At A Glance: More Warm For Winter

purple and lavender
winter-container.jpgDressing a fountain for winter

curly-copper-willow.jpgfinished arrangement

winter-containers.jpgFrancesca del Re terra cotta pot ready for winter

winter-white.jpgwinter white

winter-container.jpgblanket of noble and silver fir

copper-willow.jpgcollection of winter pots

winter-container-arrangement.jpg lead egg cup

winter-container-arrangement.jpgcurly copper willow and oregonia

winter-container.jpgred bud pussy willow, mixed greens, fan willow, and purple eucalyptus

winter-containers.jpgThe Avenue diner in Royal Oak

The Center Of Interest: A Short Story

red-twig-dogwood.jpgOne way to organize a creative winter garden expression is to decide on a center of interest, and design every other element to celebrate that one big idea.  If you have a mind that your winter pot needs a centerpiece, I have some suggestions about the construction.  Let’s assume that you have built a foam form, and stick all of your greens to your satisfaction.  That foam form should have a hole in the middle, close to the diameter of the centerpiece you have in mind.  Sometimes we make that hole smaller, and cut the actual size during the installation.  A tight fit is a good idea.  We arrange the centerpiece using thick rubber bands to contain every stem.  Rubber bands will oblige, should you decide to add several more stems.  The centerpiece needs a place to be.  A great centerpiece for a winter pot needs some thought about the materials, and the construction.

winter-container.jpgFresh cut twigs are woody, and incredibly strong.  But once they have been cut away from the roots of the plant, they have no plan in place to keep them perfectly vertical in the container.  The center of all of our centerpieces is a stout bamboo stake.  Having done countless winter containers, we have an instinct about how long that stake should be.  Though it is part of the above grade centerpiece assembly, that stake will be pounded down into the soil of the container when it is installed.  The centerpiece needs to have something below ground to keep it vertical.  Bamboo ballast.

winter-container-arrangement.jpgOnce the soil in a pot freezes firmly around that bamboo stake, no winter storm can dislodge that centerpiece.  There are occasions when we add another element or two to the vertical centerpiece.  Some materials get strapped onto the twigs with zip ties or concrete wire.  Some materials are stuck into the foam-in that space between the greens and the twig centerpiece.  There are those times when the overall shape of the container will ask for hand sticking during an installation.  As much as I mean this essay to be of a tutorial sort, there are no formulas.  Given a general guideline, the individual eye and hand has to drive the bus.

winter-container-centerpiece.jpgThe green preserved leptospermum in this centerpiece was wedged into the copper curly willow, and purple preserved eucalyptus.  A third element introduced into a centerpiece can stitch a look together.  This lepto is a great contrast to the sleek and thick willow stems.  The color and texture adds interest to the purple eucalyptus.  The lepto moves this arrangement to another level.

winter-container.jpgA center of interest in a winter container sets the tone.  Said centerpiece will rule the roost.  Loose and asymmetrical centerpieces read like a well worn pair of jeans.  Structured centerpieces that reach for the sky-awesome.  A winter container with no centerpiece -a winter container well on its way to a contemporary expression.  Twigs arranged to represent in the vertical dimension-more formal. Or maybe more contemporary.  A twig centerpiece that fans out-a uniform fan is very formal.  Restrained.  A loose fan breathes, and chats up a storm.

winter-centerpiece.jpgNo matter what elements you plan to include in your centerpiece, a strong construction will reward you the entire season long.  Strong in, strong out.  Invest in some zip ties, if concrete wire and pliers are not your style.

winter-centerpiece.jpgEvery move you make in the construction of a winter container has visual meaning.  What you construct behind the scenes-I am in favor of a very strong construction.  What you construct behind the scenes also makes a visual statement.  Be clear about what you wish to say.  The time and pleasure that you take to express your idea of winter-everyone will appreciate that.

winter-container.jpgwinter container

winter-container-arrangement.jpgwinter container

pots-for-winter.jpgpots dressed for the winter.

Sticking It: A Foam Story

dry-floral-foam.jpgOur late fall weather took a nose dive a few days ago.  Just yesterday, it was 15 degrees when I came into work.  Bitter cold like that over a period of time can make any soil left in a container turn rock hard.  I have had gardeners in, wondering how they will get their winter containers done.  We do not stick any of our greens into the soil in a pot.  Evergreen boughs installed in the soil have only one direction possible-that is straight up.  We build forms from florist’s foam that fit tight into the pot.  The foam will stand above the rim of the pot, enabling the placement of greens to the side, and on an angle.  Once a form is built, you can reuse it, or patch it.  But another great feature of working in foam is the fact that frozen soil is not a problem.

dry-floral-foam.jpgI try to remember to take 4 ” or so of soil out of the pot when doing the fall cleanup.  The bottom layer of the foam will sit down into the pot.  The top layer gets the evergreen stems. Very large pots may ask for more layers of foam.  Given very large pots, or very tall centerpieces, we may wrap the foam with steel wire.


