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?


Happy Holidays From Richard K

Five Golden Rings


Richard K has been reading Dirt Simple for some time now;  I know this, as I hear from him from time to time.  A committed gardener and reader from Cypress, Texas.  This past summer I got the chance to meet him in person-he was in the Detroit area on business.  What a treat it was to meet him face to face!  I heard from him Monday after posting pictures of the front of the shop just before dawn.  He left a comment saying that he had taken Rob’s idea for holiday light rings, and run with it.  He strung his hoops with gold lights-5 golden rings!  How perfect for the holidays.  I asked him to send pictures-which he did.  To follow are his pictures, and his comments about his holiday decorating-I am sure you will enjoy this as much as I did.  


My Five Golden Rings glow beautifully hanging from the trees.  They are captivating.  Simple, yet striking.  Next to gardening, Christmas is my next favorite hobby.  I love everything about it, especially Christmas trees and of course, the lights.


Here is another section of my yard which showcases my “Who-ville Pine” and my glowing orbs.  Since we do not have pyramidal conifers in my part of Texas, I had to make my own!  The glowing orbs continue to fascinate my family as well as our visitors!


 A full on view of the house.  Very traditional.  Wreaths in the windows, garlands on the balcony.  I don’t put lights on the house because it is a bit tall.  The glowing orbs out on the lawn are simple, yet striking.




 The driveway gate has a four foot wreath adorned with old fashioned blowmolds.  I really can’t stand these figures set out in the yard, but yet I find them charming when they decorate a wreath!  Ping-pong balls cover the bulbs of some unfortunately colored LED lights and soften the light to a warm glow.  I like to say that this is for our kids, but this bit of kitsch is a favorite of mine!


 The front porch is a bit more formal with white cyclamen and columnar junipers adorned with snowball, pearl and twinkle lights.  A Moravian star illuminates the boxwood wreath and boxwood garland.  Giant jingle bells adorn the wreath.

A black iron urn is ready for the holidays.


Our favorite garlands.  We made these years ago from spruce cones and crystals.  These are draped in every front window downstairs.


  And finally, our mantle.  Silver and white … one of my wife’s favorite color schemes.  Another favorite of ours is mercury glass … one can never have enough.  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Richard K, your house and home dressed for the holidays is really beautiful. You have collections of various things-spruce cone garlands, mercury glass, blowmolds, and lighted orbs.  How you display your collections is interesting, and engaging.   As for your gold rings-this new collection looks  gorgeous hanging from your trees.  5 gold rings-very well done indeed.  Thank you so much for sending me these pictures, and agreeing to let me share them.  Happy holidays to you, too.