Freezing Weather

holiday containers 2014 (5)Our recent weather has been much more like January than November.  Day time temperatures the the 20’s, and night temperatures in the low teens does not mean we postpone our winter container work. Even if we could, there isn’t any need. If the prospect of doing winter container arrangements is leaving you cold, perhaps some of our techniques might help make it more satisfying.  Trying to create is tough when one’s fingers and toes are numb. Most of our construction is done indoors-in our garage. Any enclosed space will be a more comfortable environment in which to to work, even if it isn’t heated much. When we do go outdoors, it is for active work-the installation part.

holiday containers 2014 (6)Some of our centerpieces are constructed ahead of the installation time.  A very stout bamboo stake is at the center of every centerpiece.  All of the other materials are arranged around that stake.  Sometimes a good quality rubber band helps to keep the materials in place until you get everything arranged exactly as you wish.  For large and heavy materials, a loose zip tie will do the trick.  For very heavy materials, another pair of hands is best.  Once all of the materials are arranged to suit, we tighten the zip ties with a pair of piers.  Very bulky and heavy materials are secured with concrete wire. A centerpiece may have multiple components or layers.

holiday containers 2014 (7)We construct forms for our greens from dry floral foam.  We glue two layers together for added strength. All of our premium greens are in the range of 18″ long, and are fairly weighty.  Large scale pots may ask for that entire width over the edge in order to look properly proportioned. We can get 2 lengths of greens from one long bough for smaller pots. For pots larger than 36″ in diameter, we usually glue the foam form to a piece of 1/2 inch thick exterior plywood for added support.  The winter pots need to look good over a long period of time in which the weather can bring high winds and heavy snow. Nothing is more miserable than trying to repair a winter container arrangement gone over in mid January or February.  The foam form is secured to the soil in the pot in two ways.  We remove the top 4 inches of soil, so the lower level of foam fits down into the container. The upper level holds all of the boughs.  We sharpen the stems of the greens, for a tight fit.  We then drive rebar through the foam and greens into the soil, and wire the steel posts together. The hole you see in the center of the foam-a place for the centerpiece.  Foam forms do not have to be exact.  They are an armature giving support and flexibility to the finished arrangement.

holiday containers 2014 (8)All that remains to add to the centerpieces on site are those finishing materials that gives each winter container a distinct and unique look. Very contemporary winter pots may be as simple as a mass of twigs set into cut greens. There are plenty of other materials available, should you want a softer look.  These winter pots have sinamay (also known as poly mesh), bleached pine cones, pale gold holiday picks, and mini vine rolls. Rob does a great job of sourcing a wide variety of materials that can find their way into winter pots. He likes giving every gardener lots of choices. We have a long winter containers 2014 (3)All of these accessory materials are either wired to the greens, or wedged into the stick stack.  All of these materials will be fine outdoors over a winter. Does this process seem like much too much work?  It isn’t really-as the process from raw materials to finished container is not only fun, but doable.  Any gardener can do winter pots for themselves.

First National 2014 (1)
In composing a winter pot, keep in mind that you are without that miracle we know as growing. The winter pots are the same size and scale on the last day of winter as they are on the first. Eucalyptus is bulky-a single bunch will go a long way.  If your container is large, consider 2.  If you want to feature this material, go to three bunches, and use fewer fresh cut twigs.  Sinamay is a synthetic mesh that when rouched like smocking, will occupy lots of space.  No amount of snow will distort the shape you create from the beginning.  I brush the snow off my sinamay at home when the snow threatens to bury it. Curly Grapevine rolls create a lot of volume from not much material.  These mini vine rolls are perfect for adding an airy layer of interest to this pot.

First National 2014 (2)The materials in these pots are subtly colored, but are of a volume proportional to the size of the pot.  The centerpieces is red bud pussy willow, in a 5-6 foot height.  Some pots need a tall element. Branches are graded by height, so the height you need is the height you get.    The fresh cut natural branch sets the stage for the character of all of the other elements.

First National 2014 (3)Though the pots are 36″ tall, and 36″ in diameter, the arrangement is graceful.  Each pot is different, as they are done by hand.  Done by hand can endow anything you with a certain feeling.  Containers imagined and arranged by gardeners have that hand made look. The evidence of the human hand is always attracts my attention and interest.

holiday containers 2014 (4)These pots could stand as is until the spring.  I don’t mind a little sparkle during the winter.  Alternately, they would work just as well, if the sinamay and pale gold sparkle picks came out after New Years.
holiday containers 2014 (2)These very large containers have enough variation in materials to provide some interest, even though the color palette is subdued.

holiday containers downtown 2014The steel gray color of the pots was an important consideration in the selection of the materials.

holiday containers 2014 (1)Few things pain me more than pots sitting empty over the winter. Pots full of this or that, enduring over the course of the winter, speak to the hope that grounds every gardener.  The garden goes on all year round, does it not?  Some seasons, the forms and available materials are different. No reason not to celebrate, whatever the weather.


  1. Another great lesson from a favorite teacher, Deborah! About how many yards of sinamay is used for one of the pots in the pictures? Praying for a bit of a thaw so I can make the mad dash to fix up the pots…
    Best to all this Thanksgiving week.

