Archives for December 2011

Happy Anniversary, Delphine

I read Paradis Express regularly.  Delphine Gitterman writes this blog-she truly loves anything and everything relating to the garden.  She doesn’t write so much.  She publishes lots of pictures.  We have become fast friends, via an internet that permitted us to talk, and get to know one another.  She lives some 40 miles north of Paris; I live in Michigan.  She is an art director; her partner Lucien is a garden designer.  

This past fall Rob shopped for Detroit Garden Works in France.  One night of that trip involved a dinner-Rob visited Delphine and Lucien.  Via skype, Delphine called me.  I got to be part of that dinner.  Via skype, she was exactly whom I thought she would be.  Energetic.  Committed.  Thoughtful, and passionate.  Compassionate.  She wore me out.  Thank God she has made time for me.  The images she assembles for her blog are always striking and provocative.

She has a passion and enthusiam for the garden few others could match.  Her interests are wide ranging.  How she circles the globe, and reports on gardens and artists amazes me.  Her blog is five years old. Her pictures sass me.  They energize my thinking.  They enchant me.  Do you read Paradis Express?  If not, you might take a look.

This photograph published on her anniversary post says everything about Delphine.  A tiny truck, hauling an enormous Christmas tree accurately describes her.  She would willingly move a mountain of ideas with a spoon. She is one single person beaming to all of us about the miracle that is nature.  Her take-decidedly unconventional. 

She has a voice that I greatly admire.  Happy anniversary, Delphine.

The Holiday Tree

The history of the Christmas tree is long, and well documented.  How amazing-people from very different backgrounds and points of view bring a tree indoors, for the holidays.  As a landscape designer, this process not only interest me-it enthralls me.   A decorated Christmas tree is one of the most iconic holiday expressions imaginable.  My late season landscaping makes the transition to the expressions of the holiday season without much fuss-I am still installing trees in December.  Farmers who grow Christmas trees, I admire them in the same way that I admire farmers who grow brussel sprouts, or tomatoes.  Do I see holiday decorating as a form of gardening-oh yes.    

These holiday trees dressed in glass ornaments and wired gold bows are simple clusters of branches fixed to a second floor railing.  They are a personal and individual interpretation of a Christmas tree.  This expression suits the taste of my client, and looks great in her house.  I have other clients with fairly modern tastes that still want a very traditional holiday tree.  Sometimes there are children and family involved in that decision.  But this is a matter of choice, not necessity.  All that alternative tree takes is an alternative point of view.   

Rob’s constructions of branches and lights recasts the tree as a burning bush.  It would look great inside or out.  With ornaments, or without.  Once a decision is made to take another direction, an idea can evolve.   

This past winter, I sunk a cut Christmas tree into the pot in my side garden.  8 strands of gold lights got wound around that tree.   This was my garden Christmas tree.  I so delighted in the light that drenched the south side of the house.  I will confess I lit this tree until the end of February.  If it haqdn’t been visible from the sidewalk, I probably would have kept it lit through March.     


I put up and decorate this tree for a client with small children every year.   This tree revolves around ornaments created and chosen by their children.  Other ornaments symbolize their family history.  Every year, the Christmas tree is laden with the evidence of their family history.  You would be surprised at how many adult children do not want there parents to change anything about the family tree.  Those kids are clearly kids who have good memories of their childhood holiday.  

Rob’s latest idea of a holiday tree-astonishing.   He arranged a number of poplar branches in a glass vase.  He went on to hang wood bird ornaments, and cream colored pompom garlands  on those branches.  Spare, architectural, and dramatic, it features the gnarled branches and elongated buds of the poplar.   

A Christmas tree taken to the minimum- this diminuitive steel wire interpretation of an evergreen holiday tree looks great, hung with pewter colored glass ornaments.       

I myself change up, and reinterpret the Christmas tree, every year.  I like to try new things at the holidays, as much as I like to plant my containers differently every year.  I stuffed tall cut magnolia branches into a foam form set in a concrete footed urn.  The classic Italian style of the pot looks good in my 1930’s vintage house.  Boxwood and lights at the bottom completed the look.        

This artificial tree is incredibly good looking to my eye.  It makes no pretense of copying the look of a live tree-this I like.  It is a sculptural interpretation of a tree.  The brown/olive color of the branches reminds me of a dead hemlock.  The branches are sparse, making it easy to hang lots of ornaments, or none at all.  It reminds me of the Victorian feather trees so popular in the late 19th century. 

