Lighting Winter Containers

The most obvious sign that winter has arrived is the coming of the dark.  By 5pm, our natural light is waning.  If I leave work at 6pm, it is dark outside.  If I leave home at 6am, it is dark.  The dark and the cold can weigh heavily on one’s spirits. No wonder that many people express and celebrate the holiday season with lighting in some form or another.  I have long thought that seasonal lighting is a form of gardening.  I am not in my garden much now, nor will I be for the next 3 months.  The winter garden is not a place to be, it is a place to view passing by, or view from in doors. The winter season has a beauty all its own.  The bare trees and shrubs in the garden have a starkly sculptural appeal. The dried flower heads of hydrangeas are a warm brown-in a mass, dormant hydrangeas are beautiful.  Provided that one can see them. Beautiful lighting in the landscape is an important aspect of good design.  It consoles the spirit of the gardener who has been forced indoors for the duration.

RY winter pots 2014  2If you have ever been to Detroit Garden Works, you know who Rob is.  He does all of the buying for the shop, and is a very talented designer who has helped countless gardeners select ornament, furniture and containers for their garden. At this time of year, he helps people to design their winter and holiday containers. He also creates winter arrangements for clients.  He has an abiding interest in lighting.  He takes great care to redo the lighting in the shop every season.  He has designed lighting sculptures that make a visual statement with a minimum of effort.  One of his steel light rings hung from a tree in the winter is beautiful in the most simple way. Hang it up, and plug it in, and enjoy both its form, and its illumination.  A second series of light rings have a stand comprised of 4 steel rods that can be driven into the ground.  Strategically placed in a garden bed, or in the grass, that ring will light whatever is within range. Over the years, his lighted sculptures have been created from topiary forms and found objects. Invariably, the containers he creates for clients have some form of lighting as a key component.

RY winter pots 2014  5Given that we have just as much night time as day time, planning a seasonal container that has a presence in the dark only makes sense.  We carry brown corded holiday lighting in a number of different lengths.  The brown cords are much less noticeable during the day than the usual green corded mini lights. For these pots, he cut the tops off of a pair of rusted steel cone shaped plant climbers.  This provides an armature for the light string that is floating above the greens.  The steel top ring has been covered in grapevine- the light cords blend right in.  A strand of lights encircles the pussy willow centerpiece.  This light from the bottom helps to make the centerpiece read well at night.

RY winter pots  3I have no idea where these containers will be placed, but wherever that is, they will help light the way. I have a large container which I will light for the winter next to the stairs that go from my deck into the yard.  Should I take the dogs out after dark, I can see my way down those stairs. I do have down lights in my trees, so I can enjoy the landscape at night and from inside.  The additional light from that container puts a little light closer to ground level.  These winter pots will have the same effect.

RY winter pots 2014Even indoors in the garage, the halo light in these containers has a strong visual presence. If the person who ordered these containers is anything like me, they will run the lights all winter, until the days begin to get longer. A lighted winter landscape is a pleasure indeed.

RY winter pots  2014  4early evening

RY winter pots  2014  6mid evening

RY winter pots 2014  6the light at night


  1. Sarah Bell Harris says

    Thank you so much for taking time to write your blog and share your thoughts with an admiring public. You always bring delight to me as I see beauty through your eyes.

  2. Beautiful! All your recent posts are so inspiring. Now I will add lights to my container project. Thankyou for all the sharing.

  3. Beautiful! How long do the greens stay alive?

  4. Paula Venti says

    Gorgeous! I so love your blog…Question…how do you anchor the containers so the wind does not blow them over. Do you have soil in the bottom or is it that cold that you add water and it freezes? I am seriously going to add lights this year….Yours are awesome

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Paula, the containers have bark and soil in them, 4-6 inches below the rim. That makes them pretty heavy. For a very tall pot with a tall arrangement, we may use gravel in the bottom, or bricks. best, Deborah

  5. Lisa - Ontario says

    Does Rob use the new LED lights? Mine just aren’t bright enough.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa No. He uses incandescent light strings. Deborah

      • Lisa - Ontario says

        I may need to take a shopping trip to the US. We can’t even buy them anymore here, I have been looking for a couple years now. My old lights would light up my entire front porch and door. The new ones are hardly visible, even in the middle of the night.

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Lisa, I know the problem. I don’t like the quality of LED light either-I feel like I am being interrogated! Stop by if you can! Thanks, Deborah

  6. Hi Deborah,

    As always, those are beautiful. I have 3 questions: Does the lighting cause the greens to desiccate at a faster rate? With incandescents, is there a small concern that the greens may catch on fire from the heat? How do you hide the ugly cords? I’m further north (right now sun rises at 8:30AM and set at 4:30PM) and I worry about the heat on the greens for that period of time – we have a loooooong cold season (>5 months) so greens are important for the spirit!

    Kind regards,

  7. Beautiful inspirations in every post! Thank you. I’ve done a few pots such as these, trying to mimick what you’ve done and still can’t quite figure out the best way to keep the center branches sturdy in the containers. Would you mind sharing your method?

    Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Whitney, go through my past posts on winter containers. Try typing into the search line “setting the centerpiece”. I have written quite a lot about it. Thanks, Deborah

  8. And I see you have used large rounds of floral foam to secure center, which we can’t get. Any other options?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Whitney, You should be able to buy buy dry foam floral bricks used for dry and artificial arrangements. Hot melt glue them together, and then run fiber shish kabob skewers or bamboo through them for strength. That only secures the greens! What secures the center is a stout bamboo stake, incorporated in the center of the centerpiece, long enough to be pounded down into the pot. best, Deborah

  9. Nella Davis-Ray says

    Thanks so much Deb for sharing your secrets. Last year’s posts totally changed the way I’ve been dressing my 8 large pots. I was READY this year. Reused all the floral foam from last year, got my iron rods stuck deep in each pot for extra stability before the soil froze, purchased all my branches and greens before they were picked over and with last weekend’s perfect weather, all pots done!

  10. JoyceB in Atlanta says

    A halo of light – just love that idea! Thanks Rob and Deborah for beautiful pictures, great tutorials, and patient responses to questions. As I drive through my neighborhood now, all the blue-ish LED lights have me singing Elvis’ Blue Christmas song! When we lived in NJ, many people kept the clear lights burning till at least after Valentine Day. That was so different from when we lived in Dallas, TX, where the ritual was to not allow a single decorative light to shine even one day after New Year!! I love the lights, and see from your inspired posts how much they add to arrangements. Thanks for sharing your ideas and creativity.

  11. My gosh these are beautiful. I can only dream of being able to put something like this together.

  12. i thrill at every post. i am endlessly grateful to you for sharing your wisdom

  13. Awesome, thanks for keeping us inspired, that will be my goal for next year
    for my pot.

    Thank you and Best,

    Claudia Burch

  14. Cara Kazanowski says

    I love the ethereal, floating look of the halo lights.

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