The Stick Crop

natural-twigs.jpgThe most glorious color award in the landscape must surely go to the fall season.  From the asparagus to the sweet gums, color is in the air.  The green of the evergreen shrubs and trees is all the more intense by contrast with the colors sported by the leaves of deciduous plants.  Once those leaves fall, the landscape takes on a much more subdued and subtle palette. The natural birch branches, honeysuckle vine rolls, grapevine deer, wood crates and pumpkins in the above picture are one shade of brown or another.  The bark of the linden is a gray variation of brown. So much brown!  The garden is going quiet. For every gardener unwilling to go quiet, the branches, twigs and poles available late in the fall can offer a new lease on a garden life.

red-curly-willow.jpgFor those gardeners who live in more northerly zones, the time between the last of the fall leaves and the spring crocus can be a very long time indeed. This means that the shrubs and trees that sport bark with great color are of great interest. Planning a landscape for winter interest is a good idea in my zone. My dilemma-space.  I have a very small urban property.  I run up against the limits of the space all the time.  Given a large property, I could have swaths of red and yellow twig dogwood, groves of bungeana pine, a group of London planes, and all manner of interesting willows.  Lacking that kind of space does not mean that I have to do without some winter color.        red-twig-dogwood-bundles.jpgI am fortunate that there are farmers in this country that grow certain species of shrubs and trees from which they harvest cut branches. Our shipment of cut branches arrived a few days ago.  The colors are astonishing.  The dogwood branches have glossy bark in a variety of shades of red and yellow.  The curly copper willow is a yellowy orange.  The flame willow is the color of cinnamon. The red bud pussy willow has a glossy dark red brown bark, and red orange buds. This color and bark texture destined to last throughout the winter- so welcome.

red-twig-dogwood.jpgThe species red twig dogwood is dull and dark red. Cut from the garden, this dogwood has small branchlets, and cream colored growth scars. New cultivars of dogwood sport clearer and more intense color than the species.  Spring Meadow Farms has been instrumental in offering great new cultivars of vibrantly barked shrubs to nurseries.  Dogwood which is grown for branches is at some point cut back near to the ground. This process is known as coppicing.  The English have been growing shrubs and cutting them back hard with the express purpose of harvesting the branches for fencing for centuries. A shrub that is cut back hard responds with vigorous new growth.  The straight and unbranched new growth provides the best color, and the glossiest bark.  The red twig dogwood “Cardinal” has the most brilliantly red bark of any cultivar I know.  The color of these branches is as luscious as a red tulip.

pussy-willow.jpgPussy willow is an enormous growing shrub whose main claim to fame is the fuzzy and silvery spring catkins that sally forth in the spring. But pussy willow branches are a gift to a winter landscape. We buy the cut branches at 6 feet tall or better.  The green and chocolate bark, and the orange red buds are sensational.  So how do I use these glossy barked and beautifully colored branches?  In containers at the front door.  On the mantle for the holidays. Over the door.  They can be woven into wreaths. In any application, they are a lively reminder that the harvest from the garden can endow your winter seaso..

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpg A casual bunch of branches has a more informal and traditional look. They pair well with other materials available for the season-grapevine, evergreen boughs, pine cones, dry hydrangea flowers and berries-even the sturdy remains of perennials from the garden.  Ornamental grasses, cut and fixed to a bamboo stake make a graceful foil to the more substantial branches.

yellow-twig-dogwood.jpgAn arrangement of fresh cut branches can have a very contemporary look, placed vertically in a container. The height is a welcome addition to a winter container.  Stems stuck into soil may very well root and sprout in the spring.  The willow leafing out means the branches can be part of a spring container planting.

cut-twigs-and-branches.jpgThe branches are beautiful this year.  They make an enormous visual impact in a winter landscape with minimal color.poplar-poles-and-grapevine-rolls.jpg These poplar poles are much bigger than a branch.  There are places where barked poles are the perfect thing.  A celebration of the season in whatever style and shape suits you.

twig-time.jpgDetroit Garden Works is a source for branches, twigs, poles, and other natural materials in November.  These materials help to make the celebration of the winter season all the better.  These branches can help make a winter landscape all the more beautiful.




Coppice Wood

Coppicing is a traditional method of producing long straight woody stems by cutting a tree or a shrub back to the ground.  Many varieties of woody plants respond to this drastic treatment with vigorous growth-from the ground.  Coppice wood was used to provide firewood in European countries where the number of trees were vastly outnumbered by a large population requiring fire for cooking and heat.  Shrubby trees wre planted on the perimeters of farms; regular coppicing produced densely twiggy living fences.   

