Okra Pods

We were able to finish all of our 2017 projects last week, save one, by last Thursday afternoon. That final project needs a decent sized block of time, so we will do it this coming week. This meant there would be time for me to get some pots done at home. Finding materials would be a challenge. Given that the supply of fresh cut greens is all but depleted, my only hope was 8  9 foot Frazier fir Christmas trees purchased to chop up for our last project to come. There would be enough branches from those trees available to do my two pots on the driveway. The Frazier fir would shake off all the cold and snow a winter season would have to dish out, and still look great next March. The skirt of green was available.

Our supply of fresh cut twigs was equally skimpy, but for two bundles of red bud pussy willow we put on reserve for our last project. I toured the shop at least three times before I focused on a pair of steel topiary cones that we had Missy cover with grapevine and brown corded incandescent lights. These topiary forms are 5.5 feet tall. The scale of them would be perfect for my 30″ tall and 30″ diameter Branch Hudson tapers, given that we had no branches available for the center. I had no use for those incandescent lights. There had to be another idea. While David was removing those lights, I toured the store for the 4th time. We had a case of 10′ long LED rice light strands on silver wire still available.  These lights would need their transformer and plug protected from the elements.  We could do that. As the lights seemed so minuscule (each light is truly the size of a grain of rice), I doubled up the strands. David and I took a few minutes to wind them around each topiary form in an informal spiral.

What next? The intersection of that vertical topiary form with that horizontally oriented bed of greens was bare, stark and dry. Awkward.  An intermediary element that would soften spot and provide visual interest would be a good idea. This part of the container would be at eye level, as my tapers are set on tall steel socles. I knew I would want to load up that interior level with Lumineo cluster lights, but those lights needed something at eye level to illuminate besides the bare legs of the topiary cones. Successful containers, no matter the season, need to be designed and planted as a complete and literate visual world unto themselves. The spring, summer and fall plants, and winter materials, play a considerable role in this. But it is the overall sculptural quality that makes a container garden complete.

We had plenty of bunches of dried okra seed pods on slim wood stems in the shop greenhouse. I love these pods-we always have them. We usually use them in fall and winter interior arrangements. The numbers of bunches available were sufficient for my pots. OK, bring on the okra. David and I faced all of those curving pods inward. Like a chrysanthemum flower, or an artichoke. We left the pods tall, so they would represent entirely above the level of the greens. The slight wood stems on the pods would not in any way obstruct the light at the center. Setting the levels for all of the materials for these pots was all about creating sculpture. Those stick bottoms are not visible unless you walk right up to the pots, and look over the greens.  Okra? Few on my crew had ever heard of okra. Over the course of building these winter pots, there was a discussion of okra the vegetable, as well as placing dry pods in a pot.

Though I spent much time melding a design to the available materials, I was not prepared for this outcome. The rice lights were anything but shy. The four strands on two pots illuminates my entire driveway. The okra pods set tall on wood skewers both absorbed and reflected the bright light.

These winter pots are by far and away the best I have every had. That best had everything to do with an unusual choice of materials. The design and fabrication of these pots is all about creating relationships with unfamiliar materials.

The pots are at their best at night. I had no idea that the okra pods would so dramatically provide the much needed weight to the bottom of these pots. These pots glow from top to bottom, and are fiery in the midsection. Having the fabrication of these winter pots scheduled next to dead last has its advantages. There was time to tinker. Time to dream up something different.

The light is delightful and startling.

From the deck above.

The later darkness strips away all of the detail, and celebrates the big gestures.

The full moon looking over my driveway pots? Terrific. So swell. I will admit I was over the moon about every bit of this.



  1. thanks for posting the showing of the lights w/ timing of the night – very uplifting those rice lights!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear CC, I cannot believe how much light they put out. They are very cheery, indeed.I will be using them more often, in the future. best, Deborah

  2. The driveway pots are awesome; once again you show us your vision is “over the moon!” Thank you for sharing. Happy New Year

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laurie, I am so pleased about how these pots look. They make me smile every time I look out the window. Happy New Year to you, too. best regards, Deborah

  3. Gorgeous. The lights are spectacular and I will have to try Okra next year! What is the best practice to get these greens and sticks into the frozen soil when your pots have to wait until last!?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Halsey, we fabricate dry floral foam forms for all of our pots. All of the greens are stuck into that foam. We take the soil down 4″ in the fall, in anticipation of the winter installations. Installing the greens set in dry foam is a simple matter of setting the form down in to the pot. Heavy greens and centerpieces are secured by bamboo stakes that are pounded down into the soil. It is fairly easy to pound a stake down into frozen soil. I hope this is clear! best regards, Deborah

