More Of The Winter Work

Every Saturday from the first week in November until just before Christmas, I pose a question to my landscape crews. The closest answer to the right answer wins a cash prize. The prize money goes up as the weeks go on-as well it should. The work of doing holiday and winter containers, lighting, and holiday decorating is hard work that requires considerable attention to detail. The design comes first. Then all of those elements that contribute to the construction. And then the installation. Then we start that process all over again-fresh. The staying fresh part is the hardest part. I am very lucky to have a group of people who go after the gold, day after day, for weeks.  That gold?  Excellent and thoughtful work.

My last question before the Christmas holiday was “How many winter and holiday containers have we done this season?” I never want to start the season with a run down of all the work we have ahead of us. We all know we have lots of work, but handling that work one day at a time is how we like to do things. So I wait until we are close to the finish to broach the topic of volume.

199 pots got filled this season, by my count. Salvador won the prize with a guess of 178. Would I subject you to 199 photographs- heavens no. But to follow is a good number of pictures of some of our work this season.



Almost done.

Winter Red

Our second winter/holiday project comes with a story, just like our first. If you were to ask how I schedule all the work, I am sure I would hesitate before I answered. There are many factors, some involving the availability of materials and other logistical issues. But personal issues for clients play a big part in the scheduling.  A client whose daughter was getting married as I began writing this came first.  No doubt someone else will be first next season. Our second project involves a landscape client who is hosting 19 members of his greater family for Thanksgiving at his home. They live a long ways away; the earliest arrivals are tomorrow. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they are leaving on an extended trip. They wanted their holiday/winter pots to be in place well in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday with family, as they would be celebrating both holidays at once.

We began the fabrication of all of their pots and holiday decorations this past Wednesday. They had a specific request for red, in any form we might manage.  I understand that. The winter landscape in Michigan is varying shades of brown set against interminably gray skies. Our winter daylight is watery and wan. Some of my favorite shrubs and trees feature a red berry set for the winter.  A well grown stand of Michigan holly (ilex verticillata) in full berry mode electrifies our winter landscape. Funny this – I have a love for red in the landscape at the visually hungriest times of year.  Red tulips in the spring are such a welcome and cheery burst of color. A plan for red in our winter landscape is equally as celebratory. Our second year red twig dogwood bunches are especially beautiful this year. We rarely have the opportunity to purchase old growth red twig of this caliber. The thick stems are heavily branched, and arch outwards as if they were still growing. Long faux berry stems zip tied to the natural twigs make a big statement about winter red. Our winter and holiday container arrangements are as much about sculpture as they are about nature.  We know whatever we fabricate has to endure a entire winter’s worth of windy and snowy weather, unfazed. A construction site in our garage means we are able to recreate natural and graceful shapes that are able to endure the worst of our winter weather.

Our clients have one container that is 42″ by 42″ square, by 40″ tall. This is an incredibly large container that is home to a tree sized banana plant over the course of the summer.  Of course the size of a container asks for an arrangement of a proper and proportional size. The centerpiece for this pot needed a good deal of mass and volume. A galvanized tomato cage was perfect for zip tying individual cut stems of second year red twig dogwood all around the outside to create the illusion of great mass. It took 8 bunches of fuchsia eucalyptus to match the scale established by the height and diameter of the dogwood centerpiece, and the size of the container.

The upper galvanized steel ring of the tomato cage is evident in this picture. Topiary forms, or in this case, a heavy gauge galvanized tomato cage, can provide a key sculptural element to a container. I am grateful for topiary forms that enable my mandevilleas to climb skyward during the summer. Those forms can be strung with lights and grapevine for the winter season. In this case, the tomato cage provides an unseen structure for the twigs. Am I concerned that I can see this top ring? No. As you will see in the following picture, this pot is viewed from afar, rather than up close.

Not all tomato cages are created equal. Rob buys very heavy gauge galvanized steel rod cages in a variety of sizes. They provide significant support for vines, and in this case, twigs.  This very large container has a centerpiece appropriate to its size. The fuchsia and red echoes the late fall color of the hedge of the oak leaf hydrangea “Ruby Slippers”.

I asked Dan to take this picture down into the centerpiece from high on the ladder. The red twig is zip tied to the form at the soil line, and again 2/3rds of the way up. This takes some time to do, but it insures that the twigs will stay put throughout the winter. Illuminating this centerpiece from within would take a lot of light, so we installed four strands of 25 count C-9 incandescent lights.

The greens were liberally dosed with Lumineo LED light strands. Barely visible during the day, they will do a great job of illuminating the greens and exterior of the centerpiece at night. This pot will light up a fairly dark spot on the driveway all winter long.

