Mighty White

birch.jpgMy landscape is mighty white right now.  We have already had better than twice the snow we had all season last year, and this is just mid January. I was so surprised that we got another 3 inches of snow yesterday.  Have we not had enough?  Who thought we needed more than the 16 inches we have already had? OK, I wasn’t so much surprised as weary.  The snow has piled up everywhere.  The landscape is blurred.  The glare from the snow makes everything else some variation of black..  Lots of white, with some black bits.  What gardener in my zone isn’t bleary eyed?

sun-and-snow.jpgThese reproduction cast stone pots made from a well known design by Frank Lloyd Wright are all but buried in snow.  The snow silhouette features the rim of the pot.  The shape of a mature plant, a garden bed, a tree canopy, a garden path, a terrace, a container – shape is one of many elements of design.  A shape is a 2-dimensional visual description of an object.  An outline, if you will.  Heavy snow makes it easy to see and decide if you like the shapes.

snow-covered-garden-table.jpgWe have mountains of snow and uniformly gray skies.  There are only so many ways to tell this story.  The better story is about what is missing visually, and how a landscape can be better. As I have watched the snow pile up higher and higher, I realize how much I appreciate the skillful use of color, line, texture, mass, edges, and proportion in a landscape design.  This garden table and bench has been reduced to its simplest shape, in black and white.

snow-covered.jpgDeep snow has all but obliterated any complex relationships in the landscape. What the snow has not buried are the basic and simple shapes.  The very strong and simple relationships.  A good design should be evident in every season.  In all kinds of weather. There are those gardeners who aim for one season at the expense of all the others, and I respect their choice.  It just wouldn’t be my choice.  I do believe that good design is all about what is there when there is nothing there to see.  The stone pot filled with cut evergreens pictured above has a distinct form and proportion that is described and enhanced by snow.

shop-garden-in-January.jpgThe heavy snow had reduced this landscape to its most elemental gestures.  What I still see, given the lack of color and texture, is the form. I would venture to say that a design that does not work in its most austere winter state will work no better flushed out with plants, and clothed in green.

snow.jpgGood form is a quintessentially important element of good design.  A weeping Japanese maple has an overall shape, both a leafy shape, and a twiggy shape.  That maple also has a three dimensional structure-that is its form.  The successful placement of that maple in the landscape is dependent upon an understanding of its form.  Planting small or young trees require an understanding of a form that is yet to be.  Forms come with baggage, too.  A weeping Japanese maple is so common in suburban front yard landscapes that it asks for an unusual treatment or placement for its form to be truly appreciated.  Asparagus means vegetable, which means it gets planted in the vegetable garden.  But its form may be perfect for a rose garden, or a container.

garden-bench.jpg The relationship of one form to another can be incredibly exciting, or sleepy beyond all belief.  Some forms are so striking they stay with me for a long time.  Years even.  The fluid and informally curving form of this magnolia garland is all the more striking visually against the formal and rigid form of this steel bench.  The snow is that relationship graphic and clear.  Personally unforgettable moments in a landscape usually involve a form which is under some sort of visual discussion via the weather, or the season. Landscape elements that are not up to a year round discussion should be placed accordingly.

boxwood.jpg  Some forms I do not give a moments notice.  Why wouldn’t my clients feel the same way? Whenever I am designing for a client, I always ask what was an unforgettable experience of the landscape. This will tell me a lot about what forms will have meaning for them.

snowy-day.jpgThis embarrassment of riches in snow is an experience of the landscape that is making me testy, but it has its virtues.

michigan-winter.jpgMilo thinks this winter’s garden is grand.


At A Glance: 16 Inches

January-6-2014.jpgThe biggest snowstorm that I recall was in December of 1974.  I was 24, and living in Ann Arbor.  Some 20 inches fell December 1 and 2. Just like any other 24 year old, I was determined that no weather event would put a crimp in my plans.  I still remember that drive on I-94 towards home that took 7 hours instead of an hour. Once I got home, I stayed put for a week.  The 16 inches we have on the ground now is not nearly so daunting, nor am I so foolish.  Nature is nothing to fool with.  That said, I appreciate how unusual and beautiful this snowfall is.

snow-day.jpgThough my Suburban has 100,000 miles on it, it navigated the snow clogged streets in my neighborhood without a problem. I drove around lots of other people in less fortunate circumstances.

snow-pile.jpgThe shop has plenty of snow piles 6 feet tall and better.

snow-day.jpgsnow day

green-velvet-boxwood.jpgboxwood hatted with snow

deep-snow.jpgsnow piled high

January-garden.jpgEnglish cast iron fountain

winter-window.jpga snowy window to the world


winter-garden.jpga Michigan winter-we are having a doozy.

