Archives for 2011

A Christmas Eve Celebration

You may recall a post I wrote just before Christmas entitled “Gifts That Gardeners Give”.  I pictured a wreath I had made as a gift for two very good friends.  They live on and love a big wild piece of property in what I call “the country”.  They were very enthusiastic about the gift-enough so to suggest they would make it an integral part of their traditional Christmas Eve dinner celebration.  Of course I asked for pictures.  I got more than that.  I got the story of the evening in pictures.   

The mercury glass candlesticks I had seen before.  Their 19th century stone house features generously deep window sills that are perfect for collections.  The simple wood bird sculptures I had not seen.  How elegant they are, each holding a sprig of holiday greens in their beaks.    

The candlesticks and birds dressed for the occasion ran the length of the holiday table.  I like that height that captures one’s attention and sets the mood upon entering the room.

They would do little to obstruct the seated views across the table.  I was delighted to see that the wreath was most definitely part of their holiday celebration. 

The table setting was exquisite. The silver and linens, quite formal.  The arrangement of all of the elements, rhythmic in a purely personal way.

Arranged around the bases of the birds and candlesticks, an assortment of fruits, ornaments, and bits from the garden. The nest in the wreath was handmade by some unknown bird with various grasses, twigs, and other natural detritus. I added a lining of milkweed seeds still attached to their fluff.  The surface of the table was similarly decorated with an assortment of like-spirited objects of their own choosing. 

I think their table was breathtaking.  The rickrack over the mercury glass calls to mind the string that could easily be part of a bird’s nest.  Fruits, nuts, and ornaments in various colors and shapes are the unexpected underplanting to the silver, white and glass dinner service.

The photographs are as beautifully composed as the table. 






Many thanks to my friends for permitting me to share the photographs of their Christmas Eve dinner table.  It is gorgeous, is it not?

Holiday At Home

The Christmas holiday at our house is a low key affair-we like it that way. I worked Christmas Eve in the shop until 3 with Jenny.  I wrapped a few last packages in the laundry room. I was more or less ready for our celebration by 7.  A very leisurely evening was capped by homemade soup and bread. 

The sheer excitement of spending an entire evening in the living room with us proved to be exhausting for Howard.  He was out for the count about 8:30.  I like a quiet Christmas.  Gifts of books meant that Christmas Day could be spent reading-divine. 

I actually did no reading Christmas Day.  I spent the late morning with MCat at the shop-he deserves his Christmas too.  While he was enjoying his treats, I had coffee with half and half (a holiday luxury) and played ball with the corgis.  Buck brought left over soup for lunch.  Early in the afternoon, I knew I needed to go home, and finish decorating the Christmas tree.  Finish the tree?  The brown needled white flocked artificial tree constructed in the style of a Victorian feather tree enchanted me when I first saw them-I bought 4 of them for the shop in January of 2011.

Well, 3 for the shop, and one for me.  I had never had an artificial tree, but were I ever to have one, this would be it.  I thought it was great looking. It made no pretense of being a real tree. The short stiff needles were an olive brown; the white flocking was similarly unnatural.  The branches were sparse, making it ideal for decorating.  I took it home December 15, where it sat unattended; I had not one clue in the world about how to decorate it.  The days were flying by, with no scheme in mind.       

I finally went shopping for Christmas ornaments.  Not one thing in my shop was right for my version of that tree.  I am very keen for everything in my own shop, but this was my Christmas.  Luckily, English Gardens, on M-59 and Garfield Road, still had lots of holiday ornament-and some of the right sort.  I think I took 5 carts worth to the check out.     

Their giant glass ornaments in copper, chocolate and green were a perfect start for this tree.  I like the glow provided by matte glass ornaments.  This feather tree has lots of empty spaces that asks for a big gesture.  In a pinch, these would do. Next I studded the tree with lots of large dark pine cones.  The stiff branches captured them in whatever position I wanted.  Small glass ornaments in antique gold and cream from the shop described almost every branch. A few mercury glass acorns provided a little more ornate interest.  To finish, 180 feet of platinum bead garland.    