The four boxes at the front door feature lots of that winter red. Marzela stuffs the noble fir into dry foam in the studio, and David constructed all of the centerpieces. The centerpieces are secured with steel rebar and concrete wire. The bottom portion of the foam form is wedged into the box.

 Marzela adds the last element to the pots on site.

The red/red violet seed pods on stems provide a transition from the greens to the centerpiece, and conceal any zip ties from the centerpiece construction. The greens are deliberately shorter in the center, so the entire centerpiece can be seen.

The lighting of the pots comes last. The light fixtures on the house are large, but their light is more glowing than illuminating. The lights in the pots will brighten the entrance walk with lots of light.

David and Dan rewind all of the strands for the pots, so they are easy to install.

The bed to the right of the walk is already planted with tulips for the spring.  It is planted with seasonal plants in the summer and fall.  This year, my clients requested a winter vignette with cut trees and grapevine deer, to add to the festivities. The trees were lighted in the garage before we brought them. The heaviest concentration of light is on the trunk. The lighting on the branches is lighter, both in density and color. The Lumineo strands are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. That design works. It is hard to spot them during the day.

This is the finished installation, as seen from inside our box truck.

the finished front walk

At 5pm, the natural light has all but faded. The length of the exposure taking the picture intensifies the light more than what it looks like in person, but you get the idea.

Their landscape is ready for their holiday, and their winter.

On Their Own

winter potsI posted some time ago about the landscape I designed for my clients who live in a rural area outside Ann Arbor. They edited and installed that landscape on their own – to everyone’s  great satisfaction. I was happy indeed that they took my plan to heart, and edited it to reflect their point of view. Late this fall they planted a wide ribbon of grape hyacinths in the lawn beginning near the large round planter and running all the way to the road. There’s nothing like having a river of grape hyacinths to look forward to in the spring, is there? Eventually, there may be some trees on either side of that river.  Their last garden project of the season-the winter pots. They came to the shop the other day to with to consult with me about their plans, and look at materials. Of course they would do their winter pots on their own.

winter potsI spent plenty of time talking them through their design process.  They knew they wanted to use cut white birch branches, and spruce tips.  And they wanted to incorporate the color red. Their taste is tends towards the contemporary, but in a loose and brash way. Containers filled with natural materials informally arranged proved to be a strikingly beautiful contrast to their sober and spare landscape.

img_0191This post is not so much about what I advised them to do. It is primarily about what they did on their own. This winter pot is terrific.  I was delighted when Rich sent me this group of photographs. The greens in the bottom of this container are spruce tips, from Minnesota. Dan had them shipped in.  I have never seen them before. These spruce toppers sunk into the soil of a container looked like a forest of mini trees. This container is as good as it gets, in my opinion. It is relaxed, assured, and striking. The thin red twig branches against the stout birch branches-so beautiful.

winter potsI did advise them to light their pots. Their property is in a rural area. Absent a full moon, their property is shrouded in darkness. The light in the winter pots would be key to welcoming guests, and representing a warm winter. It took a bit of doing to convince them to spring for a 3′ diameter spiked light ring encircled with LED lights, but they eventually decided that my advice was good advice. After much discussion, they took that ring home with them. Set into their 5 foot diameter steel bowl container facing the road, that light ring not only illuminated what was in the pot, it lit up the walk to the front door.     img_4253The materials they chose? Mountain hemlock, for its feathery texture, and its longevity as a cut green. Noble fir is a cut green whose stout stems amicably support lights, and obligingly stay green throughout the winter. The magnolia branches in this container feature big leaves. Those big glossy green leaves are a nod to romance. The Michigan winter is spare and gray. Cut magnolia is luscious – juicy looking. The hollow birch bark rounds are chubby and charming. The faux red berry stems hover over all.  Happily, they will represent for many winters to come. The Lumineo warm LED light strings illuminate the greens.

winter containersThis is work that I am happy to share here.  I greatly admire what they have done.

winter container arrangementsaa

We provided the centerpieces for this pair of winter containers.  Our client did the rest. Lovely, aren’t they?

This planter was constructed by a client who shopped on line with us for some of her materials.

This client shopped at Detroit Garden Works for materials too.

These containers are the creation of a member of my group. I like that he had the enthusiasm to go home and make winter pots, after making them for others day after day.

I truly enjoy what people say back to me about the garden.

