A Reindeer On The Roof

Deer in the garden is a sore subject for those gardeners who are plagued by the destruction they wreak on every plant shrub and tree in the landscape. What they don’t eat, they trample. They even rub the bark off of trees when they are rutting, for Pete’s sake. Preventing deer from demolishing the garden is the subject of page after page of essays on Google, and countless books and videos. But the grapevine deer sculptures that Detroit Garden Works has stocked for a number of years have their fans. The life size bucks and does come in standing, grazing, and seated poses, just like the fawns. They look terrific in any spot in the garden asking for a representational sculpture fashioned from a natural material. The grapevine is wound around a substantial steel armature, and should survive outdoors for many years, providing they get a yearly application of a penetrating oil based sealer.

Who knows what possessed me to put a deer on the roof, but there is a certain Buck that has been near and dear to me for many years. That personal association aside, Christmas folklore is full of references to a certain St Nicholas circumnavigating the globe in a reindeer drawn sleigh, bringing gifts to children world wide on Christmas Eve. It is a story that delighted me as a child. Apparently I can still be enchanted by it. Winter and holiday containers and displays bring an element of delight to the landscape that has gone dormant, and quiet. It was not so far fetched to cast the grapevine deer as a grapevine reindeer.  A holiday diorama in the making, if you will.

The roof at Detroit Garden Works is home to eight planter boxes, each of which are five feet long. They were fabricated from heavy duty sheet metal – there is not one thing fancy about them. These painted metal hold soil, plants, and an irrigation system. The magic is what gets grown in them over the summer. We intended to bring a little magic to the winter season that is at hand.  Our reindeer was secured in the center via steel rebar pounded in at an angle. On an angle? A gusty wind could pull steel rods set vertically out of the soil in a matter of moments.  The steel set on a steep angle is weighted down with a thick layer of saturated and frozen soil. A wind strong enough to uproot that buck would be a rare wind indeed, and most likely would take the box as well. We took every precaution to keep that reindeer in place. Of course we needed lots of lights. And a thicket of twigs. As the soil was frozen solid, we made foam forms, buttered them with lights, and stuck them with medium height pussy willow. Each one of these forms was additionally secured with angled steel rebar and concrete wire. Suffice it to say there is a lot of rebar on the roof right now.

All of the irrigation tubes and emitters were pitched over the sides of the boxes. There was plenty of additional work involved in making it possible to flip the switch on the lights.

A simple evergreen garland, wound round with garland light studded grapevine was attached to the leading edge of the boxes, and down the sides of the building.

My crew was keen for a group portrait. Why not? These pictures do not really reveal all of the work that went in to moving this project along to this point. They were caught up in the fun of it, and committed to seeing it through.

The view at dusk made it clear we needed to do more. The thicket of twigs needed to describe the entire width of the building. We had run out of pussy willow, so what now?

The light burst collar on the deer did not illuminate the sculpture. It spot-lit the neck. The twigs were in silhouette at dusk, and invisible come dark. We regrouped.

Phase two of the fabrication and installation asked for a burlap ribbon collar. The light collar did not read during the day, and was a too strong blob of light at night. Karen obliged with the fabrication, and Joe got the collar attached in just the right spot, and at the right angle. We had to rethink the lighting.

Attaching multiple light bursts to the front edge of the twigs might do a better job of illuminating the thicket at night. It was certainly worth a try.

Lengthening the twig thicket proved to be easy. The last few bunches of black dogwood, mixed with lots of alder branches made a believable transition from the more formal and vertical pussy willow stems to a more wild and natural look. A thicket spanning the entire width of the roof seemed more deliberate and finished.

The multiple light bursts did a great job of illuminated the face of the branches at dusk.

The burlap ribbon collar on our reindeer read plainly and properly, both day and night.

much better, this.I know if Rob is photographing something, he likes it.

Who knows if St Nicholas will require the last minute services of our reindeer buck tonight, but I am sure he will have no problem spotting him from space. The Works is ready.


  1. Beautiful! Merry Christmas to everyone at Detroit Garden Works!

  2. this rooftop is the best! thanks for sharing how you got to it.

    merry merry

  3. WOW! Beautiful. I always love the description of your process.
    Thank you.

  4. I believe this is my favorite project ever shared on this blog (though I love my hydrangea hedge more every day). The story leading to the finished design teaches us the elements of design and the final result is pure art. Merry Christmas to you all.