I learned the following things about decorating an artificial Christmas tree.  Once it comes out of the box, every single branch needs to be striaghtened out, and positioned properly.  Fluffing that tree before you take ornament one out of the box will make the decorating part vastly easier.  An artificial tree is perfectly symmetrical.  Arrange every branch such that each tier radiates in a perfect circle.  Not interested in this level of artifice?  No doubt there is nothing quite like the beauty of a natural tree.  But as I subscribe to the idea that just about anything can be done in a gorgeous way, I was interested in the challenge.  The beaded garland hung in almost symmetrical sweeps and swoops was the crowning glory of this tree.  I say almost, as I did not spend the time fluffing and arranging every branch that I needed to.  Once I had ornaments on this tree, it was too late to rearrange.  Next year I will be better prepared for what this tree can do best. 

The second chaallenge from this tree-the lights.  It had vastly more lights than I would string on a real tree.  That light was so strong that the view of the ornament almost disappeared.  But I did love how it illuminated this room with its dark chocolate walls.  All in all, my rookie tree looked just fine.  It was kept company by other treasured ornaments.  

 The companion artificial garland to the tree I draped over the mantel.  I accented it with clusters of bronze bells my family sent me for Christmas. 

A beloved charcoal by Joseph Piccolo is specially lit with warm holiday light. 

My dining room is not much decorated for the holidays beyond a topiary I made in an antique French pot.  Flanking the topiary, a pair of Italian paper mache goats.  Most certainly these were used in scenes of the nativity.  That said, the topiary and goats reside on this sideboard all year long. 

Tine, my sister-in-law, sent me an ornament of the Eiffel Tower last Christmas.  This year, a second  Eiffel Tower, and a tiny star ornament arrived just in time for Christmas.  This is my family tree – a Christmas tree not so much about how it looks, but much about what it means.     


White Christmas

  Ten years ago the stars aligned such that I was alone for Christmas.  My only family, a brother and sister-in-law, had plans to go to the Caribbean for Christmas.  I could hardly blame them-they live in Colorado.  JoJo and BabyHead, my cats, both lived at the shop; we decided to spend the day together.  Miraculously, it snowed more than 6 inches Christmas Eve.  The outside of the shop was incredibly beautiful early that morning.  We three had some Christmas breakfast treats, after which I carefully assessed what I wanted to photograph before I spoiled any of that snow with my footprints.  Needless to say, neither cat had any interest in accompaning me.  After lunch, the day was bright and overcast.  I took another round of pictures. It was a fine Christmas day-utterly quiet, and beautiful.  Snow is unlikely for this Christmas.  Temps in the 40’s, and rain is not exactly conducive to a white Christmas, but we did provide some winter white for a few of our clients that cannot do without it. The white faux berries and eucalyptus in this window box is the closest we could get to winter white, barring some help from the weather.

Whitewashed eucalyptus is that pale blue color that reminds me of snow.  The birch twigs have been sprayed with a metallic platinum paint.  By winter’s end, they will be a pale grey.  The colors are soft, but wintry.  I would imagine this pot will look all the better with some fresh snow.  While white in the garden is a standout, winter white usually covers every surface.

This box is flanked by hydrangeas, the winter remains of which are the tawny flower heads. Consequently, lots of greens and lights went into the box. The branches in this box are faux stems; their bright white color reads very well in front of the dark window glass. 

I made this pair of wreaths for a client who specifically asked for a green and white holiday scheme.  Any combination of colors can look great for the holidays.  Orange, yellow and red fruit in a wreath looks perfectly holiday-like.  Red and green can be tricky, as it is the traditional combination of choice.  However, dark red and chartreuse is a festive and fresh take on a usual scheme.  The chartreuse here-dyed and preserved reindeer moss bits.  Some opaque white glass ornaments, a flocked faux pick, and a pair of faux snowballs is a strong contrast to the magnolia.

