At A Glance: More Garlands

If you have been reading this journal for a long time, you may see pictures you have seen before. I find that looking at older work always has a purpose. What you would not want to repeat is obvious, but some work stands up fairly well to the passing of the years, and is worth a second look.  I did not do garland at the shop last year. This picture makes me want to be sure to do it this year.

These interior garlands were done last winter, in response to the most spectacular holiday garland I have ever seen. The British version of Country Living magazine did a great article about it, with lots of pictures. When you see it, you will know why I fell so hard for it. Perhaps when I retire, I will go to Cotehele in the fall, and join in the making. That would be a perfect moment in the garden, indeed. Should you be curious, to follow is a link to my blog post on it from this past March.   the holiday garland at Cotehele

Please enjoy what is to follow on the subject of holiday garlands. In much the same way as I was inspired by the pictures of Cotehele garland, perhaps something you see here will resonate such that you decide to gather materials and build a garland. If you are already in the process of making a garland that will find a home in your garden, bravo.

garland over the door

garland detail

garland with faux fruit, Williamsburg style

Interior wreath and mantel garland

The above picture is a garland detail with orange faux fruit and preserved pink eucalyptus. This was my garland at home one year. I rather enjoy creating something from those materials no one else spoke for. That pink eucalyptus was glaringly unattractive in the shop.  But in this garland, it had its beautiful moment.

The swag and drape over this window is a loose weave burlap ordinarily used to cover grass seed.  The corner medallions?  24″ diameter magnolia wreaths.

My partner Rob is a big fan of light garlands. These light garlands of his were the highlight of this holiday season.

garland for a mantel

This garland was zip tied to a large diameter bamboo pole so it would stay straight across this long horizontal run above the door. No matter what you make, or how you make it, gravity will rule.

plain magnolia garland swooping below a tile roof

garland for a tree trunk. I cannot really explain in words why I love this so much. But no doubt it has to do with the incomparable beauty of a tree.

formal mantel garland

garland on bamboo poles with wings

light garland designed, fabricated and hung by Rob. How it terminates into a small stone cistern is so beautiful.

magnolia and lime green lichen garland

evergreen garland with a top garland of grapevine

two story tall magnolia and light garland

garland hats over the windows of dry hydrangeas and various dry stems from the perennial garden. The stems in the center of the window boxes are cut weed skeletons from the field next door. Beautiful garland can be made with cut materials at hand right outside a gardener’s door.

My advice? Express your past season with the garden over your door or on your mantel. That making will keep you company all winter long.

This is one way that an expression of a delight for the garden can wrap you up and keep you warm, all winter long.


A Holiday Garland

A holiday garland over the front door or mantel is undoubtedly a special yet familiar expression of the joy marking the turning of the season from fall to winter. Representing equal parts pageantry, goodwill, and a love of nature and natural materials, a garland is a hand worked expression of the garden appropriate to display for the winter season. I will leave mine up all winter, and be all the happier for having it to look at. Friends and family who view and pass under that garland have been invited to celebrate the beauty of nature and what that adds to everyone’s life before they step inside the door. I find this activity is satisfying for the gardener in me who has had to put their gardening ways away for the winter. These ideas are what energize the design and fabrication of every garland I make.

Our garland always begin with a collection of evergreen boughs that have been wired together in a long flexible length. I have also seen garlands made from boughs attached one after another to a stout rope. We hand make the garland if it is fairly short and manageable, but I usually purchase them premade from a mix of fir boughs at my local farmer’s market. Concolor fir, Douglas fir, Nordmann fir, noble fir and fraser fir will maintain their fresh appearance inside and out for a long time. Magnolia garlands have a sumptuous look that dries beautifully if used indoors. The first order of business is to determine the direction of the boughs. We arrange the boughs in an upward position from the bottom left, and up and over to the top/center. In a traditional garland, the right hand overhead portion and drop needs to mirror the left hand side. A traditional garland is bilaterally symmetrical. If the garland purchased is a long one, it will need to be cut in the center, and flipped end to end, and reattached at the top/center. For this reason, I order my garlands in 15′ lengths. A pair of this shorter length garlands can be easily be attached at the center point with the boughs running in opposite directions. I always run the boughs upwards, so gravity fans them out as the branches dry. Branches hung in a downward position close up and shrink in width as they dry. 15 footers are easy to handle, and any excess greens can be cut off the bottoms. The 30′ foot garland under construction was perfect for 2 15′ garlands overlapped and attached in the middle. We usually add more of our cut greens over the top of the garlands we buy, so the garland is thick and substantial.

What gets added to that branchy base is a matter of personal preference. Dried and preserved natural bits, branches and seed heads look great attached to a garland. Dry hydrangea flowers shrug off winter in a way that surprises me.  Faux berries and picks can provide both color and drama. I do not value one material over the other, nor do I value one style over another. What is of great value is the process of creating and making. There are so many things that contribute to that moment when a thought or idea takes on a life, and the making begins. That transition from an idea to the making is a perfect moment. My advice? Make something.

Positioning the work to make it convenient to work on is crucially important.  We set this garland on a collection of cardboard boxes set end to end. They are not really tall enough for me, although Natasha did not seem to mind hovering over the work. Her back is 50 years younger than mine, so there you have it.  If I work on a garland, an old office chair on casters puts me at exactly the right height to work. I can roll from one end to the other. The box tops holds all of the necessary tools and materials. It supports the work in a way that makes it easy to work.

This particular garland is traditional in its materials, so it features a secondary garland of grapevine. We buy grapevine garland in rolls 35′ long. Grapevine garlands are notoriously hard to handle, but properly arranged and secured around the evergreen garland, they add a reference to nature as much as they add volume and air.

