Archives for December 2015

Nearer To The Last

winter container arrangementsMy entire crew was in today, after a 4 day Christmas break.We had a few late request winter container projects to do. They dove into the work, like they always do. We were down to the very last bits of the hundreds of cases of greens we had delivered in November. The day they arrived, I could not imagine that we would use them all.  Today we took a Korean fir Christmas tree that Rob had placed in the shop, and chopped it up for branches, so we would have enough. This client would get some very special greens. These two centerpieces with pussy willow and blue gray eucalyptus were already installed in my pots at home. They came back to the shop, to be integrated into a new scheme. My driveway pots will need another treatment. I am not the least bit concerned about having to redo them. There are always other choices that work.

December 30, 2015 013This client has a contemporary version of Nantucket style home.  She has a considerable interest in contemporary expression.  For a client like this, we work with materials in a different way.  A more sculptural way. The twigs in the center are artificial, and look like they have ice on them.  If we ever get some winter weather, they will be believable.

December 30, 2015 015No matter the aesthetic point of view governing a winter container design and construction, generosity is an important element.  Our winters are incredibly long, gray, and spare.  All the trees in their leafless state is a study in spare.  This means I like lots of whatever elements I choose to include in a winter container.  I greatly admire the lean chilly look, but what I really like is a warm and toasty response to winter. We shopped the field at Branch for these branches-we bundled lots of them up with steel wire. 4 bunches of a yellow green eucalyptus complete the look. This client has a fairly contemporary mindset as well.

December 30, 2015 017Winter color is the subject of no end of articles about the winter landscape. That color does not need to be rooted in the ground.  Willow and dogwood twigs, in their cut state, will endow a landscape stuffed in to a pot with great color the entire winter. I do not have room to grow yellow twig dogwood or copper flame willow on my small property.  But their cut twigs can energize a landscape gone over to the dark side. The appearance of the color inside the garage under fluorescent lights is a little jarring. Outdoors, on a cloudy day, that color will tone down considerably.

IMG_7765How I decide to dress a client’s containers for the winter-I cannot really explain that process even to my own satisfaction. I favor a subtle expression on this porch, as the architecture is so strong. Some yellow undertones are good with the warm color of the cedar shakes, and the wood pots.

IMG_7766These wood boxes are greatly over scaled for this front door. This was not my choice, but I have come around to like them. I like how much they make me think, before I do. Were these pots placed in a more open location, I would do them much larger. The space on this porch is restricted. How to make the arrangements large enough without them looking overbearing or obstructive is always a challenge, no matter the season. On occasion my client protests that the winter pots cannot be seen from the road. I don’t mind how much they blend into their surroundings. To my eye, the star of this porch is that dark blue lacquered door.

IMG_7772A rear porch has a pair of very large white boxes just outside the doors. Some years I try to match all of that white. As they are viewed from the porch windows that are close by, dark colors read equally as well.

IMG_7771Proper proportion is a design element that drives all of my design.  These greens are very low and very wide. Appropriate for these massive and simple containers. The dark blue eucalyptus has a cube of white eucalyptus underneath it.  This adds visual mass to that dark blue, while helping to bring out the blue color.

IMG_7769I do want to speak to the beauty I see in mixed greens for winter containers. We have so many conifers that grace our zone. Conifers that grow in the Pacific northwest are represented in our mix as well. Many conifers that would suffer in our extreme winters thrive there. I suspect the long and fairly mild growing season out there means that conifers can bounce back and regrow quickly when they are pruned for cut branches. Our mountain hemlock comes from very high elevations, and are only available for a very short time in early November.  Once the snows come to the mountains, the trees are impossible to reach. Silver fir was in very short supply this fall, for the same reason. On any given winter day in Michigan, the evergreens greatly endow the landscape.

IMG_7782The driveway pots we plant up for all four seasons.  Spring, summer, fall and winter. No pot needs to go empty over the winter.

IMG_7784The color of the yellow twig is indeed more subdued when it is placed outdoors.  Even so, it is visually lively, in a landscape that has gone neutral in color.

Flame willow is aptly named.

IMG_7779The 10 containers we fill for winter here add a lot of look to the winter landscape.

IMG_7785We are wrapping things up.

