Holiday Lighting

There are those qualities that Rob is known for; his dry sense of humor, his razor sharp eye, his formidable knowledge of garden ornament, his patience. Any garden, anything related to the garden gets his interest.  He rarely shifts out of first gear, but he is ready and able to run his first gear up to better than 10,000 rpms-he can furthermore sustain that level an amazingly long time.  Though he spent countless hours engineering this holiday, I can count on him to disappear for a few days while the store is being outfitted for the holidays.  I know where to find him.  He’ll be parked in the garage, surrounded by lights, forms and natural materials.  It just looks like mayhem.  He stuffs his space with materials, tries lots of various combinations. He finally makes peace;  the materials and his creative process make for something you do not want to miss. He not only has ideas about how to light the garden for the winter, he has a mind to translate those ideas into sculpture.

This year, the plant climber, tuteur or topiary form that supported a mandevillea over the summer will have a second life at the holidays as lighted sculptures. The tuteurs-we design, and manufacture them.  He is happy for you to load one up in the trunk of your car so you can take it home, find a great spot in the garden or container, and plug it in. But he also makes sure to have the materials available for anyone who wants to make their own.  This means light strands with brown cords, light strands with bulbs in varying sizes and colors.  Red berry LED lights.  Strands of clear C-9’s. C-7’s in interesting colors. Garland lights-these strands have the lights close toether on the wire-perfect for lighting a tuteur. Pearl lights, snowball lights-LED battery operated flower lights.  Blanket lights and intermittently twinking lights. I am sure there are lights I have forgooten to list.  Light covers, and lots of weatherproof decorative garlands help make for a great daytime look for the lighting.

What he imagines and creates from a simple strands of lights is truly original; no where else do I see anything like it.  Part of the best of what Detroit Garden Works has to offer at the holidays are his light sculptures.  He is doing his best to have plenty on hand for our holiday open house, this coming weekend.  As much as I wish he was in a display-making mode, lighting is a critical element in the holiday and winter garden-so I am patient about the time he puts to it.

Light strings are readily available almost everywhere now.  My interest in holiday lighting was fast forwarded at least 15 years ago-by a breathtaking display in Washington DC.  Rob and I were there to look at doing flowers and props for an event.  A series of trees on the water were densely and completely wound with mini lights; every trunk, and most every branch was ablaze with light. The terrace in the center had no snow whatsoever; there were so many lights, the heat melted the snow.  Hanging from the branches, light spheres. At the end of the long drive back from Washington, we stopped and bought a truckload of mini-lights.  We spent the following 2 days doing up one old apple tree in my orchard in similar fashion. That tree was a lighthouse-it directed my course all winter long. Unlike the tree wrapping, these light bars of Rob’s are simple and fast to make.  A galvanized pipe from the hardware is wound round with lights, and slipped over a piece of steel rebar sunk in the ground. Simple, and beautiful.

Another year, Rob would wrap farm augurs with varying sizes of round lights, and hang them from the big branches in the lindens on the drive.  A steel hook was welded to one end of the augur, and wrapped with foam to prevent injury to the bark of the trees. Overscaled light ornaments read well from a distance, and most of the work of it can be done indoors.  The late fall weather has everything to do with how many people light their gardens.  No one wants to stand outside when it is 20 degrees, trying to put up lights.  If November is mild, I know there will be plenty to see in the neighborhood come December.

Gold and platinum plastic ball garlands were zip-tied to a light garland of clear and white mini lights.  This looked festive draped over the shop gate.  It can be tough and forbidding to navigate the winter dark-holiday lighting can make it easier for guests to find the door.  Even just a small but concentrated amount of lighting can make an entrance walk and garden look inviting.

This wood bench stands out at night, thanks to the light garland.  Red berry LED lights look great paired with chartreuse and opaque white mini lights. I have had excellent luck finding mini lights in every color and size imaginable-including chartreuse- at English Gardens. Their holiday lighting and ornament shop at the Royal Oak location on Coolidge is great.  When I have a last minute or unexpected holiday decorating job, I can count on them to help me out with materials.

One year Rob wrapped styrofoam topiary forms with lights-they are easy to secure with fern pins from a florist supply. This pair went home with a client; their front porch, door, and entry gardens glowed all winter.  When I came in March to put them in storage for the summer, they were not really ready to let them go.  Funny, that.

Light garlands and bars in containers means you will enjoy them long after the winter daylight fades. This sounds like an excellent idea to me.  Should you live in my area and have the chance, stop by over our holiday open house weekend-November 13 and 14 and see what Detroit Garden Works has to offer for the holidays.  This includes what Rob has put together in the way of lighting.  Stop by; I think you will be delighted.


  1. I am awed by this post – such creativity. When the darkness spreads all around in these midwestern falls and winters, I just love the warmth that light provides. Where do you source those cool bulbs?

  2. Love those lights . Rob does great work.

  3. I love your use of lights on the galvanized posts. This looks awesome and makes an architectural statement using a temporary solution. Bravo also for promoting eco-friendly LED lights!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Julie, thanks for your letter. I like temporary, and portable landscape lighting-the option to move things around. Deborah

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