Recent Work


What is to follow does by no means represent all of the winter and holiday container work that was done this season, but it’s a start.  It will take a few more posts to talk about them all. But I could not be happier for the incredible, thoughtful and memorable work of staff from Deborah Silver and Co, The Branch Studio, and Detroit Garden Works.  They make it all happen, and I watch their process and their production with great respect and awe. There is a whomping lot of pictures to follow, all in celebration of the 2021 winter season in the garden.


ll

Lighted Steel Hoops

I don’t remember how long ago it was that Rob began experimenting with attaching lights to steel forms, but I would guess it was at least 10 years ago. There was a series of steel augurs, wound with rope lights, and hung from stout branches in the linden trees. Any farm tool was fair game. This was in the very early days of our winter and holiday season, so Rob haunted every store within driving distance for different kinds of exterior lighting.
There were galvanized steel pipes of varying lengths completely covered with light strands. They were threaded over a solid pipe that had been driven in to the ground. The quality of these incandescent light strings was on the poor side, and they furthermore required a lot of electricity to run. LED outdoor lighting was in its infancy, and the harsh bluish light was reminiscent of gas station bathroom lighting. Light to be interrogated by, as it were. There were winter arrangements that had lighting wound around the pots. There was a phase when he made his own lighting by assembling cords and bulbs bought one at a time. There were galvanized buckets with lights, greens and cones. Set it on your porch, plug it in, and celebrate the winter. Rob never was one for overly elaborate or complicated displays. He likes simple and casually striking. There were winter container arrangements that had light strings as mulch. Strands of C-7 and C-9 lights were piled high. Eventually we had to upgrade all of our existing exterior circuits to 20 amps each, and we added more circuits for good measure. We were lit.

Sooner or later, something solid was bound to come from all of his tinkering. The day he came home with a pair of vintage wagon wheels that he wound round with lights, and hung in the airspace in the shop, I could tell something was in the air. There was something about that circle of light that was as satisfying as it was fascinating. A client bought them both in short order. That winter, he spent a lot of time designing a steel hoop especially engineered to hold and securely capture the lights, and we manufactured them in different sizes.
A year later, he designed an integral stand for the rings. This meant they could be securely inserted into a pot, or in the ground. In the air, or in the ground-you can take your pick, or do both. By this time, he had found an LED lighting line that he liked. The lighted hoops were a winter decoration that could be enjoyed year after year. Three years in to the lighted hoop manufacture, he suggested that perhaps it was time to move on to another shape. I was incredulous. That circle of light was so simple, so visually striking and so easy to use, I couldn’t imagine him giving it up. So we have fine tuned the engineering, and continued to make them. Jackie has shipped them all over the US and Canada. To gardeners, and not gardeners. To designers, florists, and restaurateurs. A sure sign of a great design, they adapt instantly to any setting.

Clients for whom we do winter pots ask for them now, and we are happy to oblige. That ring of light features the fixings in a winter centerpiece in an elegant and stunning way.

Rob manufactures them in sizes starting with a 2 foot diameter, on up to a 7 footer. Pictured above is a 5 foot diameter light ring. Since the lights are on the outside of the hoop, we sometimes install string lighting at the bottom of the centerpiece, and or in the greens.

The sculptural quality of the hoops make them a design asset even during the day. I have no idea how many hoops Rob has out there now, but there are lots. Every time I see one, I think about his long term interest in lighting the garden and landscape in the winter. He tells me he enjoys seeing the work of others fabricating their own version of lighted hoops. It is a testament to a great idea that variations on this theme have sprouted in other places by other people. To follow are pictures of winter arrangements new and old that feature his light rings. They are all different in execution, and all the same in their successful effort to keep the winter dark at bay.

See what I mean?

At A Glance: Recent Work

We are just about halfway with our holiday and winter container work. To follow are some pictures of what work we have done-and an associated before photo that gives a little insight into the studio process. 9 people are involved in every project from the start to the installation. Enjoy some of the highlights of their work.


I am very pleased with what has been done, and intrigued to see what is yet to come.

A 2020 Winter Container: Start To Finish

Every winter container project presents its own unique set of challenges. Those challenges may relate to location, armature construction, materials or design. But getting the scale and proportion right is always the most difficult. A winter arrangement that is under scaled relative to the size of the intended container will always look out of proportion, no matter the beauty of the design and materials. Part of the remedy is keeping the size and location of your intended arrangement in mind during the fabrication process.