  4. I had to laugh. When I first moved to NC and got to be friends with a native Georgia gal, we spent many holiday meals together and that is when I had gumbo for the first time and learned I did not like okra. In fact I found it slimy and worse than that. They tried to trick me into eating it fried. Ugh. I wouldn’t let the stuff into my house, even though my husband loved it. Who knew it could have yielded such a lovely winter pot, in the north no less? I have new respect for okra. Lovely results, with okra. I can hardly believe it!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Charisse, I like eating okra, but I can see how it might be an acquired taste! I had no idea the seed pods would glow at night like they do.I am very pleased with the outcome. all the best, Deborah

  5. Michaele Anderson says

    I suspect that your sincere and generous words of praise for the work of your colleagues light up their spirits like the rice lights give so much delightful illumination to the topiaries.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, I make sure they know how I feel about their work. The work would not be, but for them. best regards, Deborah

  6. Paul Clancy says

    Absolutely love your final winter creation Deborah. Such a great idea to cut down the Christmas trees once the fresh cut greens are all but gone. Using the dried okra en masse really looks fantastic and catches the light beautifully. Sometimes the best things really do come to those that wait.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Paul, it was a disappointment not to have winter pots before the Christmas holiday. But in this case, the wait was worth it. I will run these lights all winter long. all the best, Deborah

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says

    So exciting.

  8. Those pots are inspired! Sometimes it is when we have “nothing” to work with that our results are the best. Please keep sharing your wonderful creativity with us all!!
    Happy New Year!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, you and Teddee G have the same idea. I will say that Rob makes sure that we have lots of beautiful materials. It is hard to go wrong with them. But being pushed by scarcity can work out. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  9. Holly Tomlinson says

    Fabulous as usual. When I see your posts on my inbox, I always read them first. Eye candy!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Holly, we try to make the winter pots as appetizing as possible, as our winters are anything but. best regards, Deborah

  10. Teddee Grace says

    Making do…it often leads to the most creative solutions!

  11. WOW! Dramatic and beautiful!! Thanks for this post-showing us how lovely it can be to light up during winter-and that sometimes our vision for a project will evolve during the execution of the project, and it will almost always be better than the original plan!!

  12. Laura Armstrong says

    Deborah, these are fabulous! I’m in Atlanta and have grown okra the past two summers. The okra must be cut when it’s smaller, 2-3 inches for the pods, or it gets too woody to eat. I slit the fresh pods in half lengthwise and roast at 400 degrees with some coconut oil spray on the pan and a lot of garlic….just eat a few with your lunch, fills you up, not slimy at all and very healthy. It is a bit slimy when not well cooked. But YOUR pods! I suppose if you just let them grow huge and then dry them out? I would like to try to duplicate them sometime. The okra grows so fast, it can grow over an inch per day, so if you go on vacay and miss picking, you have inedible pods, but huge… Just to be sure, is the greenery at the bottom of your pots just cut branches, or is it planted? Everything in GA is usually planted, but your blog has taught me you can use cut things for the outside also. Many thanks for a beautiful blog, I’m a regular reader.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laura, the branches in these pots are cut, and stuck into a form of dry floral foam. Thank you for the tips on cooking okra! all the best, Deborah

  13. Jennifer Taylor says

    So beautiful! A. joy in your landscape, and a gift to your neighborhood too. I bet that everyone passing by enjoys these glorious pots too. Happy New Year Deborah!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, if it weren’t so dang cold, I would park my car on the street so they would be easier to see from the sidewalk. I am hoping we will get a warmup in a week or so. Happy New Year to you, too! all the best, Deborah

  14. Debra W. Lenzen says

    I love the fiery look of the okra in the form. Such creative use for a winter pot. Gorgeous.

  15. Stunning and beautiful to admire!

  16. Jean Guest says

    The art of a true designer – creating something truly beautiful and inspiring from the most unlikely combination. I salute you Deborah – these posts are masterpieces.

  17. Those okra pods look like living beings, huddle together to give thanks, or to commune, or to worship. How apt is that?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, thank you for writing. I am very interested in your take on this-thanks for bringing an interesting and unexpected point of view to my attention. all the best to you, Deborah

  18. Debi Ulrey-Crosby says

    I just discovered your site today while finishing my outdoor Christmas planters. I can’t tell you how much I learned from you. I have always done mine in soil and angle all my branches and vary the lengths to accomplish a similar pattern but next year I will definitely have to try it with the florist foam. I think your ‘last minute’ design for your home driveway is gorgeous. Simple and elegant and I think the okra pods look like candles glowing. It’s beautiful. Thanks for so many ideas. I live in South Dakota so our winters can be brutal and my containers have to withstand the winds and, at times, very heavy, wet snow. The ideas with rebar and bamboo will be in next years projects. Enjoy the holidays.

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