The Next To The Last Of The Winter Work

winter 2015 (3)A lot of work got imagined and fabricated in this garage in the past 6 weeks. A big landscape project that needed Dan and his crew ran late – as in until December 23.  This made me send an SOS to Buck December 1-would his fabricators be able to lend me a hand? Lend me a hand they did.  Lucio, Marzela, David, Owen, Riley, LaBelle, Sal and I produced a boatload of work, with intermittent help from Dan and his group.

winter 2015 (13)A boatload of work does not necessarily imply a beautiful boatload, but I am happy for what is out there. Once my crew is intent on a fabricating project, they proceed at the proper pace, taking great care to do it right.  Should I have a mind to rush anything along, Marzela will look up at me and say, “everything is under control here, Deborah”.  And then she will laugh. Then the whole crew will laugh. Then I laugh, and relax. I could not have a better group. They do prodigious in a beautiful and thoughtful way. They never let me get in the way of that. Each project is particular to the client, the architecture, and the landscape. I figure that part out.  winter 2015 (2)The construction in the shop is a comfortable affair.  The space is big. It is warm enough that we are able to concentrate on the work at hand, and not the weather. We can draw on all of the materials that Rob has on hand in the shop for the winter season. A store chock full of beautiful materials makes all the difference in the world.  I don’t always know exactly what I would like to use for a particular project. If I am interested in good options, I can cruise my own store. No need for a coat and hat and the car keys. This was on my mind, when I decided to open Detroit Garden Works.  First and foremost, I wanted anyone to have access to beautiful objects for the garden. But I also wanted that access to beautiful materials and objects for the garden for the work I do for my clients.  This has been a happy association-between Detroit Garden Works, and Deborah Silver and Co Inc, for going on 20 years. The groundwork of it was considerable.  It took years to make that shop friendly to gardeners and my landscape company- but every bit of the work was worth it.

winter 2015 (14)We don’t worry about making a mess in the shop-it is easy to sweep up at the end of the day.  Where we do not want to make a mess is on the porch of a client, in cold weather. We do not come to construct on site – we come to install.

winter 2015 (4)Creating a centerpiece for a winter pot can be an involved affair. There can be a number of different elements, all of which need to be deliberately placed. An installation mechanism needs to be in place – ahead of time.  The stout bamboo stake at the center of this centerpiece is not visible here-but it is there.  Pounded into the soil in a pot, it will provide much needed anchor once the ground freezes. Picks need to be fluffed.  Some picks have to be bent in a certain direction. Some materials require a lot of fussing before they represent the idea we have in mind.

winter 2015 (6)Once we arrive to install, all of the decisions regarding materials, shapes, textures and mass have already been made.  That time spent outdoors is short and sweet. I am very grateful for the existence of smart phones.  Every one of my crew send me pictures.  What they choose to photograph tells me what they most focus on.  A group of pictures sent before they leave the job enables me to tweak this or that, or give the go ahead. This technology helps us to provide the best quality installation possible.  I will say there are times that what I thought would be perfect is not so great. I like every opportunity to tune up whatever we do. Sometimes it takes the third try to get it right. I am never afraid to redo. Redoing is a sign of sincere interest in a project.

winter 2015 (11)To follow are some pictures of our projects from the past few weeks. We have 4 projects yet to get done-which we will do next week.  I am not so worried that we have work yet to do – nor are my clients. The winter has barely begun.

winter 2015 (8)curly copper willow, red picks, and cream decor mesh

winter 2015 (23)a fountain surround of Branch lattice boxes, filled for the holiday and winter

winter 2015 (24)Silver fir installed up side down-for an especially silvery look

winter 2015 (15)copper and orange willow.  cut magnolia branches

winter 2015 (10)This Branch 48″ wide break form pot is so wide that we had to create a plywood form with foam on top to get this winter pot as wide as it needed to be. Proper proportion is so important. We buy premium evergreen branches that are very long lengths. We need that width.  We are filling pots, not holiday table top centerpieces.  But beyond 16″, a branch will sag under the weight of the winter snow. This pot needed a special form to get the proper proportion to the width of the greens, without compromising the strength of the arrangement.  The greens are thick and luxuriant. Exterior grade plywood helps to make that happen.

winter 2015 (12)contemporary pots for winter

winter work 2015a mass of cardinal red twig dogwood

December 17 2015 103blue white, cream, and taupe

winter 2015 (26)curly copper willow and fuchsia eucalyptus

winter 2015 (9)domed

winter 2015 (18)simple, for winter

winter 2015 (5)eucalyptus and magnolia

IMG_7379 (2)
lighted topiary forms

winter 2015 (1)a low key centerpiece with lots of noble fir as an anchor

winter 2015 (16)blue and lime

winter 2015 (25)The purple berry picks in this pot are on their third year out. We cut them short this year, and paired them with lavender eucalyptus and magnolia.

winter 2015 (17)muted lime berry picks and merlot eucalyptus

holiday and winter containers (9)all green

winter 2015 (19)We have a plywood form for this fountain.  We have replaced the foam only once in the past 6 years. A fountain full is better than an empty fountain.

winter 2015 (22)Red bud pussy willow in a dome of boxwood. noble fir to finish.

holiday and winter containers (10)winter white

winter 2015 (21)We took these great galvanized containers to Rob’s house, and filled them full of greens.  We dropped of an array of other materials we thought he might like. He is a great designer, and he has ideas about how things should look. We never take his pots to the finish.  We are his supporting cast. Does he have time to do winter containers at home at this time of year? No. He runs the shop better than full time, all year round. What we managed to get done for him last week is our version of a leg up. I like the idea that the winter containers provide a winter garden with a leg up.  Think of it.

