Archives for December 2015

A Collection Of Cones

bleached pine coneThese bleached pine cones that so enchanted me this season sparked an interest in the cone world. Although pine cones are as familiar to me as the back of my hand, I realized that I did not know so much about them.  These woody structures house the reproductive mechanism of a conifer. The female pine cones are large, and produce seeds.  The male cones are small, produce lots of pollen, and eventually disappear once the pollen is dispersed. Of great interest to me is the fact that the identification of many pines revolves around the particulars of the cones they produce. The conifers existed on earth long before any flowering plant.  These cones are considered the precursors of flowers.  No wonder gardeners prize them.

cedar conesThese cedar pine cones may have lived on a cedar through more than one season.  It takes time for a cone to mature, and drop its seed.  Once the cone has done has produced and dropped its seed, its biological directive has been fulfilled.  The cones then drop to the ground. I spent some time today looking at these cones. I had never really taken the time to study on them them before. How incredibly beautiful they are.

acorn conesThe oak acorn caps are not truly cones, but they share the woody and highly textured appearance of a pine cone. It was easy to like these acorn caps. Once the pine cones mature and drop, they are very persistent. A coulter pine produces the largest pine cones in the world.  I have one that is over 20 years old.  It has not deteriorated in the least bit. It is as heavy as a rock, and as architectural as the most beautiful building in the world.

December22, 2015 033How pine cones came to be associated with the holiday and the garden season’s end, I have no idea.  But they have adorned many a wreath and garland. A bowl full of these ponderosa pine cones would be simply beautiful.  We are able to purchase pine cones which have picks attached.  This makes them easy to use in decorations. We also attach them via wire that is wrapped around the scales.  Pine cones with tight scales-such as these cones-may need to be drilled.  Having done this, I am amazed at how hard and dense their wood it. Plan for some drilling time.

pinus nigra conesThese cones are produced by pinus nigra.  From the front, the scales are a rich cinnamon brown.  From the side or back, the cones are black.

dried pine cone baseThese dried “flowers” were made from the base of a pine cone.

split pinus maritima pine conesThese half pine cones come from pinus maritima. Pine cones split in half are great for places where a full cone would be too wide. This picture of the split side illustrates the density and strength of the cone.

gray washed pine conesWe carry many species of pine cones for the winter season. Some are native to our zone.  Others come from places far away, and have that exotic look. These pine cones have had a gray wash applied to them. They can take paint as well as any piece of wood furniture.

December22, 2015 035 Sugar pine cones rank among the longest cones in the world.  They regularly grow to 24″ long. Thy are sold by their length.  The long cones are especially prized. The scales are tight, when they are fresh harvested.  With age, those scales expand and flair out. A pine cone is a very familiar object indeed. But it is an enduring object whose appeal never fades.

December22, 2015 025flocked cones

pinus sylvestris conesa bowl of cones from pinus sylvestris

unknown pine conea cone whose species is unknown to me

December22, 2015 032These natural cones have been attached to an artificial garland, and sprayed with sparkle. I feel sure that they will endure as long as the garland. As in just about forever. Just about forever-that surely describes every gardeners relationship with the natural world.

The Pine Cones

019Every holiday and winter season presents material that quickly becomes a favorite.  My favorite this year? Giant bleached pine cones from Spain. Don’t ask me the species-I do not know. They could be Ponderosa pine cones-but do Ponderosa pines grow in Spain? I can’t answer that question, but I can speak to the incredible beauty of these cones.  Most natural pine cones are dark in color. This means their shapes and forms are not so easy to see.  These bleached cones make every detail of their form strikingly clear. Anything pale colored in the landscape reads well from a distance.

IMG_1500I do have a landscape client with a big love for birch trees.  When she built a new house, her only particular request was for birches.  We did plant 4 Himalayan white barked birch in her drive court.  Yes, they are susceptible to borers.  Judging by how they look some 3 years later, she is doing a great job of looking after them. The white trunks look particularly beautiful with the pale stone walls and the cast limestone pots.

IMG_1480Her request for her winter pots came in the form of one word. birchy, please. Placing sections of birch logs in containers is not so easy. For 5 of her smaller containers, I opted for a collection of materials that might recall that pale cream to white birch bark.  The three small pots on this wall featured cream white berry picks, paired with white eucalyptus. The cream berry sticks make the eucalyptus take on a blue cast. As the house has pale blue accents and blue stone, that blue in the pots is welcome. One very beautiful winter pick featuring match stick sized wood stubs attached to a stem was placed front and center. A dash of red with that blue white eucalyptus says holiday.  But the star of the show are those pine cones.
IMG_1499Winter containers in the landscape help to keep the gardening season alive. These espaliered katsura trees in  have shed all of their leaves.  They have gone quiet and dark. The boxwood in this planter box have assumed their winter color.  What is bright and beautiful right now are the pots.

