Archives for December 2013

Sunday Opinion: The Leftovers

Thanksgiving dinner at our house always means lots of leftovers.  Buck’s style of cooking has its roots in his Texan background.  When he cooks, he cooks for the many.  That is his idea of hospitality-more than plenty to eat.  Though our dinner was limited to the two of us, he cooked a huge pan chock full of short ribs, a pot brimming with brussel sprouts, and an endless store of mashed potatoes and stuffing.  To accompany said potaoes and stuffing – gallons of gravy.  The cranberry relish would have been enough for 8, with several servings in reserve.  No matter all of this leftover food.  He had leftovers for breakfast and lunch on Friday.  Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast the day after?  He chowed down.  He persuaded me that the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers would provide a perfect day after dinner.  This holiday dinner fueled the both of us through Saturday.

I went along, although leftovers are not my favorite.  I rarely am faced with the second round of a dinner idea-he sees to that.  Buck would never dream of oatmeal or eggs or cereal for breakfast, though this menu would be my first choice.  Whatever we had left over from the previous night’s dinner is his breakfast of choice. I would not be interested in last night’s pork chop with a side of last night’s field peas first thing the following morning.  But I am interested that he eats our leftovers with gusto.  This means I don’t have to.  We have an arrangement regarding leftovers that works.  By this I mean, we do not throw food away.

Though I am not a big fan of leftover food, I have a tough time throwing away any leftover materials.  This may mean half bunches of eucalyptus, a few stems of curly willow, a glass garland with a broken bulb, a cracked pot, a feathered bird with a broken clip, a cattail wreath with a stain, an acorn stem that is missing some acorns.   I have an astonishing collection of those materials though perfect, have gone unloved.  Why do I keep them?  I like the challenge.

Years ago, I did weekly flower arrangements for a client.  She has a company which purchased cut flowers for events.  I would arrive on her doorstep every week, with boxes full of flowers waiting for me.  She did not choose them, nor did I.  But my job was to take those stems not of my choosing or hers, and make something of them that she would like.  There would be no rhyme or reason to the contents of the box.  Perhaps her supplier packaged up the weekly leftovers, and sent them along.  Perhaps whomever packed the boxes was not so focused on enabling an end result.  Did I call the office with a long list of complaints?  Absolutely not.  I loved the challenge of making much of a group of flowers that seemed to have no relationship whatsoever sing together.  Week after week, I did flower arrangements from the flowers sent to me.

My winter pots at home will be constructed from the leftovers at the shop.  Do I feel slighted?  Not in the least.  Any leftover material can be arranged in a beautiful way.  Creating something beautiful is not about the materials.  It is always about the imagination, the thought,  and the effort.  Those leftovers, the perennial stems still standing, the branches from the field down the street, the damaged picks, the browned hydrangea blooms, the leftover string, the broken bits from last year, the materials from the field next door, the fresh cuttings from the garden-materials you can use.  The most beautiful materials on the planet does not demand so much from you.  The leftovers ask for the best you have to give to them, and to yourself.

I like the idea that the leftovers available to me might spark my best work ever.  There is so much to be thankful for – including that client who was confident that I could make something of anything.

Making A Holiday Wreath

wreaths-2013.jpgWreath making is one of the great pleasures of the holiday season.  Relative to other holiday decor projects, a wreath is small.  A 30″ wreath will amply fill the space on a front door.  A 30 ” diameter evergreen wreath can be decorated with all kinds of materials.  A collection of pine cones or wood bits can be displayed on a wreath.  Greens from the garden can be added to a purchased wreath.  A wreath is a very personal expression, and anything from the garden that adds to that personality will make the end result all the more interesting.  Green and beefy is a great base from which to start.

wreath.jpgWhat happens next is up to you.  White pine cones from the yard, a particularly interesting branch, a dried stem or leaf, a leftover hank of jute twine-you get the idea.  Though the garden is in a dormant stage right now, there are so many beautiful bits waiting to be collected.  In my yard, I have hellebore leaves, rose hips, dried fern fronds, boxwood, dry magnolia leaves, dry hydrangeas, arborvitae, rhododendron leaves, dogwood twigs, wisps of grass-you get the idea.  In my garage at work I have boxes of other bits-stray pine cones, leftover stems of eucalyptus, random strands of string, leftover moss, wood plant stakes, sticks, and kraft packing materials.  None of them are so swell on their own, but in concert with other like materials, something beautiful may emerge.

