Making It Personal

custom (1) This January, I am spending some time making wreaths. I did not have the time for it in November or December, but late is better than next year. I enjoy all manner of making, whether it be a garden, a garland, a flower arrangement, a container planting,  a drawing of a landscape design, or the building a moss topiary sculpture. There is a lot of personal satisfaction in what I can make with my hands. Two hands driven by what I call reverie are hands at work-this I like.  A call for all hands on deck is routine for me, in the spring, summer, fall, and early winter. During the gardening season I need help. Hands on can be an adjective, but for me it is a way of professional life. Making wreaths in January does not involve gear, dirt, shovels, weather or others. I can be on my own. I can make them wearing my slippers. I can walk away when I want, and resume when I feel like it. I asked Sunne when the shop was due to close January 9 if she would please leave all of the grapevine, magnolia, and honeysuckle wreath forms, and all of our natural materials on the ground floor. All of what we had left from the fall and winter season is packed away on the tool room roof, but I have 25 square feet of materials not far from my layout table. I am delighted with this arrangement.

custom (2)A wreath requires an armature.  I do not make these grapevine wreaths, I buy them.  Though they are handmade, they are remarkably similar, one wreath to the next. There are those places where this plain hand made grapevine wreath would be perfectly stunning. But they could be just as beautiful as the beginning of something else.  Tinkering involves a span of time, and a pair of hands in concert with a point of view.

custom (3)Why be personal? I doubt I truly need to address this in any detail. Any personal expression is genuine. Any genuine expression is to be at least respected, if not admired.

DSC_3871I have always strongly subscribed to the notion that one can find interesting and noteworthy examples of personal expression anywhere and everywhere. But that aside, the best part of making something is the making.  It is absorbing and satisfying. That someone else might like or appreciate it is not the cake part of this. That would be the icing part. Cake with no icing tastes just as good as cake with icing.

January is the perfect time to make something that takes a long time to fuss over. As a gardener, it always seems like the winter stretches out in front of with, with no end in sight.  It’s good to have a project that benefits from having a lot of time for the making.
wreath making (2)A landscape design that looks rushed on paper will look even more rushed once it is implemented. A request for design during the garden season doesn’t always come with the luxury of a lot of time. A shorter amount of time means a need for a greater amount amount of focus and discipline. January offers the opportunity to be less focused on the end result, and more focused on the pleasure of the process. I welcome the reverie time.

wreath making (3)whitewashed acorn caps

wreatha layer of preserved gypsophila

wreath making (5)I am not sure if either of these are finished, as I don’t have to be sure. I have them hanging where I can continue to look at them. Maybe something else will occur to me.

wreath making (1)This is the wreath I am working on now. A few days ago, I removed the pair of split pinecones in the top center.  That took a fair amount of time, and they were both wired and glued in. But I had the time. It occurred to me that the cut surface of the pine cones would be more interesting than the intact surface. So I took that time.

wreath making (6)putting up the split sides

wreath making (7)My winter holiday comes after the holiday.


A Collection Of Cones

bleached pine coneThese bleached pine cones that so enchanted me this season sparked an interest in the cone world. Although pine cones are as familiar to me as the back of my hand, I realized that I did not know so much about them.  These woody structures house the reproductive mechanism of a conifer. The female pine cones are large, and produce seeds.  The male cones are small, produce lots of pollen, and eventually disappear once the pollen is dispersed. Of great interest to me is the fact that the identification of many pines revolves around the particulars of the cones they produce. The conifers existed on earth long before any flowering plant.  These cones are considered the precursors of flowers.  No wonder gardeners prize them.

cedar conesThese cedar pine cones may have lived on a cedar through more than one season.  It takes time for a cone to mature, and drop its seed.  Once the cone has done has produced and dropped its seed, its biological directive has been fulfilled.  The cones then drop to the ground. I spent some time today looking at these cones. I had never really taken the time to study on them them before. How incredibly beautiful they are.

acorn conesThe oak acorn caps are not truly cones, but they share the woody and highly textured appearance of a pine cone. It was easy to like these acorn caps. Once the pine cones mature and drop, they are very persistent. A coulter pine produces the largest pine cones in the world.  I have one that is over 20 years old.  It has not deteriorated in the least bit. It is as heavy as a rock, and as architectural as the most beautiful building in the world.

