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

Water In The Garden


I suppose there are those moments when rain in the garden means trouble. A windy and strong downpour can knock the peonies and the delphiniums to the ground. Heavy rains can weigh down the flower panicles of hydrangeas in full bloom. A tree hydrangea whose flowers are stooped over from heavy rain – I avert my eyes. Why is it that the only time we have silly crazy and pounding rain is when I am trying to get Milo out of the car and in to the house at the end of the day?  I do not love being drenched. But in general, I am very grateful for that rain that nurtures my landscape and garden.

The garden after a heavy rain has a juicy and saturated look. Even the air seems freshly washed. The lichens on the backs of my chairs are a sure sign that those chairs have been watered. Our rains are more regular come the fall season. Given cooler temperatures, these pots will not require any water from a hose for a few days. What the picture above does not express is the action and sound of that rain, but this does:  pouring rain The sound and the action of water in the landscape is a benefit of another sort.

I may have told this story before, but in my mind, it bears repeating. My last birthday gift from my Mom before she passed was a stack of beach towels. Beach towels? I asked her why. I am embarrassed to say I was irritated by her gift. Mom’s have a different vision – don’t they? She replied that of course I did not have a use for beach towels. I was always working. She thought it might be a good idea for me to go to the beach once in a while. She left me some money when she died. I spent every penny of it on this fountain in my back yard. Every day after work, I go to this particular beach, and think of her. The sound of that water adds the element of music to the garden. The action of the water is both mesmerizing and relaxing. It is no surprise that many people feel that living on a body of water of some sort is a quality of life issue. My garden life is all the better for this body of water.

Years ago I had no interest in water in the garden. That was tone deaf. Sounds in the garden are so much a part of the landscape. The birds and bees-and the water. I routinely suggest to clients that a water feature in the garden is a good idea. Big or small – that makes no difference. A representation of water in a garden within earshot endows that garden with a special gift. Call that whatever you like-communing with nature, or enjoying blissfully relaxing white noise.

This recirculating fountain jar features a basin that can be installed above or below ground. The pump is in the basin, and is disguised by a layer of rock over a screen. The action of this fountain is very subtle, but unmistakable. Of course there is maintenance involved. The basin needs refilling occasionally, as water is inevitably lost to evaporation. At the end of the season, a trap door in the basin provides access by which the pump can be removed and stored for the winter. This pot is glazed stoneware, so it can be left out for the winter. I might be inclined to put a simple plywood cover over the top to keep snow out of the pot. The fountain jet passes through the drain hole, and is sealed in place, the pot no longer drains.

This 3 tiered fountain was forged in cast iron by an English artist Michael Hill. The fountain has been installed in a large pool, which captures the water coming over the edges. This fountain both streams and splashes water. It provides a very lively focal point for this part of the landscape.

This is the first Hudson fountain cistern the Branch Studio made many years ago. Subsequent to that time, we have fabricated and shipped them all over the country for clients and designers in search of a simple, rugged, and substantial fountain to place in the landscape. They have also made this fountain in custom sizes and versions. One very large fountain that went to California has a 1/2′ thick and 10″ wide steel return-suitable for sitting.

Some 12 years later, we have this Hudson fountain cistern running at the shop. Like the look?  See this for the action and sound: Hudson fountain cistern

This oval fountain with its angled handles was inspired by a vintage tub Rob brought back from France years ago.

Branch hemispherical fountain purchased and placed in the landscape by the design firm Reed Dillon and Associates.

small glazed fountain ensemble

This oval stick fountain was fabricated at Branch. The client who purchases it was sufficiently enchanted to have it craned over his house to it final location in the garden. Water sustains life for all living things. You and me, and the landscape. A fountain – a vessel for that water – can take no end of interesting and visually satisfying forms. Suffice it to say that if it lives and prospers, it has gotten sufficient water.