wreath.jpgI will admit that I am a fan of birds in wreaths.  Corn husk birds.  Feathered birds.  felted birds.  Stick birds.   What I like so much about them are their eyes-their expressions. Those birds looking back at me from their perch in the wreath is to me a symbol of gardening.  Making eye contact with nature is what gardeners do.  This wreath-chopped up birch branches, canola berries, bark wire, pine cones-and the birds.

wreath.jpgI have a client for whom I make close to 20 wreaths-she sends them to friends and family for Christmas.  I like the assignment.  It gets me in the wreath making mood.  Meaning that I set up my work space, I cover it with all sorts of materials.  I also am sure I have wire, and florist’s picks.  Materials that are too heavy to glue directly to a wreath need an attachment vehicle-a pick.  I like some materials to float off of the wreath surface.  I pick these materials too.  Fresh twigs I wire up in bunches, and wire yet again to the wreath frame
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wreath.jpgWreaths that I make for clients has every element wired in or glued.  I use a professional grade glue gun with a type of glue that never lets loose.  Be so careful with a glue gun.  That melted glue can produce really nasty burns-I speak from experience.  I keep a glass of cold water on my worktable.  The moment I feel heat, I quench.   At home, I stuff my materials in.  Should they fall out in a storm, I can make repairs. The wreaths that go out tomorrow to California, Vermont, Maryland and Florida have been glued up, and will be zip tied into the floor of their boxes.

wreath.jpgA wreath holiday wreath is the size of a dollhouse.  Make sure the scale of your materials look comfortable with the scale of your wreath.  I buy handmade wreaths from my local farmers market.  If you are in my area, Dan Prielipp is a regular exhibitor at the Oakland County Farmers Market.  His wreaths are fresh, and exuberant.  They are rarely perfectly round, but  any green holiday item can be tamed with your pruners, should you feel the need.

wreath.jpgOnce I start this wreath project, I rely on Detroit Garden Works to provide me with special materials.  In January, Rob and I will shop for materials for the 2014 holiday season.  Those little bits that are perfect for wreaths will be on my list.

wreath.jpgThere are those gardeners that hang a wreath on their front door every season. I am not one of them.  I save all of my energy for the wreath I will hang at home for the holidays.  The winter.  Making that once a year wreath in December does me a world of good.  Welcoming my company at the front door with a remembrance of the garden is my idea of saying hello.

wreath.jpgThe wreath tutorial will have to wait until this project is finished and shipped.  But pictures can help to spark an idea or direction.

wreath.jpgLittle holiday projects can have enormous impact.  What you hang on your front door for the holidays should express your own special point of view about nature.  A wreath might provide a display venue for a year’s worth of collecting from the garden.  This wreath features a bracket fungus from a tree in my tree lawn.  Though the tree was dangerously rotted, and had to be cut down, I saved this.  Though I was shocked at the loss of the tree, I was pleased to place this remnant of the story in a wreath.

holiday-wreath.jpgIf you have never made a wreath from the bits and pieces from your garden, I would highly recommend it.  Making something beautiful of a collection of memories is satisfying indeed.

 

At A Glance: The Wreath Details

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It does not matter whether you are stitching a quilt, designing a garden, composing a song, painting a picture, or writing a book-the creative process is a very special state of mind.  I don’t know that I could describe it very well, except to say that the moment when all of ones every day cares and obligations drop away, and all that is left is a collection of thoughts, a vocabulary, some tools, and a willing hand is a precious moment indeed.

wreath-detail.jpgWreath making is a personal description of the natural world, on a small scale.  One can easily hang the work on the front door.  It could be complex and rich.  It could be simple and spare.  It could be Williamsburg like in feeling.  It could be funny, or operatic.  It could be anything.  Imagining the possibilities is work well worth the time it takes to imagine.

