Archives for December 2010

At A Glance: Creature Comforts

Home For The Holidays

After one’s friends and family, is there anything better in this world than home for the holidays?  I have friends and clients that regularly travel over the holidays. Better them than me;  I so like being home.  In my twenties I lived in North Carolina-the thought of that trip home to Michigan for Christmas still raises the hair on the back of my neck.  One year, I decided to come home by way of Washington DC-the trip across country to the midwest-a nightmare.  Glare iced over freeways meant sliding down the hills in the close company of giant trucks-no one was driving. We were all sweating and concentrating on staying alive.  Thank heavens Buck and I host our own Christmas, right at home.

Should it sound boring to you that I like being home, consider this.  I am home a small percentage of the day.  I leave at dawn, or in the dark; I come home at dusk, or in the dark.  I lived in my house for four years before I met my neighbors.  The prospect of being home during the day over a holiday-delightful. Just this morning I finally finished getting it ready for our celebration.

One Christmas Eve some years ago Buck and I decided to open one package; one thing led to another.  We now celebrate our Christmas on Christmas Eve.  On the menu for this evening-mac and cheese.  Our holiday is just about the two of us-so no need for a fancy dinner.  Chardonnay, mac and cheese, the exchange of gifts.  I so look forward to this.  Christmas morning we talk little, eat coffee cake made by Steve’s daughter Violet; we relax. Christmas night, Buck’s son will come for dinner-he is travelling here today from Alabama.  Buck will be cooking a good part of the day-which is what he likes.  I will be reading a good part of the day-what a luxury.  He cooks; I set the table, and head the cleanup detail. This I call a peaceable holiday.

The prospect of a Christmas tree did not much interest me this year. My so fabulous collection of grapevine deer interested me plenty.  I took a standing grapevine buck home for the holidays. A buck in the living room-surprising.  My Buck was amused and pleased that a traditional Christmas tree that last year was a thicket of magnolia branches in an urn had been replaced by a sculpture with his name. 

Some left over mixed cedar roping went on the mantel; the rest I pooled on the floor.  It took all of 5 minutes to evenly top the roping with 3 strands of  white lights. Preserving the natural curl of the cord as it comes out of the box makes them less noticeable than straight wire.  The light covers, two few cattail balls and a snowball later, I have a spot for the buck to stand.  

A necklace of lights may not be the most glamorous accessory, but it helps light the Buck, and a dark corner of the room.

Once I switch on those chartreuse mini lights and snow lights, the space has a much more festive look.

Any holiday expression that brings the idea of peaceable kingdom to the surface gets my interest.  I like the bugs.  I like the birds.  I like the raccoons and possums with whom I share my garden.  The cat I saw this afternoon jumping down into the fountain-I said hello.  The corgis-don’t get me started on them. The Italian paper mache goats Rob bought-I plan to decorate for the holidays around them for  a long time. 

The dining room sideboard is a small version of the peaceable kingdom. I did not need to do much more for a great holiday than come home.

The Front Door: The Holiday Edition


I am sure you can tell that I have finished my winter and holiday work for clients.  I am able and back to writing regularly.  I took the better part of one day to photograph projects-a luxury day.  My crews do such beautiful work-every place I went, I was pleased with what I saw.  This season was particularly difficult for them.  Early temperatures in the single digits meant they were chiselling the top 5 inches of frozen dirt out of client’s containers, so we could install.  Spending the day outdoors hanging garland and sinking centerpieces when it is 8 degrees-not so much fun. 

I never heard one complaint from my crew.  I complain loud, clear, and often over troubles in my own garden. My personal issues-personal.  I have a different idea, on the job.  A professional comes and does the work well without angst or commentary, cleans up, and disappears. This is what I hope gets engraved on my headstone-no kidding.   I respect every one of the professionals I have close contact with in my field. Gillette Brothers Pools.  Albaugh Masonry.  GP Enterprises.  Frank Cervi Irrigation.  M and M Flowers-their pruning is superb.  Their maintenance is superlative.  Each and every one of them-professional in the true sense of the word. 

 How we approach the season professionally has evolved over the years.   We spend the majority of our construction time in the studio-this garage  space we heat to 60 degrees.  A warmer construction space means the work progresses efficiently.  Frozen fingers do not move so quickly. Work generated in the studio means next to no cleanup on site.  We breeze in, install, and move on.  I hope no client has any evidence that we were there-just a look that pays a generous nod to the changing of the season.

