A Lighted Winter Arrangement

A request to turn a limestone fountain into a container for the winter is not the usual thing, but why not?  The dimensions were not overwhelmingly large. Nonetheless, 45″ by 45″ is a lot of territory to cover. The real test would be producing an arrangement of sufficient size to be properly proportional to the container. A fountain, that is. The client was also interested in a substantial lighting plan that would have height, width, and a good deal of intensity. We went for broke with four 140 light count light bursts. The light you see in the above picture would be magnified 20 fold in the dark. Incredible to believe that a lighting device drawing so little power could deliver so much light. And light 3 feet off the surface. Later we added 9 mini light bursts to the mix. Read on for details. The form is 8″ thick-enough to fill the entire watery area of the fountain.  And substantial enough to hold a five foot diameter light ring, and hundreds of cut red twig branches, picks, and greens. The hole in the center of the form? This gives the fountain jet a place to be, undisturbed.

A decision was made about what portion of the form would be twig covered. I do that based on my experience as a landscape designer. Designing landscapes means dealing with space, in all three dimensions. A tape measure and an instinct for proportion is the best I have to offer.

The red twig dogwood stems at the center would dictate the dimensions of all of the other elements. The light burst would be buried in this forest of twigs. The day time appearance of the arrangement is just as important as what happens after dark. David is particularly skilled at setting cut branches in such a way that the overall shape is natural and graceful. Perfectly shrubby. Perfectly ethereal. Love his work. By this time, the stems of the light bursts are beginning to disappear. He works with the lights on. Doesn’t that make sense?

A channel has to be created for the prongs and base of the light ring. Some stems are removed, only to be put back in once the ring is in the proper spot. This ring is 5 feet in diameter, and difficult to handle. We like to install it when the arrangement is partially done. We had a branch road map, if you will. It might seem intuitive to install the ring first, and work around it. But that ring is rigidly geometric – not the look we were after for the branches. We make the forest first, and fit that geometric light element into it. Forest first. Always. We could have used a second foam layer for the ring, but I am glad we did not. The ring is at the right height for all of the other elements, sitting in the main form. A second layer of shorter alder branches faced down the red twig. My client and I agreed that the picks she had chosen for the arrangement should be backed up by the more subtly colored alder. A triple layer thicket of alder created a place for the picks to be.

The stems of the faux picks disappear one by one into the alder. The color relationship between the red twig and the picks is made more subtle, given the transition provided by the alder.  Fresh cut alder branches are beautiful. The brown bark is punctuated by the green and red tips and buds. The branchy structure of these stems contrast with the mostly vertical red twig stems. The relationship in color, texture and mass between these two twiggy materials is a good one. Any natural twiggy material helps to integrate faux materials into the mix. Sometimes the best element to introduce into a winter arrangement is a little congestion. Some integration. Integrating materials in a winter container requires great skill. A patch of this and a patch of that, all over, can be very hard on the eye.

David came in early late this past week to assess how our lighting scheme looked. Four light bursts, and four sets of three mini bursts on the perimeter of the red twig seemed to be creating the light my client was after. The light ring reads strongly.

Once I saw this, I knew David had successfully combined a powerfully wide and tall lighting scheme into an integrated arrangement of both fresh cut and faux materials. I doubt I will ever forget this project. Or this picture. The integration of every highly structured element into a gracefully whole expression is a skill that evolves, one project at a time.

Karen is sticking the last of the greens here.

in the studio

loading the winter arrangement

Of course I was not happy that this arrangement did not fit into our box truck. Some landscape person of note one said, “No matter what truck you choose to buy, it will not be big enough”. The box truck did not have a big enough box.

We did eventually load the arrangement into Dan’s pick up truck. I think he was nervous about transporting this arrangement, but he never said so. It was a work day, as usual. Fortunately we did not have far to go.

the final touches by Karen

hooking up the lighting

The good and happy end of a project, no matter how small or big, is cause for celebration. Am I celebrating?  Yes.


  1. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Oh what fun! Illuminating! Beautiful.

  2. Jeanne Neivert says

    Stunning !
    That is all I can say !

  3. A true Masterpiece of exceptional proportion! It is as beautiful by day as it is by night. So very impressive ! Congrats to all who made it happen.

  4. Laura Tonar says

    Another stunning masterpiece from Detroit Garden Works!

