Berried Treasure

It is not hard to believe that we will be beginning our winter and holiday containers and decor in another week or so. The past 10 days have been an intense effort to unpack and display in the shop all of the materials Rob purchased almost a year ago for this season. Our kickoff open house begins November 7-just a few days away. I like this moment. It requires looking at countless individual materials with the idea to put them together in a way that makes visual and emotional sense. The beginning is always about fits and starts, with a liberal dose of hand wringing. What seemed like a good idea on Monday gives way to another idea on Tuesday. But eventually we all settle in to the job at hand, and the work of it evolves and gets done. It is the very best way to become familiar with what is available to include in winter arrangements. As I most likely was a gardener from the first moment I took a breath, of course I favor natural materials from that garden for the winter pots. Rob addresses that basic need with an incredible collection of fresh cut farmed twigs in a variety of species and sizes. They come from all over this country of ours. Densely branched bunches of lustrous alder branches-we carry them. Sumac and poplar branches harvested from our collective properties are so sculptural. The glossy cinnamon gold colored flame willow branches both straight and branched always arrive first, as their leaves are the first to drop. Soon to come are the pussy willow, the copper curly willow, and the red and yellow twig dogwood. The premium cut greens of all types are equally as juicy and lively. Pairing those branches and greens with berry stems for winter containers is a natural. The fresh cut branches of Michigan holly, ilex verticillata, are drop dead gorgeous. However, they come with a steep price, and require some serious prep, if they are to survive the season. The ilex berries above, zip tied to a stout stand of fresh cut first year growth red twig dogwood, need a thorough soaking with VaporGard prior to their installation. This agricultural grade natural anti dessicant formulated from pine resin will keep the berries attached to the stems, and plump – for months. The centerpieces pictured above went to a client willing to go the distance to have fresh cut berried stems in their pots.

There are alternatives. The quality of the appearance and manufacture of faux berry stems has improved at an astonishing rate over the past 10 years. What used to be an embarrassing imitation of the real thing has become an entirely convincing expression of the beauty of berries. This new generation of faux berry stems are manufactured as much for durability as beauty. The color can be true enough to fool the eye. Or unabashedly dramatic. The stems do not disintegrate or discolor outdoors.

There is an astonishing artistry that is evident, both in the design and construction. Though these stems are faux berry stems, the evidence of the human hand is obvious. These materials make it possible for me to construct winter arrangements that can handle gale force winds, endless snow and relentless cold. Packed away for the summer, they will be equally as beautiful in year two or three. Many of them that Rob purchases are tall enough to be seen from a good ways away. The berry picks pictured above are unabashedly cheery – the prefect antidote to the landscape going dormant.

There is much to love about having choices in stem length, branching, and berry size. Choosing materials that are a proper proportion to the overall size of the arrangement is important. Do all picks need to be inserted into the soil or a dry floral foam base? No. If the perfect stem is not tall enough, they can be discretely zip tied to a neighboring natural branch. Picks with flexible branching permit an arrangement that is graceful.

Berry beautiful.

Red berry picks destined for outdoor pots need to be completely weatherproof. It only took one time seeing red berries disintegrate and run red on the sidewalk to drive that point home. We test all of our picks by soaking them in water, even if we have been told they are weatherproof.

44 inch long red berry picks in concert with a mass of cut red twig dogwood branches will make a statement in a container all winter long. That red will be strikingly handsome set in a landscape renowned for its gray and brown. It could be I enjoy the winter pots better than any other season. They most certainly last the longest. I will take my own apart in March, mostly from the embarrassment of seeing the snowdrops and the berry picks at the same time.    Red berry picks are the norm, but they are not the only game in town. It is great to be able to take your pick.

black and white

blueberry picks

golden ochre

green

cream berries with brown stems

fuzz ball style berry picks

short blueberries

I have yet to see a winter container that had too many berry picks, but even just a few adds a lot to the mix.If a project calls for lots and lots of berries, sticking them individually is a better strategy than attaching them to the twig centerpiece. Once a centerpiece reaches a certain weight, keeping it perfectly upright will require additional ballast. Hand sticking berry stems is more time consuming, but it can provide a welcome intermediary layer between the vertical and horizontal elements. Winter pots can be the most challenging to create, as nothing will grow or fill in. The day they are done, they are done.

Looking forward to the berries.

