The Warm Up

Nov 2b 020

No gardener’s November need be drab. Though the time for planting in ground is drawing to a close, we are just warming up for the late fall, winter, and holiday seasons. Since the winter season in Michigan is every bit as long as the summer, why not celebrate it? We have made a specialty of making all manner of natural materials available to anyone for whom a pot sitting empty and forlorn all winter is not an option.  The fantail willow I discussed last week has other equally beautiful relatives. Shrub form dogwood branches are available in a wide range of colors-and I do mean color.  Should I ever decide to take up farming, I think I would grow shrubs for their twigs, and milkweeds.  The above picture of flame willow and milkweeds is just one idea aimed at decorating November.

Nov 8 019

I do have curly willow trees on my shop property.  They can be a headache, dropping twigs constantly; one 30 foot tree fell flat to the ground on a very windy day. But what makes them bad also makes them good.  We topped that tree at six feet, dragged it upright with a truck and chain, and replanted the exposed portion of its rootball; it is back to growing just fine now.  The willows take very well to hard pruning, and provides us with a source of brilliantly colored branches.  Barely worth a glance in leaf, the bare branches are luscious in color, form and texture. 

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (104)

Copper red curly willow-the name says it all.  As the new growth has the best color, regular pruning is key.  This fresh growth is known as the coppice wood.  The stout branches that make up our hazelwood fence panels are harvested in the same way. 

Nov 8 071The golden coppery orange is a great foil for the landscape gone to black and white.  The fresh branches are limber and pliable. The curly tops can be tied up in a good approximation of a pony tail, or twisted and tied into new shapes not necessarily natural, and perhaps more contemporary. 

Nov 9 010

Red bud willow comes bundled ten stems to a bunch, and ten bunches to a bale.  The stems are straight; the color is good top to bottom. It’s clear these plants are being grown specifically for harvest.  Left outside in a pot all winter, the buds will break in the spring.  This pussy willow will look great from November on into the following May.  Many of the willow stems will root, if they are stuck in soil in a pot.  If you arrange all of your materials in dry floral foam as I do, sometimes a fresh cut and a well watered spot in the garden will produce rooting.   

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (103)The shrubby dogwoods are every bit as useful as the willows.  They also produce the best color on new wood.  If you grow these dogwoods in your garden, be sure to prune them down regularly and hard.  The old bark of shrubby dogwoods is dull, and invariably scarred by exposure to weather. I rarely see yellow twig dogwood planted any more-plants do go in and out of fashion.  This cultivar was specifically bred for color superior to the species- and it delivers.   

Nov 8 022Many cultivars of red twig dogwood are available now. With bark ranging in color from pink-coral to coral, orange red, fire engine scarlet red, and maroon, these twigs make quick work of banishing the winter gardening blues.  This cultivar, aptly named “Cardinal”  is the brightest red bark I have ever seen.  The 1500 stems in this crate makes me wish I could see the entire field from which they were cut-the day the leaves drop. I would bet that view is a perfect gardening moment. 

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (102)Whatever you might fancy, the dormant garden has plenty to recommend it. The gathering of materials, and the act of decorating for the cold season is an act of Mitchell-esque defiance I can get right behind. 

Nov 9 014
These arrangements are the first of the season out the door. The color is subtle, and most of ther materials natural.  The preserved eucalyptus will perform just fine outdoors.  The forms are constructed such that my client has only to drop them in her pots, and level them. She is ready and looking forward to the new season.

Halloween Eve

Oct 7a 005Outfitting an antique iron urn with a life size Halloween sculpture of the wicked witch of the west was my client’s idea. I think she is as wild about Halloween as her kids; she has a whimsically good spirit about her.  So why not?  Lauren, who is young enough to be able to locate and shop on line with lightening speed, found me a a posable standing aluminum mannekin covered in foam, with a polyester stretch knit covering.  This figure was just waiting for an identity.  The adjustable aluminum pole enabled us to set the height of the sculpture properly in the urn.  The base plate went into the urn, and was stablilized with granite setts piled over top of it.

Oct 9 008Her vehicle was fashioned from a sharpened hickory fence pole, to which we attached black plastic grass; voila, a a suitably creepy broomstick.  The gearshift knob is a stick ball, which I loaded with threads of industrial strength hot melt glue.  For all the world it looks like she just flew through an industrial strength spider web. Or perhaps she has pet spiders that like go everywhere with her.

Oct 7a 014Apparently you can buy Halloween costumes in adult sizes. The outfit came complete with a suitably pointy hat with a tulle band, and the most fabulous pair of  witchy shoes with flared heels and buckles.  The striped socks and  dirty chartreuse garden gloves came from Lauren.  This girl is dressed to kill.  

Oct 9 010Her face is ghoulishly green perfection.  We mechanically fastened the mask to the head of the mannequin; any part of the sculpture going askew as a result of our unpredictable October weather would not be good.   One ping pong ball split in two is the basis for the eyes.  They bulge out of the vinyl eye sockets in a terrifying way; Lauren painted on the chartreuse eyeballs, and exploded capillaries. Warty pumpkins and gourds cover the base plate.  The decapitated fabric dolls-some with mini-pumpkin heads, are an especially gruesome touch.

Oct 9 012A few finishing touches to the surrounding landscape, and our witch was ready for Halloween.  This yard is decked out in spectacular anticipation of Halloween night.  The whole process of the installation stopped traffic; lots of people like the fun that is Halloween. Oct 7a 017Her hemp fiber hairdo befits her; hemp stuffed into her hat makes the most of that pointed shape. Though I have not devoted too much time here to the construction, I chose all of the materials to start with the idea that rain and wind would not disturb them. Of course we had both the day after the installation.  That polyester outfit shed the water, the tulle hat band held with water droplets to good effect.  She has been flying across the yard for the better part of three weeks-looking good.  

