Red And Green

holiday container centerpieceThe combination of red and green at the holidays is bound to elicit some yawns or boos from those who would suggest there are more innovative and creative color combinations a gardener might pursue. I find fault with this idea. Color combinations in and of themselves do not suggest traditional or contemporary. Color is a design element that takes its emotional cue from the organizing efforts of a designing eye. Red and green might typically be very traditional colors at the holiday season, but they can be used in a way that is anything but traditional. These clients favor a decidedly contemporary and color rich holiday expression. Red and green – this is what they like.  Their steel topiary form from is stuffed full of cardinal red twigs, or whips, that have very little in the way of side branching. This choice of material accents the strong vertical element established by the form. The form itself is lighted with LED lights from Lumineo. The spare vertical element represented by the lighted form and the red twig branches is countered by a group of lax red berry picks.  The sculptural effect is anything but traditional. Holiday red in this instance is quite contemporary in feeling.

red and green Christmas treeWe also set up and dress their Christmas tree. The tree is decorated with red and lime green ball ornaments, both matte and shiny, stuck with paper wrapped wire stems.  The ornaments are not hung from the tree branches in the traditional way. They are laid into and onto the tree as if they were a pick. The balls are next to weightless, so the stiff stems of the tree hold them up. My crew was certain we would not be able to put all 280 ball picks into this tree, but once they got they got the hang of laying them in, the tree easily handled them all.

holiday treeThis method allowed us to place ornament very close to the trunk of tree, as well as on the tips.  The long wire acts as ballast, and helps to balance them on the tree. The ornaments nearest to front edge appear to be floating. Once the ball ornaments were placed, we added a single white LED light garland. I would say this representation of holiday red and green is layered, crisp, clean, and sculptural. This traditional holiday element, the Christmas tree, has a more contemporary look.

red and green holiday arrangementThe deck off the kitchen has one pot for the winter. Imagine this winter view from the kitchen without that container. A foreground element in a landscape is an important one, as is possible to focus on every detail. What is happening at a distance is visually hazy at best, but it is what I would call a traditional suburban landscape. The contrast between the pot and the landscape is considerable. The design upshot of of the relationship between the foreground and the background elements is the creation of a sense of depth. Interesting spatial relationships make a composition lively. Why would I think the red and the green elements in this container are non traditional? The green portion of the arrangement is the smallest element in size and supports a red top which is over scaled and dominant in feeling. A more traditional arrangement would be more conventionally balanced, with lots of greens at the bottom, and a smaller and less prominent mid section.

holiday containerThe juxtaposition of the brilliant red of the berry picks, and the merlot red of the eucalyptus is a little jarring and standoffish, rather than pretty.

holiday container centerpieceThe pale limey green of the poly mesh is not what I would call traditional holiday green.

holiday containerThe red berry picks were installed at different heights. The effect is deliberately asymmetrical.

holiday containerYou may or may not be convinced by anything I have had to say about these pots, but that was not my intent. I had an interest in explaining the design process for this project.  It is a challenge to warmly represent red and green at the holidays in a non traditional way.  In a bigger sense, is even more of a design challenge to avoid visual stereotypes. I planted my first and one and only dwarf Japanese maple for a client this past spring – in a container. As beautiful as they can be I have yet to figure out how to place one in the landscape that does not look routine.

holiday potsNo matter whether you source materials from from your garden, the farmer’s market, or a roadside field, getting them to look like what you imagined calls for some design.


















Happy Holidays From Richard K

Five Golden Rings


Richard K has been reading Dirt Simple for some time now;  I know this, as I hear from him from time to time.  A committed gardener and reader from Cypress, Texas.  This past summer I got the chance to meet him in person-he was in the Detroit area on business.  What a treat it was to meet him face to face!  I heard from him Monday after posting pictures of the front of the shop just before dawn.  He left a comment saying that he had taken Rob’s idea for holiday light rings, and run with it.  He strung his hoops with gold lights-5 golden rings!  How perfect for the holidays.  I asked him to send pictures-which he did.  To follow are his pictures, and his comments about his holiday decorating-I am sure you will enjoy this as much as I did.  


