The Right Scale

Few things are harder than working at a proper scale.  Constructing anything at the right scale-whether it be a landscape, a garden, a swath of groundcover, or a holiday window box, getting the project scaled properly is directly related to the level of confidence one feels taking on the project.  What do I mean by this?  A lack of confidence in one’s idea dimished the result.  Confidence makes for properly scaled expressions. The size of a project needs to be properly proportioned to the size of a space.   

What appears to be a giant size under construction in the garage gets visually downsized once it goes outdoors.  They do not call it the great outdoors for nothing.  Even my tiny urban property is bigger than any space or room I have inside my house.  Add the sky to that property-outdoor spaces are big spaces.  Groups of 1 or 3 tulips in a perennial garden is a tentative gesture.  Planted in 9’s and 11’s, there may be a significant spring statement in the works. 

A client ordered up a winter display in her second story window boxes.  The iron boxes with their coir liners are enormous.  Quite properly proportioned, or scaled, to the building.  The boxes have liners that are but a tenth the size of the visible iron work.  This is not a good proportion.  I protested that I could not do make the winter displays large enough for the iron work, in 4 liners that were 8″ by 8″ by 6 inches deep.  She asked me to try.    

The four liners are not even visible here.  We stuffed the four liners it took to fill one box with dry floral foam.  Then we stuffed those liners with as much material as we could.

This picture shows the size of liner number 3, versus the overall size of the window box.  What appeared so massive indoors got a visual dressing down at the installation.  Inside these hayrack style window boxes-a plywood platform on which these small liners would sit. 

A fall planting of cabbages and pansies is barely visible from the ground.  Any display on the second floor, to be viewed from the ground, needs to be overscaled by 3 or 5 times.  Our winter display to the right is barely big enough.   

I was happy with the finished scale.  Not that it could not have been bigger.  This is my first try with these boxes.  They read from the ground, but they could read better.  Would that the greens could be thicker, and lower.  The platinum twigs-are they too subtle?  We installed these boxes this past Saturday-it was warm, and windless.  A miraculously benign late November day.   

The window boxes are a major architectural feature of this new house.  I like the shape and the size.  I was worried that I would underscale the winter display-as well I should have been.  It is clear I could up size that display considerably, and be in no danger of overstating.  It is hard to find just the right size and scale.  Just think what it takes to find jeans and boots that fit right, and look right. The same applies to selecting the tree whose mature size will be the right scale for the space.  Or the right number of Russian sage that will create visual excitement.  Underscaled-this might make you sleepy.  Somewhat overscaled-bold.  Way overscaled-silliness.  The right scale takes skill, nerve, and lots of patience.

The Woolly Birds

I have a client that sends a number of my holiday wreaths as gifts every year.  The wreaths themselves are handmade by a local nursery.  I decorate the lot of them.  Monica orders all of the boxes, JP drops off the cards, Jenny prints out all of the UPS labels; Pam and Salvadore wire the wreaths into the boxes (UPS states very clearly that a box has to withstand a drop of 3 feet)-after I make them.  Lots of people are involved in making this event happen.  My favorite moment?  The UPS man hauling away all of those boxes.  They are on their way.

This years group of wreaths revolve around 2 elements.  Pam made all of the bows out of red jute twine that came from England. The knitted birds-who could resist them?  Bows and birds-so simple.  Those black bead eyes make eye contact.  Making eye contact-elemental, and powerful.  Look me in the eye-anyone would respond to this!  My little knitted birds have an emotional impact that far outweighs their simple construction and small shape.   

The other elements may vary-I want every wreath to be different.  Handmade-and one of a kind.  I would have a hard time making 16 wreaths all the same-so I am happy that I have free reign, provided the wreaths emphasize natural materials and forms. 

The knitted birds with felt tails and feathers caught my eye last January-when I was shopping for the holidays. Rope covered spheres, eucalyptus, pine cones, dried white canola berries and reindeer moss-festive. Natural.  This brown knitted bird perched on a red jute bow-my idea of holiday cheer.


I have to confess, my berries are faux berries. My cherries are faux cherries.  The red color?  That red is very real, very bright, very holiday. 

These wreaths are not your machine made variety.  They are handmade-thanks Dan.  They are less than perfectly circular.  Some wreaths I had to prune; some sections I have to wire back, or add to.  But for a wreath predicated on a love for natural materials,  I like these wild and wooly green wreaths as a base for this group of wreaths.

This knitted bird has a companion on his jute bow perch.  A knitted mushroom.  I have no idea which person on the gift list will get this wreath-but I hope they are pleased.  I did only one wreath with this detail.   

Making these wreaths has gone on long enough to become a holiday tradition for me.  Many thanks for this, BL. 

Did I photograph every wreath?  Yes, I did.  I send the pictures of every wreath to my client.  She cares much for every person to whom she sends a wreath.  I care much that she feels that I have represented that feeling of hers appropriately.  There are lots of pictures.

All of them have a look that says happy holidays.

The best of the holidays is about personal expression. 


