All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.


  1. Susan Roubal says

    Simply elegant and sophisticated. The coiled vines are such a signature touch that I so enjoy! The garlands are ample. Explaining why you didn’t allow it to do the characteristic droop between fixed points was a great design tip. Love your work and have loved seeing it in some magazines this last year- congratulations!

  2. And I love the added beauty of the hydrangea.

  3. Deborah this installment is STUNNING and will be as natural as it gets after a dusting of snow! Who says you need glitz to make a statement?

    I’m curious about the botanical name for the tallow berries as I didn’t think they could be grown in Michigan, or are these a tallow berry look-a-like?. I too like to use as much natural materials as possible and would incorporate this plant into my landscape if possible.

    THANK YOU for being a continual source of inspiration. May you and your staff enjoy a WONDERFUL Christmas…

    • Deborah Silver says

      Anne, this is a remarkably good tallow berry look alike-real tallow berries would have a too short shelf life. thanks, Deborah

  4. Beautiful, he should be very pleased, this looks like nature! It is all the little extras that you do that just takes everything over the top, you are so knowledgable, thanks so much for sharing. If I lived in your area I would be bugging you for a job, I would love to work with you and I love doing the things you do. I am in the South with lots of magnolia trees. (South Carolina) do you think I can make a magnolia wreath of my own? If so how do you suggest I do it? They do not seem to decorate down here the way you do there, it is just so gorgeous. Thank you again for sharing your talent!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carol, you just need a stable ring. Zip tie or wire a cluster of magnolia leaves to the ring. Add the next cluster so the new leaves overlap and cover the wirte of the first set. I do envy you your magnolia trees. best, Deborah

  5. WOW!

  6. I’m one of the home gardeners who reads your website. I love the garland. My house has gates in front, so I hung mixed wreaths in front hung up with ribbon this year. I also made swags with cuttings from the evergreens and used some branches.

    Natural materials are my favorites because they smell good inside and I can compost them after the holidays are done. But it is really hard to go totally natural and get the bling bling happy holidays look. 😀 This year I wrapped lights around a hula hoop to make a light up wreath. I’m pure class.

    BTW I like the burlap protection on the hedge in front. I’m still hoping that this winter will not be as cold as last year’s. Actually I have a feeling in my bones it will be weird, but not as cold.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Schmoo, I am hoping the winter will not be as cold as last year too. I would call a lit up hula hoop inventive. Best, Deborah

  7. I’ve just been glorying in your recent series of posts…the visuals have been so stunning and inspiring. Your narrative has been educational and insightful. I allowed myself to be nudged by your work and stirred my bones to decorate a container that I leave outdoors and is in my view when I sit at the kitchen table. It’s nothing compared to all of your beauties but it is sure better than nothing! Now there is a clump of red stemmed dogwood branches which are surrounded by cut colorful nandina bush tops with their bright red berries. Thanks!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, it could be the only difference between us is that I have had more practice. best, Deborah

  8. I particularly love this one, Deborah. Thanks once again for sharing so articulately. I’m curious about 2 things:
    First, the grapevine. I used it recently for the first time in a garland. It was quite tightly wound and we stretched it out as much as possible, but I was not achieving the big loops I intended. Do you soak yours before using it? Do you cut off the thick end of it?
    Second, I am also intrigued by decorating the entire garland before hanging it. This piece does not appear to have been built on a sturdy pole or stake beforehand as I have seen you do before. Is there a trick to keeping everything in front when hanging that way?

    Thanks~ Angela

    • Deborah Silver says

      Angela, I stretch out the grapevine as little as possible. I unroll is as I wind it around the greens. Sometimes I cut off the thick ends-it depends on the look you are after. If you have enough places to hang, you can achieve that straight look. If you only have 2 places to hang, use a pole. The trick to getting everything facing forweard is to have plenty of pairs of hands to help. best, Deborah

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