Choosing Containers

Strictly speaking any object that can hold soil and permit water to drain away constitutes a container. The choices are infinite, really. A container planting that considers the size, shape and style of the container as an essential part of the overall effect is especially beautiful to my eye. A choice of container represents a gardener’s point of view as much as the plants they choose. If a cottage garden, and the notion of farm to table enchants you, then a collection of vintage pails, washtubs and crates planted up with flowers and herbs will help to make that point of view visually stronger. If the architecture of your home is clean, crisp and contemporary, then pots of that ilk will look right at home.

If a whiff of history is your idea of a great fragrance, then antique or reproduction antique pots will serve your point of view well. If a planting that flows over the edges of a pot all the way to the ground represents your style and and sense of beauty, then go for simple containers that afford plenty of planting square footage for your sprawling plants. This is all by way of saying that taking the time and effort to find containers that strongly appeal to your aesthetic and style of gardening is time well spent. An enthusiasm for your containers is infectious. It will not only inspire your design and choice of plants, but it will be an insistent call to keep your plantings healthy and growing.

Choose containers that are suited to their placement. Pots on the front porch need to be proportional to the size of the porch an entry way. Front porch pots and plantings that compliment the architecture and can be seen from the sidewalk are welcoming. Pots on an outdoor dining terrace should be scaled such that the plantings are near eye level to seated guests. Containers that screen an untoward view get a leg up from some extra height and width. A container on an outdoor dining table should be low enough to encourage conversation back and forth. A container set in the landscape needs to have sufficient size and interest to stand out, and command attention. A great pot can provide a little pomp and circumstance to an awkward garden transition.

I recommend containers with substantial planting area. A decent amount of dirt space means an idea about color, texture, mass and contrast can be thoroughly explored. This is not to say that a tall oval glazed pot with room only for one 8″ pot can’t carry the day. It can. It is the gardener that has to choose the pot that best represents the style they wish to convey. I like lots of room, so I can put together a collection of seasonal plants that have enough room to grow up together, interact, and shine. Big containers mean a big soil mass. Large pots make it easier to maintain a sufficient moisture level throughout the heat of the summer. A pot that will forgive you if you are late taking up the hose is a pot worth having. Small pots that need water several times a day would not work for me. I work long days, and coming home to a container whose plants are flopped over from lack of water makes my stomach churn. Water stressed plants stress me. Big pots?  Bring them on.

Knowing the gardener in you through and through should inform your choice of pots. A beautiful pot is a sculpture that invites the addition of plants to complete its beauty. Or not. A beautiful pot, sitting empty in a landscape, can be breathtaking. Great pots can be addressed by a gardener any number of ways. But no matter the planting or the not planting, that pot is an ornament for the garden that should be a treasure.

A collection of great pots can be had all at once, or assembled over a period of time. Some great pots are inherited, or come from a county flea market. Others have been stowed away in a shed, unused, for years. Still others can be repurposed from a kitchen or barn. The pots pictured above are made from recycled tires.

Recycled containers, especially those made from galvanized metal, are a favorite of Rob’s. They are a great addition to a cottage style garden. They look equally at home in a more contemporary setting. The steel in these vintage containers is much thicker and more weather resistant than sheet metal containers being manufactured now. Will these eventually show signs of the galvanized layer wearing thin?  Probably. But considering that these are already in excess of 40 years old, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Vintage and reproduction pots can have just as much charm as antique ones-especially if they have been outdoors long enough to have acquired a patina of lichens or moss.  The lichens on the rim of this vintage pot will spring back into action, as soon as they are exposed to weather.

Weathering is an inevitable consequence of being outdoors. Any surface which absorbs water can provide a foothold for colonies of small plants. For those gardeners who like a clean look, choose pots with a surface that resist the weather. Glazed or enameled pots do not absorb water from the outside. They can easily be cleaned with soap and water. Pots that do not absorb water do not breathe.  This means water only evaporates from the surface of the soil that is exposed at the top. This is a good choice of container for the gardener who has a long list of responsibilities besides watering every day. I helped such a gardener pick pots some years ago. She fills a collection of waterproof containers every year with waterlilies, lotus and floater plants.

The right pots? You’ll know when you see them, and can’t forget about them.