IMG_1482Great winter pots recall in miniature a certain conversation between a gardener and nature. Those winter pots can shine, in this season noted for its darkness. Pale colors in a winter container landscape look fresh. The winter in my zone is known for the gloom and dark. A winter expression that is light, delights.

IMG_1483The bleached pine cones from Spain are a feature in these winter pots.  Their mass and texture stand out. The creamy color is good with just about any other color you might have in mind. I have used them in both traditional and more contemporary settings.  They are as architectural as they are natural.

006A representation of birch in the largest of my client’s pots involved some engineering. Owen is a fabricator at Branch.  He approaches every project with his own fabulous mix of gusto and sound engineering. Setting them perfectly upright is fairly simple. All the force of gravity is straight down.  Setting them on an angle means they need a little more in the way of support.

007This centerpiece of birch logs would need an anchoring mechanism. Owen took the largest of the birch sections over to Branch, and drilled a deep hole large enough to accommodate a bamboo pole.  That pole would go deep into the pot.  For additional strength, 4 short pieces of steel rebar would be wired together around the birch.

0083 bunches of white eucalyptus softens the juncture of the birch poles. The conversation and fabrication that goes on in our garage in December is interesting and lively. I thoroughly enjoy every moment of this.

IMG_1488 (3)A winter container featuring the cut birch sections and pine cones seems tuned into the landscape.

IMG_1504In sunny, rainy or snowy weather, winter containers bring a lot of warmth to the landscape.

At A Glance: Other Garlands

holiday garland
This is a very big porch, that features a pair of large Branch boxes. Lacking a garland, this front door would look uninviting. A front door that makes a strong welcoming statement at the holidays is a front door that anticipates holiday gatherings between family and friends – that front door says come inside! A holiday landscape is celebratory. Friendly. And most of all, warm. A porch of this size is a lot of brick, stone and wood. Some green helps to warm the space. The magnolia garland is simple, and is lighted. Warmer for winter?  This makes sense in my zone.

holiday garland with a wreathA wreath at the top of the garland adds a lot of visual weight. This wreath has lots of materials attached to it. Though the garden has gone dormant, a holiday expression born from the garden is a pleasure all around.

holiday and winter garlands (1)I cannot explain why I am drawn to anything that has grapevine on it.  Rob found a local artisan who has been covering steel topiary forms and spheres with grapevine for the shop. We cannot keep up with the demand. A roll of grapevine provides incredibly stability and strength to an evergreen garland. The strength of a twirling roll of grapevine reflects the strength and purpose of every gardener. Our warm December aside, our holiday weather can be very cold and blustery. A grapevine adds a lot of volume to a garland with very little mass. Lights on that grapevine help to illuminate all of the other garland elements evenly.

holiday garlandAn artificial garland is fine on a covered porch.  Exposed to the sun and elements, an artificial garland will fade, no matter how beautiful it represents the forms and shapes of the real thing.

holiday and winter garland (2)With multiple garlands, plain and simple can be very effective. If I wind garland around a column, I like enough length to make a puddle of greens on the ground. I wind the evergreen garlands in opposite directions, given pairs of columns.

holiday and winter garland (11)Southern magnolia garlands have a strong visual presence. Those large glossy green leaves with their velvety brown obverse are beautiful.  Magnolia branches, leaves and garlands will dry.  Those glossy dark green leaves turn to a pale green, and finally to bronze. They curl as they dry. The leaves stick tight to the branches, all winter long. In mid December, a fresh magnolia garland is a delight.

DSC_7011My garland at home is different every year. This past year, faced with a number of leftover pink eucalyptus bunches, I took the plunge for pink.  After adding some orange in the way of copper curly willow to the mix, I was surprised at how much I liked the look.  A garland is usually viewed from afar. This means  big gestures and bold color choices may be pleasing.

garlandGarlands can be incredibly heavy. Hanging a garland is always in defiance of gravity.  A hanging mechanism is essential.  Years ago I would ask my clients if I could drill into the mortar between their bricks, and set screws to hold the garland. I have had clients forego garland, as they were worried this would damage the integrity of the brick, or be noticeable the remainder of the year. I can report that those homes where I have been hanging garlands from screws set into the wall for 20 years are still standing. A proper hanging mechanism is not only necessary, it makes the hanging easier.

holiday garlandIn this case, a light fixture over the door bore most of the weight of the garland. A substantially thick stone surround to the door provided a safe ledge for this garland.  Any garland more complex than this would require fasteners set in to the wall. So much of what is beautiful at the holidays and into the winter is the beauty of the construction and installation. I find this is true of anything in the landscape. A beautifully imagined dream for a landscape only becomes a dream come true when it is properly planted, or installed.

holiday and winter garlands (2)I have a particular interest in making and hanging holiday garland.  I would guess that springs from the idea that I need to wrap my winter season in something not only beautiful, but warm. The gray and the cold is next up for my garden-and me.  I am not a fan of the dormant season.  That said, I do what I can to make the winter a little more tolerable.

the front door for the holidayYesterday we planted tulips and daffodils for this client. We also hung a garland, and installed cut Christmas trees in their pots. The garland and these trees are lighted.  Their front door at dark will be welcoming. They are also ready for the spring. We planted lots of spring flowering bulbs. They are ready for holidays, and the coming of winter-and the spring to come. Every great moment in the landscape twinkles.