  5. Robin Lewis says

    Have to echo both stunning and masterpiece. This is simply amazing. One of my favorites I have ever seen you guys do.

  6. Chris Boggs says

    amazing and beautiful work!

    I saw a couple rings here locally (Sylvania OH) last night on a drive through my old neighborhood. Am going to follow up and see if they are DGW products, they certainly caught my eye

  7. Janie Levinson says

    Amazing!!!!!! You know how to do right and then some.

  8. Marguerite Neuhaus says

    i know I have a lot of examples to choose from, but I think this is the most elegant and beautiful arrangement DGW has ever done. And that’s saying something! May you and your staff be blessed with health and joy to continue creating beauty and inspiring and uplifting everyone lucky enough to experience your art.

  9. Another masterpiece created from a plethora of available market materials. Why not make one for the average acreage owner with available summer collage and weeds and grass? A challenge that would be appreciated.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Virginia, this is an issue I have addressed in a number of different ways since I began writing this blog in 2009. Good design is not about the cost of the materials. It is about mass, color, texture, volume, shape, proportion, scale, and line. Those principles can be applied to any materials. Anyone reading can apply what I talk about to their own situation. Rob in particular is fond of arrangements of the type you are describing. He makes them, and puts them for sale in the shop.They all sell quickly. I make my arrangements specifically for the customer who orders them. If a client approaches me to do winter pots with materials from their own garden, or the field next door,I am happy to oblige. all the best, Deborah

  10. Silvia Weber says

    Gorgeous! So very lovely!
    Happy you were able to transport the arrangement successfully! Nothing worse than that feeling, when said object does fit in the truck (or through the door)!

  11. Deborah,
    I am always so inspired by your posts.
    I’ve constructed a few similar arrangments here on my property (without the lighting).
    My question is exactly what type of glue/adhesive do you use to bind the Styrofoam sheets?
    happy Holidays,
    Lisa Ahern

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, we use hot melt glue. But we also are having the foam made now in 4″ thick size-no gluing. best, Deborah

  12. Stunningly beautiful! I always enjoy reading your blog!

  13. I am a big fan of your work! Can you share where you purchase these large pieces of foam?? I have searched everywhere to no avail. Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Robin, we sell them at Detroit Garden Works. Call and ask for Jackie, if you need info on the cost and shipping. all the best, Deborah

  14. Judy Lance says

    Wow! What a masterpiece. Thanks for showing steps in creating it. Could you post a photo of this illuminated at night in its final display place? Would make my day!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Judy, this pot cannot be seen from the street-so no night picture-sorry! best, Deborah

      • Frieda Hickman says

        would the owner send you a photo. I would love to see it at night also. Looks great now but…at night would be awesome.

        • Dr. M. Jaworski says

          I second the motion. It’s fantastic as it is in the daytime, but I’m prepared to be bowled over by a night view! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Nella Davis-Ray says

    Hi Deborah-
    Stopped by your shop on Friday. Got to see your staff at work. It was all hands on deck! Pretty cool to see them making these awesome displays and be able to turn around and buy the same products they are using for my own containers. I couldn’t leave w/o a couple of bundles of the firestick dogwood. Keep up the great work!

  16. Joyce Baker says

    Oh wow! A new language is needed to adequately describe your work. Why not a fountain when the completed arrangement looks as awesome as this one? Even though I might not duplicate your arrangement, as I browse the pictures of the process, my mind takes the picture featured to another idea.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing ideas.

  17. I think this is surely the nicest winter decoration for a box or fountain that you have ever done!

  18. Stunning!!

  19. Susan Southern says

    WOW is all I can say. Absolutely stunning!!!

  20. Debbie McPhee says

    Simply Outstanding!

  21. So beautiful! Would love to visit your shop someday!

  22. Pamela Csatari says

    Love this. Must admit I covet (in a good way) all the beautiful fountains and containers your customers have at their homes. With more foresight, I would have planned my home purchase with the idea of those additions.

  23. Beautiful! May I also say that I enjoy seeing the pictures of your employees in-progress of performing their magic 🙂

  24. Your team is AMAZING! Agree with many of the above comments-Stunning and absolutely beautiful! Still wish you were located here in Delaware. I envy the creativity. Thanks so much for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  25. Stunning for sure! One question: how is the ring anchored down yet kept above the foam?

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