My  winter front doors are not the only the front doors in town.  I actually do a very small number of them.  I see beautifully decorated front doors everywhere I go.  Each one I may like better than the last.  And I may like them better than a professionally done door.  A sincere expression counts for so much-I promise you.      The community to which I belong makes for a very large and diverse landscape-Part of my holiday is enjoying what other people do.

This does not mean I do not thoroughly enjoy the work I do. The holidays encourage me to think about how lucky I am.  The chance to do what one really wants to do-not so ordinary.  Astonishing creativity counts for little, unless you have a client who has a mind to get hold of that, and run with it.  My clients make it possible for me to work at what I like to do.  

I know I have gone on and on about magnolia at the holidays in a zone that permits little in the way of magnolia reality-please humor me.  Those giant green southern magnolia leaves with their brown felted backs-a staple of my idea about a swell Michigan holiday.  Does this garland and wreath not look great? 

I have clients with mid century modern homes.  Given their committment to that moden aesthetic-do they not deserve a holiday look to go with? 

A restaurant front door expresses the holiday in a different way than a home.  The redtwig stems in contrast to the lavender eucalyptus-do I have your attention? The Avenue, in Royal Oak, is open Christmas Eve, and Christmas day.  Anyone needing a Christmas dinner has the option of dining there.  They have great food!  Check them out, when you have a chance. My idea of holiday decorations for them-energetic.   

I am fast and furiously decorating my house for the holidays. I have but one day left before Christmas Eve.  Buck and I celebrate the holiday, Christmas Eve.   My front door-I think it looks good.  I am on the inside now-working.  I am sure all of you are as busy as me.  Happy holidays; Deborah

Hello Yellow

It is no accident that school buses are yellow. Though a school bus is a very large object, that yellow color is what you notice first.  National School Bus Glossy Yellow paint was formulated, and adopted for every school bus on the road in the United States in 1939. The black lettering on a school bus read the best in the early morning pickup hours-against this particular color of yellow.  Yellow twig dogwood branches are just about that bright-set in a winter landscape.

My kitchen is painted a happily intense and rich yellow.  The yellow fall color on gingko trees-extraordinary.  Yellow twig dogwood-the summer plant is nothing to celebrate, but its bare yellow twigs are visually compelling.  A thick bunch of those stiffly vertical twigs say stop, and look at me.  My winters may be grey on grey, but I have a few alternatives.      

This client’s clapboard house is painted grey.  The yellow twig in her pots jump off that grey page. During the summer, I have plenty of yellow; those mostly sunny days happily enrich my garden with a warm yellow light.  The winter brings a blue bruised and very cold light. Michigan ranks right up there with big numbers of grey days in the course of a year. My readers in much colder climates-like Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colorado-how I admire how they deal with their cold winters.  But friends of mine out west say their winters are by and large sunny. This helps so much to make the cold more tolerable. Their yellow comes regularly from the sky. Ours need come from another source.     

This yellow twig centerpiece has help banishing the winter greys.  The white faux berries brighten and heighten that yellow. The yellow in the stone, the grey clapboard-the grey stone porch surface-the contrasting color combinations here engage the eye in a lively way.Yellow twigs do a great job of backing up a dark element in a pot. These fan willow stems read so much better, given their yellow backdrop.   

The cinnamon brown siding on this house-beautiful.  A pair of teak pots flanking the front door repeat that color. The bunches of yellow twig, the white frost eucalyptus, and the low greens are just plain pretty to look at. 

This sage-grey colored eucalyptus is a more unusual color combination, but I chose it as this container is but one of three.  Rowdy color combinations can be a bit too much if repeated in close proximity. 

This more subtle composition scheme finds its strength in the repetition.  These pots will look amazingly good yet in April, when I plant these pots for spring.  These pots would be empty, or in storage for 5 months, barring a winter “planting”.

There yellow twig stems are placed in the pot singly, rather that as a bunch.  Space was left in the center for a stout mossed stick that was covered in lights.  The warm C-7 light string brings that yellow to life after hours.  The moss treatment at the bottom is in simple contrast to all the fireworks going on up top.    

I like these lit yellow twig landscape lighting fixtures.  Handsome.