Oct 30 117The night sky changes the appearance of everything. As is evident in the above picture taken last night, there will be a prominent moon tomorrow; I am always appreciative whenever nature cooperates.

Oct 28 007The night light makes her appear all the more scary and threatening.  Uplighting is the most garish and unattractive light possible in a landscape; this is working to great advantage here. 

Oct 28 006
Scardy cats, beware!

A More Friendly Halloween

2008 Vlasic, Paul HALLOWEEN 10-31-08 (2)

These massive stone columns have another life this week; these ghosts have the look of a pair of running backs from the NFL.  The kids did not pick up on this-any big expression is a good expression.  Painting pumpkins is a good way to extend your holiday season; carved pumpkins deteriorate fast. A simple rendering of a face is a strong one; these ghouls look plain scared by the spiders drawing near.  The kids got this part, loud and clear.   

Prowse #2 (6)
One client whose landscape was designed by me features a center planting area perfect for seasonal vignettes.  The walkway enclosing it on all four sides makes for theatre in the round.  The granite wall-Rob and I built this ourselves, many years ago, one heavy stone at a time.  I remember this experience as if it were yesterday.  I am pleased it still looks great some fifteen years later.  

Prowse #2 (7)
Given that the space is large, I needed lots of elements, set at different heights. The textured pots you see here are liners for wire tree forms.  These liners are made from recycled asphalt and cardboard, ground up and poured into molds made in the 1940’s.  They make great rustic and inexpensive containers for special events.

Prowse #2 (3)
I have never forgotten the young person working for one of my clients in Indianapolis who thought “Hardy Mums” was a person running for office.  He saw the signs everywhere, and connected his own personal set of dots.  Every time I see a sign for hardy mums from the road, I laugh all over again.   Given that this scene was a big one, I bought the biggest hardy mums I could find in tight bud, and planted them in fiber pots.  Hardy Mums for President-what do you think?

Prowse (3) The centerpiece of my vignette-a straw scarecrow.  He is not very scary-the crows are perched all over him. The clothes and boots were contributed from the lot of us; the face got painted on a pillowcase.  His hat-some left over erosion mat from a hydroseeding job on a slope. He is one hundred percent straw stuffed-as he should be.  The corn shocks add height, and set our fall figure down-he looks pleased to be settled in where he is.  A hedge of gazanias knits everything together.

Prowse #2 (2)

This vignette is all about the growing and farming, the land, the harvest, and the garden, in a very gentle way.  Not every Halloween needs to be about terror.  Very young children can be easily frightened-I try not to get ahead of them.  There is plenty of time time for them to grow up into a love for skeletons dripping fake blood and severed plastic fingers littering the ground.
Prowse (2)
I have a soft spot for this blue-eyed scarecrow and his crow friends.  Perched on an embarassment of riches in straw and pumpkins, he is the centerpiece of this sunny fall display.  Happy Halloween.

Halloween Week, Day 2

Penske 1005 (5)Though I was surprised to hear from this client that Halloween was one of her family’s most important holidays, she had good reasons.  A sister living in Brazil came to visit every Halloween.  The family spent Christmas week skiing, away from home.  Last but not least, she has a slew of kids.  She had boxes of Halloween props-we used them all. A large antique English stone urn took the insult rather well, I thought.  Bamboo dyed black, and a  stick stack of decidedly unnatural color provided perches for three ravens.  Green millet and orange integrifolia clashed noisily.  The giant spiders -they were creepy to look at in broad daylight.

Penske 1005 (4)We would put up the Halloween decorations the beginning of October.  For this reason, the use of wood props and plastic carved pumpkins seemed like a good idea.  Though I am not a big fan of mums, these bushel basket grown plants add big splashes of color.  The skull lights along the walk are a favorite of the kids.

Penske 1005 (13)Though the scarecrow witch seemed sweet and benign, those spiders create an unmistakeable mood.  We managed to find a spot for every bat, skull and skeleton in my client’s collection.  At Halloween, more is always better.

Penske 1005 (9)The side porch columns get dressed up in broomcorn, sticks and whatever else is available at market, all of which is held in place with zip ties covered in giant raffia bows. The corn gets zipped  on in three layers, from top to bottom.  Each new layer covers the construction materials of the preceding layer.  I have also dressed tree trunks in similar outfits.

Penske 1005 (17)The side porch door gets the most family traffic in and out, so we give it the full treatment. All of the carved pumpkins are lit from the inside.  Good and spooky night lighting is a key element.

Another year we went for more gloom.  Black millet, maroon lettuce and dead grass make a good nest for the spider. New skull lights illuminate the walk.  Don Taylor grew the impossibly long gourds; he trained the vines up and over a pergola, so the fruits would grow upright and down. One gourd was closing in on eight feet long.

I bought boxes and boxes of little spiders.  These we attached to every available surface with a hot glue gun.  This was tedious work, but the effect was suitably revolting. At the time this picture was taken, we still had at least 500 spiders yet to stick up.

The side porch got giant webby garlands of hemp fiber and grapevine. And more spiders.  Amazingly, the big spiders were entirely wired, permitting us to place them in the most threatening positions we could dream up.

Penske Halloween (5)
This sweet little vintage farm girl peeking out of her pumpkin home seems oblivious to the coming invasion of the spiders. Poor thing; pity that!