 

Recent Work

We have but a few fall container projects yet to plant. It takes about 6 weeks to do them all. We have landscape projects that are on going, but planting up containers is a part of our service that we take seriously. The conversation generated with clients over containers is an important one. If I have been involved in providing a garden or landscape project, there is that moment when that project ceases to be mine, and they take ownership. I prepare clients for ownership as best I can. I specify plants that are proper for the conditions in which they are planted. I provide the terrace they requested with the shade of a tree, a pergola, or an umbrella. A discreet spot for the trash cans and bikes will earn a thank you. An irrigation system can make the maintenance of a planting easier. How new plants get watered is a critical requirement for new landscapes, so I spend more than the requisite amount of time to address that. Correcting drainage problems directly influences the longevity of all of the plants-both big and small. We install drainage, and we take great pains to address why it is such an important part of plant health. There are clients for whom I plant large gardens. I know that they know what will be required of them to maintain them. Other clients are relieved when I suggest that a well structured landscape of trees and shrubs will be enough. I do not have enough time left in my life to pass on my knowledge and experience with plants, but I certainly can pass along what I know about the specific plants I have planted.

Inspiring confidence in a client is one way of speaking to ownership. But I am not particularly a fan of pep talks. They are exhausting to give, and can be too much information all at once to absorb. It can be unsatisfying for all parties. Providing for success is a long term effort that goes beyond a design that is good and solid. Clients know the work we have done comes with a responsibility on their part. But there is another step beyond offering the counsel and information they need to nurture a landscape. Beyond ownership is a state of engagement with the natural world.

Very few of my projects do not specify and include containers. I have a reason for that. They are a bridge over which a client and I can meet, and forge a relationship over the beauty of plants. Containers stuffed with robustly flowering summer annuals, tropical plants, green plants of interesting shape and texture or favorite perennials at the front door or on a rear terrace stand out in the landscape. Container plantings are personal, in that they express the taste in color and style of the owner. They make a statement about what constitutes beauty. A beautifully planned and executed container is easy to fall for. A client who is able to be successful growing plants in containers becomes engaged in the process of making something grow.

A discussion of the value of the landscape and garden is, at the end of the day, a discussion. Anyone who comes to take that that value to heart over the process of making something grow in a contained area is more likely to evolve from an interested observer to a committed participant. I have seen this happen over and over again. In the course of planting containers on the roof deck of a local restaurant, I was approached about selecting and planting containers by an owner of a similar business nearby. Though it took some time to persuade them that the investment would be a good one, they took the plunge. Many years later, we are still planting their containers at their business. Their customers are vocal in their interest and appreciation. The care they take with the outside speaks to what one can expect to find on the inside. Later we went on to supply and plant containers at their home for every season.The landscapes in both places have evolved and grown. All of the plantings are beautifully maintained, as they have gone beyond ownership to stewardship. A primarily green landscape in October pictured above just a welcome dose of fall color and cold tolerant seasonal plants. This client called and talked about the beauty of her pots and annual plantings over the summer, and how much pleasure she got from them. They grew prolifically. Her friends and family talked about them all season long. We planted plants we felt would succeed, and provided her the bright color she likes. They were designed and planted specifically for her. Our conversation about summer containers was the prelude to a discussion of planting for fall. This client had a sincere interest in the landscape from the start, but the conversation has changed. The pots and the landscape have value.

This client has one pot on her front porch. It plays an integral part in the appearance of her home from the street. Though the landscape is slowing down and will eventually go dormant, this pot planted for fall and later for winter is an expression of the garden year that will persist. Her interest in the planting of that pot is a symbol of an interest in the greater landscape.

A lush fall planting is a way to celebrate the harvest that comes at the end of the season. It anticipates all of the fall color soon to come from the trees, shrubs and perennials in the ground. Those who design and garden for themselves always seem to have some pots under cultivation. I like the fact that I can look at the container work of others, as I am able to get a glimpse of how they see the natural world. I am embarrassed to say I almost never plant pots for fall. That is 100% due to the fact that my crews rarely have time to plant them for me, given the work on deck to bring the landscape season to a close, and the winter and holiday season just a few weeks away. It is one thing to choose material, and design. It is quite another to make that happen.   To follow are more pictures of our recent work.

Welcome to our fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At A Glance: A Collection of Fall Pots

To follow is an embarrassing number of pictures of fall pots from previous seasons. For those of you who have seen some of these before, I hope seeing them a second time is warranted.  I actually like to look at all the fall container pictures as I am about to start the current crop of pots. It is much easier to spot what could be done better in a photograph, than looking at it in person. I cannot really explain why that is. Maybe putting a camera between me and the work enables me to step back. I hope you enjoy them.

We started the plantings in earnest today. Looking forward to the season.