The Garland

evergreen holiday garlandA handmade holiday garland is a labor of love. There is so much involved. Expect to need lots of zip ties, and nimble fingers.  I do buy my mixed fir garlands already made up, at my local farmers market. But that length of cut boughs all strung together with twine is just the beginning.  We routinely add our own cut branches to the existing garland, so it is very thick. Warm for winter is a given. For this 50 foot garland, we split the garland in two, flipped one side, and reattached the two pieces at the center. This makes the direction of the greens face down equally on both sides.  I am not a fan of a garland whose branches go up one side, and down the other. That roller coaster approach disturbs the visual rhythm.  All up facing branches, or all down facing. Decide which look you like. A garland is too much work not to take seriously.

December 10, 2015 007Lots of our garlands are wrapped with grapevine. A 50 foot evergreen garland will take a pair of 35 foot rolls of grapevine.  Yes, we roll the vines around the garland in opposite directions, from the center. Grapevine is incredibly strong and resilient. We zip tie the loosely wired evergreen garland to that grapevine every few feet.  This creates a garland that is very strong, no matter how many pine cones you pile on. That grapevine is incredibly strong. It is a great vehicle for a string of lights. One 72 foot strand of 1000 warm LED garland lights will completely illuminate a 50 foot garland in one fell swoop. We attach the lights to the grapevine.  The grapevine stands proud of the evergreen garland.  The light encircling the evergreen garland will illuminate it.

20151209_120833A garland needs to be properly scaled to whatever architectural feature it means to celebrate. Big garlands are incredibly heavy, and require a number of people armed with ladders to install.  It is my good fortune that Buck sends his fabricators from Branch over to me for several weeks, during garland hanging season. Their fabricating jobs at Branch has given them a good idea of what it takes to accomplish a solid construction and a great finish. Once they hang a garland, they rearrange every element we have attached to it in a pleasing way.  Everything we wire on a garland is loosely wired, so we can rearrange once the garland is aloft. I can construct the most complicated work in the studio-those Branch men know how to get it up in the air, beautifully.

holiday garlandHanging a long and heavy garland may take four people. Yes, we do drill and set screws where we need to. A winter garland is a beautiful way to celebrate the winter season. It needs to stay in place the entire winter, through the snow and winds.  Do I leave garlands up all winter?  Oh yes.  A garland can tell a story about a garden, and a gardener. A thick garland adds a lot of warmth to a garden season which is dormant and cold.

DSC_6934A garland framing a doorway is welcoming and festive at this time of year. I would not do without a winter garland over my doorway at home. I often think about how any gesture in the garden is so much a response to a gardener’s relationship with nature. The garland framing my doorway tells all who enter that the garden welcomes them.

recent work (18)What I think about when I see this detail of a garland we install is about the relationships have been forged over the gardening season past. These materials reflect the taste of my client. Our good relationship makes it important to me to represent them as best I can. The winter is no gardeners favorite season, but there are lots of ways to celebrate and enjoy the off season. Warm and generous comes first.

holiday garlands 001We do all of the construction of our garlands in our garage. The approach to the work is such an important element of construction. We set all of our garlands on a string of cardboard boxes, at a height which is comfortable.  These artificial garlands to which we have added other elements will be installed indoors for the holidays have gotten a personal signature based on the taste of our client. Red, green, and white, she says. We are happy to oblige.

holiday garlands 004These bleached ponderosa pine cones are a major element, both in size, and in color. They are the organizing metaphor around which every other element – the sage green eucalyptus, the tallow berries, and the red berries – provides a supporting cast.

holiday garland (3)Those elements which get attached to a winter garland are wired together.  We decide in advance the frequency with which we attach them.  Typically, the spacing at the top is closer together than the spacing at the bottom.

DSC_6907At the top of this archway, every color and texture element essential to this garland is massed together. That density will fall off as the garland descends. I do not mean to imply any rule. This is a construction which I think looks good to my eye.  Every gardener needs to trust their own eye, and proceed accordingly.

holiday garland (1)Our construction in the shop is not so fancy.  The garlands get set up on a collection of cardboard boxes we reserve for this purpose.

holiday garland (2)The additions to the evergreens may have a number of elements.  I try to err on the warm and generous size and spacing.

IMG_7464holiday garland

DSC_6791winter garland

DSC_6911winter garland

Jan 6 2013 (16)Every year I install a garland on the shop of one type or another. Once the snow comes, our building looks snug and warm. The garlands over the windows are eyebrows of the garden sort. The best moment of any garland is what nature bestows in the way of winter weather. This is my idea of  great winter garland.  Yours might be entirely different. No matter your idea or construction, a winter garland is a way to warmly wreathe, and breathe, over the winter to come..