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.


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.


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


tiger branches and white eucalyptus

light ring


img_8935celebrating the circle, and the season.









Last But Not Least

winter-lighting.jpgWe did finish the majority of our winter and holiday work 2 days before Christmas. That meant we had a little time to lend a hand to Rob.  Like anyone in a holiday design related business, putting together a holiday home comes last. It was looking like he might run out of time. That would not do; he is someone who gives his utmost to gardening people getting ready for the holidays and winter season. My group was happy to take it on.  A multi colored light garland he had looped over the door was brought back to the shop to be attached to a grapevine garland.  Harvested and rolled grapevine is springy and airy, and holds its shape in the fiercest of winter weather. We added several more all white light garlands, and ran the entire affair up the shag bark hickory in the front yard.

winter-lighting.jpgIf you think it looks as if we ran it way up this tree, you are right. Above the second story. A huge capacity, state of the art extension ladder and four people made it happen.  One climber, 2 people at the base of the ladder, and one runner on the ground walking in circles.  The light garland does a good job keeping the house company.  There is also something about the sheer effort of it that was cheery and grand. With holiday decor, I care about the effort someone has made as much as the result.   I knew Rob would think it looked swell. It is asymmetrical, surprisingly light and airy, and unexpected-all good as far as he is concerned.

light-garlands.jpgAll the different colors, shapes, and sizes of bulbs made quite the light statement. The front of the house-glowing.

light-rings.jpgHis light rings are well known to anyone who frequents Detroit Garden Works.  We took a 3′ and a 5′ ring, and added a string of multicolored garland lights to the interior steel wall of the hoop.  This form may be very very familiar to him, but this treatment is a one of a kind.

light-rings.jpgWhat’s to like about them?  The lighted sculpture is striking.  They are simple to install. Pick a spot, push the prongs into the ground, and plug it in. We have plenty of clients who run them all winter.  Why not?  This picture was taken at 5:15 in the afternoon-which at this time of year is better described as 5:15 in the evening.

poplar-branches.jpg2 pots had the remains of a summer planting in them.  That couldn’t stand. Mixed greens and an a bunch of fresh cut poplar branches makes the pots look appropriately dressed for winter.

HW 2014Another client made a last minute decision to order up a few winter pots. Might he have a little color? A mass of yellow twig dogwood appears all the more substantial by varying the heights of the twigs. The color of the plum eucalyptus is brilliant and saturated against that yellow.

winter-container.jpgWe have had a very fortunate late fall and early winter, as in moderate temperatures, and no snow. Once the snow comes, it is difficult to work outdoors.  Even if your effort is late, it will last a winter’s worth.

A Very Merry Celebration

WJ 2014   (7)Rob has lots of clients for who he designs and constructs holiday and winter arrangements. Most of them feature light in one form or another.  One particular client that with whom he shares a great rapport contacts him in early November every year about a holiday scheme.  They are thick as thieves for weeks, planning. Years ago she bought his first light ring, made from a vintage wheel. The result of their collaboration is always beautiful. It is a testament to what good things can come from a long standing design relationship based on respect and exchange.

WJ 2014   (11)Holiday elements that have been part of her collection for some time are remixed every year.  There are those people who like the holiday the same every year, and those who like to change it up.  Change doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning old materials for new.  It means a willingness to re imagine.  One thing the two of them share is a big love of the holiday season.  It shows in the work.  I asked her if I could post pictures of this year’s holidays-she said yes. Some are her pictures, and some are Rob’s.  Though no picture could truly do justice to the work, you’ll  get the gist of it.  WJ 2014   (9)bottom lit container

WJ 2014   (5)light rings

WJ 2014   (1)light rings after dark

WJ 2014   (13)holiday chandelier

WJ 2014   (10)12 foot red flocked Christmas tree

WJ 2014   (12)lighted red flocked wreath

WJ holiday 7another holiday tree

WJ 2014   (4)view from the rear yard terrace

WJ 2014   (3)lighted spheres

WJ 2014   (2)looking out to the lake

WJ holiday 9After dark-how striking is this?