These metal Christmas trees are tall, and have but a few branches.  They look great with just a few ornaments.  The size makes it possible to have a tree in a small space.  The shelf where these trees sit is but 12 inches wide.  The flexible metal branches make it possible to have all of the bulk of the tree in the front, and none in the back.      



kThis client likes having a Christmas tree in his study.  The glass ornaments are simple, and jewel colored.  The dark olive green, burgundy, brown gold is an alternative color scheme. 

This little tree is comprised of small scale branches set in a vintage bucket.  Small berries were glued to the stems.  Short stems of eucalyptus were stuffed into the base.  A collection of red felt bells topped in holly is the only other decoration.  It doesn’t seem to need anything else.  Just to its left, a cardboard cone covered in dried lichens.  I like this tree too.

What will I do at home this year?  Last years holiday tree was in fact a holiday buck.  I put a sheet of plastic on the floor, and puddled 50 feet of evergreen roping around the Buck.  Several sizes of lights are kept company by a few lichen balls.  A collar of oversized sphere lights completed the look.  Deciding what to do this year-that is much more than half the fun of it.

Holiday Red

Everyone reacts strongly to color-I am no exception.  I am not crazy about red in the landscape.  I design with red foliaged trees and shrubs on rare occasions.  Something or someone has to nudge me in this direction.   I am a card carrying advocate of green.  All kinds, shades, and manner of green.  In summer container gardens, red can be ruthlessly overbearing.  Too bright and cheery.  But I will try anything-won’t you?  The year I featured red in my containers was a good year, but not my favorite.  Red in the spring-that color after a long winter is so welcome.  Red tulips underplanted with lavender pansies-scrumptious.  Red at the holidays is a blessing.  The skies, the ground, the trees- most everything in the landscape goes drab. Trees with persistent red winter fruit, and red-stemmed shrubs are prized by northern gardeners, for good reason. I decorated this Christmas tree some years ago; I still love this celebration arranged around red.  My clients had just moved in.  Moving boxes were everywhere.  This red ornamented tree, and its red sinamay tree skirt stood out-a reminder that the color red celebrates every warm gesture people make at the holidays.  Instantly this newly restored house felt much more like home.  

I have a client that orders up a pair of holiday wreaths.  One for her front door, and one for the library.  I concentrate on whatever natural materials are available to me.  Pine cones, anise balls, red preserved eucalyptus, reindeer moss, platys seed pods, dry tallowberries, fresh magnolia leaves pack this mixed green wreath with a variety of colors and textures.    

The red berry picks energize all of the other elements.  No real red berries exist in my garden  like these, but I have no problem with these shiny faux red berry picks.  It’s the red that represents the spirit of the holidays.       

I decorated this house for the holidays 6 years ago. I have published a few of my pictures from this project before; I still like it.  The red light covers look like glass ornaments during the day.  They glow red at night. The lit vertical stems are intertwined with a few very long red berry stems.  That red reads from a distance both day and night.  In early evening, the landscape is muted and somber.  This red in the wood boxes is a visual version of happy holidays, friends and family-welcome to this home. 



Holiday red can take a lot of forms.  Red ribbon, berry stems, preserved eucalyptus,  pomagranites, apples, red twig dogwood, glass ornaments-in this case, a red felt tree skirt with a felt pointsettia petal border.        

Red can be very dressy. 

Red can also be simple and striking. The client who gets this wreath has a collection of nutcrackers that sit on her porch for the holidays.  The colors of those figures are bright, and accented with lots of white.  In this case, the white ornaments and white based velvet ribbon help pop that red all the more. 

The cardinal on this wreath is the last of the 256 of them we had in the shop.  Gardening people appreciate the birds; cardinal red is the name of one of the cultivars of red twig dogwood whose branches we stock at the holidays.       


This wreath made of giant wood curls, and its wood rose have been dyed the most intense shade of red.  Though red may be a very traditional holiday color, it never fails to catch my eye.  Should your holiday decorating plans seem a little anemic, try a little red.  