The new shoots emerging from the stump of a tree grow long and straight.  The juvenile growth is vigorous, and the color is vibrant.  In England, the coppice wood from the sweet chestnut tree is still used to make fencing and fence poles for livestock and poultry.  The sweet chestnut is coppicied on 12 to 18 year cycles, and then harvested to make fencing and gates.  The poles come from coppice wood which is allowed to grow upwards of 30 years before cutting. 

The fresh cut twigs which arrive at the shop in early November are grown by farmers who plant their shrubs in rows or blocks, like crops.  Large fields are harvested in rotation, so every year there is a crop of long straight stems.  Many of our twigs come from varieties of salix, or willow. Every gardener knows that the new or current year’s growth on a red twig dogwood shrub has the best color.  Mature stems become woody, and the color dull.  The new bark of coppice wood is lively.  Newer cultivars of the redtwig dogwood have better and brighter color.  The coppice wood of this redtwig dogwood cultivar is known for its especially brilliant color. 

Once the leaves fall, those twigs which are ready are harvested, sorted by length, bundled and shipped.  Most bunches are 10 stems, except for the curly willow.  The winter color of curly willow stems is subtle, but no so its shape.  The curving and curling stems provide lots of volume-these voluminous bunches are usually 5 stems.  5 stems of this gracefully airy and unpredictably curving willow can endow a winter container arrangement with lots of rhythm and movement.

Coppiced yellow twig dogwood is brilliantly yellow green.  The twigs will be color fast the entire winter.  Used in a winter container, it is not unusual for the stems to root, and leaf out in the spring.  Though but a very few of the leaves are still clinging, the branches are vibrant at a time of year when most all else in the garden has gone dormant. 

Flame willow is a striking coppery orange in color-quite unlike the bark of the trees and shrubs that grow in my garden.  This warm cinnamon color is a standout in snowy and gray weather.  This variety of willow is much more handsome in its twiggy state than it is as a green-leaved shrub. 

Japanese fan willow was cultivated from a fasciated, or flattened natural stem.  Many perennials and shrubs will exhibit this peculiar characteristic.  Some azaleas that exhibit densely twiggy growth were propagated originally from fasciated stems.  Fan willow is noted for its exotic shapes and forms.  No two branches ever look the same.

Curly copper willow exhibits much the same habit of growth as the green curly willow.  However the striking color means it will take fewer branches to make a statement in a winter container.  Our coppice wood has arrived at just the right time.  The cold temperatures outside will help keep them fresh, and the surface of the bark glossy.  Thought the color will survive the winter perfectly intact,  the warm weather in the spring will eventually dessicate and shrivel the stems. 

But there is a place for dry stems in winter containers.  Dead wood branches that have shed their bark can be beautiful in a winter arrangement.  Bleached natural branches are dramatically pale in color, and are visible from a great distance.  

The coppice wood-just one element of many that goes into a beautiful winter container arrangement.



Twig Time

Our leaves are finally beginning to turn color, and drop. Or drop without having turned color at all, as the case may be.  The grape leaves on the fence were beautiful this morning, with the sunlight coming through.  Once the leaves have dropped, our landscape is much about the twigs, the trunks, the branches and sticks.  This spot will soon be a plane of brown woody vines.    

These hackberry tree branches are fairly representative of what there is to see here in late fall.  This pot has lots and lots of branches in it, but the effect is delicate and subtle.  The color of these branches is what I call winter drab.   But not all branches are created equal. 

Our shipment of fresh cut twigs arrived yesterday.  These are branches of a different sort.  The stems have great color, and form.     The mainstay of our winter container plantings involve natural branches.  Lucky for us, there is a farm that grows shrubs with the specific purpose of harvesting branches.  A twig farm.  Beautiful branches are on my short list of plants I would be happy to farm.  This bale of red bud pussy willow still sports the last of its leaves.  This means we have to do a little stripping.  Who knows the mechanism, but if a branch is cut, it will take lots more time for the leaves to fall.

 I would grow all manner of Salix-most certainly.  Prairie willow.  Japanese fan willow.  Curly willow.  Flame willow. Black willow.  Pussy willow.  I love the willows.  The markedly fasciated fan willow is particularly beautiful.  I would grow a whole host of stoloniferous dogwood-there are lots of beautiful varieties. Cornus sericea Cardinal” is a particularly bright red form of the species dogwood.

Flame willow branches are a particularly beautiful and vibrant shade of orange.  The shrub likes regular moisture, and full sun; it can grow to 20′ tall.  Like most shrubby willows, their shape and leaves are not their long suit.  But the winter color of their branches is spectacular. 