Thanksgiving Day


I got an email today from a reader who lives in Williamsburg about their special way of decorating for and celebrating the holiday season.  She had no idea that pictures I saw 10 years ago of the wreaths, swags, garlands, and lighting at Williamsburg transformed my ideas about how to decorate for the holidays.  I do so love the Williamsburg holiday style; I find it a great source of inspiration. To follow is her letter.

 I happened upon your blog this morning while researching a bit for my holiday decorating.  I found your submission about Magnolias, and I agree they are beautiful and are a part of our holiday decorating every year.  I wanted you to know about the town where I live, because maybe one day I think you would truly appreciate a visit at the holidays, specifically at our Grand Illumination.  I live in Williamsburg, Virginia and the first weekend in December is always a big event as the Colonial part of town (restored area and living history site) decorates in colonial fashion for the holidays.  The fife and drum corps play and folks in costume walk around story telling, interacting, selling cider and ginger cakes etc.  Here is a link.  I hope you don’t find this too off the wall, but it is rare I find others who love to decorate naturally at the holidays, and therefore it is rare that I find folks who truly appreciate Williamsburg at Christmas.  Either way, I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful and good luck with the holidays!   Julie E.   Williamsburg, Va

She sent me several pictures of her home in Williamsburg, decorated for the holidays.  Has she not done a beautiful job? I especially like the grass spikes that criss cross behind her wreath.  The geometric arrangement of fruit I associate with the Williamsburg holiday-this is a beautiful interpretation of that idea. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Julie.  Many thanks for taking the time and effort to write.  Many more thanks to all of you who have taken the time to write-I truly appreciate it.

Holiday Decorating

 Yesterday was my first indoor holiday installation.  A client with an event coming up the first week of December wanted the bones of her holiday decor in place before Thanksgiving. This pair of topiaries began with moss mat glued over foam cones.  The spiral garlands of reindeer moss, accompanied by a delicate silver wire garland took some time and patience to glue up, but the result is festive and elegant.  The formal dining room sideboard fresh decor can be added just before the event.  Fresh materials at the holiday look and smell great, but I like adding them at the last minute.  Holiday ornament like this-tall, thin, and taking up little space-can be used in lots of different places.  Perhaps next year’s decor will call for them on a mantel.         

The breakfast room has an entirely different feeling than the formal dining room.  A garland studded with faux fruit is draped over the Welsh cupboard.    We filled her wood trough with lots of the same fruit.   This room is ready for the last minute addition of fresh greens, and candles. 

This pair of mossed cubes were topped with coulter pine cones, and variegated English boxwood.  Pinus coulteri is native to southern California and northern Mexico.  It produces the largest cones of any pine.  They can grow to a length of 16 inches, and weigh 10 pounds a piece.  I thought this pair of sculptures would look appropriate in the library.

The moss mat was applied over dry floral foam, making it easy to glue the heavy cones in an upright position, and insert the springs of boxwood.  They have a comfortably masculine look that is appropriate for the room.   

We paid lots of  holiday oriented attention to the foyer.  The moment a guest arrives, what they see first creates a lasting impression.  This is why I devote so much attention to the landscape of the driveway. The end of my drive is the foyer of my garden.  I come home every day, and I want what I see first when I get there to be beautiful and inviting. Decorating the foyer mirror and sconces means there is plenty of room on the table for family pictures, a holiday hostess gift, or a tray of champagne.  The oval magnolia wreath we made by gluing individual leaves over a foam form; the size and shape is friendly to the mirror.  A small suction cup provides a hook; the wreath weighs very little.  The sconces have glass ornament, silvery picks, silver fabric leaves, and magnolia wired to them.       

We dressed the staircase in a long needled faux pine garland.  We added glass holiday ornaments, glittered wire flower ornaments, and silvery pine picks for a soft and dressy look.  The result is beautiful and elegant.  The garland is affixed to the outside of the railing with black zip ties-this is friendly to the wood finish on the railing.  In between each length of garland-a pine pick of the same style.  This helps make a graceful transition from one garland swag to the next.  Most faux garlands are 6 feet long-which may or may not work with the length of your staircase.  The added picks helps to make the garland fit the space.

The living room fireplace mantel is short, with little depth. We attached overlapping bunches of preserved and whitewashed eucalyptus to a bamboo pole, cut to a length just shy of the width of this mantle.  We dressed that eucalyptus with silver fir greens, sparkly picks, and just a pair of bleached cones. Those cones address in a subtle way the color of the brass fireplace fender.  

The result is mindful of the elaborate carving on the mantel, and formal presentation of the fireplace.  Not every mantel asks for holiday garland that goes to the floor.  We will add a fresh and decorated wreath to the space above the fireplace, just before the event.  That wreath will be concolor and noble fir; both of these greens keep indoors over the course of the holiday. 

The fresh fir garland over the front door will stay fresh, given that the air temperature is cold.  The glass ornaments have had their caps glued on, to keep moisture out.  Not seen in this picture, a massive second story overhang supported by columns that will protect the glass from too much exposure to the weather.  The pots at the front door-this we will do next week.  This holiday project is well underway.