Ruching The Sinamay

Ruching the sinamay-what does this mean?  An explanation is to follow.  I am convinced that there are those select and gifted people who can make beautiful bows, swags, and riffs, graceful gestures with fabric and ribbon, and then there is the rest of us who are all thumbs.  As I know I belong to the all thumbs group, I am interested in materials that make me look good.  Sinamay-do you know this material?  I did not either, until a few years ago.  Sinamay is a fabric made from the acaba tree.  It produces a wiry thread that makes for great woven hats that filter the sun, and great ribbon that has lots of natural body.  Natural sinamay is usually bleached and left that natural cream color,  or dyed a color.      

The faux sinamay I use is made from very springy polyester fibers.  I may be making this up.  Faux sinamay may be plastic fibers, that are woven.  I buy this by the roll, for the holiday and winter season. Holiday sinamay is an open weave fabric, some 18 inches wide, sometimes shot through with gold fibers. This material  is impervious to any winter weather.  The best gesture available from the sinamay-volume.  Lots of volume without a lot of effort. Even after a drenching rain, or an entire winter season, this material is as poufy as it is day you put it up.      

This client has an iron arch over her staircase to the front door.  We wired that arch with 2 strings of garland lights.  Once the lights were up, Pam would attach green sinamay over top.  We cut lengths from the roll that were 4 times longer than the length of each section of iron.  Pam attached the sinamay at each end, and then bunched the fabric and zip tied from the center to each end.   This is a laborious explanation of what is simply called ruching.  Ruching fabric is a method of evenly gathering a length of fabric to create ruffles.   

These stone pillars are robust and hefty.  The sinamay will provide a lot of volume to the arch, which is much more delicate in scale.  This will help to bring the arch into a scale better suited to the size of the pillars.  I could not sew a ruffle on a garment if my life depended on it, but I can bunch and zip tie.  We order the narrowest zip ties available, in a medium or long length.  This size passed through the open weave of the sinamay easily.  On a very cold day, even nimble fingers slow down and miss.  How this fabric presents reveals nary a miss.  Curly, energetic and sparkly-what could be better for the holidays?     


Ease of installation is really important for outdoor projects.  It was barely above freezing the day we installed this project.  The greens and willow stems in the pot were constucted in the garage.  It isn’t exactly a warm space, but it is warm enough to work without gloves.  After setting both the top and bottom in the pot securely, all that was left to do was to hide the light cords.



Holiday lighting comes with the most glaringly artificial green wires. It is not an issue at night, but during the day, I cannot stand looking at those wires.  Garland light strands are short-17 feet.  There is less in the way of cords to hide.  We tuck those wires back into the greens, and pull the light bulbs forward.  All you see here during the day are the greens.  The sinamay is both springy and soft in appearance.  At night, the lights will reflect off the gold threads.  This adds a little night time sparkle. This box has a holiday tutu-I like the entire idea that a solid and seriously square zinc box has a holiday outfit. 


 It was quite a few years ago that I designed and installed the landscape here.  The full drivecourt is actually 60 by 60 feet.  A holiday display in a space this large needs to have a lot of volume.  The willow tied over the topiary forms makes a substantial statement in the zinc boxes.  The sinamay is cloudlike, frothy. In the dark that is the winter, the iron arch would be all but invisible.  The sinamay makes a feature of it. 


 Ruching sinamay is very simple.  I fold the sinamay in half width wise, so my ruffles are about 9″ long.  They I pierce the fabric in and out-as in a running stitch- with 22 gauge paddle wire.  Paddle comes wound on a flat spool, and is very strong.  Though I may use florist’s wire that comes cut to length for attaching materials to a wreath, some projects call for a long run of wire.  Think of the paddle wire as a beefy thread.

The wire runs right along the fold in the fabric. For these pots, I probably used 10′ of the sinamay, and bunched it up on 2′ of wire.  If your in and out stitches are fairly uniform, your ruching will be uniform.  I do not measure the stitch length-I just do the best I can, by eye.   

These pots have a centerpiece of gold twigs.  The wire is would around the base of the twigs, pulled very tight, and twisted enough times to make sure the ruffle will not come loose.  Then we move around and arrange the ruffles so they look graceful.  It is very obligingly ruffly, even if your skills with fabric are not the best.  The key to a good result-use more than enough, and then some. 

Once the ruching was finished, we added some off white berry stems.  The topiary forms are wound round with lights; the centerpieces will shine at night.  Even from this distance, the ruched sinamay provides a soft and curvy transition between the vertical centerpiece, and the horizontally composed greens. That this very graceful material is so easy to use and so predictably good looking, makes it a staple material in my holiday decorating.