Red bud pussy willow is aptly named.  Branches of this willow will frequently root if stuck in soil in the fall.  This makes these branches a great choice for a fall, winter-and an early spring container planting.  This is one of the few twigs that we purchase both in the fall, and in the spring.  

Fresh cut yellow twig dogwood provides lots of color in the late fall and winter.  The branches are amazingly easy to bend and twist into shape you choose.  The branches make great wreaths; they can easily be formed into topiary shapes.  They retain their color remarkably well, as they dry.

Cardinal red twig is much more vibrant in color than the species.  The best color on any dogwood branch is the current season’s growth.  Stems that mature take on a brown cast as they age.  This brilliant color looks great at the holidays, and throughout our long winter. 

Grapes are a woody vine with long lax branches that can be shaped over forms.  We have had on occasion grapevine wreaths, spheres, picture frames and nests-but these deer are the most elegant expression of weaving and sculpting with grapevine I have ever seen.  The forms are heavy steel, and each vine is laid in parallel to its neighbor, and then woven into the whole figure.  They look great paired with all of the twigs. The people who create these sculptures-artists, each and every one.  They weld their frames, and weave the grapevine in a very individual way.  This doe and fawn pair is distinctly the creation and look of the person who made them.  My next pair will have a different look.

The standing Buck is particularly handsome.  Each antler has a steel pin that slides into a steel cylinder embedded behind the ears.  The Buck stands almost 7 feet tall.  This is my favorite species of deer for the garden! 

I can think of lots of places for the deer.  As for the fresh cut twigs-what would you do with them?

A Little Rouge

Lobsinger (8)I do have a memory of getting into my Mom’s rouge pot in an idle moment. Those bright red perfectly circular spots of red I applied to my face made her laugh. I was terribly offended, as I thought I looked beautifully dolled up.  All these years later I still like how a little rouge can doll things up; this is never more the case than in a garden gone wintry.  Red twig dogwood and preserved and dyed eucalyptus can enliven a winter garden like nothing else does. I am not a fan of red tulips, or red dahlias; the red flowers and the green foliage is a little too much excitement for me. But the excitement generated by rouge red, in a garden gone grey, brown and black ,warms me up.  

Lobsinger (1)Dark red eucalyptus and red twig paired with the blue needled noble fir is a dramatic color combination. Very dark colors are best in small spaces viewed up close, or places backed up by a lighter color.   The lighter orange/brown brick of this entrance makes that dark red read loud and clear. The big round leaves of the eucalyptus are a great foil to any needled evergreen branches.

Nodel Holiday 2005 (6)Bright red is all the more electric paired with a light green element. As no plant in the landscape has this form or color right now, I have no problem adding in artificial stems. Sometimes people ask how I could stand anything in a pot that wasn’t natural or real; it’s easy.  Gardens make people feel good; if an artificial stem helps make an arrangement a little better and the winter a little more tolerable, I am all for it. This contemporary arrangement is all the more contemporary given the obviously faux detail.

Packer (5)I am a fan of many shrubs and trees that sport berries in the fall and winter. However, they have a short lifespan, cut and in a container. The berries of Ilex Verticillata, or what we call Michigan holly, are spectacular but fragile.  The berries in these urns will look great all winter, and can be removed the beginning of March.  The boxwood might need a little floral dye sprayed on it by then, but I like keeping the pots intact until April sometime. 

Taubman_0006This wired and windswept winter display was entirely inspired by the floral arrangements of Jeff Leatham.  His floral arrangements for the Four Seasons Hotel Paris, the George V often feature flowers set in vases at startling angles. This out of vertical placement attracts attention instantly.  Each one of these dogwood stems were wired individually so the form would be kept intact whatever the weather.

DSC_0014Cardinal redtwig is a relatively new cultivar that shines.  It stands out so beautifully in front of the drab woodland background. We are sure to elevate the pot off the terrace surface, so water does not collect and freeze around the base. 

2008 Mondry WINTER 11-18-08 (4)I have good success using fresh silver dollar eucalyptus outdoors. As it dries, the color does become more subtly taupe-blue, but the big leaves are an invaluable texture.  The littleleaf euc tends to dry much faster and not to good end; I am not sure why.  Eucalyptus pods dry blue, and hold their color well. 

DSC_0022This pair of pots welcomes anyone who comes to visit.  They make a very strong reference to my client’s love for their garden, from a long ways away.

2007 Barrett Holiday (23)Likewise, this redtwig massed in copper pots, framing the view to a beautiful beech.  Placed at least 75 feet from the road, they make a clear statement to passers by. 

Kurnick (4)
It is good to have something in place and ready for this day.  This is exactly how I like my snow and ice.