The Details: A Story Board

glass-drops.jpgPart 3 of my tutorial about the construction of  winter containers has to do with bringing the special details to life.  Evergreens stuck into a foam form the base of the winter container.  A structure upon which to build.  A centerpiece, no matter whether it is tied up tight and of a piece, or stuck individually, provides an element upon which to focus.  Up next-the details.

evergreens-destined-for-a-winter-pot.jpgA blank canvas can be lush in and of itself, but it asks for those details that make for an individual design.  The third element of any winter pot-those thoughtfully constructed and expressed finishing details.  Pistou is a vegetable soup of French origin, , made with vegetables, various beans, and small macaroni.  This is an overview- their are many individual recipes.  Upon serving, the soup is topped with a large dollop of basil pesto which is showered with grated parmesan cheese.  The addition of the pesto and its parmesan  is an individually imagined finish.  Pistou has no end of recipes, should you look it up on line.  Individual chefs individually imagine and cook the soup, and finish it to their taste.  The finish of your winter containers should reflect your own particular point of view.

light-rings.jpgA winter container has several elements, each of which are interpreted by the gardener in charge.  The finish is about the fine tuning.  The little bits that take construction to another level.  Those little bits can be imagined, and sorted out in the shelter provided by the garage.  These winter pots included light rings on stands of Rob’s invention, stout cut twigs, garland lights, big C-9 light strands, and glass drops.

lighted-topiary-form.jpgSummer topiary forms which provides a climbing venue for mandevillea vines in the summer are strung with garland light vines for the winter.

holiday-garland.jpgA thick evergreen garland is wrapped with grapevine.  Loose and loopy.  The materials are as subtle as they are simple.

winter-container.jpgThis container features one of Rob’s light rings constructed on a stand.  The branches we cut from a tree at our Branch property.  The glass drops will pick up the light from a string of 50 clear C-9 lights.  Part of the story board of these winter container involve light.  No, you cannot see the wires or the bulbs.  The big idea detailed on this story board-the twigs, the glass, and the light.  A story board is a group of images representing an idea.  Any creative expression should tell a story-from start to finish.

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winter garland

winter-container-arrangement.jpgThe story?  Welcome to winter.

 

Holiday Garden

holiday-decoration.jpgIt is no secret that I enjoy decorating the garden for the holidays.  The gardening season has come to a close-there are reasons to celebrate.  I am not watering,  grooming, transplanting, replacing, pruning or fertilizing.  This is a long way of saying I have respite from the chores that make the idea of a good garden a reality.  Though I was content to haul the hose around, I am equally pleased that it has been put away.

holiday-garland.jpgA lot of the work that goes into a landscape is as much fun as a dose of cod liver oil.  I have never been invited to a party to celebrate a grading project that eliminated a swampy spot in the yard.  Nor has any friend invited me to admire their new drain field.  A diehard gardening friend did invite me to admire the pruning on her front yard full of old oak trees-I don’t blame her.  I might not have noticed, had she not drawn my attention to it.   There is some sunlight in the yard now, and the work was very expensive-she wanted me to see.  The pruning was in her mind, just cause for celebration.

holiday-garland.jpgA garden decorated for the holidays is a whole other experience.  There is the opportunity to add some color to a landscape which has gone as gray as the winter skies.  Materials from the garden can be arranged in any configuration or shape without regard to lighting or growing conditions.  There is no planting, nor is there any watering.    Only at the winter holidays can I have a perfectly lush evergreen and perfectly spiralling grapevine growing over the doorway.  There are lots of things not available to me in the garden, but I can have whatever look I want for the winter.

holiday-decoration.jpgThe illusion of the decorated winter garden doesn’t ask for a skilled gardener.  A holiday display is not limited to the realm of possibility.  It is the one time of year I can have magnolia grandiflora, and sugar pine cones, red bud pussy willow,  and winterberry-each stem at their peak.  Each positioned in a display, just so.  All this garland requires is the support of the light fixture, and strategically placed masonry screws, and enough 22 gauge paddle wire to keep every element securely attached.

holiday-decoration.jpgFrost proof pots that had summer flowers are an obliging vehicle for an arrangement celebrating the season.  There are so many beautiful fresh cut materials available-twigs, berries, branches and greens.  The variegated boxwood I grew in a pot over the summer has gone into storage.  I worry it is not hardy in my zone, so I will protect it from my winter in an unheated but enclosed space.  I don’t have to worry about cut variegated boxwood in a winter arrangement.  The understanding is that this material has a shelf life.

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Growing a garden is one part skill, 3 parts hard work, 3 parts endurance and patience, and 3 parts luck. Sometimes even that is not enough. Plants routinely refuse to perform, even when given the best and most thoughtful care. The winter garden has no dead branches, or insect ravaged leaves.  A boxwood or lavender hedge with a dead plant right in the middle is an ordinary sight in a landscape.  No gardener has to put up with that in their winter arrangements.

holiday.jpgI have read the predictions that we will have a very cold, snowy, and lengthy winter.  That season usually begins in January.  I may take the holiday ornaments, picks and bows off after New Years, but my winter pots will keep visual company during those lengthy and dreary months.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy summer garden has little need for lighting beyond what the sun provides.  In the winter, every gardener has to fend for themselves.