The Cloister Style Pergola, Part Two

You may not have read in November of last year a post about a landscape renovation that we have had underway since June of 2018. A part of this project in process involves the design and fabrication of a large scale cloister style pergola. The story behind the design and fabrication? Click here for the details.   the design and fabrication of a steel cloister The 2018 story concluded with that moment when 18 tons of steel sections and parts finally made their way to the site for installation. Of note was the fact that wet weather necessitated building a road back to the installation site. A structure of this size had to be assembled on site, so Buck engineered it to be put together and set up one section at a time. Just before Thanksgiving, a large boom crane moved in for the duration, as each section of the structure would be far too heavy to maneuver by hand.

It was slow going. The weather was bitterly cold and muddy. The finished size of this structure is 47 feet long by 36′ wide. I have no idea how many pieces there were in total, but there were enough to call the installation of this pergola a puzzle of enormous size. To make every section line up perfectly so it could be bolted to the previous section was daunting. The process made my eyes water.

Eventually the structure took shape. Seeing it go up was an experience like no other I have ever had as a designer. The model I built my client was the size of a piece of copy paper- 8.5″ by 11″. Of course the model did not at all describe the actual structure that was to enclose 1700 square feet. The model was a not so accurate expression of a structure as it was an attempt to express an idea of the landscape shot through with romance. What?? Romance is my middle name. Ha. As much as I admire classic French landscapes for their edited expression, and coolly compelling geometry, Italian gardens and landscapes have that element of romance that I find irresistible. As for this steel cloister, suffice it to say the design is as more about my client and her love of the garden than anything else. Though I had spent hours going over every proportion and detail, at some point I had to commit to a design. And a presentation of that design to my client. In May of last year, she decided to go ahead and build.

Cloister? In its simplest form, a cloister is a covered walkway. This structure has a six foot wide walkway all the way around the perimeter. That walkway is covered by roof panels constructed in an open and elongated diamond pattern. The cover will provide some shade, but will permit light and rain to come through. That pattern is repeated on the fascia panels at the top. There are 32 round columns, each of which is bolted to a concrete foundation that goes 42″ deep into the ground. Between each pair of columns is a pair of curved steel brackets. This curved detail compliments the roundness of the columns, and the solid steel spheres that ornament the structure.

Buck’s first drawing of the cloister showed square columns. The look on his face when I told him that I wanted round columns was an unmistakable sign that I was asking for the moon.  After he explained that engineering flat surfaces to perfectly line up and be attached to a curved surface would be just about impossible, I paused. The roof and fascia panels would be built from round rod, and each panel would feature steel spheres. The round columns would be essential in giving a structure of this size a graceful appearance. The architecture of this stately old home was not asking for an industrial look. Please? He relented.

Buck did a superb job of engineering, and his group did an equally fine job of fabricating. My client took this photograph and the following one after a snow storm this past winter. I was delighted to see how the snow outlined and described every detail of the structure. It will be a feature of the landscape every season of the year. As planned, the cover over the walkway was permeable to both light and water. In the immediate foreground of this picture is the roof of a very simple version of the cloister over the dining and grilling terrace that is directly adjacent to the house.

The snow made it easier to see the long diamonds and dots pattern on the roof, fascia panels, and the main entrances into the space.

Now that the long winter is over, we are back on the project. I have every confidence that come late May, this landscape will be ready for her to enjoy. We have little to do in the interior of the pergola. Bringing up the soil level to grade, planting the roses, installing the edger strip and grass is about it. The irrigation in this area is underway, and the tile for the fountain pool is due in May first.

This was the first time I had seen the completed structure since the work began. I was thrilled with how it looked. And incredibly appreciative to have a client who made it possible. Their are limestone stepping stones yet to come. I had the roses custom grown several years ago. Dan and David have been growing them on, so we would have plants of some size from the beginning. The furniture and pots for this area have been in storage at our landscape building since last September. Though I will probably post about this project again when the landscape is complete, this is a very special moment for my entire group. The best part?  Our client is pleased.


In the homestretch now.