Flipping The Switch

night lightThe beginning of the winter season is marked by the scarcity of daylight. By mid December, it seems like it is dark most of the time. Winter days are likely to be gray days. It is no wonder that outdoor lighting is a hallmark of the holidays. I have always thought that holiday lighting is a form of winter gardening. The lights may outline the roof of a house, or decorate a specimen tree or evergreen, or be draped over the shrubbery. No one but the most ruinously serious of us thinks their holiday lighting will be subject to a taste test. The materials are relatively inexpensive, and people express their dismay with the coming of the dark, and the celebration of the holidays with abandon. I like all of the light at this gloomy time of year.

DSC_3753I will confess that most landscape lighting does not interest me-except during the winter.  It is light late in the summer, and equally as light early in the morning.  The light from the sky is like no other.  But once the skies go dark, in tandem with the landscape going dormant, I am more interested in some night light.  Rob’s lit spheres have been a staple at Detroit Garden Works for a number of years.  We manufacture raw steel circles that we infill with brown corded lights in 2 styles. We make them so they can be hung from a low branch of a big tree.  We also make them with long prongs that can be pushed into the ground in a garden. These light rings are more about winter light, than holiday light.  What a relief. It is OK to run those rings all winter long.

DSC_3765Winter containers are the perfect vehicle for some temporary winter lighting. The greens do a great job of obscuring the cords. When the dark comes early, it is a pleasure to enjoy what is in those pots day or night. The advent of warm light LED light strings means that lighting the landscape in the winter is an inexpensive affair. They draw so little power-about 1/10th that of incandescent light strings. The color of that light has improved so much in recent years. When LED string lights first came out, that cold blue light had no grace or charm whatsoever.
DSC_3754Electric light in the winter landscape adds a little sparkle to a gloomy morning and afternoon. Company coming to my house for dinner at 7pm are walking up to the front door in the dark.  Landscape path lighting is utilitarian.  Lights in the pots dispel the gloom, and say welcome.

DSC_3755My landscape lighting skills are poor to middling.  There are lighting designers who do an incredible job of featuring the landscape at night. Should I have a client who is interested in landscape lighting, I refer them. I myself am not interested in lighting design. I am interested in a warm, friendly, and unstudied look.

DSC_3756There are those places and moments when night lighting is theater. That theater is not my forte. I like a blush over the landscape. In the very late afternoon, the light in pots is as soft as it is sparkly. This much light is enough.

DSC_3804Once the skies go dark, those lighted pots glow. This brick wall is bathed in a warm subtle light.

DSC_3802This client has a covered porch, with no ceiling light fixture. One string of our 1000 light LED strings illuminate the perimeter of the ceiling, and each side of the front door. Another 750 count LED light string strewn on the floor of the porch around a grouping of pots makes this porch glow.  A winter with a glow in the landscape is a winter that has a landscape that is lively.

DSC_3797My advice this 6th day of January? Stay warm.  Plug something in.

Constructing The Winter Centerpieces

centerpieces for winter containers (4)Setting the centerpieces in winter and holiday pots has the same procedure, whether we have small or big pots to fill.  The centerpiece often involves fresh cut branches that have considerable weight. The vertical element in a winter pot needs to stay vertical all winter. This large bunch of red twig dogwood been secured with several zip ties, and some concrete wire.

centerpieces for winter containers (5)Buried in the twigs is a stout bamboo pole. When we are ready to install, we cut a hole in the foam that holds the greens, large enough for the twigs to pass through and rest on the soil.  The stake will be driven down as deep as possible into the soil. This pole anchors the twigs in the pot. Very large centerpieces will have short lengths of steel rebar inserted all around.  The steel posts will be wired together. Once the soil freezes, these arrangements will not move, or go over. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. A beautiful centerpiece gets some of its beauty from the strength and integrity of the installation.

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Any other materials that get added to the twigs can be secured with another layer of zip ties.  For more height, we may wedge additional materials between the branches, or wire them to the branches. The method of choice is whatever method makes the arrangement strong and weather proof. Snow and ice on a winter arrangement can be gorgeous.  Snow and ice that brings an arrangement down is a nuisance.  Once the soil freezes, a centerpiece gone over can be difficult to fix.

centerpieces for winter containers (7)All of the evidence of the construction at the bottom of the centerpiece will be buried in the greens. Florist’s wire is a dark green that recedes from view. Preserved eucalyptus is a versatile material for winter centerpieces.  The color does not run or fade. It is flexible and pliant. Very heavy snow can be gently broomed off-the eucalyptus will spring back. The soft, loose and leafy texture is a great contrast to the twigs. It helps to cover the evidence of the construction. Though making a centerpiece like this is a considerable amount of work, it needs to look effortless.

centerpieces for winter containers (9)There are so many materials available for winter centerpieces that are weatherproof.  Winter berry will hold for a long time outdoors, provided it has been soaked in Vapor Gard, or some other antidessicant. It seals the moisture inside the berries. It also helps keep the berries attached to the stems. In these centerpieces, the faux berries are a believable symbol of the real thing. The centerpieces have been scaled to the size of the pots that will hold them.  The bamboo is just as thick as for a large centerpiece, but shorter.

centerpieces for winter containers (8)This client is interested in an expression of the holidays, in addition to their wintry look. The evergreen base to come will hide most of the stiff stalks of these glittered cone picks. A few more sprigs of eucalyptus will hide the rest. The holiday picks can be removed after New Year’s.

