Warm And Woolly


 Clients are calling about their winter pots, and holiday decor-that season is coming up fast. How to express all of that is a big topic of discussion.  Having installed winter pots and decorated inside and out for the holidays for the better part of 25 years, I can attest to the fact that there are endless possibilities.  My best advice-in addition to every other job you have as a professional, a parent, or a gardener, take on the job of design editor in chief. Great design is about a clear underlying idea about what is important to you.  And subsequently, what beautifully expresses that idea.

We have a strong holiday materials thread going on at the shop that I call warm and woolly.  Our winters are fierce, and relentlessly cold.  The garden is silent, and we alternate between short grey days and long black nights.  This state of being brings plenty of ideas to mind.  Let’s address just one. I like to keep it simple, at this stage.  How can my idea to celebrate the holiday and winter season best block out the cold and dark?  I go right from the idea to the materials.   I never design without specific materials in mind.  If I want to stay warm, be warm, host my friends and family warmly, I choose my materials accordingly.

A winter pot ringed with a heavy blanket of greens looks warm.  A tree wrapped in burlap looks warmer.  A holiday tree decorated in pine cones and ornament from natural materials is warm.  The color red is warm; a garland draped over a door is a warm gesture.  The brown felted backs of magnolia leaves look warm.

Felt in any form speaks to warm.  This tree skirt was handmade from from the thickest felt I have ever seen.  It is a natural for our warm for the holidays collection.  Wool is a natural material that wards off the cold.  Felting is a process prized by individual artists-much like the woman who designed and created these handmade tree skirts.  This skirt inspires all kinds of ideas about ornament and decor made from warm fabrics.

Jenny works in the shop.  Her collection of winter headgear is astonishing, and geared to warm.  Her winter hats-there’s an essay of its own there.  These felted birds remind us of someone we know and like. The Jenny birds-we have a good feeling about them, from the fake fur trimmed hats to the scarves to the felt beaks.  They are good humored, sturdy little birds.

These spools of thick red twine look great.  Individual strands would provide a cheery and homespun look to a package, or garland. I could see a big red bow made from multiple strands.  I could see a plant climber wrapped with lights-and the cords covered with this twine.    Materials empower any design idea.  I shop the fields, and the hardware store.  I look around for homegrown inspiration.  Once I assemble a group of materials that represent the feeling I am strying to create, I tinker with putting them together in some coherent way. You can do the same.  This red bud pussy willow looks great with the orange ilex berries.  These materials are a sure bet to warm up a winter pot.

This knitted bird is very appealing.  A customer yesterday put that into words.  It looks like a child created it, she said.  Well said.  Should children figure in your holiday decorating, materials like this might work. 

 Perched on a jute bow in a twig wreath-simply charming.   

 These paper mache owls have an entirely different feeling to them. I think they look like a group of people-each one with its own sophisticated and complicated personality. They represent a grown up kind of warm.  

The dark and cold days are just about here. This steel hoop strung with brown corded lights-this is what I see first when I get to work.  Very warm, this. 


At A Glance: The Workroom

Shopping The Yard

Rob shops the yard for the holidays.  This means he is tromping through the fields, the gardens, the roadside ditches, the 7 acres at Branch and the neighborhood park for inspiration for the holidays.  That which nature discarded, the perennials, annuals and roadside weeds that never got cleaned up or cut back-grist for his mill.  These steel plant climbers got covered in grapevine and brown corded lights and light covers-have you seen them?  The combination of the sturdy plant climber, the textural vine, and the light-they say Happy Holidays from the garden.   

There are lots of perennials I have no problem passing by, but I do like butterfly weed.  The orange flower heads beloved of gardeners and butterflies alike are modestly good looking.  The stout stems and big leaves make the plants a standout in an uncultivated field populated with grasses and Queen Annes lace.  The seed pots are spectacular in shape and color; that celery green is delicious. 

But by far and away my favorite state of butterfly weed being is the mature seed pods.  The seeds in the pod, each one attached to its own private kapok aircraft, hopes to become airborne, fly, and eventually land in a spot friendly to germination.  When I had land, one highlight of my gardening fall was the launching of the butterfly weed seeds.  Rob collected these stems for me from the far side of the guard rail on the exit ramp for Telegraph.  To preserve them in this state just preceding liftoff-a little artist’s fixative.  What fixes the pastel to the page will keep these seeds from flying all over the room every time the heat comes on.  This fixative works with other seedheads as well.  

Butterfly weed is not all that Rob finds in the ditch.  A steel hoop from a farm wheel becomes a light ring.  A galvanized bucket that no longer holds water can certainly hold dry floral foam.  A garden shed is a good place to find tools and materials that might have a new life used in a decorative way.  A too rusted pair of pruners or shears, the old wood garden stakes you haven’t the heart to throw away,  the leather holster for your pruners that has never been used-these things have decorative possibilities. 

Multiple strand jute rope, makes a fine bow or tie-back for some holiday garland. A fresh garland from market can be made more generous and personal with the addition of twigs, cutting from a yew or holly, echinacea seed heads or rose hips, tufts of rosemary or moss. Would that fresh fruit would last outside the entire season, but dried orange slices and lemon wedges do just fine. Marlene had them at the Oakland County Farmer’s market last Saturday.   

Nature has her own idea of decorative.  The deeply furrowed bark of this old willow is a home to a mature tutu of climbing hydrangea. I might like this seasonal display better than the summer-their living arrangement is beautiful to see.   No amount of engineering on my part could create this-but I do have the option of making a note to plant a tree with hydrangea first thing come spring.  I doubt the hydrangea would mind one bit, should you have the idea to snip a few branches for a wreath. 

There are times when I regret I turned in my five acres in for a city lot.  I would guess that the Ilex Verticillata still there is loaded with berries.  The advantage to my winter berry?  No wading through the swampy ground to cut them. The rosa multiflora way at the wild back of that property-I made many a wreath from their long supple red, green and red violet canes.  Ditto the rosa rubrifolia, and rosa complicata.  The London Plane has no doubt shed giant pieces of bark by now.  I am sure there are abandoned bird’s nests there, like always.  The gold finch nests-tiny and incredibly beautifully made. The apple tree twigs were perfect for making small tabletop trees; the multiple spurs make for plenty of places to hang little ornaments.  The poplar tree branches are equally spectacular for their smooth grey-green bark, and big green buds formed in anticipation of next spring.  �
A park down the street from the shop is littered with thousands of white pine cones.  Their peachy cream color is distinctive, as is their long narrow and curving shape.  The resin you will no doubt get on your hands smells like the holidays-and I am sure the Parks and Rec people will be happy that you lent a hand to their cleanup efforts. 


The bleached stems of ornamental grasses make great decoration, although I spray the seedheads.  If you have grown chasmanthium, you know it will seed anywhere and everywhere-the seed heads drop at the slightest provocation.  A little fixature will keep them glued on, but still dangling like a charm. 

The fruiting body of this fungus spells terrible trouble for this tree.  By the time these appear, little can be done to cure the infection.  But deadly can also be beautiful.  I have quite a collection of bracket fungus; they dry rock hard.  Some are decades old-the appearance has not changed one bit. 

This bunch of cirrus dusty miller looks much the same as when it was alive; the leaves have dried a silvery, felted white.  One client for whom I planted these in the fall-his pots look great, although I am sure the dusty miller succumbed to the frost long ago.  There are so many materials to be had, should you shop your garden.  Switch on your visual vacuum cleaner-you never know what you might pick up.