Red and Green

red and green 2015 (3)Popular wisdom says that red and green is the traditional color scheme for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it is. The December landscape in my zone is notable for its evergreens, and deciduous plants that bear red fruit. There are many theories about how those colors came to be associated with Christmas-most of them reference practices dating back to the middle ages. Insofar as holiday decor is concerned, there are lots of ways to say red and green. For those that appreciate a little variation on a much loved and traditional color scheme, there are infinite shades of red, and infinite shades of green.  The lime green of this flocked pick is striking in a sassy way.  The accompanying maroon red of the eucalyptus is muted, even a little moody.  The combination of the respective shades of red and green is interesting. Not at all what I would call the traditional Christmas red and green.  Each color is all the better for its visual relationship with the other.

red and green 2015 (1)On a cloudy day, the daytime color relationships are even more muted. Come dusk, that will change.  The topiary form is strung with red and lime green lights and glass garlands that will pick up that light. Every so often, a cluster of shiny lime green glass balls have been wired to the form. The greens in the bottom have 600 white lights, courtesy of two strings of garland lights. What at this moment has a very reserved appearance will amp up after dark.

red and green 2015 (2) The lights and glass balls on these forms have to be updated once in a while.  The winter weather is tough on them. This updating serves another purpose. Every year, little changes in the color and materials makes the winter pots look fresh. The dark red decor mesh is not a traditional red. It invites a second look.

red and green 2015 (4)My clients were surprised and pleased about this rendition of red and green. Though I have been doing their holiday pots for a number of years, no two seasons look quite the same.

red and green 2015 (6)The one pot off their second floor terrace is always viewed through the glass of the door wall. I think the brighter red is called for. I like it, paired with the maroon red of the eucalyptus. To follow are some pictures of other year’s red and green schemes.

Dec 19, 2011 028

Michigan holly

Creed 2 (12)

michigan holly 2

wreath 2014So should you like your Christmas pots any color scheme at all, as long as it is red and green, you still have plenty of possibilities to choose from.

red and green 2015 (5)They always ask me to place a little something on the gates into their neighborhood.  Here I always opt for the brightest version of red and green that I can muster. As in, Merry Christmas!


Festive, Please

to the nines (12)We do have clients who approach the holiday season with gusto.  Projects like these come with a big dose of celebratory feeling attached. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all – I enjoy it. Not all work is work. Some work is satisfying enough to call it fun.  The holiday work comes with some peripheral exposure to important or traditional moments in people’s lives. As in an extended family coming home for the holidays. This is work that has  very personal connotations. For starters, this client wanted every pillar in front festooned with garland. It seems natural that a landscape design and installation company could make the leap to seasonal gardening.

to the nines (5)Her lighting person had already wound strings of lights around each pillar. This was a little harsh looking.It only took a few minutes to take them down, and get the garland up first.  Since we would be adding garland to 6 pillars, it seemed like fewer spirals per column would look better.

to the nines (11)We put one length up from an uncut 50 foot roll, and unwound enough to make a decent puddle of greens at the bottom. We laid out all of the garlands in the drive, and cut them to the proper length. The top of the column has a molding.  It was easy to attach the first circle of garland with a zip tie above that molding. That architectural detail would keep the entire length of garland aloft.

to the nines (4)Yes, there were pots to do. Since there would be a lot of decorating outdoors, we kept the pots simple.

winter red (8)These pots will look as good all winter as they do for the holiday season.  I always appreciate a client who has a preferred color scheme in mind. Once I have that, I can put materials together that I think reflects the taste of the client, and the setting. Red, green and white would predominate.

to the nines (13)The outside of the house is festive indeed. The light strings were reattached on top of the green garland, for a much softer look.

to the nines (6)At the door, we filled another pair of winter pots, and added an artificial garland overhead –  to which we added eucalyptus, faux berries, and those beautiful bleached pine cones.

to the nines (8)That garland was repeated on the inside, over the doorways, and on the stair railings.

to the nines (10)Once we attached them, Marzela went back and fluffed every sprig, and made sure every element was facing towards the primary view.

to the nines (9)The pine cones were attached facing left on the left side, facing right on the right side, and facing down at the bottom of the swoop. If this seems fussy, it is.  But facing the materials on a garland has to do with establishing a visual rhythm, and repeating it. Part of the beauty of it is how it is installed.

to the nines (2)The mantel was done in noble fir attached to a bamboo pole across the top. The drops were lengths of the fir zip tied together.  In the center, a larger bloack of floral foam was stuffed with greens, poplar branches, and birds.  The bleached cones from the garlands were repeated.

to the nines (1)This porch is as green and festive as it can be. It surely is the garden version of “welcome to my home at the holidays”.  I like this.