centerpieces for winter containers (10)We do as much of the construction as we can in the garage. Each of the white tallow berry picks in this centerpiece came to us packed flat in a box.  It is so much easier to fluff out a wired pick in the garage, than outdoors. Some of the work is very hard to do with anything other than bare hands. Once the basic form of the centerpiece is set, there is a lot of hand work to come. More than anything, unfriendly working conditions discourage expression.

centerpieces for winter containers (11)I was glad for the two days we had in the shop to ready all of the materials for this holiday/winter installation. It will be cold today. Right now, it is 23 degrees with freezing fog.  The high temperature will be 40. Having everything ready to install with a minimum of touch up work means we will not have to spend the entire day outdoors.

centerpieces for winter containers (13)We make small centerpieces for our garlands, as well as our pots. A variety of materials get zip tied together, and wired to a branch in the garland. If we use pine cones in a garland, we wire them on separately, and loosely.  Having a long wire lead means you can nestle that cone in the evergreens wherever it seems appropriate and natural.  Wiring them too close to the garland makes for a stiff look.

centerpieces for winter containers (14)Since a garland is primarily viewed from below, we don’t worry so much about hiding the evidence of the construction. This new LED lighting we have this year features black/green wires that is small.  The tiny bulbs are mounted on wire stalks that approximate evergreen needles.  It is so light weight and flexible it is simple to attach to the garland. And the light is warm. Based on what I have seen so far, this is holiday lighting that is simple to use, and very durable.  I did not need to worry about dropping the strand on our concrete floor.

centerpieces for winter containers (1)There are 4 of the LED bulbs  barely visible in this picture. The wires will be just about invisible once the garland is hung.

centerpieces for winter containers (12)We are as ready as we can be for today’s work.


The 2015 Holiday/Winter Preview Party

holiday open houseI have long been of the mind that the gardening season can thrive during the late fall and can not only endure, but robustly represent a gardener’s point of view throughout the winter months. The stakes are high.  The winters in my zone can be fierce. The skies are an unvarying shade of gray for months on end. We pile on the winter gear, and slog through the snow to work. Our winters are cold and dark. Winter gardening asks for a different idea, different tools, and an active imagination.  I may light a dormant shade garden with twinkle lights strewn on the ground, given that the chartreuse hostas have gone dormant.  The mixed fir evergreen garland wired up with pine cones and other natural materials that will go over my front door for the holiday season will please the gardener in me.  I most assuredly will stuff my containers with cut greens, fresh cut twigs, and anything else I might fancy, with the idea that they will recall the warmth and comfort of the garden over the winter.

holiday preview (18)Gardeners are working people.  Once the last of the spring flowering bulbs are planted, those hands are hard to keep still. I am not ready to cozy up to a stack of books. It was many years ago that Rob and I decided to make something more of the coming of the cold than resignation. We transform the shop into a destination for materials to enrich the holiday and winter season.  Most of the shopping was done this past January.  When our purchases begin to arrive in July, it is easy to spot why we liked them.  Invariably, there is a reference to nature and natural materials.

holiday preview (12)There are lots of bird ornaments. They may be feathered or felted, but no matter the material, they appeal to gardeners.

holiday preview (17)Every year we feature one sort of holiday tree or another.  This year, Rob has sourced tall and thin trees in a variety of species that share a certain look in common.  These trees have been deliberately pruned and grown to produce an old fashioned shape.  These sparse, short needled trees are grown Victorian style, meaning those big open spaces are friendly to hanging ornaments, birds on clips, and garland.

holiday preview (20)We will have plants. We have a great selection of amaryllis, available as bulbs, potted up, or growing in water in glass cylinders. There will be pots of berried wintergreen, and white variegated club moss.  And of course, some hellebores. But the majority of what we have available are garden ornaments that evoke the materials and spirit of the garden.

holiday preview (5)The grapevine deer sculptures are life size, and beautifully made. The frames are steel. The vines will last for many years, given a yearly application of sealer. These are the kind of deer one could welcome to a garden-especially a winter garden.

holiday preview (10)We will open our winter/ holiday season tonight from 5 to 9.  This party is in large part a thank you to the community of gardeners that frequent our doors. We always have new people, for whom this night is an introduction to our place. We will have something good to eat and drink, live music, and lively conversation. We invite everyone to preview our winter collection.

holiday preview (1)Dutch jingle bells in varying shades of blue and gray

holiday preview (11)reproductions of vintage holiday figures

holiday preview (2)fresh cut twigs are a winter staple for containers.  Also slated to arrive today, a truckload of cut greens from a wide range of evergreen species.

holiday preview (13)felted animal ornaments

holiday preview (4)weatherproof contemporary stars

holiday preview (8)wood deer with burlap coats

holiday preview (3)And finally, Rob’s lighting collection. We have some very exciting new options available this year. For those of you who are too far away to attend, I will post pictures of how the shop looks at night. Great lighting can transform a winter landscape.  You’ll see.


At A Glance: Detroit Garden Works Holiday

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For everyone who lives too far away to visit, to follow is a collection of pictures of the shop decked out for the winter and holidays.  The snow this morning-appropriate to the occasion.

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holiday shop 2014 (24)Decorating the shop for the winter and holidays? All the work of it is all the fun of it.