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.


Lighting Winter Containers

The most obvious sign that winter has arrived is the coming of the dark.  By 5pm, our natural light is waning.  If I leave work at 6pm, it is dark outside.  If I leave home at 6am, it is dark.  The dark and the cold can weigh heavily on one’s spirits. No wonder that many people express and celebrate the holiday season with lighting in some form or another.  I have long thought that seasonal lighting is a form of gardening.  I am not in my garden much now, nor will I be for the next 3 months.  The winter garden is not a place to be, it is a place to view passing by, or view from in doors. The winter season has a beauty all its own.  The bare trees and shrubs in the garden have a starkly sculptural appeal. The dried flower heads of hydrangeas are a warm brown-in a mass, dormant hydrangeas are beautiful.  Provided that one can see them. Beautiful lighting in the landscape is an important aspect of good design.  It consoles the spirit of the gardener who has been forced indoors for the duration.

RY winter pots 2014  2If you have ever been to Detroit Garden Works, you know who Rob is.  He does all of the buying for the shop, and is a very talented designer who has helped countless gardeners select ornament, furniture and containers for their garden. At this time of year, he helps people to design their winter and holiday containers. He also creates winter arrangements for clients.  He has an abiding interest in lighting.  He takes great care to redo the lighting in the shop every season.  He has designed lighting sculptures that make a visual statement with a minimum of effort.  One of his steel light rings hung from a tree in the winter is beautiful in the most simple way. Hang it up, and plug it in, and enjoy both its form, and its illumination.  A second series of light rings have a stand comprised of 4 steel rods that can be driven into the ground.  Strategically placed in a garden bed, or in the grass, that ring will light whatever is within range. Over the years, his lighted sculptures have been created from topiary forms and found objects. Invariably, the containers he creates for clients have some form of lighting as a key component.

RY winter pots 2014  5Given that we have just as much night time as day time, planning a seasonal container that has a presence in the dark only makes sense.  We carry brown corded holiday lighting in a number of different lengths.  The brown cords are much less noticeable during the day than the usual green corded mini lights. For these pots, he cut the tops off of a pair of rusted steel cone shaped plant climbers.  This provides an armature for the light string that is floating above the greens.  The steel top ring has been covered in grapevine- the light cords blend right in.  A strand of lights encircles the pussy willow centerpiece.  This light from the bottom helps to make the centerpiece read well at night.

RY winter pots  3I have no idea where these containers will be placed, but wherever that is, they will help light the way. I have a large container which I will light for the winter next to the stairs that go from my deck into the yard.  Should I take the dogs out after dark, I can see my way down those stairs. I do have down lights in my trees, so I can enjoy the landscape at night and from inside.  The additional light from that container puts a little light closer to ground level.  These winter pots will have the same effect.

RY winter pots 2014Even indoors in the garage, the halo light in these containers has a strong visual presence. If the person who ordered these containers is anything like me, they will run the lights all winter, until the days begin to get longer. A lighted winter landscape is a pleasure indeed.

RY winter pots  2014  4early evening

RY winter pots  2014  6mid evening

RY winter pots 2014  6the light at night

Dark Days

Light is such a powerful element in the landscape- critical to the well being of plants and people alike.  The story of how light from the sun reaches the earth is astonishing.  But more importantly, light is life giving, and life sustaining.  There would be no garden without it.  No wonder that at that time of year that the light is so low in the sky, and shy to show itself at best, the garden sleeps.  Would I choose to hibernate if I could?  No.  I like the daily schedule-the dawning of a new day, the close of the old.  My garden has no need of a daily dose of vitamin D.  It sleeps.   

I am awake by 5:30 am, and still awake at 9:30 pm.  This means I am spending a lot of time in the dark. The light retreats early this time of year.  At five past five, the landscape is largely dark.  On a good day, the sky is still streaked with the remains of the light of the day at 5pm.  The light sleepily emerges, after 7:30 am.  Lighting the winter landscape is naturally on my mind.

No artificially generated light could possibly replace the light that comes from the sun.  A sunny spring, summer, fall, or that rare sunny winter day-enchanting.  Those seasons, days, and times when there is little in the way of light, gardeners have options.  Votive candles glowing in the winter season-not so much a representation of the light from the sky, but a special kind of light with its own warmth and charm.      

The landscape can be beautifully, and differently, lit in the winter.  I took this picture at the shop very early in the morning.  The holiday incandescent lighting is very different than the light on the fountain-courtesy of a photocell light on the building.  Different kinds of light in concert makes the night view more interesting. 

The loss of the summer sun-there is nothing to be done for it.  This means that any effort to light the night will cheer the lot of us. The work of lighting the winter night can be as simple as a lighted pot at the porch or a garland hung in a tree.  It can be as festive and inviting as what you see here.  I hope next year to convince them to light the underhand of the tower.  This would wash the second story with a little light.   

The bright lights here come via one of Rob’s light rings, and the lights in greens in the window boxes.  The light washing the walls is too strong-I think the fixture needs to be further away from the wall, or the wattage in the fixture turned down.  Some light needs to be soft, and some light should be strong.  Thoughtful visual punctuation, and rhythm is important to successfully lighting a winter landscape.

Winter light is entertaining at a time when not so much outside entertains.  Once the snow comes, the light will be all the more interesting, given that stormy relationship.  Winter lighting is anything but uniform.  It is directed.  This creates opportunityfor a lot of visual drama.  Stand outside in the dark, and imagine how and where some light would delight you.

The materials for lighting your night are readily available. Extending a warm welcome has never been easier to achieve.