As alluded to before, we do not construct our arrangements on site any more. Transporting materials to a job site involves a lot of packing up and unpacking. And a trip back to the shop if you are short of something you need. The materials you didn’t need have to be repacked for the trip home. Working in a cold environment slows the work down, and makes concentration on the work difficult. Sweeping up debris from a cold surface is usually unsatisfactory. But the ease of fabricating in a studio comes with a down side – getting the scale and proportion right. A collection of photographs of the container and the location, as well as experience, play a key role in getting an arrangement to proper scale. The above two pictures were taken the first year we did this project.

The arrangement will be placed in a fountain that is central to a fairly large formal garden. The focal point is a steel light ring that is 5 feet in diameter. The ring, designed and manufactured by Detroit Garden Works, is welded to a steel base with four long rod steel legs.  All of the construction would be done in a dry floral foam armature which fits snugly into the fountain basin. The lower four inches of the dry floral foam form will sit below the rim of the fountain. The upper four inches provides a stable receptacle  for all of the materials-including the legs of the light ring. Not seen in this picture is a large hole in the center of the form that allows for the fountain jet which sits up above the rim of the basin. This form allows all of the materials to be inserted at the maker’s discretion. At whatever angle or density they like. It permits the greens to be arranged in a more believable and natural formation. There is only one way to stick greens into a container of soil, and that is up and down, or on a slight angle. The form permits for sideways or strongly angled placements. The dry foam is forgiving of a maker who needs to stick a branch three times before finding just the right spot for it.

Dry floral foam was traditionally used in the construction of silk and dry arrangements for the home. Unlike oasis, which is a single use water absorptive mechanism for temporarily holding cut flowers, dry foam forms can be used a number of years in a winter container, provided careful handling. It does not absorb any water. A form with a tight fit acts as a waterproof lid on the container during the winter season. The cut greens and twigs will retain their color throughout the winter without any water. Rain in January will be shed, rather than given entry into the pot. We reuse forms over a number of years, as repairing them is simple. We only use premium grade and length cut evergreen branches, which means several things. It does not take as many to create a lush look, as each branch is lush in and of itself. A long length of boughs coming out of the form permits a size that is appropriate to the scale set by the container. We also remove the needles at the bottom of each bough, and sharpen them. This insures a tight fit, and makes as small a hole as possible in the form.

A large arrangement that is liberally stuffed with twigs will be saturated in color, but the look at night may go dark. Rob has made a specialty of twiggy light apparatus that can be a virtually invisible part of those natural twigs. This helps to convey the color and form of those twigs in the dark hours-of which we have many. The light ring will create an aura all around that centerpiece at night in a dramatic and welcome way. The worst of the winter is the darkness.

Farmed red twig dogwood features smooth glossy bark, unmarred by injury or twig dieback. This is a byproduct of a single year’s growth on the stems.  Older stems from a red twig dogwood shrub loose color and luster. This new growth is red twig dogwood in its most brilliant coloration. In order to emphasize that dark wine red color, we added faux berry stems of a matching color. It is hard to get the color red to read in the winter landscape unless there is a lot of it. A large container arrangement suffers if there is too little material, or material that is too small. The berry stems are a different form than the vertical red twig, a different texture, and present a different shape. But that mass of color will read as red over a great distance.

We do work with the lighting on, so the placement of the light is as even as possible. The contrast of the mass of lights on the ring to the dots of lights in the twigs will add another dimension to the visual impact of the arrangement.

The transport to the site required a pick up truck, as the light ring was too tall for a box truck. A gloomy drizzly day illustrates how dark red is all the darker and less red in the absence of bright light. The arrangement had a large thin piece of plywood slipped underneath it, to prevent the form from cracking or breaking. Providing all over support to the form is essential to keeping it in one piece. No one wants to make repairs at this stage.

It took four people to lift the arrangement, and set it in the fountain. The crew splits up after this moment. One group handles all of the electrical hookups, and one handles the final finish. All of the cords will be shallowly buried in the gravel, and hidden in the existing shrubs. Any material that has been jarred out of place during transport will be put to right. It takes a number of skilled people to create and install an arrangement of this size, start to finish.

Once an arrangement is set in place, Birdie will know what spots need a tune up. She brings a tool kit, and plenty of cut greens.

Part of what she does will include hiding the electrical mechanisms still inside the pot. At the base of the arrangement is a row of large wine red beaded balls on picks. She will reset those so they make a perfectly straight line around all four sides of the centerpiece.That very dark red at the base provides some lift and breathing room between the red centerpiece, and the greens. It also gives the impression that the centerpiece is floating.

Just the thing – making a massive and weighty centerpiece appear to hover.

It is amazing how such a large arrangement, easily 6 feet square and as tall, does not look so big, once it is set in place. It just looks like it is the right size.