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Putting It All Together

cut variegated boxwood branchesWe are in the thick of the winter container gardening season. The shop sees to stocking and restocking great materials, which means that the landscape company has a shop full of cut greens, berries and picks in addition to fresh cut branches from which to choose. Those clients who choose to have us dress their holiday and winter pots keep my crews busy until the end of the year. I am grateful for that, and for the opportunity to do the work. If you are a gardener who chooses to do your own, I have a few suggestions.  If you use any cut broad leaved evergreens in your containers, like the variegated boxwood pictured above, consider spraying them with an antidessicant after you have arranged them. Their broad and thin leaves will lose water quickly after they are cut. An antidessicant will help to slow the drying process. Fresh cut twigs stay fresh looking a long time without any additional help, as the bark keeps the moisture within the stem.

German boxwoodWe spray our cut branches of boxwood with Vapor Gard, which is a non toxic natural pine resin based wax that coats and seals the leaves. This prevents or slows the evaporation of the moisture inside the leaves that are no longer absorbing water from the roots of the plant. An antidessicant will help to prevent winter burn on broad leaved evergreen plants as well. Newly planted boxwood, or boxwood planted in an exposed location will benefit from an antidessicant spray. The label will tell you what plants will benefit from this treatment. Vapor Gard is a commercial grade antidessicant only available by the gallon, but Wilt-Pruf is available ready mixed in a spray bottle, a more appropriate size for the greens in a few pots. Spray the greens on a rain free day at the warmest moment of the day.  When I say spray, I really mean soak.

mountain hemlockMountain hemlock does not need any antidessicant spray. The cut branches are always in short supply. These trees grow at extremely high altitudes, and if snow comes early in the mountains, the harvest will be small. We stock as much as we can of this cut evergreen, as it will stay obligingly green the entire winter. Evergreens have needle like foliage for a reason. Each needle has a very small surface area, which means the rate of transpiration is correspondingly small. Evergreens continue to photosynthesize, even though the roots cannot absorb water from the frozen ground in the winter. This is why it is so important that evergreens be well watered prior to the ground freezing. Evergreen foliage structure has evolved to keep moisture loss during the dormant season to a minimum. This mountain hemlock is Michigan winter proof.  These cut stems will look as good next March as they do now.

winter berryThe berried stems of ilex verticillata  are a favorite at the holidays.  That vibrant red has yet to be matched by any artificial stem. However, cut ilex stems tend to shed berries at an alarming rate. An antidessicant will greatly slow that shedding. The winter berry stems that I soak with Vapor Gard insure that those berries hold on for a good portion of the winter. We spray all of the branches that come in to the shop with Vapor Gard.

sugar pine conesThese sugar cones are not native to trees in my zone, but they naturally express the season. We group them on winter garlands, and stuff them into the greens of winter pots. The big scale, obvious texture and durable quality make them a candidate for inclusion in winter containers. Pine cones are tough as nails. Their scales are as woody as a tree branch.

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-13We have a variety of pine cones and stemmed seed pods dusted with white wash. I like this frosty look. A pairing with with tiger branches is a monochromatic color scheme that is quite wintry.

 

white washed pods for winter containersLike this.

dsc_1141Fresh cut bunches of southern magnolia provide big leaves – green on the upper surface, and fuzzy brown on the obverse. The leaves curl beautifully as they dry, and will stick tight to the stem the entire winter. Our supplier is known for her heavily branched bunches that are like bouquets.

red bud pussy willowThis winter installation from last year is all about the layering of materials.  The effect is warm and inviting.

materials-for-winter-pots-4Plastic is not my first choice for a winter container, but plastic berry picks are entirely waterproof and winter proof.  They can be reused for a number of seasons. Some of ours have stems that are wrapped in brown paper which is then waxed. They may not seem so appealing in their raw state, but placed in a container full of natural materials, they are quite believable.

white berry pickswhite plastic berries and plum eucalyptus

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-11This red felt ribbon finished with a white hemstitch is handsome.  The oversized width makes it great for holiday decorating.  Would I be concerned about using it outside? No. Most materials do not mind cold or snow. But some materials are not happy subjected to late fall rains.  Ask or test before you put a material outdoors for the winter.

detroit-garden-works-holiday-preview-8These felt birds would look great perched on a window sill all winter long.

materials-for-winter-pots-8We have a client with an entire family of our grapevine deer. As they spend the winter outdoors, we seal them with Waterlox once a year. This helps to keep the grapevine from deteriorating.  Every holiday, we make collars for them – this year is no exception. The idea here is that materials traditionally used indoors can be equally effective outdoors.

holiday wreathThis plain lighted artificial wreath got an upgrade from a 6′ pine cone garland, and some pods and berries.

materials-for-winter-pots-5This sphere is encircled by greens, lights, pods, magnolia, and gold berry picks.

materials-for-winter-pots-7Today is a relaxing day, with time available to reflect. Tomorrow we will be back to the making. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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