I would be remiss if I did not say that winding a grapevine garland around an evergreen garland is hard. It takes at least two people to handle the under and over. In the aftermath, my hands look like I have scrubbed them with a cheese grater. Ha. The work of it is worth it. We attach the lighting for the garland to the grapevine. That light that stands proud of that evergreen garland will endow it’s night view with a warm glow. Of course we light our garlands.

My treasured staffer Natasha took the lead on the construction of this garland. She did a great job of insuring a solid construction. She went on to make sure that every gesture she made was beautiful. I was so pleased to see her taking ownership, and seeing both the art and the construction through to the finish. She has great hands, a great heart, and a will to be that I admire.

loading the garland

loading the garland 2

loaded up

We had already installed the holiday container arrangements. The garland would be a roof over all.

My membership in that group that nature organizes over the the garden and landscape means I have plenty of perfect moments. This was one of them.

A perfect moment in the garden may come at any time. And not necessarily when we expect it.

Beautiful, this. Best regards, Natasha.

Day And Night

My post from November 11 concerning the construction of centerpieces for winter pots included this picture of Sal finishing the job of strapping very tall red twig dogwood branches and red berry picks to a tomato cage. It was obvious that a centerpiece of this size was destined for a very large pot. The substantial centerpieces would set the tone, size and proportion for all else that was to come. But what is to follow next is not so much about the mass and proportion required by large pots, but instead a discussion of that most ephemeral of all landscape design elements-light.

Gardeners are very aware that every plant has specific requirements for light to thrive. A fern will not prosper in full sun any more than a succulent will prosper in deep shade. The quality of light in a specific spot in a garden can vary significantly over the course of the day. I will plant hellebores in sunny locations if I can provide them extra water. Some sun loving plants are still willing to perform in part sun. There is that dance, matching a plant to the existing light conditions. I have been guilty of pushing that envelope too far. I may want a plant in a certain location, but time will tell whether the risk I took is a reasonable risk. Too far over the light line, and I have a failing plant on my hands. Every living thing needs light, to one indeterminate degree or another. But placing the plants in proper light spots in the garden issue aside, everyone benefits from an extra dose of light over the course of the winter.

The winter containers are vastly easier to manage than a garden. The evergreen branches are cut. They will stay green the entire season, until warmer spring weather turns them brown. The cut dogwood branches will keep their color the entire winter, regardless of the light. Those branches may be inclined to push forth roots in the spring-astonishing, this. And the faux berry picks-they are faux. So the quality of light has no bearing on their performance. In sun or shade, they will provide visual service for years. The winter materials are not especially light sensitive. But we are! Winter container arrangements can provide any gardener with a spirit lift. I recommend them. An empty container over the course of the winter bothers me. I have no interest in being crushed by the winter season. I would rather find a way to celebrate it.

The quality of the winter light does affect people. Our winters are long, and feature snow, ice and wind.  But most significantly, they are gray. Even a sunny winter day is over by the late afternoon. For the entire winter season, we have equal parts of light and dark. Or equally parts of gray and dark. That lack of light is demoralizing, and can make even the most good natured person cranky. This is why we feel lighting the winter pots is an essential part of their making. They need to be beautiful day and night.

During the day, the color, texture and mass of a winter container provides visual respite from the landscape gone dormant. They push back against a garden that has gone quiet and frozen. It is not possible to recreate the spring summer and fall, but it is certainly possible to express remembrance. Every beautiful winter container makes me remember the beauty of the nature in full swing. The red twigs and berries are a welcome pop of color.

Dusk comes around 4pm every day in my zone. This is 5 more hours of dark than I have at the height of summer. Lighting in winter pots provide visual warmth, when there is little. They banish that relentless dark. They light the way to the door in a personal way. They can be an effective alternative form of landscape lighting. Night light is both cheery and dramatic. The invention of LED string and specialty lighting has revolutionized how we light pots. They require so little power that they are amazingly economical to run.

These pots at night are transformed by LED compact string lights. 1500 lights all on one strand that is 111.5 feet long. In the center is a Light Burst-a 3′ tall twig like contraption with moveable arms featuring an anchor at the bottom, and 240 brightly shining lights at the tips. Winter pots that are beautiful during the day need a mechanism for transforming them into their evening wear. This has never been easier to achieve.

Cozy as a campfire, these winter pots at night are every bit as striking as their daytime appearance. The pots do a great job of illuminating the driveway drop off.

electrifying, this.

The Winter Pots: A Visual Tutorial

To follow is a visual tutorial, from start to finish, of how we construct winter and holiday arrangements. We do rely on the armature for both fresh, dried, and faux stems and branches provided by dry floral foam. Once we create forms for a client, those forms are used for a good number of years. The forms you see in the upper left of the picture above are 4 years old. Yes, we patch them, when the forms get elderly.

the first gesture, for a new client.


The lines scribed in the forms indicate how wide the centerpiece will be.

These centerpieces under construction include a mix of faux berry and ball picks, and fresh cut magnolia stems.

An outer layer of fresh cut red bud pussy willow stems follows all around the centerpiece.

As David is doing here, always look up to determine where you want any element to land.

Karen took over the greening of these centerpieces.

Every fresh cut evergreen stem has been sharpened. The idea is to insure a tight fit between the wood and the foam. We have winter weather ahead of us. This means that whatever we fabricate needs to be winter hardy.Karen is gifted. She can assess the volume and mass of a centerpiece, and give that centerpiece a green place to be of proper proportion.

finished centerpieces ready for the installation

the centerpiece was constructed around a light burst. Lots of LED lights on a twig like structure with stakes in the bottom is such an easy way of lighting the vertical elements in a winter arrangement.   LED Lightburst

The right hand pot, installed.

The left hand pot, installed.

Start to finish, I could not be more pleased with the work my group turns out.