These faux white branches are encircled with a number of sparkly white faux picks.  White on nearly white, in several layers, makes a stronger statement  from a distance.  Next week I will try to photograph everything we have done this season at night.  I am sure the sparkle on these picks will glow after dark.   

These pots have centerpieces that are a mix of white birch and platinum branches.  The magnolia garlands over the carriage lights have some of the same twigs, some faux berries, and some glass ornaments.  The materials are mostly natural, and accented with white. 

When the snow finally appears, these pots will celebrate the season in a muted way. 

A pair of grey knitted birds have a grey and white perch on the wreath.

These stout white birch branches extend up into a skylight that runs between the porch roof, and the front door. This spot will never see snow, as the covered porch is probably 18 feet deep.  This does mean that the cut boxwood that is stuffed into these pots will stay green a very long time.  The winter sun can be hard on cut greens.  

This mix of white birch branches and white manzanita branches makes a strongly wintry statement above the ground plane. 

 This client is not so fond of cut evergreens, but she does like the whitewashed eucalyptus.  Natural curly willow encircles the bleached sticks, and softens the lookof those stiff sticks considerably. 

The white and pale blue is especially effective with the stained cedar shake siding.

 There are great wintry white plants available.  This variegated clubmoss-selaginella krausianna variegatus-is great in shady pots over the summer.  It is especially obliging as an interior plant with some diffuse light.

How I envied my Texas friend RK for the pots of cyclamen on his front steps!  But they adapt well to my house over the holidays.  They will bloom a long time over the winter, if they are happy. 

My favorite white of this season-a pot of Helleborus Niger. I did buy some, and will try to keep them going until spring.  What a bonus that the flowers fade to green. Some years a white Christmas just takes a little ingenuity.

Full Circle

Yes, this is the third time that I am writing about the light rings.  I think I have good reason.  Any design idea begins in a seed-like form.  There are no specifics or details-just the idea.  That idea has to grow, develop, and mature.  Any design idea that that annoys me by the third pass, I try to let go.  The annoyance means the idea was not big enough to begin with.  After writing yesterday’s essay, I thought I might want to take my own advice.  Was there a place that those light rings might add to the shop lighting in a substantial way?  

It was not that tough to figure out.  The idea had been looking me in the face for weeks.  The rings in the window help to fully illuminate the asparagus stems.  They light the underside of the medallions above the window.     

The circular form frames the asparagus, and is a distinctly contrasting form.  Does all of this go through my head?  It does.  Understanding your own visual process is important to creating a clear and strong expression.  It may take longer than one or two or five passes.  I like to take the time, even when I have no time, to let a design project speak back to me.  What you imagined has to all be there in plain view.  If it isn’t, the project isn’t finished.   

Though I may have an idea which organizes a project, I rarely am able to design start to finish in one fell swoop.  My clients are by and large patient people.  If they are not, it is just part of my job to explain how patience can make a satisfactory project supremely satisfying.   

I did not mention the greens around the lights, which I added halfway through the project.  They are cozy looking, and they repeat the green in the boxes in another place, and on another level.  The greens mediate between the lights, and the sticks.  They frame the door in a friendly way. They have a circular, wreath-like shape.

The shop holiday decor now has a level of finish that keeps on pleasing my eye.  This is my view, many times over in the course of a day, or a week.  This makes the resolution of that view important to me. Those light rings, as simple as they are, add a lot to the view.  The steel topiary forms in the pots to which the willow is attached, and the steel topiary forms in the windows add as much to this winter garden as any other element.  I wonder how I might apply the same idea to a summer garden here. 

The structure of the light rings echo the wreath over the door, and the circles of greens around the lights. circular forms.  The lights have pompom tops-I have never really noticed that before.  The emergency light inside of the wreath-I notice that all the time.  Maybe it is time to paint the housing the same color as the wall.

The light rings in the window have greatly improved the view from inside-this I did not anticipate.  The windowsill behind my desk has a totally different look now.  It is a look, with structure.

What began with the willow over the topiary forms has now come full circle.