Flowers For A Wedding

When I was young, I did a fair number of weddings. The cut flower part, that is. It is a job for a young person. It is a do it right and do it now  situation.  Bridal floral work come in all sizes and shapes, but all of it comes with a substantial dose of angst and anxiety. There is a deadline. Despite the best care, cut flowers can wilt and go down at the most inopportune moment. Every florist has opened a box of roses of a color other than what they ordered. Floral work is not especially conducive to learning on the job. It is physically demanding work. Moving and carrying buckets and vases full of water and cut flowers takes strength. Arranging flowers has its creative and romantic aspect, but there is a lot of just plain hard work. That backache has to be from standing and holding flowers aloft for hours at a time. Most of that work has to be done last minute. This is all by way of saying I am reluctant to take on a wedding now. But this was a client I have known for years. She lost her beloved to a lengthy, terrible, and cruel illness. Many years later and just a few months ago, she came in to say she had met someone she planned to marry, and would I do the flowers? I met with her at the venue of both the wedding and reception, and tried to dissuade her. I made several suggestions about where she might find a good florist. She wasn’t having that. She wanted me to do the flowers, would I?  Her only request was for hydrangeas. And that she would leave the rest of it up to me. How could I not say yes?

I ordered in a selection of flowers that I thought would be beautiful weeks ahead of time. I wanted to show her my selections, and I wanted to make a test run.  Hydrangeas are notorious for wilting soon after they are cut. I ordered the hydrangea “Florists White”. This cultivar is grown for the cut flower trade, as it holds better than most in a vase. 100 stems of white hydrangeas does not seem like that many, but each one had a water bag on the stem and an acetate hat that needed removal. Each stem got a fresh cut, and an immediate immersion in a bucket of clean lukewarm water. The flowers and leaves were sprayed with AquaFinish Clear – which hydrates and seals moisture in to both flowers and foliage. One of the miracle products of modern floristry. I could have skipped that step, but I would have needed to order more flowers. The flowers then have to sit, untouched, until they dry. Only then can they be placed in a floral cooler. This prep work is known as conditioning. I like to condition them overnight before I arrange them.  Lots of work is required to get cut flowers ready to arrange. Amni majus “Green Mist” was a wild card, but the airy texture of the leaves and flowers would be a great addition to the flower selections. As much as I love the reference to the late summer garden, it was a worry if they would hold. So I ordered extra bunches. The mini calla lilies would provide great curves and mass, and were a favorite of my client.

Of course I ordered in white lisianthus. This long stemmed multiflowered cut stem is the best antidote to wedding florist worry that I know of. The large flowers stay fresh for days. They are happy out of water for better than the duration of a wedding. The petals survive anxious handling. The buds are a gorgeous greenish color. They are a beautiful foil for the open flowers. The long stems make them suitably versatile for both tall and compact arrangements.

My client thought a wedding bouquet for her was not necessary. I thought differently. Once she told me her dress was olive green, I ordered in a clutch of green and white slipper orchids. I would capture these 25 stems with some olive green silk ribbon. As delicate as they are, they all held up perfectly in water. The bouquet would be kept in water until the last second. She had but to pat the stems dry, and go. I hoped that when it came time, this simple arrangement would appeal to her enough to carry them. At least she would have the option.

Weddings ask for flower arrangements here and there, but garlands can do a great job of knitting all of the individual pieces together. There were a number of places the garland would look great. Though baby’s breath is a traditional flower, en mass it can have a fresh and contemporary look. I bought in 4 kinds of baby’s breath garland, and tested their width, density and holding power. I ordered in the best quality of these garlands, and kept my fingers crossed. They arrived 2 days before the wedding, at Sunne’s insistence. If FedEx failed to show on Thursday, a Friday delivery would be in time for the Saturday wedding. We opened the plastic, and let the garlands air out. A local florist agreed to let me park these garlands in their cooler until I needed them on Saturday.

On Friday I did all of the 14 arrangements save two. As much as I like everything done before an installation, it would be so much easier to arrange the hydrangeas on site, and put them in place.

The packing up, transport, and installation is the second part of the job.  They boxed all of the arrangements, with an eye to protecting all of the petals. They laid the baby’s breath garlands flat on the truck shelves, as they had been stored rolled up. This is a very low tech delivery system perfect for a once in a great while florist. Three of my staff did the packing, driving, placing, tying, fluffing and cleanup. Most of my work had been done the previous two days.

Three tables got moved outdoors at the last minute. Cut flowers arranged in water can handle this sunny exterior location.  I like to arrange flowers in water as much as possible.

The garland needed a good shaking, and a little fluffing, once it was in place. The lisianthus on the mantle were kept in water until it was time for them to be added to the garland.

This was a small wedding – a perfect size for having the time to attend to all the details.

The wedding took place outdoors, between this pair of pillars.


The pillars needed to look dressed up from both sides.

a simple arrangement for the dessert table

I did hear from my client about the flowers this morning. She thanked me for all, and for insisting she have a bouquet. She thought it was beautiful and it was perfect with her dress. Happiest of all about this.