Stick Work

 

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Mid November is a good time to be planning what you might do to interpret the garden and landscape for the holiday and the winter.  Early is the best time to get going on a scheme.  The most compelling reason has to do with weather.  The past few years, our late fall was very mild.  Mild means it is reasonably easy to work outdoors.  A really cold late fall makes so much work of any installation outdoors.  For those gardeners that do their own work, dramatically cold fall temperatures is enough to make anyone consider skipping the winter work altogether. 

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My advice-don’t skip any experience of the garden.  Plant roses, peonies, trees, and wildflowers.  Plant bulbs in the ground, or in pots.  Grow topiaries and espaliers.  Plant clematis and tomatoes.  Take a liking to asters, and amass a collection.  Make enthusiasm for the garden and landscape a way of life.   Plan to express a winter idea-you will not be sorry.  On and off, we have had extremely cold temperatures in November.  The temperature today when I came to work was 20 degrees.  This is unseasonably cold, but by no means unheard of.  I remember those years when we had to chop frozen soil out of pots in order to install a winter arrangement.  Should night temperatures this low persist for much longer, our winter installations will be arduous.  Tough conditions in the landscape are my problem-not my client’s problem.

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If your winter garden is all your own to create, I would urge you to get dressed, and get out there.  The forecast for our coming weekend calls for 50 degrees both days.  All you need for a stellar winter arrangement in your pots are some great materials, a load of lights,  and an atmosphere in which you have time to concentrate.  Once I am in the process of stuffing a pot with sticks for the winter, I do not much notice the cold.  The fresh cut branches we bring in for the winter season shrug off the cold-why shouldn’t I?  I spent the entire day today outdoors, installing our first winter/holiday pots of the season.

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Stick week-we take possession of so many beautiful fresh cut twigs.  The stick work is what comes next.  Those sticks can be bound together.  They can provide the bulk and mass of a beautiful centerpiece. They can be stuck into the soil, one at a time.  They can provide the stalk of a great winter topiary for a sideboard in the dining room.  They can be woven around a form.  Our bunches of fresh cut twigs delight and challenge me, in the beginning of that season when the landscape is going dormant.  I find that the best antidote to loss is taking on the responsibility for a life that goes on.  A gorgeous winter garden helps to take the sting out of experiencing a garden going down for the winter.

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Nature provides a backdrop which is always interesting, and regularly spectacular.  Figure in the wind, the snow, the sunny days, the gray days, the cold, the ice, and that special quality which we call natural.  I have always posted entries to this online gardening journal of mine in real time.  This year, my idea is to pose the questions, post the pictures, and speak to the season, ahead of time.  In time for a reader to have time to consider all their options.  Rob loads in all manner of materials for the holiday and winter season.  I shop what he stocks at Detroit Garden Works for my projects.  Sticks, picks, greens, garlands, magnolia, grapevine, sinamay, weather proof ornament-his selections are beautiful.  Better than the beauty is the depth.  He takes great care to represent a wide range of interests.  Gardeners comprise a very big group with very diverse interests. Rob aims to engage each and every gardener.

First National holiday 2013 (53)

We do anticipate the season to come-we have to. Rob and I shop for the holiday to come the previous January.  We order materials in small numbers.  We hope that each gardener will draw from a large group of a limited stock of materials to create a holiday and winter that produces an original and personal result.  The order we place for sticks for your works happens in August.  The holiday display at Detroit Garden Works takes weeks to create.  We think ahead, so you do not have to.  But this year, the weather may close out early.  Our winter usually commences in January sometime.  I am thinking the winter will come early this year.  There is much stick work to do.  If you plan to harvest materials from your yard, or from the roadside, or the empty lot next door-now is the time.

holiday-containers.jpgThe curly copper willow that we installed in 12  pots downtown today is exuberant.  Lively. I do so like the warm color.  All of those curly stems are airy in a way only nature could create.  Our part was to put together an arrangement in which the twigs would celebrate winter season in a striking way.

container-detail.jpgOur expression of the winter season for this client is a relationship forged from cut twigs, fresh cut greens, dyed kiwi vine, sugar pine cones, gold sinamay, and fresh cut magnolia.  Any expression in the landscape revolves around a conversation.  If you are a gardener, you have a voice.  The season is another voice.  Nature is the first and foremost voice.  Multiple voices-harmonic.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgAll the voices interacting-love this.

winter-containers.jpgYour winter season-love it up.

