Archives for November 2011

The Right Scale

Few things are harder than working at a proper scale.  Constructing anything at the right scale-whether it be a landscape, a garden, a swath of groundcover, or a holiday window box, getting the project scaled properly is directly related to the level of confidence one feels taking on the project.  What do I mean by this?  A lack of confidence in one’s idea dimished the result.  Confidence makes for properly scaled expressions. The size of a project needs to be properly proportioned to the size of a space.   

What appears to be a giant size under construction in the garage gets visually downsized once it goes outdoors.  They do not call it the great outdoors for nothing.  Even my tiny urban property is bigger than any space or room I have inside my house.  Add the sky to that property-outdoor spaces are big spaces.  Groups of 1 or 3 tulips in a perennial garden is a tentative gesture.  Planted in 9’s and 11’s, there may be a significant spring statement in the works. 

A client ordered up a winter display in her second story window boxes.  The iron boxes with their coir liners are enormous.  Quite properly proportioned, or scaled, to the building.  The boxes have liners that are but a tenth the size of the visible iron work.  This is not a good proportion.  I protested that I could not do make the winter displays large enough for the iron work, in 4 liners that were 8″ by 8″ by 6 inches deep.  She asked me to try.    

The four liners are not even visible here.  We stuffed the four liners it took to fill one box with dry floral foam.  Then we stuffed those liners with as much material as we could.

This picture shows the size of liner number 3, versus the overall size of the window box.  What appeared so massive indoors got a visual dressing down at the installation.  Inside these hayrack style window boxes-a plywood platform on which these small liners would sit. 

A fall planting of cabbages and pansies is barely visible from the ground.  Any display on the second floor, to be viewed from the ground, needs to be overscaled by 3 or 5 times.  Our winter display to the right is barely big enough.   

I was happy with the finished scale.  Not that it could not have been bigger.  This is my first try with these boxes.  They read from the ground, but they could read better.  Would that the greens could be thicker, and lower.  The platinum twigs-are they too subtle?  We installed these boxes this past Saturday-it was warm, and windless.  A miraculously benign late November day.   

The window boxes are a major architectural feature of this new house.  I like the shape and the size.  I was worried that I would underscale the winter display-as well I should have been.  It is clear I could up size that display considerably, and be in no danger of overstating.  It is hard to find just the right size and scale.  Just think what it takes to find jeans and boots that fit right, and look right. The same applies to selecting the tree whose mature size will be the right scale for the space.  Or the right number of Russian sage that will create visual excitement.  Underscaled-this might make you sleepy.  Somewhat overscaled-bold.  Way overscaled-silliness.  The right scale takes skill, nerve, and lots of patience.

The Woolly Birds

I have a client that sends a number of my holiday wreaths as gifts every year.  The wreaths themselves are handmade by a local nursery.  I decorate the lot of them.  Monica orders all of the boxes, JP drops off the cards, Jenny prints out all of the UPS labels; Pam and Salvadore wire the wreaths into the boxes (UPS states very clearly that a box has to withstand a drop of 3 feet)-after I make them.  Lots of people are involved in making this event happen.  My favorite moment?  The UPS man hauling away all of those boxes.  They are on their way.

This years group of wreaths revolve around 2 elements.  Pam made all of the bows out of red jute twine that came from England. The knitted birds-who could resist them?  Bows and birds-so simple.  Those black bead eyes make eye contact.  Making eye contact-elemental, and powerful.  Look me in the eye-anyone would respond to this!  My little knitted birds have an emotional impact that far outweighs their simple construction and small shape.   

The other elements may vary-I want every wreath to be different.  Handmade-and one of a kind.  I would have a hard time making 16 wreaths all the same-so I am happy that I have free reign, provided the wreaths emphasize natural materials and forms. 

The knitted birds with felt tails and feathers caught my eye last January-when I was shopping for the holidays. Rope covered spheres, eucalyptus, pine cones, dried white canola berries and reindeer moss-festive. Natural.  This brown knitted bird perched on a red jute bow-my idea of holiday cheer.


I have to confess, my berries are faux berries. My cherries are faux cherries.  The red color?  That red is very real, very bright, very holiday. 

These wreaths are not your machine made variety.  They are handmade-thanks Dan.  They are less than perfectly circular.  Some wreaths I had to prune; some sections I have to wire back, or add to.  But for a wreath predicated on a love for natural materials,  I like these wild and wooly green wreaths as a base for this group of wreaths.

