Snow Glow

Blue skies and fluffy clouds the likes of which are pictured above are a rarity in a Michigan January. It is a bleak time of year, featuring uniformly gray-sky days, a lengthy twilight, and long ink black nights for what seems much longer than a month. February will bring more of the same. If this does not sound very appetizing, you are right. It isn’t. For that reason alone, snow can be a welcome visual addition to the landscape. Not those mountains of snow that make shoveling, walking and driving a dangerous and exhausting full time job. A new two to four inch layer of fresh snow describes all of the shapes both living and not in the landscape with a precisely applied thick carpet of bright white. A little judicious wind can whip up some interesting snow shapes on fences, benches and sculpture. Snow is water vapor in the atmosphere that turns to ice crystals without ever passing through a liquid phase. Multiple ice crystals make snow flakes. That lightweight flaky stuff can enliven a winter landscape. At least the cold comes to some good.

Our snow came early, and persisted. 3 weeks of bone chilling cold made sure it was not going anywhere. Then a week ago, a few days in the high forties reduced the mass of it considerably. The landscape was going dark again. The light in my winter containers was welcome. Providing light for the landscape is never more important than providing it in the winter. Great landscape lighting can go so far as to illuminate the structure of the winter landscape during the gray and dark days. In its simplest form, it can light the way from here to there. Seasonal/temporary lighting can add a sculptural element to the winter garden.

I especially like a lighting component in winter pots. Not only does it illuminate the materials and shape of the winter container itself, that temporary glow spreads out and encompasses the immediate environment. New technology which has produced warm and flexible LED string lighting that draws little energy, is shatterproof and good for 50,000 hours means it has never been easier or more economical to boost the light in a winter landscape. Adding arrangements to garden pots for the winter season is a must have in my garden. Lighting them means is is possible to enjoy them day and night.

Weaving light strings into the greens in a winter pot, and piling them up at the base of a centerpiece is a fairly simple task. The results are striking from a distance outdoors. And they provide so much visual interest from indoors. One client likes us to wrap the bottom 7 feet of the trunks of 4 columnar gingkos that frame the entrance to her house. She runs those lights all winter long, as they illuminate the way, and say welcome to my door. Temporary landscape lighting done in November that can light the night until the days start to lengthen is a feature of my winter landscape.

Once we had more snow, that temporary lighting was providing snow glow. Each tiny LED light that is virtually invisible during the day was magnified by the snow at night. Ice crystals meeting LED string lighting-beautiful. I miss the digging, the planting, the watering, the staking, the dividing and all else that a landscape and garden provides as much as any other gardener. But the winter has its pleasures.

The snow glow emanating from my pots lights the surrounding landscape in places I can see from inside. Planning for good views out the windows in winter is just acting on one’s own defense. The gloom can be penetrating, as is goes on so long. Is this a substitute for a summer day in the garden?  No. But expecting it to only makes one long for another time and place. The winter is its own season, and there are things that can be done to make something beautiful of the dark. Winter is the only season of ours in which an expression like this is possible.

Our snow is melting again.  We have rain this morning. But there will most assuredly be more snow before the winter is over.

Though creating sculptures with temporary lighting is a winter activity with all kinds of benefits, permanent landscape lighting is a feature I would recommend to any gardener. I like my front porch lit at night. I like my sidewalk lighting just as much. My house is set almost 4′ above the grade at the sidewalk. I would not want guests to have to negotiate 3 sets of steps without proper lighting. Big pools of light come courtesy of the snow.

 Landscape lighting is all about trying to endow the winter season with some visual interest. This pot is on axis north and south with the sidewalk, and east and west with the den windows. That placement makes it possible to enjoy this from multiple vantage points.

Yesterday morning at dawn, my snow covered winter pots were, in my opinion, the best intersection of electricity and snow that I have ever devised. Fire and snow look good together.

Those LED lights can set a a landscape on fire. Inspired to walk through the snow on the upper deck, a long exposure reveals how bright that temporary lighting can be. I can see Milo in the yard-nice. This past summer, I took all of the landscape lighting out of the trees, and placed them facing up against the fence. That permanent lighting is much more subtle, and silhouettes the trunks of the maple trees and the branches of the yews. This is the best of both lighting worlds that I have to offer my winter landscape.

 

 

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.

Flipping The Switch

night lightThe beginning of the winter season is marked by the scarcity of daylight. By mid December, it seems like it is dark most of the time. Winter days are likely to be gray days. It is no wonder that outdoor lighting is a hallmark of the holidays. I have always thought that holiday lighting is a form of winter gardening. The lights may outline the roof of a house, or decorate a specimen tree or evergreen, or be draped over the shrubbery. No one but the most ruinously serious of us thinks their holiday lighting will be subject to a taste test. The materials are relatively inexpensive, and people express their dismay with the coming of the dark, and the celebration of the holidays with abandon. I like all of the light at this gloomy time of year.

DSC_3753I will confess that most landscape lighting does not interest me-except during the winter.  It is light late in the summer, and equally as light early in the morning.  The light from the sky is like no other.  But once the skies go dark, in tandem with the landscape going dormant, I am more interested in some night light.  Rob’s lit spheres have been a staple at Detroit Garden Works for a number of years.  We manufacture raw steel circles that we infill with brown corded lights in 2 styles. We make them so they can be hung from a low branch of a big tree.  We also make them with long prongs that can be pushed into the ground in a garden. These light rings are more about winter light, than holiday light.  What a relief. It is OK to run those rings all winter long.

