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.

 

Berried Treasure

It is not hard to believe that we will be beginning our winter and holiday containers and decor in another week or so. The past 10 days have been an intense effort to unpack and display in the shop all of the materials Rob purchased almost a year ago for this season. Our kickoff open house begins November 7-just a few days away. I like this moment. It requires looking at countless individual materials with the idea to put them together in a way that makes visual and emotional sense. The beginning is always about fits and starts, with a liberal dose of hand wringing. What seemed like a good idea on Monday gives way to another idea on Tuesday. But eventually we all settle in to the job at hand, and the work of it evolves and gets done. It is the very best way to become familiar with what is available to include in winter arrangements. As I most likely was a gardener from the first moment I took a breath, of course I favor natural materials from that garden for the winter pots. Rob addresses that basic need with an incredible collection of fresh cut farmed twigs in a variety of species and sizes. They come from all over this country of ours. Densely branched bunches of lustrous alder branches-we carry them. Sumac and poplar branches harvested from our collective properties are so sculptural. The glossy cinnamon gold colored flame willow branches both straight and branched always arrive first, as their leaves are the first to drop. Soon to come are the pussy willow, the copper curly willow, and the red and yellow twig dogwood. The premium cut greens of all types are equally as juicy and lively. Pairing those branches and greens with berry stems for winter containers is a natural. The fresh cut branches of Michigan holly, ilex verticillata, are drop dead gorgeous. However, they come with a steep price, and require some serious prep, if they are to survive the season. The ilex berries above, zip tied to a stout stand of fresh cut first year growth red twig dogwood, need a thorough soaking with VaporGard prior to their installation. This agricultural grade natural anti dessicant formulated from pine resin will keep the berries attached to the stems, and plump – for months. The centerpieces pictured above went to a client willing to go the distance to have fresh cut berried stems in their pots.

There are alternatives. The quality of the appearance and manufacture of faux berry stems has improved at an astonishing rate over the past 10 years. What used to be an embarrassing imitation of the real thing has become an entirely convincing expression of the beauty of berries. This new generation of faux berry stems are manufactured as much for durability as beauty. The color can be true enough to fool the eye. Or unabashedly dramatic. The stems do not disintegrate or discolor outdoors.

There is an astonishing artistry that is evident, both in the design and construction. Though these stems are faux berry stems, the evidence of the human hand is obvious. These materials make it possible for me to construct winter arrangements that can handle gale force winds, endless snow and relentless cold. Packed away for the summer, they will be equally as beautiful in year two or three. Many of them that Rob purchases are tall enough to be seen from a good ways away. The berry picks pictured above are unabashedly cheery – the prefect antidote to the landscape going dormant.

There is much to love about having choices in stem length, branching, and berry size. Choosing materials that are a proper proportion to the overall size of the arrangement is important. Do all picks need to be inserted into the soil or a dry floral foam base? No. If the perfect stem is not tall enough, they can be discretely zip tied to a neighboring natural branch. Picks with flexible branching permit an arrangement that is graceful.

Berry beautiful.

Red berry picks destined for outdoor pots need to be completely weatherproof. It only took one time seeing red berries disintegrate and run red on the sidewalk to drive that point home. We test all of our picks by soaking them in water, even if we have been told they are weatherproof.

44 inch long red berry picks in concert with a mass of cut red twig dogwood branches will make a statement in a container all winter long. That red will be strikingly handsome set in a landscape renowned for its gray and brown. It could be I enjoy the winter pots better than any other season. They most certainly last the longest. I will take my own apart in March, mostly from the embarrassment of seeing the snowdrops and the berry picks at the same time.    Red berry picks are the norm, but they are not the only game in town. It is great to be able to take your pick.

black and white

blueberry picks

golden ochre

green

cream berries with brown stems

fuzz ball style berry picks

short blueberries

I have yet to see a winter container that had too many berry picks, but even just a few adds a lot to the mix.If a project calls for lots and lots of berries, sticking them individually is a better strategy than attaching them to the twig centerpiece. Once a centerpiece reaches a certain weight, keeping it perfectly upright will require additional ballast. Hand sticking berry stems is more time consuming, but it can provide a welcome intermediary layer between the vertical and horizontal elements. Winter pots can be the most challenging to create, as nothing will grow or fill in. The day they are done, they are done.

Looking forward to the berries.

 

Holiday Garnish

A holiday garland is an especially festive and personal garnish to an outdoor holiday display. There are few parameters and no rules about what constitutes a garland, but for the fact that it has length and continuity such that it can hang from something. A garland does for a winter garden what a vine does for a summer garden. Vines grow up, and garlands hang down, but the big idea is the same. I am sure that vining plants were the inspiration for the first winter garlands, aren’t you? Every garden has a place for something that climbs, or something that drapes. Vines and garlands take up no room on the ground plane, but they can endow the airspace with so much visual interest. A new gardening season asks for a new approach. That every gardener in a northern zone is about to turn to the winter, some talk about garlands might be useful. Most of the garlands we do are placed over the front door, but they are equally at home attached to an arbor, pergola, a gate or a fence. A garland can wreathe a large window, or a favorite garden sculpture. They can be wound around a lamp post, or the trunk of a favorite tree. A garland can also be pooled on the ground around that same light post or tree. Think winter scarf, stole, wrap, or boa. We begin with a simple mixed fir garland custom ordered in advance from our farmers market, to which we add additional greens. A mass of greens has a quiet and substantial look. Any number of other materials can be added to that length of greens. If the garland is to be lighted, I like winding a spiral of grapevine that stands proud of those greens.  It provides a perfect place to attach the lights. If we add cluster LED lights, we attach them to the underside of the grapevine.  There is no need to be looking at those wires during the day. An underside installation directs the light down onto the surface of the garland. Lights buried in the greens of a garland gives an uneven and not entirely satisfactory night time appearance.

Once we have lighted and adorned a holiday garland, it takes most of us to pick it up, and load it in the truck for delivery.  Evergreen garlands are heavy. The needles weigh next to nothing-but the woody branches to which those needles are attached weigh a lot.  If you are able to make your own garlands from scratch, wire together short evergreen tips that have a lot of needles, and not so much wood. Anything that gets added to a garland adds more weight. Really heavy garlands drape beautifully-thanks to that phenomena known as gravity. That weight also requires a thoughtful and secure installation.

We are fortunate to have a truck that can hold and spread out a 25 foot garland on the floor. All the work that goes into attaching all of the garnish to that long length of evergreens does not need to be flattened.  What we arrange in the stock room that is three dimensional needs to get to the job with all of that dimensional quality intact.

This garland took a number of people to unload and hang. Your garland project may not need four people.  You may be able to construct a garland all on your own, and hang it on your own, start to finish. Any gesture in the garden and landscape, no matter the season, that features the work of a pair of hands greatly interests me. The clear evidence of the human hand is what makes the work visually compelling.

To follow are a number of pictures about the installation of this particular lighted garland. We have been constructing garland for this client for the past 10 years.  I am happy to say that this year’s garland is exuberant.

 

  Happy holidays!

 

All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.