This knitted bird has a companion on his jute bow perch.  A knitted mushroom.  I have no idea which person on the gift list will get this wreath-but I hope they are pleased.  I did only one wreath with this detail.   

Making these wreaths has gone on long enough to become a holiday tradition for me.  Many thanks for this, BL. 

Did I photograph every wreath?  Yes, I did.  I send the pictures of every wreath to my client.  She cares much for every person to whom she sends a wreath.  I care much that she feels that I have represented that feeling of hers appropriately.  There are lots of pictures.

All of them have a look that says happy holidays.

The best of the holidays is about personal expression. 


Fungus: A Fairy Tale

I am as tired and headachy as you are about trying to put together a holiday season inside and out, so I thought I might write about a different topic.  What about the garden?  I have a dead willow in the back of the property being colonized by bracket fungus.  Fungus?  Any gardener’s relationship with fungus is a potentially stressful one.  The black spot fungus on my roses is unwelcome, and uncalled for.  I feel bad for Buck, the day the fungus appears on the roses.  It makes me very grumpy.  Black tar fungus plagued all of my maples  all summer long.  I had leaves dropping all summer long. The mildew on the dahlias and verbena bonariensis is especially annoying.  Trouble to come from fungus is in the air, and in the soil-unseen. unanticipated. And definitely unwelcome. 

I am not particularly knowledgeable about fungal bodies, but the topic interests me.  This is my fairy tale version.  The kingdom known as Funghi is separate from the animal, the plant, and the bacterial kingdoms.  Scientists believe they are closer in genetic makeup to animals, than plants.  It is easy to not know much about them.  Their spores live and thrive on decaying matter, wood and bark.  They only make themselves known via their fruiting bodies. 


Mushrooms are among the most recognizable forms of funghi.  Mushrooms have beautiful and instantly recognizable shapes.  I see garden sculptures of them all the time-and am drawn to them.  We have felt and fabric mushroom garden ornaments in the shop now.  What is the allure of the mushroom?  They populate the forest floor-in those moist and mossy spots that have that primeval atmosphere.  They arise overnight under mysterious circumstances; one can take spore prints from the tops.  This picture of a pair of the deadly poisonous Amanita mushroom came from are beautiful.

  This photograph of a pair of giant mushrooms came from Wikipedia Commons.  They have a ghostly and ancient appearance.  Rubbery, yet fragile.  Their stalks glisten; for all the world, it looks like the undersides of the caps have gills that are breathing?  Could they be breathing?   They smell like dirt, and decaying organic matter.  Earthy.  Earthy-anything coming from or smelling like the earth-sign me up. This is my most favorite scent-the combination of shade, moisture, compost and soil, with a dash of the spa of an ancient forest-sublime. 

I eat mushrooms; I love their musty taste as much as I love a port that tastes like the inside of an old trunk, or a cheese of similar age. I am neither a hunter nor a forager of these funghi, but my parents were.  I have memories of visiting relatives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during Morel season.  I cleaned many a morel-for breakfast with eggs.  The morel lunches-I cannot remember what they were, exactly.  I was probably 10 years old.  The morel endowed dinners-my family lived for this yearly event.  This photograph is from was taken in Michigan.

 Why fungus?  Why now?  Thanksgiving Day I came to the shop to write a quote for a design I had done that was long overdue. I took plenty of breaks, outdoors,  with Howard and Milo.  We walked out to the willows, to see what was going on.  The second trip, I took my camera. 

I planted these willows 15 years ago; I bought them from Bordines nursery in late fall.  How they have grown.  Their bark is amazingly textural.  They grow so fast-everywhere I see what seems like growing pains in the pattern of the bark.

One of these willows blew over in a bad storm 2 years ago.  Though we uprighted the tree,  and cut the top back severely, it is close to dead.  What is living?  The bracket fungus that have taken up residence, and are thriving.  A colony of fungus.  Should I be happy, or should I be horrified? 

This is my take.  Nothing about nature is necessarily happy, or horrifying.  There is a process going on, given a  grand plan.  Peeling away a piece of bark on the dead willow reveals this “structure”; what is it?  Another piece of the process to learn about-that’s what it is. The funghi, they have their place.  I am part of that place-this feels fine.       


Special Thanks


family far away


more friends

furry friends

feline friend