The Holiday Garland

floral-picks.jpgConstructing evergreen garlands is not a job I would tackle.  I buy them already made from Dan Prielipp at my local farmer’s market.  He makes them up thick for me from a number of species of fir boughs. A 50 foot length is incredibly heavy.  So much wood in those boughs, and so much water.  I can put evergreen boughs together to decorate a mantel, but garland construction I leave to the professionals.  I am, however, able to decorate a garland. To tell the truth, that decoration is my favorite part.  I take the additions of decor to a garland seriously.  My crew will be hanging a very heavy and very long object from a home or commercial building. Anything I add to that should be strong and firmly attached.  The wired floral picks pictured above are an essential element of the construction.  My additions to the garland will require wood of its own.

garland-materials.jpgIt took most of today to decorate the garland I will hang at home.  I designed from the materials that were still available.  Detroit Garden Works has sold thousands of fresh cut branches, several hundred cases of fresh cut evergreens – and closing in on a thousand bunches of preserved eucalyptus.  As much as I love the eucalyptus, I had only 2 color choices left.  Pink, or black.  The winter season is black enough for this gardener.  Black at my front door-not a chance.  Too gloomy.  Pink it was.  Designing a garland for the holidays with pink-I rather liked the challenge.

decorating-the-garland.jpgAny element I add to a holiday garland gets put together ahead of time.  Under no circumstances would I set up a ladder next to a garland that has already been hung, and proceed to work.  First of all, it was 17 degrees today.  Secondly, any construction project asks for a work surface at elbow height, a full compliment of materials, and a better than full compliment of tools.  This garland will be decorated with magnolia stems, pine cones, and pink eucalyptus.  I put a bouquet together with a zip tie.  Once every element is arranged as it should be, I tighten the tie, and clip off the tail.

glued-and-wired.jpgI shorten all of the stems of the materials, insert a floral pick, wire the pick to the stems, and soak the entire affair with hot melt glue.  I want but one stem to go into the garland.  Many stems are not very cooperative with one another.  The garland is composed of boughs that are quite tightly wired together.  There are not so many spaces to insert other material.  One pick, to which all of the other elements are attached, goes into the garland.

garland-materials.jpgWhat next?  This is a design question that had much to do with color.  How would I make that pink flavored eucalyptus look like my first choice for a holiday garland? Luckily, fresh green looks good with just about any color. Nothing struck my eye, until I saw these small faux orange fruits.  I have no idea what fruit they intend to represent.  Mini persimmons?  Orange cherry tomatoes?  I wasn’t going to quibble about the thought behind these little fruits.  I needed to make that pink look good.

garland-decoration.jpgI made 18 of these small bouquets-all of them road and weather ready.  The orange and pink combination was starting to interest me. The pine cones seem so essential to any holiday garland.  There are so many different types and sizes.  We stock tropical as well as native cones; they all speak to the holidays and the winter season.  These magnolia branches are from a supplier that specializes in naturally grown, unpruned, and small leaved bunches. The large dark green leaf is a beautiful foil to the evergreen needles.  The brown felted obverse of the leaves is a gorgeous texture and color.

garland-decoration.jpgMy pink eucalyptus was beginning to look very festive.  I wasn’t all that worried.  Any materials can be put together in an interesting way. The holiday garland is an expression of warmth and celebration.  That expression can be realized in lots of ways.  In no end of color schemes.  No rules.  That simple moment when materials say hello to the imagination is pure pleasure.

assembling-the-garland.jpgA good many feet of this garland has been strapped to a stout bamboo pole. I like my garland straight.  Given that evergreen garland wants in the worst way to drape, I attach this particular garland to a pole.  A garland which is wired to a pole only needs a few points of attachment.  A pair or 3 screws, into the mortar joints. Holiday garland not only needs to be beautiful, it needs to be ready and friendly to hang.  My crew never complains about anything, ever.  They are unfailingly good natured.  This makes me determined to make an installation as smooth as I can.

garland-decoration.jpgIt took most of today to get this garland decorated, and ready to hang.  I glued and wired every bouquet to the horizontal part of the garland.  The garland that hangs down the sides of the front porch-who knows where the evergreen chips may fall.  A garland is guaranteed to twist until it comes to rest.  The additional decorations are glued and wired such that they could be easily attached to the sides after the garland is hung.

holiday-decor.jpgAs for my pots-pink eucalyptus, and curly copper willow.  I may add some coppery brown sinamay shot through with gold threads to the mix. My holiday at home is taking shape.