December22, 2015 033How pine cones came to be associated with the holiday and the garden season’s end, I have no idea.  But they have adorned many a wreath and garland. A bowl full of these ponderosa pine cones would be simply beautiful.  We are able to purchase pine cones which have picks attached.  This makes them easy to use in decorations. We also attach them via wire that is wrapped around the scales.  Pine cones with tight scales-such as these cones-may need to be drilled.  Having done this, I am amazed at how hard and dense their wood it. Plan for some drilling time.

pinus nigra conesThese cones are produced by pinus nigra.  From the front, the scales are a rich cinnamon brown.  From the side or back, the cones are black.

dried pine cone baseThese dried “flowers” were made from the base of a pine cone.

split pinus maritima pine conesThese half pine cones come from pinus maritima. Pine cones split in half are great for places where a full cone would be too wide. This picture of the split side illustrates the density and strength of the cone.

gray washed pine conesWe carry many species of pine cones for the winter season. Some are native to our zone.  Others come from places far away, and have that exotic look. These pine cones have had a gray wash applied to them. They can take paint as well as any piece of wood furniture.

December22, 2015 035 Sugar pine cones rank among the longest cones in the world.  They regularly grow to 24″ long. Thy are sold by their length.  The long cones are especially prized. The scales are tight, when they are fresh harvested.  With age, those scales expand and flair out. A pine cone is a very familiar object indeed. But it is an enduring object whose appeal never fades.

December22, 2015 025flocked cones

pinus sylvestris conesa bowl of cones from pinus sylvestris

unknown pine conea cone whose species is unknown to me

December22, 2015 032These natural cones have been attached to an artificial garland, and sprayed with sparkle. I feel sure that they will endure as long as the garland. As in just about forever. Just about forever-that surely describes every gardeners relationship with the natural world.

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.



February 9, 2014 (1)

Freezing is a state (presumably,  a transitory state) to which I am reluctantly becoming accustomed.  Freezing temperatures are the order of the day.   Freezing-what is that, exactly?  Water which is subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees transforms from a liquid state to a solid.  We commonly call frozen water ice.  We have ice just about everywhere.  Icy is an adjective that describes relationships gone bad, cold color schemes, the mini stalactites hanging from my gutters, the surface of my driveway, my windshield, and just about every street surface between me and work.  Icy means I need to dress in multiple layers-this takes a lot of time, and doesn’t always work so well. Well  below zero ice means I need to cover my face, lest my eyelashes freeze.   As I am a gardener, and not a scientist, I would define freezing as that state when the world more or less comes to an end.

ice.jpgThis section of the roof is always in shade, and the gutter stops up with little or no provocation.  Snow fills the gutter, and when subjected to extreme cold, we have ice filled gutters.  Once it overflows, icicles form.  Understanding the process makes it no less aggravating.  The lower part of the roof is laced with heat tape-no matter.  The snow has been heavy, the freezing has been severe, and long standing.

ice.jpgPlants have a mechanism for dealing with freezing that is much more efficient than mine.  Spring flowering hardy bulbs, for example, cannot be frozen through and through.  The usual cause for the failure of potted spring bulbs is a complete freeze.  The soil temperature is always higher than the air temperature.  Soil which is insulated with a thick layer of snow is less likely to freeze deep.

February 9, 2014 (11)Cold winter temperatures trigger a biochemical response in the bulb, which converts the starch in the bulb to glucose (sugar).  That glucose lowers the temperature at which the cells of the bulb will freeze.  Salting a walk does just about the same thing.  Salty water requires temperatures below freezing to freeze.  The ice on my street is a result of air temperatures that have been so low that even the salty water and snow freezes solid.

February 9, 2014 (13)Even small bulbs that are only planted a few inches below the soil surface are rarely bothered by extremely low temperatures.  When they are completely frozen and rot, there is usually a lack of snow cover.  The frost can penetrate the soil in Michigan as deep as 4 feet, but in a year with lots of snow, the frost is not near that deep.  Down below the frost line, the soil is a uniform 55 degrees, year round.

icicles.jpgThe technology exists to harness the ambient heat in the ground to heat cold buildings in the winter, and and cool hot buildings in the summer. Such a system transfers heat and cold, rather than producing it. 50 degree air on a below zero day is a lot of heat.  50 degree air on a 95 degree day is a lot of cooling.  The upfront cost of such a system is considerable.  I am sure someday that the technology will be simpler, and less expensive to install.

February-snow-in-Michigan.jpgIn the meantime, a 6 foot tall person walking down my sidewalk today would be completely hidden from view.  This frozen snow will need warmer air temperatures to melt.  A good bit of it will sublime, meaning it will pass from a solid to a gas without that intermediary melting stage.

old-and-new-snow.jpgThe snow plow did heave a lot of dirty frozen snow up over the curb. At least last night’s new snow freshened up the look.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgI am sure all of the tulips are safe and sound underneath our mountains of frozen snow.  It’s February, through and through.