  2. Jennifer Williams says

    Great to visit the store today and see you! The flocked trees are stunning!
    Enjoyed watching the guys create the container centerpieces in the warehouse.
    Each one is a work of art.
    Always a special treat to bring home a few Christmas decorations to add to my collection!
    Happy Thanksgiving and thank you
    for all the joy that you, Rob & your staff bring to SO many!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, there is a lot going on-there is plenty to enjoy about this time of year. Thanks for your letter, Deborah

  3. Eddie Cummings says

    Still an inspiration, love it!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks for the kind words, Eddie-I appreciate it. Hope you will have time to stop by this holiday season. best, Deborah

  4. Barbara Zieg says

    I love the eucalyptus in the winter containers. Is it dried, preserved, or fresh? Can silver dollar eucalyptus be used?

  5. Deborah,
    You, Rob and your crew remind me of what a fun season this can be!
    Your winter planters are stunning!

  6. Joel and I must come visit !
    Pretty things !!
    Holiday Greetings.

  7. carolyn jordan-white says

    yesterday i worked on making a pot for my front porch from some different “sticks” i had ordered. (unfortunately i am in Atlanta and unable to see Detroit Garden Works offerings.) As i was looking at it trying to decide what it needed my AH HA moment was your Blog… it needed some fresh greens around the edge!!
    thank you,

  8. I love this post of yours! Thank you for giving us amateurs clear instructions. It’s very interesting to see how the base for arrangements is made and how it’s secured. I find it fairly simple to find greens, twigs, etc… but to find the cool containers isn’t so easy. Keep up the great work-it’s very inspirational!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, Finding great looking containers is why I opened Detroit Garden Works to begin with. The containers are just as much a part of the arrangement as any of the other elements. Deborah

  9. Qing Tweddle says

    Deborah, thank you so much for generously share how to make the stunning arrangements in detail! I made my first four urns this winter about two weeks ago! Your work is a great inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing! Love to read your articles! Love! Qing from Birmingham MI

  10. Hi. Just gorgeous arrangements!! Thank you for the instructions!! I have done my front urns before by sticking red twigs and greens right into the potting soil. Then the soil freezes and holds them. Have not tried floral foam.
    I am afraid the soil is already partially frozen this year. Suggestions?
    I want to do them like yours– bought wooden dowels and rebar (trying both). Now your pole doesn’t look like you leave it sticking out very far- that one foot or so holds the whole stick arrangement?
    Lastly what about the freezing and thawing of the potting soil? I don’t want any more cracks in these concrete urns!
    Thank you so much!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mary, when we get to the job site, we pound the stick down into the soil. You will be able to do that even if the soil is partially frozen. During the construction the pole is up much higher.The dry foam will not absorb any water whatsoever. If you have a tight fit, no water will get into the pots. best, Deborah

  11. Wendy Noreyko says

    I love that you share your methods! I’ve used many ideas already and they’re always spot-on. But greens into dry foam? I thought the greens had to have a wet environment. Please explain!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Wendy, read my reply to John below. Evergreens are suited to a long dormant winter period when they cannot take up water. Your evergreens in the ground will stop drinking as soon as the ground freezes, even though they are alive. Evergreens that die can take months to turn brown. Spraying the branches with an anti dessicant will help. best Deborah

  12. Love, love, love your blog! I was referencing last year’s blog regarding sinamay and noticed you used garland lights in your pots……what is the difference in garland lights and regular Christmas lights? And where can you find them?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sabrina, 1 strand of garland lights has 300 bulbs, and the wire is shorter than a regular 100 strand set. We carry them at Detroit Garden Works. Thanks, Deborah

  13. I just want to say I so look forward reading your blog every time a new post comes out!!! This blog regarding container arrangements is spectacular!!! Even though we lived in the Detroit area 33 years ago, we now live in Houston where it is several climate zones warmer. We have a tropical lagoon pool with 20 tons of moss rock artistically arranged into a double waterfall & rock ledge, surrounded by our tropical garden full of plumeria, palms, Bird of Paradise, bananas, bougainvillea, etc.. Many in huge pots surrounding the pool. Your blog has been such an inspiration for creating our masterpieces of nature! I still learn so much from your blog and have told all of our remaining family members & friends about it and you place of business!!!

    Thank you and looking forward to your next post!!!

    I am ‘thankful’ for Dirt Simple!!!!!

    Mary Jane

  14. Do the greens hold up all winter in the dry foam ok? These are stunning…I actually thought there had to be a ton more work put into them, but you simplified it! Inspiring for sure!!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Shelly, what makes a holiday display stunning is to use the right about of materials. Skimpy materials look skimpy. To economize, set each branch of a centerpiece one stem at a time with a little space between the branches. This will take up space, so you use fewer greens to create a more dense blanket. The greens hold up fine-especially fir. Mountain hemlock and Douglas fir holds like iron. You can sometimes find the cut offs from Christmas trees, or small Douglas fir trees unlikely to sell-cut them up for your container evergreens. White pine and cedar are not so great. Cedar branches are flat, with lots of surface area. They dry out just about overnight. I don’t use them. I do use incense cedar, and port orford cedar, but I try to use them with other greens that protect their flat sides from dessicating sun and wind. best, Deborah

  15. Jennifer,
    Would love to know the brand of the first container, gray circular pots in these photo’s I am from the Seattle area and would love to order the pots. You do an amazing job on your containers!
    Thanks Marnie

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marnie, those pots are made by my company, the Branch Studio. If you look up, there is a section on the Branch Studio. We do ship. So glad you like them! thanks, Deborah

      • Marnie White says

        Thank you so much for the quick response. I was looking on your website and found all your amazing containers with photo’s and prices. thanks again

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