Hoop It Up: Lighting The Winter Landscape

The benchmark of our winter and holiday season is the seasonal lighting made available at Detroit Garden Works. Any current year’s collection becomes available towards the end of October. We measure all else we offer for winter gardens to clients by the effort we make to have something of value available to light the landscape. Providing for some light is never more urgent than it is in the winter months. The daylight hours are few, and mostly gray. That night that starts in the afternoon, and persists late into the following morning asks for intervention.

Rob Yedinak is entirely responsible for anything lighted we have to offer the winter landscape. He not only buys a variety of lighting materials, but he imagines and fabricates light sculptures from those materials. What he manages, to the delight of any gardener facing the dark days to come, is an engaging answer. His best known effort is a collection of steel circles wound round with LED string lighting. These light rings come in two versions. One style of hoop can be hung from a stout tree branch or pergola. It can be laid flat in a birdbath or pot. It could be hung against a wall or a garden gate. The hanging hoops come with multi strand jute rope. That jute helps to disguise the wire at the end of the light strand. It is a very simple and beautifully made lighted sculpture.

A later incarnation provided a four pronged steel base which enabled the ring to be securely installed in a pot, or in the ground. A free standing lighted sculpture, if you will. The above picture illustrates a 3 foot diameter ring installed as an integral part of a winter window box at the shop. Every element of that arrangement is stuffed into a dry floral foam base. I was interested that the lighted hoop be an integral part of the arrangement. A hoop on four legs made it easy to evenly sink those legs into to the foam base, and stuff branches, magnolia and evergreen boughs all around it. The very best part of this process is the ability to construct the arrangement in a warm and dry space.

Though we glue several layers of foam sheets together, that foam has no strength. It can hold hundreds of stems, and the spiked legs of the light ring securely. But unsupported, that foam will break. During the construction phase, it sits on top of a piece of plywood. We slide the arrangement off the plywood into the container just like a cookie coming off a baking sheet. This process does require very careful measuring to insure a good fit.

But the big story here is how Rob’s spiked and lighted hoops look at night. They appear to float over the arrangement. Thought we covered the foam with light strings before we stuck the branches into the foam, those circles of light are as distinctive as they are satisfying. They stand out from the glow.

This picture clearly illustrates the standing mechanism. The base is securely welded to the ring. This is a very large ring, so the spikes that go into the soil are wired to 4 pieces of rebar that go deep in to the container.

This lighted hoop is 5 feet in diameter. It does a terrific job of highlighting the centerpiece During the day, that steel hoop is very sculptural. The light rings add a whole other dimension to a winter container arrangement. The LED lights draw very little in the way of electricity. We have clients who run them in their garden all year round. To follow are as collection of pictures of winter arrangements featuring the hoops. If I had a mind to make just one winter gesture in the garden, I would hang or spike one in a spot where I could see all winter. It is a lot of look in a small and durable package.

Why am I writing about lighted hoops for winter containers in October? Jackie has been steadily shipping them out all over the country for the past 3 weeks. Whether you are local or far away from the Works, if you have a mind to hoop it up this winter, you may want to contact her now.  Jackie@detroitgardenworks.com.  Further interested in sizing and pricing?  Lighted hoops from Detroit Garden Works

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Hands

A designer emailed me around 11 one morning last week to ask if we could select 10 large pots, fill them for fall, and deliver them downtown the following morning. Of course it would involve making some changes to the plans we had for the day – that was the easy part. What would be tough is the fact that he is based out of state, and would be boarding a plane to Detroit in just a few hours. A computer is indeed a sophisticated communication device, but this would need to be handled via the picture taking feature on a phone.  First things being first, Rob and I tried to select a number of different styles of pots. Pictures of them were sent by text. And then pictures of plants and other fall materials. The first pictures got some commentary, and then nothing. We knew our client was in the air.

Around 2pm I considered an alternate plan for my crew for the rest of the day, but shortly thereafter we got the go ahead. One crew was charged with bringing the soil and bark from our landscape building, and the other filled pots with what materials were available at the shop. That gave David and Natasha enough time to construct the first few centerpieces. Once they were done, they could be set in the pots, and firmly secured with short steel rebar and concrete wire. Pots going to a commercial location need to be jostle resistant. Happily these hand made Italian terra cotta pots are very heavy, as the clay is so thick. They are fairly tall, but have a big footprint.

Charged with planting them as I saw fit was a big plus. There would not be time to make suggestions and wait for a reply. Nor would there be time for me to mull it over. Having to produce a lot of work in a short amount of time means making decisions so the work can proceed. My part in the project was small.  I decided to make three pairs of matching centerpieces, but all 6 pots would be planted differently.