My Five Golden Rings glow beautifully hanging from the trees.  They are captivating.  Simple, yet striking.  Next to gardening, Christmas is my next favorite hobby.  I love everything about it, especially Christmas trees and of course, the lights.


Here is another section of my yard which showcases my “Who-ville Pine” and my glowing orbs.  Since we do not have pyramidal conifers in my part of Texas, I had to make my own!  The glowing orbs continue to fascinate my family as well as our visitors!


 A full on view of the house.  Very traditional.  Wreaths in the windows, garlands on the balcony.  I don’t put lights on the house because it is a bit tall.  The glowing orbs out on the lawn are simple, yet striking.




 The driveway gate has a four foot wreath adorned with old fashioned blowmolds.  I really can’t stand these figures set out in the yard, but yet I find them charming when they decorate a wreath!  Ping-pong balls cover the bulbs of some unfortunately colored LED lights and soften the light to a warm glow.  I like to say that this is for our kids, but this bit of kitsch is a favorite of mine!


 The front porch is a bit more formal with white cyclamen and columnar junipers adorned with snowball, pearl and twinkle lights.  A Moravian star illuminates the boxwood wreath and boxwood garland.  Giant jingle bells adorn the wreath.

A black iron urn is ready for the holidays.


Our favorite garlands.  We made these years ago from spruce cones and crystals.  These are draped in every front window downstairs.


  And finally, our mantle.  Silver and white … one of my wife’s favorite color schemes.  Another favorite of ours is mercury glass … one can never have enough.  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Richard K, your house and home dressed for the holidays is really beautiful. You have collections of various things-spruce cone garlands, mercury glass, blowmolds, and lighted orbs.  How you display your collections is interesting, and engaging.   As for your gold rings-this new collection looks  gorgeous hanging from your trees.  5 gold rings-very well done indeed.  Thank you so much for sending me these pictures, and agreeing to let me share them.  Happy holidays to you, too.

Home For The Holidays

After one’s friends and family, is there anything better in this world than home for the holidays?  I have friends and clients that regularly travel over the holidays. Better them than me;  I so like being home.  In my twenties I lived in North Carolina-the thought of that trip home to Michigan for Christmas still raises the hair on the back of my neck.  One year, I decided to come home by way of Washington DC-the trip across country to the midwest-a nightmare.  Glare iced over freeways meant sliding down the hills in the close company of giant trucks-no one was driving. We were all sweating and concentrating on staying alive.  Thank heavens Buck and I host our own Christmas, right at home.

Should it sound boring to you that I like being home, consider this.  I am home a small percentage of the day.  I leave at dawn, or in the dark; I come home at dusk, or in the dark.  I lived in my house for four years before I met my neighbors.  The prospect of being home during the day over a holiday-delightful. Just this morning I finally finished getting it ready for our celebration.

One Christmas Eve some years ago Buck and I decided to open one package; one thing led to another.  We now celebrate our Christmas on Christmas Eve.  On the menu for this evening-mac and cheese.  Our holiday is just about the two of us-so no need for a fancy dinner.  Chardonnay, mac and cheese, the exchange of gifts.  I so look forward to this.  Christmas morning we talk little, eat coffee cake made by Steve’s daughter Violet; we relax. Christmas night, Buck’s son will come for dinner-he is travelling here today from Alabama.  Buck will be cooking a good part of the day-which is what he likes.  I will be reading a good part of the day-what a luxury.  He cooks; I set the table, and head the cleanup detail. This I call a peaceable holiday.

The prospect of a Christmas tree did not much interest me this year. My so fabulous collection of grapevine deer interested me plenty.  I took a standing grapevine buck home for the holidays. A buck in the living room-surprising.  My Buck was amused and pleased that a traditional Christmas tree that last year was a thicket of magnolia branches in an urn had been replaced by a sculpture with his name. 

