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.

New Year’s

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (3)Christmas came and went, without the shop being fully dressed for winter. We had an incredibly busy season – that work has to come first. No one knows that better than I. But I have a love and a mission for making sure that our shop delights the eye of any gardener face to face with the winter season. The Branch crew constructed and hung the garland that is draped across the top of the roof boxes and all the way down to the ground on a Saturday in mid December. They added greens to the leading edge of the boxes behind the garland, for an especially lush look on the roof. That was a huge undertaking. It took 5 people just to haul it up an extension ladder to the roof. That was all we had going on for at least another week. The next Saturday all of the window boxes were filled with greens, and the 2 pots out front had twigs and greens. Christmas day afternoon, I constructed and set all of the centerpieces in the window boxes, and added small scale vine garlands to the greens, and pine cones to drape. Yes, Christmas afternoon.  Buck was rolling his eyes.  New Year’s Eve day, I had help from a sympathetic crew.  David found lights for the window boxes elsewhere, as we were out, and installed them.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (14)I wanted something tree like at the front door. Dan and his landscape crew cut down a Siberian elm that was growing up through the gas meter at Branch, and set them into steel shoes in the bottom of a pair of fiber pots. Once the fiber pots were filled with gravel, these tall branches were stable. As I had a pine cone fest already going on, I decided to hang pine cones on these trees. Marzela and David did all of the work of it. Dan, my landscape super, named these trees Pinus Ulmus.  We all found this incredibly amusing. The fun of hanging pine cones on a deciduous tree aside, I wanted to bring some of the warm orangy brown of the cones and grapevine garland onto these pale gray branches.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (4)The centerpieces in the window boxes are largely comprised of bunches of short branches that Rob had for sale in the shop. I can’t say what they are, I was looking at the height, color, and texture, and not the species.  The white tallow berry picks are artificial. They and the bleached pine cones add punch and punctuation to the mix. The roof garland features our new pin point LED lights. All of the light garlands are attached to the grapevine.

DSC_3726The two little leaf lindens outside the shop fence got a winter coat of natural curly willow. David got all of the bunches up against the trunk with the help of some bungee cords. Once he had every stem arranged to his satisfaction, he wired them on with concrete wire.  He and I covered that wire with two pine cone garlands wound around and secured to each tree. This is a warm look for winter.  Rob’s wire baskets with lights in the bottom, and a mass of twigs, got placed on either side of a birch faux bois bench.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (5)We were looking like we were ready for the winter. This made me happy.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (9)We have a very gray and dark season ahead of us. It is a tough time for anyone who gardens in a northern climate. The dark comes on in late afternoon, and does not abate until 8 am.  The cold has finally caught up with us. Michigan is renowned on the gray skies list-it ranks right up there. Having the shop with a display for winter will make the winter easier to bear. Every day when I walk to my office door, I will be glad for the warm blanket.  It is as simple as that.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (10)I took this picture at 4:40 this afternoon. The yews and boxwood have gone to their winter black green. The dusting of snow looks chilly.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (12)One of my most favorite items we sold in the shop for the winter are these strings of lights with giant bulbs. I have Rob to thank for these. The linden closest to the road will have this string lighted all winter long.  I come to work in the dark, and I park my car here in the winter.  The light these bulbs provide is adding lots of visual vitamin D to my daily life.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (1)Happy New Year.

 

 

The Details: A Story Board

glass-drops.jpgPart 3 of my tutorial about the construction of  winter containers has to do with bringing the special details to life.  Evergreens stuck into a foam form the base of the winter container.  A structure upon which to build.  A centerpiece, no matter whether it is tied up tight and of a piece, or stuck individually, provides an element upon which to focus.  Up next-the details.

evergreens-destined-for-a-winter-pot.jpgA blank canvas can be lush in and of itself, but it asks for those details that make for an individual design.  The third element of any winter pot-those thoughtfully constructed and expressed finishing details.  Pistou is a vegetable soup of French origin, , made with vegetables, various beans, and small macaroni.  This is an overview- their are many individual recipes.  Upon serving, the soup is topped with a large dollop of basil pesto which is showered with grated parmesan cheese.  The addition of the pesto and its parmesan  is an individually imagined finish.  Pistou has no end of recipes, should you look it up on line.  Individual chefs individually imagine and cook the soup, and finish it to their taste.  The finish of your winter containers should reflect your own particular point of view.

light-rings.jpgA winter container has several elements, each of which are interpreted by the gardener in charge.  The finish is about the fine tuning.  The little bits that take construction to another level.  Those little bits can be imagined, and sorted out in the shelter provided by the garage.  These winter pots included light rings on stands of Rob’s invention, stout cut twigs, garland lights, big C-9 light strands, and glass drops.

lighted-topiary-form.jpgSummer topiary forms which provides a climbing venue for mandevillea vines in the summer are strung with garland light vines for the winter.

holiday-garland.jpgA thick evergreen garland is wrapped with grapevine.  Loose and loopy.  The materials are as subtle as they are simple.

winter-container.jpgThis container features one of Rob’s light rings constructed on a stand.  The branches we cut from a tree at our Branch property.  The glass drops will pick up the light from a string of 50 clear C-9 lights.  Part of the story board of these winter container involve light.  No, you cannot see the wires or the bulbs.  The big idea detailed on this story board-the twigs, the glass, and the light.  A story board is a group of images representing an idea.  Any creative expression should tell a story-from start to finish.

holiday-garland.jpg

winter garland

winter-container-arrangement.jpgThe story?  Welcome to winter.

