The Finishing Touch

The moment I saw this winter project, I knew a lighted garland wrapped around the front door surround would bring all of the winter elements together. A garland attached to that limestone surround some 25 feet off the ground that would describe the entrance to this home is the stuff of fairy tales. I told my client it would take a lot of people and equipment to make this happen. There would be no ladder tall enough and safe enough for an installation at this height. Expecting her to say no, she said yes. Given her go ahead, Templeton Building Company was kind enough to send out four sections of scaffolding, and two of their people to set screws in the mortar over the doorway, and down the sides. Four of my crew met the two from Templeton early one morning.

I was not especially happy about the process. The scaffolding was on wheels, for starters. Really? It got built skyward, section by section, until it was high enough to provide a place to work. Would I want to be up there working? No. Was I worried about each and every one of them climbing this expanded ladder to the sky-yes I was. It only took Matt 40 minutes to set the screws that would hold both the magnolia garland, and the light garland. So far, so good. My crew on the ground delivered the materials to those people who were aloft.

Once the screws were in place, LaBelle made his way up the scaffolding, hauling one end of the magnolia garland. David LaBelle is a leading fabricator for my company, the Branch Studio, and he has no fear of heights, or scaffolding. I cannot imagine how that can be, but he seemed relaxed about it, and I knew he would be entirely capable of wiring on the garlands. As the scaffolding was but 7 feet wide, we would have to install one side of the garland at a time, and then move the scaffolding to the other side.

The top surface of the top layer of scaffolding was only one board wide. LaBelle was not in the least bit concerned. The best part of all of my companies are the people who make things happen. Our group of 20 something has varying skills. The variety of work we are able to do depends on this.

Once the first sections of garland came down the right and left side, I knew the big effort to set lighted garland over this two story doorway was a good idea. The final sections of garland could be attached from a ladder.

Once the magnolia garland was secured, the light garland went up next. The garland is 50 feet long overall, and is comprised of a 100 foot strand of LED C-9 lights, and a 100 foot strand of Lumineo mini LED lights, each folded in half, and twisted together. Frequent zip ties keep the twist from unraveling.

LaBelle was ready to take this light garland up high. The LED lights represent a vast improvement in exterior lighting. This garland is amazingly light weight. LED’s now have a quality of light very similar to warm incandescent lighting.  They consume very little power, and are economical to run. But the best feature for us is the fact that the light covers are plastic – not glass. They are shatterproof.  So no harm if you drop them, or bang them against a brick wall. When first introduced, the big bulb LED lights were very expensive. 1 25′ strand would run 27.00. That same strand is less than 10.00 now.

The lighted magnolia garland over this door is beautiful – day and night. The backs of the leaves echo the color of the brick and wood architectural elements.

From the drive court, the scale of every winter element looks appropriate. From the ground plane to the sky, this winter landscape has a lot going on. That lighted magnolia garland better than two stories up over the front door does not look too big or overly elaborate. It is fairly simple, just sized to fit.

From the far side of the drive court, some rare late day December sun describes a landscape and garden ready for winter. This winter landscape has volume, structure, texture, mass, -and most importantly, lighting. A routine winter day in Michigan is gray.

Once the December light fades, there is a garden to be seen of a different sort. Light your own winter landscape as you wish. I would suggest that any effort you make to light the landscape is well worth the effort.

welcome.

Night Light

2008 store front 1-3-09 (3)The Michigan skies go dark during our winter months.  We have few sunny days; the winter solstice date, this year December 21st,  is the shortest day of the entire year. The dark comes at 4pm, and is still around at 7am.  The cold and the snow don’t bother me nearly as much as those gloomy skies. Should you not light your landscape, their will be precious little to see. Formally lighting the landscape is a topic all its own. I am interested today in how people garden with light.  These scotch pine on standard in Belgian oak barrels outside my office window-a strong defense against the dark.      

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 Those clear white lights available everywhere seem to ask for some dressing up; the big bulbs are a refreshing change.  The mix of big and little bulb strands, attached to each other with little snippets of yellow raffia, engage my attention like a good tune. These light garlands gracefully swagged through the branches of my big lindens are a cheery contrast to the winter blues.     

dgw 12-27-08 008My native winter landscape is notable for its cold, its interminable length, and its relentless snow. The light garland over my door is a combination of white, amber, and yellow lights; the centerpieces in the pots wound round with gold frosted lights. The pots are stuffed with giant nests of raw hemp fiber.  The effect is warm and cozy.  I am all for turning the lights on.

DSC05988Light strings need not be confined to rooflines and Christmas trees. Urethane topiary forms densely wound with light strings cast their warm light in every direction.  The biggest requirement for this project-the patience to wind and pin the wires with fern pins.  A landscape focal point comes to life in a very different way, thus lighted.   

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 These wood boxes have what we call light bars as centerpieces.  Galvanized pipe from the hardware store is wound with lights; the bottom foot of the bare pipe is sunk into the soil. The curly willow branches add a natural element that looks good during the day.  The light bars help keep the willow visible during the extended dark hours. Large bulb chartreuse light strings were part of the Martha Stewart holiday lighting collection for KMart some years ago; how I like the big soft glow they add to the greens and snow.   I have no idea to quit gardening when the ground freezes-I just garden in a different way. 

Copy of dgw _0078Rob invented these light bars. Wrapped closely around a galvanized pipe, and installed in the ground over steel rebar sunk in the ground, they shed light in every direction.  They are beautifully sculptural in a contemporary setting.    Taubman3 (3)Many many light strings were needed to describe the shape of this old oak in lights.  The structure of this tree is never more apparent than it is this time of year.  

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I photographed the front of the shop this year at dawn’s light.  The snow and the ice greatly magnify the twinkle of the twinkle lights on these skyrocket junipers.  A wire tree basket serves as a form creating the overall shape of this fantail willow and dogwood.  The white pine at the base droops gracefully in the opposite direction.  I like having something in the winter landscape that gives me as much pleasure as my summer garden.   

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The big idea here has everything to do with personal and individual expression.  The materials are readily available, the risk of doing too much is slight. The effect is immediate and gratifying.  Whether you run your seasonal lighting only through the end of the year, or on into March, lighting the winter garden like this is temporary-no big long term committment required. I know I am not the only person who drives the neighborhoods during the winter holiday to see what others have done to light the night; this might be the best part of December in Michigan.