Some left over mixed cedar roping went on the mantel; the rest I pooled on the floor.  It took all of 5 minutes to evenly top the roping with 3 strands of  white lights. Preserving the natural curl of the cord as it comes out of the box makes them less noticeable than straight wire.  The light covers, two few cattail balls and a snowball later, I have a spot for the buck to stand.  

A necklace of lights may not be the most glamorous accessory, but it helps light the Buck, and a dark corner of the room.

Once I switch on those chartreuse mini lights and snow lights, the space has a much more festive look.

Any holiday expression that brings the idea of peaceable kingdom to the surface gets my interest.  I like the bugs.  I like the birds.  I like the raccoons and possums with whom I share my garden.  The cat I saw this afternoon jumping down into the fountain-I said hello.  The corgis-don’t get me started on them. The Italian paper mache goats Rob bought-I plan to decorate for the holidays around them for  a long time. 

The dining room sideboard is a small version of the peaceable kingdom. I did not need to do much more for a great holiday than come home.

Awl In

I did mention a few days ago that Buck graced me with a Christmas tool kit full of tools I had never heard of-just last year. I have had occasion this week to make use of one of his choices- a small blue tool called an awl. It makes holes.  Much of what I do at the holiday involves fastening; the ability to make holes can make ther process of attaching one element to another go fast.  My faux fruit is heavy; a solid core has a skin of some rubbery material.  How to fasten it to a banister garland or wreath involved some trial and error.  Awl in hand, I went to work.   

No florist’s pick is strong enough to penetrate the skin of this fruit.  My awl, armed with its long sharpened steel shaft pierced that skin without a problem.  Visualizing where that hole should be punched is not that tough.  I placed the fruit in the position I needed.  Any heavy hard cored, soft shelled thing that needs a hole and a slot substantial enough to attach it to a garland-it made sense to run the awl up the side of the fruit.  I hope I am explaining this clearly.  

I buy 18″ florist’s picks by the bale.  I have no idea what they are made of, but they have the strength of a kitchen skewer.  I was able to insert a length of pick just about the length of the fruit.  This apple is at least as heavy as the real fruit. As my holiday garland will be displayed in the air, I wanted to be sure that faux apples would not be raining down from above. A skewer every bit the length of the heavy fruit-I have leverage. 

A faux white pine garland wired with large cones is the base of this holiday garland.  The garland is not going on the mantle, or above the front door.  The plan is to hang the garland in the kitchen.  I have made a note to think about this for home.  Buck and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen-on our own or with guests.  Why not decorate it for the holidays?  Hmm.  My florist’s pick-I have a fruit at each end, threaded through the wire of the base garland. A lighter fruit at the top, the heavier apple at the bottom.  Naturally.     

This pick with a fruit at each end still needs to be wired into position.  If you have a place that needs faux garland, pass over the flat plastic cedar fronds.  Faux white pine needles provide great volume up front.  Those bristly needles are sticky happy to capture whatever you might add.  The green floral wire needed to attach ornament to to the garland-a dead ringer for the white pine needles.  I like a construction that isn’t fussy, but looks effortless.  

Once my fruit is secured, picked, and wired in, I need to add a distinctly holiday element.  I am a fan of plain holiday ornaments.  I can be a little more fancy-let’s have those plain holiday balls in a number of different sizes. As in berry clusters.  The matte red surface of these small ornaments makes my picked fruits shine.

The stainless steel lights over the sink take well to a little holiday garland.  Why not?  I have ideas, rules, and much to say about garden and landscape  design-all season long.  Frankly, sometimes I make myself weary.  At the holidays, I like to be less concerned about fine design, and more concerned about the simple pleasure of the season.  My distinct pleasure today-my awl. 

A kitchen ready for the holidays-so swell.