From Start To Finish

Once in a blue moon we have a client who decides to buy new pots in December. The process from purchase to finish involves a series of steps, the first of which is the placement. Installing pots in a bed, rather than on a hard surface, is not all that usual. But in this case, I think my client made a great choice. Starting over is an opportunity. For her, and for me. It took us a few days to put everything together, but our idea was to stay on the project from start to finish.

These substantial pots were set to be placed in a pair of beds that once held some very unhappy plant material.  By large, I mean 36″ tall, and 36″ in diameter at the top. The first order of business was to level the ground they would sit on, and provide a way for the pots to drain. Given the size of the pots, elevating them on bricks seemed like a good idea.

There is measuring and more measuring involved in this phase, because none of us want to try and level or center a large pot that is full of soil, and a winter arrangement. Empty pots are the easiest to move around.

The centerpieces needed to be big and tall, to be proportional to the size of the pots. A group of tall birch poles would provide plenty of substantial height. We filled the pot with cypress bark mulch to the center rib on the outside of the pot, and set the birch poles directly on top of that bark. Having a very heavy centerpiece set this deep in the pot will help keep it secure and upright. Few things seem so forlorn as a centerpiece listing out of vertical from stormy winter weather. Once the centerpiece was set, the pot could be filled with soil.

It would not be possible to fill the pots with soil if we set the greens first, so the greens placement was out of our regular order. It came after the setting of the centerpiece. The top of this centerpiece would never fit through the hole just big enough for the birch in the center of the form. The copper curly willow we added to the birch was about 3 feet wide at the top. So we sliced the greens form into two halves. Marzela set the greens in a way that made it easy to cut through her work.

Of course cutting the form in half impacted its strength. The weight of the greens on the outer edge would eventually pull the form and every evergreen stem inserted in it to the ground. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with. The cut form needed some ballast close to the centerpiece.

We secured each half with a pair of long steel rebar poles pounded in at an angle opposite to the downward force of the heavy side.  The rebar sits above the form about 5 inches. Concrete wire was wrapped around the four pieces of steel several times.  This will keep the forms anchored, and just about foolproof once the soil freezes.

We added eucalyptus to that space between the greens and the centerpiece. That plum red is a beautiful foil to the color of the copper curly willow. We zip tied individual stems to a bamboo stake. That slender stake is much more successful an anchor than the individual stems. We also had the option of setting the stems at an angle out, rather than straight up and down.

We also added extra short stem of the willow to the base of the centerpiece, so the hole in the foam would be completely filled. Gaps between the centerpiece and the opening in the foam are an opportunity for the stems to shift. Shifting stems mean trouble.  Once the pot is finished, we look for a tight fit for every element. It should be clear by now that the engineering plays just as big a role as the design.

Once the pots were close to a finish, the lighting could be added. That lighting will do a lot to illuminate this front terrace.

I left the centerpiece visible from top to bottom from the road side view. That seemed like a good idea. We wrapped the centerpiece with its own string of lights. The lighting plays such a big part in winter pots. A few bags of soil covered the bricks elevating the pot. We were just about finished.

Our client felt a second pair of smaller Branch tapered pots nearer her front door would complete the look she was after. The last of this installation was about companionship. We were happy to oblige.

These smaller scale Branch pots near the front door completed the project. They are smaller, but just as robust.

picture perfect, in my opinion.


  1. lisa hansen says

    very picture perfect! you and your team made a transformation and a beautiful entrance for the owners and passers by.

  2. Over the top! Absolutely gorgeous! Are these your zinc pots! I love love love them!!! I learn so much here, thank you for your generosity! Happy New Year! ❤️

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanna, yes, these are galvanized steel pots made by Branch. I love them too, and was happy with my client’s selection. Happy New Year to you, too. best regards, Deborah

  3. So beautiful!

  4. I so enjoy reading about the process and of course appreciating the beautiful results. Especially with the choice of pots.

  5. This is just wonderful! Thank you for sharing. I have a question: how long does the vegetation (mostly the greens I suppose) last in your area? I’m in Atlanta and suppose it would all be brown in just a few weeks. Does your freezing weather keep it all green?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laura, Our cold weather plays a significant part in the greens staying green. Sometimes greens in full sun will dessicate and turn brown in February. Cedar and white pine dry out quickly-I do not use them. The most weather resistant green is Mountain Hemlock. best, Deborah

  6. I learn so much from every post, Deborah! And, as always, your arrangements are glorious!!!Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

  7. I am wondering about the pots used near front of home and near streetside…no worries regarding freezing/thawing…thus cracked pots. I live in northern Illinois. I have not found a beautiful container to weather our fluctuating temps and wearher changes. Any advice?
    Love the color flow and completion of the flow. What a wonderful Christmas gift.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michelle, these pots are galvanized steel, so no weather will ever bother them. Properly handled, concrete, stone, cast iron and wood are good outdoors in our zone. By properly handled, I mean great care should be taken to make sure the pot is able to drain. If water gets trapped inside the pot, when it freezes, it will expand, no matter what is in its way. The dry floral foam we use does not absorb water, so these pots, for all intents and purposes, are “covered” for the winter. all the best, Deborah

  8. Picture perfect indeed!!

  9. Sheri Norlen says


  10. Elsa Bekkala says

    Would love to see this lighted at dusk. Great use of scale for the four. Magical and classic.

  11. Hollyann T. says

    Wow! This is just a beautiful scene. Such a wonderful project. Thank you for sharing! I love how you take us through the whole process. I learn something every time I come back to read your posts.

  12. Cindy Coghill says

    Lovely! Picture perfect for sure. Thanks for sharing the whole process!

  13. Very Nice!

  14. Yeah! What everybody already said. Thank you for the lessons.

  15. The pots are spectacular! They really to add to the curb appeal of the house! A great decision. They will look great in the summer when planted with flowers or what ever you decide.

  16. YEP !!!

  17. lisa narozanick says

    This is super! With the center greens/birch branch arrangement, do you have that entire ‘fountain’ of nature, wrapped around a piece of rebar to stick in the ground? and what is it that is strong enough to wrap the arrangement and keep it together? It is wonderful!!I absolutely adore receiving your emails! Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful, thought-provoking and detailed articles for all of us to devour!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, in this case the birch poles are set deep in the pot-everything else is secured to it with concrete wire. best regards, Deborah

      • lisa narozanick says

        That’s what I do but thought I was a dope for not securing them somehow. Your pots, however are much deeper and more secure than mine. But mine did make it thru the season. Thank you for your info! Happiest of Holidays to you! I hope you get some much deserved down-time.

  18. Deborah Gordon says

    All – enjoy this piece in today’s Detroit News Homestyle Magazine on the fabulous Deborah Silver and see more of her creativity:

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Deborah, I thought the article was great-very pleased! Thank you for posting a link to it. all the best, Deborah

  19. As always…beautiful arrangements. I do get my ideas from your blog and seeing the beauty of how it all comes together-just Fabulous! What an inspiration you have been to me to branch out and try something different. I love it! Thank YOU, Deborah and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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