 

The Holiday Inside

Rob’s branch trees have intrigued me for a number of years-I had to have one this year.  These branches came from some remote location where he walks Larry.  It was more than a few trips dragging these a quarter mile out of the woods.  That alone would be enough to make them precious, but the color and surface is really beautiful.  Old wood, as they say.  And certainly perfect for my sole Christmas tree ornaments-3 platinum colored plastic bead garlands.  I love the shapes they make when they are draped. 

Rob was also taken by battery operated LED lights and sticks this year.  He bought them by the caseload.  Very small LED lights on fine silver colored wire of differing lengths-what was not to like?  By the time I got interested in them, we were sold out.  But Restoration Hardware had bought them in by the boxcar load.  The picture on their website of birch branches wound round with these lights was all I needed to see. 

In more skilled hands, every tiny dot of light would look like it was floating.  Not that I didn’t try.  But these lights need much different handling than the traditional lights with their garland like cords.  I think with enough practice, I could delicately place the wire so every light would seem to float.

I also loved how RH paired these delicate lights with heavy vintage style glass ornaments.  Rob was a little taken aback that I would buy Christmas ornaments from another shop, but by the time I was ready to decorate a tree, Christmas was just a few days away.  I rarely carry ornaments that weigh this much in the shop.  They are too heavy for evergreen branches-a douglas fir with weighted branches is not such a swell look.  The primary drawback of most artificial trees is that they are so solid in outline that most of the ornaments lean on, rather than hang.   

Steve took multiple branches, and stuffed them into a terra cotta pot to create a tree like form.  The wood branches interlocked, making for a very strong structure.  The weight of the glass ornaments did not bother these branches a bit.  As each branch is mostly vertical, some ornaments I had to hang from very long wires.  I wanted the glass to appear to float too.

Buck watched with some interest as I layered ornament over ornament on the mantel.  The first groupings of glass had 3 or more ornaments, loosly wired together.  These were the ballast ornaments.  The smaller ornaments I piled on until I thought there was enough.  Next year I may ask for a mantel sized tray with short sides-just so I can pile things up with abandon. 

Another pile of glass is keeping Mary Hode’s stoneware cats amused.  The smoke and crackled glass looks great with my reticulated quartz spheres.

While I was getting the living room decorated, Buck was wrapping packages.  His boxes are impeccably covered with holiday paper.  Every seam meets perfectly.  He is incredibly consistent with this.  I am happy to botch the process, as long as that happens on the bottom.  My love is for what goes over the top of the paper.

All of his presents are wrapped differently, many of them with the bits and pieces from a junk drawer, a tool box, or the workroom shelf.  There’s this one, wrapped in a piece of black poster paper old enough to have faded to gray.

   

And there’s this one.

And there’s this one-with that same vintage poster paper. 

 I am ready, inside and out.  I only have to make sure that all of the lights are off at the shop, and that MCat isn’t stuck in the garage.  In a few minutes I will load up the corgis, Buck’s boxes, and the wreath for the front door.  We will meet at 6 for cocktails, and celebrate our Christmas.  I am ready, with 2 hours and 8 minutes to spare. 

Wishing you a very bright and sparkly holiday.

Dark Days

Light is such a powerful element in the landscape- critical to the well being of plants and people alike.  The story of how light from the sun reaches the earth is astonishing.  But more importantly, light is life giving, and life sustaining.  There would be no garden without it.  No wonder that at that time of year that the light is so low in the sky, and shy to show itself at best, the garden sleeps.  Would I choose to hibernate if I could?  No.  I like the daily schedule-the dawning of a new day, the close of the old.  My garden has no need of a daily dose of vitamin D.  It sleeps.   

I am awake by 5:30 am, and still awake at 9:30 pm.  This means I am spending a lot of time in the dark. The light retreats early this time of year.  At five past five, the landscape is largely dark.  On a good day, the sky is still streaked with the remains of the light of the day at 5pm.  The light sleepily emerges, after 7:30 am.  Lighting the winter landscape is naturally on my mind.

No artificially generated light could possibly replace the light that comes from the sun.  A sunny spring, summer, fall, or that rare sunny winter day-enchanting.  Those seasons, days, and times when there is little in the way of light, gardeners have options.  Votive candles glowing in the winter season-not so much a representation of the light from the sky, but a special kind of light with its own warmth and charm.      

The landscape can be beautifully, and differently, lit in the winter.  I took this picture at the shop very early in the morning.  The holiday incandescent lighting is very different than the light on the fountain-courtesy of a photocell light on the building.  Different kinds of light in concert makes the night view more interesting. 

The loss of the summer sun-there is nothing to be done for it.  This means that any effort to light the night will cheer the lot of us. The work of lighting the winter night can be as simple as a lighted pot at the porch or a garland hung in a tree.  It can be as festive and inviting as what you see here.  I hope next year to convince them to light the underhand of the tower.  This would wash the second story with a little light.   

The bright lights here come via one of Rob’s light rings, and the lights in greens in the window boxes.  The light washing the walls is too strong-I think the fixture needs to be further away from the wall, or the wattage in the fixture turned down.  Some light needs to be soft, and some light should be strong.  Thoughtful visual punctuation, and rhythm is important to successfully lighting a winter landscape.

Winter light is entertaining at a time when not so much outside entertains.  Once the snow comes, the light will be all the more interesting, given that stormy relationship.  Winter lighting is anything but uniform.  It is directed.  This creates opportunityfor a lot of visual drama.  Stand outside in the dark, and imagine how and where some light would delight you.

The materials for lighting your night are readily available. Extending a warm welcome has never been easier to achieve.