wreath-detail.jpgThis 18 wreath project is a project I treasure, as it gives me the time and the space to focus, express, interpret, try out,  fiddle and fuss.  It would never occur to me to judge the importance or lack thereof regarding a holiday wreath.  What is important is the making.  Making is very important to my life-just like it is to so many other people.  Making it to work on time, making a sculpture, making a solution, making dinner-people make things.  There is an art to a life, but there is also a craft.

wreath-detail.jpgWe are pretty busy right now.  The holiday pots, the holiday decorating, the lighting, the clients interested in our take on how to dress their front porch winter, or how they should set a holiday dinner party table. We are in the thick of it.  I rather like all the commotion.  But I also like those moments when the work is not really work.  Those moments spent crafting a story.  There is a story about the relationship of one material to another, the scale, the texture, the color-the line and direction.  The story I interpret for a client.  The season, the materials.

wreath-detail.jpgIf you are keen to design and make, you know exactly what this moment feels like.  These 18 wreaths will be shipped out tomorrow.  I hope that each and every person scheduled for a holiday wreath from my client will enjoy them. I know I thoroughly enjoyed making them.

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Shimmering

sinamay.jpgIt doesn’t take much to add a little holiday shimmer to a winter container arrangement. Anything that sparkles is very festive.  Sinamay is polyester fabric that can be found shot through with metallic threads.  It holds its naturally curvy shape no mater the weather.  Not great with swags and bows?  This material does the work for you.  I fold it over, and run a wire through the bottom near the crease edge.  Once I pull the wire as tight as it will go around the centerpiece, I get plenty of curls and curves.  That shimmer is great during the day, and especially effective at night in pots that have lighting.  A little glitz and glam has its time and place.  It takes but a second to remove it after New Years.  Should you decide to leave it on all winter, the metallic threads will dull down after exposure to winter weather.

silver-eucalyptus.jpgNew for me this year is eucalyptus with a metallic finish.  The centerpiece in this pot is 2 parts whitewash, and 1 part silver metallic. This is just enough shimmer to brighten the daytime look.  I am sure the look is quite sparkly at night, given the lights in the topiary form.

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The arrangements have a subtle glow, given the late day sun, and read well from a distance. The pots are placed at the end of a driveway, where they frame the natural landscape behind.

winter-container.jpgThe side door pot has the same combination, with the addition of some white flocked picks.  The dry natural stems have just a hint of silver flake on them.  The overal effect-shimmery.

winter-pots.jpgThese pots have plum eucalyptus mixed with copper.  The effect is subtle enough that I wouldn’t be afraid to leave them in the arrangement all winter.  Michigan winters are particularly dreary.  Anything that reflects what little light we have is a visual treat.  The snow and the cold are ok, but the gloom is just about intolerable.

copper-eucalyptus.jpgRed bud pussy willow has a naturally copper cast.  The copper metallic leaves by themselves are a little overwhelming, but in a mix, they shine

pair-of-holiday-pots.jpgThese winter pots have pale green glittery picks in between the pussy willow and the white berry picks.  They are the perfect note for a holiday party.

sparkle-picks.jpgThat glittery layer speaks to the holidays coming up.  Once the holidays pass, those picks can be removed.  The more somber winter arrangement will look great through March.  Spraying wiltpruf on fresh cut greens does improve their longevity.  Wiltpruf is a water and was emulsion which slows the rate of evaporation from the needles.  Cut evergreens that dry out look bad.  The most effective professional grade antidessicant is called VaporGard.  Growers at my local market spray their ornamental cabbages and kales with it after transplanting them out of the field.  It does indeed prevent wilting.

holiday-decorating.jpgThese light strings on metal poles Rob calls lightsicles.  Certain of the mini lights have plastic light covers over them in a random pattern.  They look great hung from the eaves of a house, or from a tree.  For the holidays, we loosely wrapped a sinamay ribbon around the poles, and pushed the glass lights through the mesh.  The ribbon reflects natural light in a very subtle way.  Light strings are very hard to use in a design, as the daytime look is so much about the wires.  Using lights with brown cords, or garland lights that have the bulbs placed close together can help.

lighted-bars-and-sinamay-ribbon.jpgThis little bit of sinamay ribbon allows the light to shine through at night, and covers the steel pole and wires during the day. The chartreuse ornaments are plastic-a perfect material for outdoors.

lighted-bars.jpgIt’s time for the sparkles.