 

Light Up That Night

My garden is poised to take a three month sabbatical – Bon Voyage, dear garden.  This state of affairs is sad enough, but there is more.  Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the cloudiest, greyest, gloomiest and darkest states in the union.  We rank right up there on that list of most consecutive sunless days.  A sunny day in my winter is cause for celebration, but I had better be quick about enjoying it.  Daylight gets off to a slow start, and gives up early.  At 4pm, it will be dark.  It will still be dark at 7am. I have no plans to live on that schedule.  I do have plans to light up that night.  This garden bench in the shop greenhouse looks cheery and inviting draped with a light garland.  Light garland?  Multiple strings of holiday lights in various sizes and colors twisted and zip tied together makes for a brilliantly lit garland that can be swagged in a favorite tree, or over a door or arbor.       

 

For whatever reason, I love a flocked tree.  Years ago, there was a place down river from me that would flock any tree in any color, for 35.00. Apparently they still offer this service-you need to get a quote.  Courtesy of our client and friend Brandon, the Harry Pinter Greenhouse at 6830 Rawsonville Road in Belleville still offers this service, on real or artificial trees.  1-734-482-2776.   A client who was expecting a baby girl December 23 one got a pink flocked tree, loaded with pink glass ornament from us.  It was loads of fun-truly.   I like how the holiday season has the potential to value expression over good taste and design.  I think thats’s fine.  There are beautifully constructed artificial trees that come loaded with the flock.  At night, the tree lights play off of and compound those white branches beautifully.  This tree is decorated in small chickadee shaped birds with sparkling white feathers, white moire glass and clear glass ornaments.  In the daytime, a flock of long sleek partridges in their typical black, brown and grey feathers take a bigger visual role.  

By this time, I am sure it is clear that I enjoy the holiday season. Why wouldn’t I?  It is a great antidote for that big dark.  The greenhouse at night, lit with holiday lighting, is a completely different visual experience than the daytime look. No other season, indoors or out, looks quite like this.      


Candlelight is always a romantic and warm accompaniement to an event.  Candles, that civilized version of burning logs in a galvanized bucket, can create a friendly and congenial atmosphere.  It is amazing how a collection of votive candles can banish the dark.  Be generous with the numbers-everyone will appreciate that.

 We have little artificial lighting in the greenhouse, as most of the year we get light at no charge from the sky.  The sun is no longer directly overhead, so that space can be surprisingly dark on a cloudy day.  In the evening, it can be difficult to navigate.  For an evening event, we are lavish with the light.  Votive candles deliver a lot of light; their small space makes it easy to mass them, or tuck them in smaller spaces.  Candle light makes everyone look good-that is a happy byproduct of this kindly light.

The landscape gets the same attention to lighting as the indoors, only on a bigger scale.  Every year Rob creates lighting for the winter landscape that is simple to install, and dramatic in its impact.  I for one will not be climbing in my trees, to string holiday lights on the branches.  I value something that is simple to install, and beautiful to look at.  This year, per Rob’s design,  we fabricated channeled steel rings in three sizes, and filled the channels with brown corded holiday lights.  Hung in a tree or window, from a pergola or arbor, these rings of light are beautiful.  The largest of the rings makes a very dramatic statement. 

He took that circle of light idea, and took it a step further for the pots on the shop pillars.  Simple rod steel spheres were wound in the round with a combination of garland lights, ands pearl lights.  Garland lights have bulbs spaced very close together-the effect is more light, with less wire.  Pearl lights are just how they sound-these small spheres look just like pearls.

The tour de force of his winter lighting creations has to be this arrangement in an antique cast iron trough we have situated at the entrance to the shop.  Rob covered the soil surface with translucent C-9 and C-7 white light strings.  He then set a few stems of cut “tree of heaven” branches, and filled in between the wires with the dry remains of some unknown dried weed from a neighboring field.  

For all the world, Rob’s pot looks like it is on fire.  The most modest of materials are dressed to the nines for the winter season. 

The 6 pots out front-they have a beginning.  Single sterms of red bud pussy willow have been zip-tied tightly, and all around a plant climber that holds up my asparagus in the summer.  A single globe of light sits at ground level inside.  The globe by the way, is a lightbulb frequently used in bathroom light fixtures-of course Rob dreamed up this part.  That globe of light illuminates those branches.

What will I do now?  I am not sure.  I have the finishing on the pots, the windowboxes, the windows, and the front door to consider.  It is good to have a holiday/winter project underway.