The Details

Better than twenty years ago, before a cell phone had been invented or a world wide web established, I would drive Rob to the airport for a buying trip to Europe. In those days we could have a cocktail in the lounge, and I could accompany him all the way to the boarding chute for a goodby. It was an emotional experience, that send off. The trip itinerary was sketchy at best. He had little idea where he was going, but that his plane would land in London or Paris or Brussels. Our main clues for overseas shopping came for foreign language magazines and travel books. I would be lucky to hear from him every 10 days for a few very scratchy phone moments. Few hotels had overseas phone service.

As anxious as I was to hear from him once he was abroad, he had his hands full, trying to locate his car and his lodging, driving in a foreign country, driving to shops that were either impossible to find or no longer in business. By the time he was able to call, I was beside myself with worry. He dealt with that in his usual bemused way. No one can dial down a fret fest better than he can. In retrospect, I incredibly admire his raw determination and courage. I doubt he knew at the time that he was charting unknown waters. Why would he? We were in the thick of trying to establish a shop devoted to fine objects for the garden. If you know Rob, you understand that his idea of fine objects and good design is never about money. Some things he purchases for the shop-ouch.  Others are eminently affordable. Witness the lighted winter pot detail above-all those weedy sticks came from the field next door. Add some lights, and voila.

Once he would return home, I would pour over his photographs. I was keen to absorb every detail. These were places I had never been. I wanted to experience his travels as best I could.  In those days, I studied his photographs with a magnifying glass. That close up view revealed so many of the details of the places he was seeing.  Those things that he arranged to have shipped home – that magnifying glass helped me to see those details that won him over. I cannot really explain this, but the magnifying glass helped make the photographs seem a little more real.

Our IT person extraordinaire Jenny explained to me how I could crop my photographs to make the details clearer. I will admit I have been playing around with the idea of magnifying certain details, given her instruction.  What I like is that I am able to focus on details that speak so much to the evidence of the human hand, and the relationship of one material, color, mass or texture to another.

This winter container arrangement was photographed in place after we installed it in the box.

The details are much magnified and easier to see now.

My crews are on a 6 day a week schedule right now. We have taken over the shop stock room for all of the construction. People who find there way back there are able to see how much time and skill it takes to put it all together. Then there is the installation phase, which we always hope is as quick and efficient as possible. The pictures of the finished work do not always do a good job of describing the details, both visual and physical. When it comes time to do this project next year, I will mark up the picture with the new design.

To follow are are some photographs of previous work under a digital magnifying glass. To any gardener who reads my journal, I suspect that the looks close up are the most descriptive view of the work. If you click on any of these pictures, you will get yet a closer look. Not all of them are in sharp focus-that is why I call them pictures and not photographs.

eucalyptus drifting down into the greens

a wreath on a second story window is artificial-“store bought”. We added 2 pine cone garlands in neutral colors on the edges, and spiced up the top.

winter berry

a layered look

grapevine deer with a holiday collar

white grassy picks

lighted

asymmetrical

glass drops in the rain

the natural shape and drape of the greens create an overall shape

detail

We get to see all the details up close, just like this.

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.

Last But Not Least

winter-lighting.jpgWe did finish the majority of our winter and holiday work 2 days before Christmas. That meant we had a little time to lend a hand to Rob.  Like anyone in a holiday design related business, putting together a holiday home comes last. It was looking like he might run out of time. That would not do; he is someone who gives his utmost to gardening people getting ready for the holidays and winter season. My group was happy to take it on.  A multi colored light garland he had looped over the door was brought back to the shop to be attached to a grapevine garland.  Harvested and rolled grapevine is springy and airy, and holds its shape in the fiercest of winter weather. We added several more all white light garlands, and ran the entire affair up the shag bark hickory in the front yard.

winter-lighting.jpgIf you think it looks as if we ran it way up this tree, you are right. Above the second story. A huge capacity, state of the art extension ladder and four people made it happen.  One climber, 2 people at the base of the ladder, and one runner on the ground walking in circles.  The light garland does a good job keeping the house company.  There is also something about the sheer effort of it that was cheery and grand. With holiday decor, I care about the effort someone has made as much as the result.   I knew Rob would think it looked swell. It is asymmetrical, surprisingly light and airy, and unexpected-all good as far as he is concerned.

light-garlands.jpgAll the different colors, shapes, and sizes of bulbs made quite the light statement. The front of the house-glowing.

light-rings.jpgHis light rings are well known to anyone who frequents Detroit Garden Works.  We took a 3′ and a 5′ ring, and added a string of multicolored garland lights to the interior steel wall of the hoop.  This form may be very very familiar to him, but this treatment is a one of a kind.

light-rings.jpgWhat’s to like about them?  The lighted sculpture is striking.  They are simple to install. Pick a spot, push the prongs into the ground, and plug it in. We have plenty of clients who run them all winter.  Why not?  This picture was taken at 5:15 in the afternoon-which at this time of year is better described as 5:15 in the evening.

poplar-branches.jpg2 pots had the remains of a summer planting in them.  That couldn’t stand. Mixed greens and an a bunch of fresh cut poplar branches makes the pots look appropriately dressed for winter.

HW 2014Another client made a last minute decision to order up a few winter pots. Might he have a little color? A mass of yellow twig dogwood appears all the more substantial by varying the heights of the twigs. The color of the plum eucalyptus is brilliant and saturated against that yellow.

winter-container.jpgWe have had a very fortunate late fall and early winter, as in moderate temperatures, and no snow. Once the snow comes, it is difficult to work outdoors.  Even if your effort is late, it will last a winter’s worth.

At A Glance: Recent Winter Containers

SC winter 2014  2A lot of work has been done this past week.  Seeing this group of pictures, I am pleased that each one has a presence all its own. In showing the draft of this post to Rob, he asked me to click on the first picture, which opens that picture in a larger format, with the added option of viewing the pictures as a slide show. I had no idea-did you?

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ML winter 2014  9

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JB winter 2014  9

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ML 2014 winter 2

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LTP winter 2014  3

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EG winter 2014  2