Okra Pods

We were able to finish all of our 2017 projects last week, save one, by last Thursday afternoon. That final project needs a decent sized block of time, so we will do it this coming week. This meant there would be time for me to get some pots done at home. Finding materials would be a challenge. Given that the supply of fresh cut greens is all but depleted, my only hope was 8  9 foot Frazier fir Christmas trees purchased to chop up for our last project to come. There would be enough branches from those trees available to do my two pots on the driveway. The Frazier fir would shake off all the cold and snow a winter season would have to dish out, and still look great next March. The skirt of green was available.

Our supply of fresh cut twigs was equally skimpy, but for two bundles of red bud pussy willow we put on reserve for our last project. I toured the shop at least three times before I focused on a pair of steel topiary cones that we had Missy cover with grapevine and brown corded incandescent lights. These topiary forms are 5.5 feet tall. The scale of them would be perfect for my 30″ tall and 30″ diameter Branch Hudson tapers, given that we had no branches available for the center. I had no use for those incandescent lights. There had to be another idea. While David was removing those lights, I toured the store for the 4th time. We had a case of 10′ long LED rice light strands on silver wire still available.  These lights would need their transformer and plug protected from the elements.  We could do that. As the lights seemed so minuscule (each light is truly the size of a grain of rice), I doubled up the strands. David and I took a few minutes to wind them around each topiary form in an informal spiral.

What next? The intersection of that vertical topiary form with that horizontally oriented bed of greens was bare, stark and dry. Awkward.  An intermediary element that would soften spot and provide visual interest would be a good idea. This part of the container would be at eye level, as my tapers are set on tall steel socles. I knew I would want to load up that interior level with Lumineo cluster lights, but those lights needed something at eye level to illuminate besides the bare legs of the topiary cones. Successful containers, no matter the season, need to be designed and planted as a complete and literate visual world unto themselves. The spring, summer and fall plants, and winter materials, play a considerable role in this. But it is the overall sculptural quality that makes a container garden complete.

We had plenty of bunches of dried okra seed pods on slim wood stems in the shop greenhouse. I love these pods-we always have them. We usually use them in fall and winter interior arrangements. The numbers of bunches available were sufficient for my pots. OK, bring on the okra. David and I faced all of those curving pods inward. Like a chrysanthemum flower, or an artichoke. We left the pods tall, so they would represent entirely above the level of the greens. The slight wood stems on the pods would not in any way obstruct the light at the center. Setting the levels for all of the materials for these pots was all about creating sculpture. Those stick bottoms are not visible unless you walk right up to the pots, and look over the greens.  Okra? Few on my crew had ever heard of okra. Over the course of building these winter pots, there was a discussion of okra the vegetable, as well as placing dry pods in a pot.

Though I spent much time melding a design to the available materials, I was not prepared for this outcome. The rice lights were anything but shy. The four strands on two pots illuminates my entire driveway. The okra pods set tall on wood skewers both absorbed and reflected the bright light.

These winter pots are by far and away the best I have every had. That best had everything to do with an unusual choice of materials. The design and fabrication of these pots is all about creating relationships with unfamiliar materials.

The pots are at their best at night. I had no idea that the okra pods would so dramatically provide the much needed weight to the bottom of these pots. These pots glow from top to bottom, and are fiery in the midsection. Having the fabrication of these winter pots scheduled next to dead last has its advantages. There was time to tinker. Time to dream up something different.

The light is delightful and startling.

From the deck above.

The later darkness strips away all of the detail, and celebrates the big gestures.

The full moon looking over my driveway pots? Terrific. So swell. I will admit I was over the moon about every bit of this.

 

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

winter-containers.jpg
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