You can tell when a crew has been working together successfully. Once the scope of the work is defined, everyone settles in to their part in making the project go efficiently. These pictures don’t reveal how the conversation moves from the work at hand to good natured banter, and back to the work again. David usually builds centerpieces alone, but this time Natasha was right there handing him materials when he needed them.

Karen took time out from planting to attach the concrete wire to the rebar, as she was in the right spot at the right time to do it. All of them participate in everything, even though their strengths may be different. My landscape crew plants lots of woody plant material, but they can plant ornamental cabbage just as well. Good planting practices are the same, no matter what is going in to the ground. Just like a tree or a shrub, a cabbage has a face. Taking the time to figure that out and plant accordingly is what makes a newly planted pot beautiful from the beginning.

The kale and cabbage will continue to grow, as long as they have sufficient water and feed. A cabbage whose lower leaves are turning yellow and dropping is a cabbage in need of some food. Even though it is mid October, we put osmocote in the pots. Like many downtown areas, ours will stay warm very late in to the fall from all the latent heat in the buildings, walkways and roads. It is entirely concievable that the pots will look good well in to December.

It is rare that we deliver pots already planted. Pots full of soil and plants are quite heavy, and awkward to move. It is much easier to bring the materials, and plant on site. In this case it would be loads easier to just deliver the finished pots and set them in place. Some commercial venues are not conducive to construction, and it can be difficult to clean up. We made sure all of the plants were thoroughly soaked before we planted. We would wait until the pots were placed to water in the entire pot. This made it a little easier to move the pots onto the truck.

The last 4 pots were low cast stone bowls. No centerpieces were called for. These stone salad bowls full of greens would be a good compliment to the tall terra cotta pots with their tall centerpieces. Though you see soil and debris on the ground, great care was taken to keep any soil away from the surface of the pot.

just about finished

As fast as they were planted, they were loaded on the truck. Each pot was packed in its own nest of bagged soil.

We were packed up and ready to go by 5:30 pm. The delivery the next morning was thankfully uneventful. I will be keen to see the entire display once it is done.

Decoration

What is decoration? The dictionary says it is something that is added to something else to make it more attractive. As awkward as this might sound, I think this sums it up rather well. It is indeed a certain special and personal something added to an ordinary something. Others say it is the act of adorning, embellishing or honoring. A one word description of decoration might be ornamentation. All manner of living creatures decorate their home, nest or self with the idea of attracting a potential mate. From the most simple to the most sophisticated level, people decorate. Many decorate their homes for specific holidays. Bakers decorate cakes based on an expression for special occasion. Some people hang bunting in celebration of the 4th of July. Some fashion houses embroider over a selected fabric, for beauty’s sake. Those of us who wear glasses welcome the opportunity to wear a beautiful pair of glasses. Everyone decorates the place where they live to make is more personal and pleasing. That decoration may take the form of paint, furniture, flooring, art, hardware, rugs-the list of decorative elements from which to choose is long. Anyone who wishes to decorate has not only hundreds of years of precedence, but also an astonishing range of choices.

Where am I going with this? Gardeners plant trees, shrubs and perennials. They dig beds, and plant. We all plant for different reasons.  Some need a place to sit in the shade. Others like to grow vegetables. Some plant in a way friendly to their kids, or their age. Others favor a landscape that is friendly to company. But no doubt a good bit of planting that gardeners do has to do with an expression of beauty. Decorating a container with plants is a satisfying way to celebrate the season.

The meaning of beauty is far too wide a topic for me to address. I find it tough to write about what constitutes beauty, as everyone’s opinion is different. Maybe the best part of beauty is the process by which people create it.  Most gardeners have an idea of what constitutes beauty in the garden, and they plant towards that. Gardens of great age are gardens that have evolved, as nothing in a garden ever stands still.  Any planting needs to be appropriate to the location and the existing conditions. That is a given. But what lies beyond the given?

A beautiful celebration of the fall season is enchanting. Anyone who chooses to plant their containers for fall have months of beauty ahead of them. The opportunity for creating beauty exists in all of our gardening seasons. Planting containers for fall comes just in time to let go of the waning summer plants.

I am a big fan of the ornamental cabbage and kale for fall containers. They tolerate the late summer and early fall heat, and they endure the coming of the cold. Cool weather initiates a brilliant coloration in the leaves. The kale pictured above will eventually sport leaves of turquoise, purple and cerise pink.  I have had ornamental cabbage and kale looking great in to January. Our crop this year is exceptional.

Container plantings are quite unlike garden and landscape installations. They express the beauty of the moment.

cabbage “Rosebud”

cabbage, kale and broomcorn

Redbor kale

welcome to fall.