A client asked of we would be able to light a pair of London Plane trees that we planted on either side of her driveway near the road – for the winter season. Of course I said yes. But I should back up. To say that we planted them warrants further explanation. I asked Ralph Plummer, owner of GP Enterprises, to locate, secure and plant a pair of London Planes of substantial size at the street entry of a landscape I designed and installed.

He obliged with a pair of eight inch caliper Planes that topped out at nearly 30 feet tall. I like big elements in the foreground of a landscape composition. That size is a request to focus and a visual invitation. These giant trees frame the view ahead. I had been absorbed with the installation inside the gates. My client made a request to me for a pair of big framing trees outside those gates. I can assure you flat out that my best projects as a designer have a committed and passionate client as a partner.

So back to the lighting of these trees. Of course Rob backed us up at Detroit Garden Works with LED compact string lighting strands that were 110 feet in length, and featured 2000 lights each. We wound the trunks and major branches horizontally with these strands – lots of them. This day in November was 20 degrees. The weather was an enormous challenge to the work, but that is not news where gardening is concerned.

Our lighting via ladders took us up close to 20 feet. My client called to ask when were we coming back to do the rest? I should have known that the limit of our reach on our ladders was a self imposed limit. If the sky was the limit, I was going to need some help. Mike Shecter sent two of his people over with a lift. That machine enabled them to wrap both of the trees much closer to the top.

There are a few landscape companies in my area that offer holiday lighting, but that is a very specialized niche. The purchase and maintenance on a piece of equipment like this has to be very expensive. Not to mention the workman’s compensation policy on people who are working this high off the ground. I was happy to get some help with this project, and even happier that I do not own this machine.

Trees densely wound round with lights is not especially unusual. Many commercial businesses feature very elaborate lighting schemes for the holiday season.  I understand why. The light is dazzling, and uplifting. As in festival of lights. As much as I loved this look, something was missing.

We put together a pair of light garlands in our shop, featuring 100 feet of LED compact lighted zip tied to a corresponding length of LED strands with the larger C-7 size bulbs. As there was no way to draw or describe the installation of the garland, I was part of the install crew. We laid the garland on the ground, and dragged and pulled it until it described a large circle on the ground all around each tree. A ladder, a 6′ 2″ tall person, a 10 foot bamboo stake with a hook at the top, and 4 support people were all we had in the way of equipment.

The lowest point of each loop/swoop is just about 6′ 2″ above the ground. It was easy to have Colin stand underneath the loops so we knew how low to make them. As bright as they are at night, these lights are a little tough to see during the day. The tops of the loops were secured to lighted branches via a zip tie. Having learned this the hard way, I would recommend tagging the ends of each strand of lights with its own zip tie. The technology of these lights is amazing, but they are by no means perfect or foolproof.  If you have a strand go out that cannot be fixed with a new transformer, you want to know the location of the end of that faulty strand. Trying to find it on a cold winter’s day is exasperating, especially considering that this work is next to impossible to do with gloves on.

The gardens added a whole other dimension to the lighting scheme. What was impressive in its scope was now a jewel in the landscape. They have that aura of romance.

I posted this picture that David took the other morning at 8am on instagram. Landscape designer Susan Cohan commented: “Cinderellas!” What a wonderful way to describe them! Though London Planes are stately trees with gorgeous exfoliating bark and luxuriously large leaves, dressed in lights and wreathed in garlands, they are the stuff of fairy tales. Wrought from a very static and hard material, the effect is graceful and dressy.

The snow a couple days ago adds yet another dimension-the warm fire contrasting with the cold ice and snow. Winter lighting and weather play off one another in a way that provides a lot of visual punch while the garden is dormant. They shine forth on all but the sunniest winter days. As sunny winter days are few and far between in my zone, I would not do without the lighted winter landscape.

Several of these pictures were taken by my client. I know she is enjoying them.

I am hoping they make her feel like Cinderella.

At A Glance: Starlight Spheres

Night Life

Nov 13 013
It never ceases to amaze me, how a space can be so transformed by light.  Sun and shade are critical elements of successful gardening; they are equally important elements of good design.  Rob did such a beautiful job lighting the greenhouse fernery for last night’s soiree.  There is a time during the fall when the workroom is all but impassable.  He makes garlands of lights-mixing colors, bulb size, shape and color. His most recent interest is in pairing Led lights with incandescent ones.  The floor space is covered with parallel strands of lights stretched out straight.  He then realigns all the wires to eliminate any light gaps, and cinches the entire assembly together every foot or so with zip ties.  These 45 foot long ropes of white and chartreuse lights  not only highlight the formally trimmed shape of the creeping fig growing on the walls but they evenly bathed the entire greenhouse roof structure in a warm soft glow.      

Nov 13 030He spot lit certain elements in the room- the refreshment tables in the middle of the space for the sake of utility, and ornament on the walls, for drama.  What he lights is balanced by what he keeps dim. He strongly lit the auricula theatres on the wall, so his forest stick and light orb sculptures would not throw them into harsh shadow.

Nov 13 009Simple votive candles can put light right where you need it.  In this case, lighting the garden at the floor plane also lit the underside of our old French fountain planted with ferns.  Natural candle light instantly romances anything it touches. 

Nov 13 066Some of Rob’s light garlands get another decorative element.  Light cords are are an incredibly unnatural shade of green; I cannot understand why an olive/brown color is not an option.  We do buy lights with brown cords for wrapping sticks or tree trunks. This garland has a weatherproof ball garland that gives the light a  diaphanous quality.  This is my idea of good garden jewelry. 

Nov 13 051Large light fixtures on the wall of the shop subtly light the Boston ivy vines on the opposing wall; the intense light in the pots, and on the tuteurs bring the ornament into focus. 

Nov 13 059The chartruese lights repeat the color of the moss, and add dimension to the light. The light emphasizes the sparkle and sass of the holiday elements.

Nov 13 056This is Rob’s winter berried vine light garland.  The olive plastic holiday balls wired on every so often add texture and color that looks great even during the day.

Nov 13 061The linden is draped in his light rendition of spanish moss.  The unseasonably warm weather we have had for the past few weeks has been favorable for outdoor installations.  In years when the really cold weather comes early, this kind of work can be daunting. With the temperature at 57 today, it is a perfect day to dress a garden in light.

Nov 13 070These commercial grade light strings have frosted bulbs; they produce a very soft light that is easy on the eye.  

Nov 13 064Though the ball garland in this strand is silver, the color of the terra cotta pot in which they are installed makes a richly colored night presentation vastly different than the day look. 

Nov 13 031

White Leds look like ice on fire-very chilly. These powerful lights readily read from great distances; they are clearly much more about drama than romance.  Though my patience for shopping the lighting showrooms with Rob is limited, I love the results. My favorite commercially produced garland lights have all the bulbs very close together; I like less cord, and more light. 

Nov 13 046
These warm amber and yellow lights veiled in a metallic mesh are all about mystery.  Though I firmly believe good design is in no small part about editing, I relax that rule this time of year.  There is no such thing as too much of this kind of night life.