fairly simple, just sized to fit.

From the far side of the drive court, some rare late day December sun describes a landscape and garden ready for winter. This winter landscape has volume, structure, texture, mass, -and most importantly, lighting. A routine winter day in Michigan is gray.

Once the December light fades, there is a garden to be seen of a different sort. Light your own winter landscape as you wish. I would suggest that any effort you make to light the landscape is well worth the effort.


All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.

The Holiday Garland

floral-picks.jpgConstructing evergreen garlands is not a job I would tackle.  I buy them already made from Dan Prielipp at my local farmer’s market.  He makes them up thick for me from a number of species of fir boughs. A 50 foot length is incredibly heavy.  So much wood in those boughs, and so much water.  I can put evergreen boughs together to decorate a mantel, but garland construction I leave to the professionals.  I am, however, able to decorate a garland. To tell the truth, that decoration is my favorite part.  I take the additions of decor to a garland seriously.  My crew will be hanging a very heavy and very long object from a home or commercial building. Anything I add to that should be strong and firmly attached.  The wired floral picks pictured above are an essential element of the construction.  My additions to the garland will require wood of its own.

garland-materials.jpgIt took most of today to decorate the garland I will hang at home.  I designed from the materials that were still available.  Detroit Garden Works has sold thousands of fresh cut branches, several hundred cases of fresh cut evergreens – and closing in on a thousand bunches of preserved eucalyptus.  As much as I love the eucalyptus, I had only 2 color choices left.  Pink, or black.  The winter season is black enough for this gardener.  Black at my front door-not a chance.  Too gloomy.  Pink it was.  Designing a garland for the holidays with pink-I rather liked the challenge.

decorating-the-garland.jpgAny element I add to a holiday garland gets put together ahead of time.  Under no circumstances would I set up a ladder next to a garland that has already been hung, and proceed to work.  First of all, it was 17 degrees today.  Secondly, any construction project asks for a work surface at elbow height, a full compliment of materials, and a better than full compliment of tools.  This garland will be decorated with magnolia stems, pine cones, and pink eucalyptus.  I put a bouquet together with a zip tie.  Once every element is arranged as it should be, I tighten the tie, and clip off the tail.

glued-and-wired.jpgI shorten all of the stems of the materials, insert a floral pick, wire the pick to the stems, and soak the entire affair with hot melt glue.  I want but one stem to go into the garland.  Many stems are not very cooperative with one another.  The garland is composed of boughs that are quite tightly wired together.  There are not so many spaces to insert other material.  One pick, to which all of the other elements are attached, goes into the garland.

garland-materials.jpgWhat next?  This is a design question that had much to do with color.  How would I make that pink flavored eucalyptus look like my first choice for a holiday garland? Luckily, fresh green looks good with just about any color. Nothing struck my eye, until I saw these small faux orange fruits.  I have no idea what fruit they intend to represent.  Mini persimmons?  Orange cherry tomatoes?  I wasn’t going to quibble about the thought behind these little fruits.  I needed to make that pink look good.

garland-decoration.jpgI made 18 of these small bouquets-all of them road and weather ready.  The orange and pink combination was starting to interest me. The pine cones seem so essential to any holiday garland.  There are so many different types and sizes.  We stock tropical as well as native cones; they all speak to the holidays and the winter season.  These magnolia branches are from a supplier that specializes in naturally grown, unpruned, and small leaved bunches. The large dark green leaf is a beautiful foil to the evergreen needles.  The brown felted obverse of the leaves is a gorgeous texture and color.

garland-decoration.jpgMy pink eucalyptus was beginning to look very festive.  I wasn’t all that worried.  Any materials can be put together in an interesting way. The holiday garland is an expression of warmth and celebration.  That expression can be realized in lots of ways.  In no end of color schemes.  No rules.  That simple moment when materials say hello to the imagination is pure pleasure.

assembling-the-garland.jpgA good many feet of this garland has been strapped to a stout bamboo pole. I like my garland straight.  Given that evergreen garland wants in the worst way to drape, I attach this particular garland to a pole.  A garland which is wired to a pole only needs a few points of attachment.  A pair or 3 screws, into the mortar joints. Holiday garland not only needs to be beautiful, it needs to be ready and friendly to hang.  My crew never complains about anything, ever.  They are unfailingly good natured.  This makes me determined to make an installation as smooth as I can.

garland-decoration.jpgIt took most of today to get this garland decorated, and ready to hang.  I glued and wired every bouquet to the horizontal part of the garland.  The garland that hangs down the sides of the front porch-who knows where the evergreen chips may fall.  A garland is guaranteed to twist until it comes to rest.  The additional decorations are glued and wired such that they could be easily attached to the sides after the garland is hung.

holiday-decor.jpgAs for my pots-pink eucalyptus, and curly copper willow.  I may add some coppery brown sinamay shot through with gold threads to the mix. My holiday at home is taking shape.


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.