Stick Work



Mid November is a good time to be planning what you might do to interpret the garden and landscape for the holiday and the winter.  Early is the best time to get going on a scheme.  The most compelling reason has to do with weather.  The past few years, our late fall was very mild.  Mild means it is reasonably easy to work outdoors.  A really cold late fall makes so much work of any installation outdoors.  For those gardeners that do their own work, dramatically cold fall temperatures is enough to make anyone consider skipping the winter work altogether. 


My advice-don’t skip any experience of the garden.  Plant roses, peonies, trees, and wildflowers.  Plant bulbs in the ground, or in pots.  Grow topiaries and espaliers.  Plant clematis and tomatoes.  Take a liking to asters, and amass a collection.  Make enthusiasm for the garden and landscape a way of life.   Plan to express a winter idea-you will not be sorry.  On and off, we have had extremely cold temperatures in November.  The temperature today when I came to work was 20 degrees.  This is unseasonably cold, but by no means unheard of.  I remember those years when we had to chop frozen soil out of pots in order to install a winter arrangement.  Should night temperatures this low persist for much longer, our winter installations will be arduous.  Tough conditions in the landscape are my problem-not my client’s problem.


If your winter garden is all your own to create, I would urge you to get dressed, and get out there.  The forecast for our coming weekend calls for 50 degrees both days.  All you need for a stellar winter arrangement in your pots are some great materials, a load of lights,  and an atmosphere in which you have time to concentrate.  Once I am in the process of stuffing a pot with sticks for the winter, I do not much notice the cold.  The fresh cut branches we bring in for the winter season shrug off the cold-why shouldn’t I?  I spent the entire day today outdoors, installing our first winter/holiday pots of the season.



Stick week-we take possession of so many beautiful fresh cut twigs.  The stick work is what comes next.  Those sticks can be bound together.  They can provide the bulk and mass of a beautiful centerpiece. They can be stuck into the soil, one at a time.  They can provide the stalk of a great winter topiary for a sideboard in the dining room.  They can be woven around a form.  Our bunches of fresh cut twigs delight and challenge me, in the beginning of that season when the landscape is going dormant.  I find that the best antidote to loss is taking on the responsibility for a life that goes on.  A gorgeous winter garden helps to take the sting out of experiencing a garden going down for the winter.


Nature provides a backdrop which is always interesting, and regularly spectacular.  Figure in the wind, the snow, the sunny days, the gray days, the cold, the ice, and that special quality which we call natural.  I have always posted entries to this online gardening journal of mine in real time.  This year, my idea is to pose the questions, post the pictures, and speak to the season, ahead of time.  In time for a reader to have time to consider all their options.  Rob loads in all manner of materials for the holiday and winter season.  I shop what he stocks at Detroit Garden Works for my projects.  Sticks, picks, greens, garlands, magnolia, grapevine, sinamay, weather proof ornament-his selections are beautiful.  Better than the beauty is the depth.  He takes great care to represent a wide range of interests.  Gardeners comprise a very big group with very diverse interests. Rob aims to engage each and every gardener.

First National holiday 2013 (53)

We do anticipate the season to come-we have to. Rob and I shop for the holiday to come the previous January.  We order materials in small numbers.  We hope that each gardener will draw from a large group of a limited stock of materials to create a holiday and winter that produces an original and personal result.  The order we place for sticks for your works happens in August.  The holiday display at Detroit Garden Works takes weeks to create.  We think ahead, so you do not have to.  But this year, the weather may close out early.  Our winter usually commences in January sometime.  I am thinking the winter will come early this year.  There is much stick work to do.  If you plan to harvest materials from your yard, or from the roadside, or the empty lot next door-now is the time.

holiday-containers.jpgThe curly copper willow that we installed in 12  pots downtown today is exuberant.  Lively. I do so like the warm color.  All of those curly stems are airy in a way only nature could create.  Our part was to put together an arrangement in which the twigs would celebrate winter season in a striking way.

container-detail.jpgOur expression of the winter season for this client is a relationship forged from cut twigs, fresh cut greens, dyed kiwi vine, sugar pine cones, gold sinamay, and fresh cut magnolia.  Any expression in the landscape revolves around a conversation.  If you are a gardener, you have a voice.  The season is another voice.  Nature is the first and foremost voice.  Multiple voices-harmonic.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgAll the voices interacting-love this.

winter-containers.jpgYour winter season-love it up.