We glue our layers of foam together with hot melt glue. Since the glue cools and sets up fairly quickly, we usually have 2 glue guns going at once.  If this sounds like way to much work, we make forms to order all the time.

layers-of-foam.jpgThere are plenty of variations on this theme. A long window box may ask for 3 forms that can be wedged together upon installation.  Odd shaped containers may ask for foam bricks that can be glued up, rather than sheets.  Some forms are thicker at the back than the front, if the materials at the back will be heavier in the back.  This material enables the actual sticking of the greens to be done indoors.  I would dread having to insert branches into half frozen soil when the temperature is much below freezing.  This would make the job miserable.

gluing-the-layers.jpgGardeners are routinely victimized by the weather, but in this particular instance, there is no need.  Being comfortable means the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than the wind chill.  Should you want to move a branch over or up an inch, that adjustment is easy.  You can control the angle and direction of the placement with ease.  If you make a move you don’t like, you can try a different move.

winter-window-box-under-construction.jpgMuch better this mess on the garage floor, than on the front porch.  This is easy to sweep up.

dry-floral-foam.jpgThis is the third year for this form.  We actually don’t make so many holes in the foam.  We sharpen the woody stems of the greens with pruners.  This makes for a tight fit.  We look at the green topside of a branch to decide on the placement of the next.  We do not place the woody stems close together.  This helps to conserve material without sacrificing a lush look.

winter-window-box.jpgTransporting an arrangement this large takes some doing.  And the heaviest stems or centerpieces are put in once the foam is in place.  Once you get the hang of sticking the foam, there will be no stopping you.


If you haven’t done your winter containers yet, don’t despair. A little simple technology can help make it happen.  I did post lots of pictures of winter pots on the Detroit Garden Works facebook page today, should you be interested.



More On Winter

holiday container arrangements

This past week was devoted to getting a lot of clients ready for the holidays and the winter to come.  Every client’s take on the season is different.  How I love that.  Every project we do involves different materials, different emphasis, different style, different execution.

There are those landscapes that are very spare-they ask for seasonal company in the same vein.  There are those who love sparkles, and those who want anything but. 

The architecture makes its own demand.  Ignore that, and your winter container arrangements will look jarringly out of place.  These containers look in keeping with an idea that was established by the architecture.

There are those who delight in the light.  I will confess I am one of them.  The daytime look here-sumptuous.  The night time look-electric.

This client has small children.  The mudroom door-this is their front door.  A dog, and a few pots dressed for the season-appropriate to the occasion.

We had occasion to obtain a number of French made baskets with leather handles.  Not that you could spot those handles here, but they finish this basket in a very beautiful way.  I am sure the original intent never involved a winter container arrangement. 

How beautiful and comfortable they look at this front door.  Though the arrangement is simple and subdued, the overall shapes are generous and clear.

This 19th century white painted wirework planter is a garden ornament/container that organizes this entire garden.  For the winter, an arrangement that is just as serious as the planter.  I am particularly pleased about how this looks-and will look-all winter. 

These mossed topiary sculptures in French pots add a graceful note to this massive stone fireplace.  They will be a welcome and personal note-all winter long.

The shape and size of a container, and the location of those containers, provides plenty of clues about how to shape and size an arrangement.  

This client has beautiful terra cotta pots that sit on this porch during the summer months.  In the winter, we fill fiber pots with twigs and greens.  Very simple and uncomplicated, yes.  What would be complicated would be the idea of living with this massive porch all winter long-bare.

Michigan winter weather adds its own touch to every winter container arrangement.  This is why we construct them to withstand whatever nature has to dish out.  We might get a dusting of snow.  We might be buried in it. 

Eucalyptus is a plant whose stems and leaves are amenable to absorbing color, and preservative.  I would not want to do without this material over my winter.  A winter container stuffed full of eucalyptus-not too dressy or dramatic.  Just warm.

Another material not native to my zone-southern magnolia.  I buy the branches by the caseload.  The glossy leaves hold up over my winter beautifully.  The leaves dry the most gorgeous shade of pale platinum green you could imagine.  The cinnamon brown felted backs of the leaves-this color is persistent.  Winter long.  The color and shape of the willow-a great companion.

The relationship of the color of dried limelight hydrangea flowers to the willow and magnolia-pleasing. 

Whitewashed eucalyptus is a material of choice for those clients that swear by white.  Interested in pairing materials?  Noble fir has that blue white cast that makes it a natural companion for whitewashed eucalyptus.  

That very same eucalyptus is a gorgeous companion for the containers we make at Branch.  Steely blue.

Any container that sits empty over the winter bothers me.  I like the idea that no matter the season, the spirit of the garden goes on.  I know my trees, shrubs and perennials are sleeping.  Fine.  It is about to be winter.  But if I have anything to say about it, I fill the pots.  To overflowing.  Welcome, winter.