Topiary Forms In Winter

Yesterday’s dawn was wet and foggy.  Beautiful weather like this is rare here in late December.  That fog was making the visual most of Rob’s light rings.  Formally drawn and constructed geometric shapes are so compelling in the landscape.  A circle has no beginning or end; it is complete.  It is a very stable shape; it completely encloses a space, or a view.  A working circle is a wheel, whose invention revolutionized how people live.  This lighted circle is working in a different way.    

It illuminates a space, and frames a view.  It is a topiary form of light.  The light is focused-a far cry from the diffuse light that comes from the sky.  We see very little in the way of sunlight this time of year.  A lighted garden is never so welcome as it is in the winter.  Expressions of topiary in the landscape has a long history.  Fruit trees trained into a two-dimensional shape are called espaliers, after the French monk who invented this method of pruning. The Chicago Botanic Garden has an extensive display of espaliered trees, and landscape sculpture created from living plant material.  Any plant grown and trained into a shape is a topiary.  This would include bonsai, the boxwood at Dunbarton Oaks pruned into continuous cloud shapes, the topiary guard house at Fluery-en-Biere, the topiary pyramids at Mormaire, the spectacular thuja pergola at Chateau de Hautefort.  A good part of their majesty is their age, and the faithful care they demand and recieve. 

A rigid topiary form is useful for training plants into a geometric shape.  Arborvitae planted in proximity to an iron arbor can be pruned into that arbor shape, given enough time.  Young fruit trees trained over an iron arbor will eventually mature into that tunnel shape, and no longer require support.  A row of trees pruned into triple cordons will eventually make a living fence that is free standing.  Vines can be trained onto a topiary form as well; we have had beautiful triple ball ivy topiary sculptures on occasion.  The rigid form is a guide that insures that the shape is pleasingly and regularly geometric.

Vines permitted to scramble over a topiary form is a different, but just as pleasing look.  Old trees can provide a very sculptural support for an old Baltic ivy vine, or a climbing hydrangea. A rock pile, or a gate post can give form and support to a clematis.  Willow or bamboo tripods are good for growing beans, tomatoes, or morning glories.  Topiary forms whose primary job is to provide support for a lax growing plant are called plant climbers, or tuteurs.  

For a number of years Monrovia sold juniper ring topiaries. They were surprisingly attractive, easy to keep trimmed, and they were amenable to being grown year round in pots.  Should you have to have a juniper, this is a pretty way to own one.  I have seen angel vine, myrtle, miniature ivy varieties, boxwood and pyracantha trained on a topiary ring.  Once that ring form is rotated in space, you have a spherical form.  The same aforementioned plants can be just as easily trained on these forms.  Vining plants can be wound on the ribs of the sphere, or allowed to scramble over and cover the form.    

A topiary form is the fastest way to grow a topiary. A 6′ diameter boxwood sphere takes a long time to grow into its finished shape.  The boxwood spheres at the corners of the boxwood rectangle in front of the shop are 13 years old; they came to me 30″ by 30″.  As they have no rigid form inside, they have to be hand pruned by eye into a sphere.  I leave this job to Mindy; my handpruned spheres invariably have flat spots.

A topiary form may also be the fastest and most striking way to create a light sculpture.  The only requirement-a sturdy form, and holiday light strings with brown cords. The light they cast this foggy morning convinced me a topiary form can mean as much to a winter landscape as it does to a summer one.  The pot on your front porch with a topiary form that provided a home to a mandevillea over the summer can light the winter landscape all winter long.  

Other people have had the same idea about Rob’s light rings.  He tells me this morning we have sold 58 of them this season.  They are so beautiful hanging from our trees on the driveway.

They do an incredible job of softly illuminating a wide area, and vividly illuminating an intimate place.  I am just now thinking we need some in the front windows of the shop.  I may be late getting to this idea, but the winter will be long. 

If your topiary forms that spend the winter in the shed, you might want to rethink that.  They could bring some light and warmth to your winter landscape. 

On this the darkest day of our year, what would I do without this light?