  5. Your team is simply amazing! Classy and whimsical all in one! Merry Christmas to you all and thank you for sharing your talents with all of us!

  6. Love this, and the engineering that made it happen!

  7. Delightful!!
    Happy Holidays to all of you!

  8. Cindy Lupica says

    Beautiful! Love this. Merry Christmas, Deborah and crew.

  9. Denise Wise says

    Merry Christmas to you and all the folks at DGW! Your posts are wonderful gifts to me thru the year.

  10. Suzanne Doin says

    Spectacular! And I loved hearing the process, think it’s something we all go through when decorating: getting it just right!!!

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Sweeet. Merry Christmas.

  12. Judy Zatsick says

    Your artistry througout the year is inspiring. Thank you for posting and sharing. And very happy holidays!

  13. Stacey Parisi says


  14. Thank you for showing this whimsical yet completely “you” (Deborah and DGW) masterpiece. Above all (pun intended) thank you for the knowledge, inspiration and delight you share with us all year. Looking forward to and receiving your missives from Detroit is such a blessing and gift. May you all be blessed with health, joy, prosperity, and above all Peace in the coming year and years to come.

  15. Merry Christmas to everyone at DGW. And thank you for a wonderful year of inspiration and beautiful photos.

  16. What a way to end a year of amazing designs! Thank you for your incredibly talented inspirations all through the year. You are truly a one of kind company. Congratulations to you and your team!

  17. Charisse Andrews says

    Just gorgeous! Funny how the deer are the bane of my gardening life, yet at Christmas I have twig deer, much smaller than yours, and large resting ceramic ones for one of the mantles, and a small lighted one on the roof of the garden house. And why? I dunno, maybe like for you it is unconsciously because of the way our presents “arrived” as children. Enchanted by your winter presentation, and especially by learning about the thought process. Happy Holidays to you and all those creatives at DGW. P.S.. Who knows, maybe if I have one of the big ones from DGW, out in the garden, it would keep the live deer away?

  18. Merry Holidays to you, Deborah, and to your always incredible staff. Thank you to each of you for sharing your amazing talent and incredible vision.

  19. You must be thrilled and proud to arrive for work!

  20. susan konkel says

    This last project was an incredible finish to your great year. Thanks to all of you for the great work you do! I enjoy seeing what the team does because I can’t be there in person.

  21. Your blog is both a joy to read and visually beautiful and inspiring. Thanks for taking such time on it and sharing your ideas.

  22. Karyn DeBoer, Calif. says

    I kept waiting, there must be another post for Christmas ?Wow, I clicked on Christmas morning, never a disappointment!!!! Already thinking about next year, you and your crew make you always want to get out in the dirt no matter what the challenges.Always over the top and inspiring, get some well deserved rest!!Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!!!

  23. Liz Manugian says

    Magical! Happy holidays to one and all!

  24. oh my goodness.. i love this so much.. my husbands nick name is buck… and . well the rest is history.. now……… maybe……….. yo and that wonderful crew of yours… could start a trend…
    like cupid for February up there…
    march a huge clover
    april a huge tulip
    and on and on.. your creativity is fabulous.. wish had a crew like that… thanks for sharing……. it is stunning……. reallllly stunning….lova lova

  25. Frieda Hickman says

    Love IT!!

  26. Thank you for sharing your process and how it takes time to create a fabulous design.
    As always I look forward to your posts, and hope to visit you sometime all the way from Montclair, N.J.!

  27. Jennifer Taylor says

    I love this, “The Works is ready”. Indeed! You remind me that something worth doing is worth taking the time to do well. Such an important concept. Happy New Year Deborah and all of you at DGW and Branch Studios. Wishing you another great year.

  28. I love that you post what your original “plan” was, how it looked, and then how you re-grouped and fixed what didn’t necessarily work in execution- makes us followers realize that perfection isn’t just naturally inherent in the whole process, and every time you tackle a project it’s different! Love the result, and the journey!

  29. That last picture of the front of the building is a great shot! Have someone Photoshop out the wires!!

  30. Better late than never…….Awesome! Beautiful! Love everything about it!

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