DSC_3765Winter containers are the perfect vehicle for some temporary winter lighting. The greens do a great job of obscuring the cords. When the dark comes early, it is a pleasure to enjoy what is in those pots day or night. The advent of warm light LED light strings means that lighting the landscape in the winter is an inexpensive affair. They draw so little power-about 1/10th that of incandescent light strings. The color of that light has improved so much in recent years. When LED string lights first came out, that cold blue light had no grace or charm whatsoever.
DSC_3754Electric light in the winter landscape adds a little sparkle to a gloomy morning and afternoon. Company coming to my house for dinner at 7pm are walking up to the front door in the dark.  Landscape path lighting is utilitarian.  Lights in the pots dispel the gloom, and say welcome.

DSC_3755My landscape lighting skills are poor to middling.  There are lighting designers who do an incredible job of featuring the landscape at night. Should I have a client who is interested in landscape lighting, I refer them. I myself am not interested in lighting design. I am interested in a warm, friendly, and unstudied look.

DSC_3756There are those places and moments when night lighting is theater. That theater is not my forte. I like a blush over the landscape. In the very late afternoon, the light in pots is as soft as it is sparkly. This much light is enough.

DSC_3804Once the skies go dark, those lighted pots glow. This brick wall is bathed in a warm subtle light.

DSC_3802This client has a covered porch, with no ceiling light fixture. One string of our 1000 light LED strings illuminate the perimeter of the ceiling, and each side of the front door. Another 750 count LED light string strewn on the floor of the porch around a grouping of pots makes this porch glow.  A winter with a glow in the landscape is a winter that has a landscape that is lively.

DSC_3797My advice this 6th day of January? Stay warm.  Plug something in.

Day And Night

DA holiday 2014Day and night get equal play in our zone this time of year. There is no need to convince you.  The dark and the cold is obvious to any gardener within range of my zone.  Winter and holiday containers can help mitigate the down and dormant garden.  Whatever you create in the way of winter pots has to have a little evening wear waiting in the wings. These pots positioned at the end of a driveway have silver eucalyptus and matte surfaced holiday balls-these materials are naturally reflective. White in the landscape comes to the foreground visually.  Dark colors recede.  The night light in this pot-wound around the topiary form.  This form in a summer setting could provide structure for a vine.  Unadorned, it is a sculptural element hovering over a planting.  In the winter, it is an armature for a source of light.

DA holiday 2014  2The night light provided by the topiary forms is strong and lacy. Even the glass balls have a subtle glow. My client calls these the onion heads- with great affection, I might add.  The look at night is welcoming. There is a practical aspect.  The way to the garage is marked loud and clear.

DSC_6801We plant a pair of tall Belgian wood boxes for a client, every year, for all four seasons. We removed the fall planting yesterday-I was pleased that it still looked good.  But for some wilt in the kale after a string of nights around 12 degrees, the fall planting was entirely presentable.  But now is the time to move beyond the fall to the winter season.  The winter arrangements need to be large, as the pots are big. They also need lighting, as the front of the house is not especially well lit. A string of garland lights, which has 300 bulbs on a 35 foot strand, has been wound around the base of the centerpiece.  This will provide a first tier round of lighting at night.

DSC_6803Barely visible here is a second strand of 100 count mini lights on brown cords.  This lights have been tucked between the eucalyptus and the red twig dogwood.  During the day, those lights strings are all but invisible. At night, they will glow. A number of tall gold picks will pick up the twinkle light in the evening hours, and provides a little holiday sparkle.  These branches can be taken out after New Year’s.  The red twig and eucalyptus will look great for the remainder of the winter.

DSC_6800This is the basic structure and shape of an arrangement that will last all winter.  I would bet it will still look serviceable in March. Cut noble fir wears like iron over the winter.  The branches and the needles are very strong, and will handle any bad weather a winter has to dish out.  The preserved eucalyptus will survive the winter without a blemish. No container arrangement delivers so well and for so long as a winter arrangement.  No watering.  No deadheading, or fertilizing.  All there is to do is look, and be pleased about what you see.

SD holiday 2014The final details come after the basic structure is in place.  Bringing the holiday expression, and the red of the holiday down into the lower portion of the arrangement makes for an execution which is all put together, and ready for company – top to bottom.  A third layer of lights is added to the greens.  Could there be too many lights?

SD holiday 2014  5During the day, these winter pots keep the front door company in a formal way.  A holiday way. A winter way.  The color compliments the stone on the house. These boxes are dressed for the winter season.  The lighting contained within these pots will illuminate the entrance to the front door at night, over the course of our long winter. These clients are serious about the garden and the landscape. They rue the coming of the cold as much as you do. These pots express that interest in the landscape every day of the dormant winter season.

IMG_7980These boxes provide lots of light at the front door, after dark. Any light says welcome.  Lots of light creates a glow that would warm the heart of any visitor.

IMG_3443I so value a beautiful expression of light for the winter season.  Our darkness is long, and even the days are cloudy and gloomy – for month to come.  A fresh snow will glow in this light. These lights will burn off a heavy blanket of snow.  My advice?  Turn the lights on.