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.

welcome.

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 Gift Of The Season

holiday treeThose of you have have read this journal regularly over the past 7 years probably recognize my landscape at home. I post pictures of it often, as  I find that almost every issue that concerns, delights, or challenges me as a designer are right there brewing in my own back yard. Most every day, I tour my landscape, as there is always something to see and reflect upon. That daily tour sustains me in a way I cannot really explain. I have taken these steps up to my rose garden countless times over the past 20 years. Buck and I, accompanied by the corgis, would make the trip at the end of every day, during the gardening season. In the summer season, we took the steps up in anticipation of the roses, the beautifully aging boxwood hedges, and the quiet. We quit going the year that the extreme winter cold all but killed the roses. The devastation was very tough to take. But late in that summer, we resumed our trips.  The white Japanese anemone Honorine Jobert came on strong, swept through the devastated roses, and went on to bloom in profusion for weeks. It was a happening. The four of us celebrated the gift of the season. That next winter that killed all of the last of the life left in my roses was even harder to take. But the anemones were all that much stronger, and all that much more beautiful. Every season has its heartaches, but it is equally true that every season has its gifts. Pictured above is the view of those steps a few nights ago, just after Dan and his crew had been there to install a tree in the pot.

holiday treeThe giant pot in my rose garden organizes that small space, several seasons of the year. I plant it for summer, and for winter. The winter season is at hand. I have for many years installed a cut and lighted Christmas tree in that pot. This year’s tree was incredibly large. My landscape superintendent Dan did not blink. That giant tree dressed with thousands of lights makes me happy. Thousands of lights? Rob’s Lumineo lights from the Netherlands means that my thousands of lights from 8 strands draw next to no electricity. They are good for 50,000 hours, or ten years. I told Dan to fire up the tree.  Milo and I made the trek up those stairs that night to see the tree. I was enchanted.

holiday treeBy the next late afternoon, we had had our first snow. It was a big snow. I trudged through 10 inches of that snow after work to see my tree. I was not so keen to walk up the stairs.  What nature engineers does not need my foot prints.  I like my snow exactly as nature intended it. These LED lights generate very little in the way of heat. The light and the snow were equally compelling. The relationship established by the tree, the snow, the lights and the landscape-perfect.

late day yesterday

snow covered steps

The rose garden pot dressed for winter has never been better. It is my first stop when I get home.

The rose garden pot just past dusk, out my south side window.

The rose garden pot at 7 pm

That lighted tree, at night

A pot, a tree, and some lights can energize a winter garden. My rose garden container makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.

winter landscape lightingMake of this picture what you will. In my opinion, some light in the winter garden is a great idea.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Start To Finish

the-winter-landscape-18I have posted several times about a landscape project that was designed in 2015, and finally finished earlier this year. It was one of those rare moments when establishing a rapport with a committed client is instantaneous, and has staying power. The opportunity to work with them came courtesy of the Art-Harrison Design Studio. Arturo and Barry introduced me to their clients. That introduction eventually turned into a mission to renovate the landscape for this 1920’s era home in Detroit. The landscape was finished this past July. Our work this past week revolved around arrangements in their pots for the holiday and winter, and lighting. This large lighted wreath destined for a second story window was a little spare-we added some garland, picks and pods.

the-winter-landscape-9Installed in front of a second story window, the proportion is good, and the pale cones and pods read well from the ground.

the-winter-landscape-10The winter arrangements for the front door pots were installed this morning.  All of the construction work of this was done in our garage over the past few days. I like keeping that mess at home. In the centerpieces – red bud pussy willow, alder branches, taupe eucalyptus, sinamay, and LED lighting.

the-winter-landscape-13

At the end of the day today, on his way home, David added some white berry picks to the pots. I thought the pots needed it. Do we revise after an installation?  All the time. I knew the lights would be warm-thus the gold mesh sinamay wrapped around the twigs. That sparkly nod to the holidays can be removed after New Year’s.

the-winter-landscape-12At 4pm the front door looks inviting. The lighting in the winter pots augments the  coach lights on either side of the door, and the landscape lighting

img_8939By 5:30 pm, it is nearly dark. Not so, this front door. It is a well lit space that welcomes guests.

the-winter-landscape-14

Lighted winter arrangements light the way. They turn back the long dark months that are sure to come. Any project I take on this time of year has some form of lighting. Will this client run the lights all winter?  I hope so.  The advent of highly energy efficient LED lighting makes the decision to keep the lights on easy.This large pot in the side yard features a number of sumac branches.  The size, scale and color of them is good with the pot. Though the lighting is not so apparent in the afternoon, at dusk the light at the bottom of the eucalyptus will softly illuminate the centerpiece.

spiked light ring from Detroit Garden WorksThis spiked light ring is an alternate method of lighting a winter pot. I cannot explain why these light rings are so visually satisfying and beautiful, but they are.

the-winter-landscape-11It took the better part of the morning to install the winter arrangements in all of their pots, and hook up the lighting. Marzela is putting the finishing touches on this pot after the lighted steel hoop was set in the center. The light ring has an anchoring mechanism featuring 4 long steel legs that can be pushed through the foam form, and into the soil below it. Owen and LaBelle lighted the dome of the pergola and hung the lighted sphere a few days ago. More pictures to follow.

the-winter-landscape-2set for the holiday

the-winter-landscape-8decorated and lighted steel sphere

the-winter-landscape-7lighted wreath

the-winter-landscape-4winter pots

the-winter-landscape-5box dressed for winter with tiger branches, pods, cones, and mixed cut evergreens

the-winter-landscape-1another view

img_2984the rear terrace

the-winter-landscape-16

tiger branches and white eucalyptus

light ring

dusk

img_8935celebrating the circle, and the season.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save