 

A Last Look

winter containers with flame willow and bleached leaf stems

lacquered birch twigs and lavender eucalyptus

curly flame willow and aouthern magnolia stems

boxwood pyramid

 stone mason’s Christmas gift to his wife

winter arrangement with mixed eucalyptus

holiday front door

red twig dogwood and Michigan holly

 holiday packages wrapped by Jenny

Next To The Last Look

I finally got back to check out and take pictures of the last of the holiday and winter work we did this season.  Some time and the dispassionate light of day can reveal a detail not quite right, but by and large I was happy with what I saw.  This contemporary version of the traditional red and green holiday is vividly colored.  The tall thin steel topiary forms are strung with chartreuse and white lights, and chartreuse glass ornaments.  I will have to go back at dusk to take more pictures.


Lots of red picks, and lots of oregonia makes for lots of pop.  Their collection of Italian pots from Francesca del Re is beautiful.   

A concrete pot at the corner of the garage features an elongated steel topiary form dressed in a swirl of similar lights and ornaments, a pair of red and chartreuse ornaments and chartreuse glitter picks.  Sassy, this. 

This creamy taupe house and front door gets quite a visual boost from these winter containers.  That vivid splash of color is a great chaser for the winter blues.

I landscaped this newly renovated house last year.  The window box centerpieces are a deliberate play on the form and color of the PJM rhododendrons below the box.  A little white pops the merlot colored eucalyptus. 


This closer look at a companion window box on the side tells the same tale.  Just simple and amply proportioned.

I posted some cell phone pictures of this project which were probably just fine.  But I especially liked the look here.  It is a substantial walk from the drivecourt to the front door; the “welcome to our home” is equally substantive.  The green sinamay affixed to the arch looks like pistachio meringue.  

The brick face of a garage is a narrow, but important spot.  This client drives out and up to this every day.  A combination of materials that will withstand the winter weather, and entertain the eye was the order of the day.  There are better than great odds that these pussy willow stems will bloom in the spring-willow has a very special will to live.  

A giant limestone wall and fireplace mantel is greatly warmed by a holiday expression.

 Winter is a dark time in my zone.  This picture was taken at 4:20 in the afternoon.  The douglas fir reads every bit as dark as the chocolate stained concrete pots. The tallest stems-flame willow.  The shorter stems-pussy willow.  The combination is is subtly celebratory.  If you have not filled your pots yet for winter, you are not too late to the party.  A celebration can be any time you choose.

An Addendum To That Celebration

This Christmas tree decorated with vintage ornaments, garland, and tinsel is stunning.  Their living room, a discussion between the austere and the abundant.  Treasured topiaries made an appearance for Christmas, set in the windows.


Their packages are wrapped as beautifully as their table is set.

They are simple, elegant, and lavish, all at the same time.

Their choice of holiday flowers –  green and white cabbage florets, and white hydrangeas.

I would have had no idea what I was looking at here, but for M’s explanation. Buche de Noel is a classic French dessert served at the holidays. This seemed a natural choice, given the French heritage of one side of this family. The cake is “prepared, presented and garnished to look like a log ready for the fire used in an ancient fire festival of the winter soltice”-this from Wikipedia,  Additionally, this from The Oxford Companion to Food:

“[In France] where the buche de Noel, a roll of light sponge cake, is covered in chocolate or coffee buttercream textured to resemble bark. The conceit is carried further by mounding the cream over small pieces of cake stuck to the main roll, to represent trimmed branches. The ends of the roll and the cut faces of the branches are finished with vanilla cream, imitating pale newly cut wood, and the whole is decorated with leaves made from icing, or meringue mushrooms.”
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 184)

I learned from my friends that the creation of this dessert occurred over a period of three days.  Is it not spectacular?   

I am sure every one of their Christmas Eve guests enjoyed themselves.   

To my friends: thanks again for inviting me to your holiday.