In Case You Missed It

My heart goes out to all of those people on the east coast who are up their proverbial armpits in snow.  I have never experienced 20 plus inches of snow at one time; this I cannot imagine.  I remember a storm in the late seventies while I was living in Ann Arbor.  I was young, unprepared, and had few options except to go home.  It took a week for me to be able to get there.  I still remember the 6 inch thick ice patches on I-94; the trip home was very, very slow, and very bumpy.  Not so many years ago we got a foot of snow in one fell swoop.  I stayed at the shop, ordered in pizza, and worked on a project during the five days it took for the neighborhood to get shovelled out.      

The snow that just buried New York and New Jersey goes far beyond imposing an enforced time out on the people who live there. They have serious trouble out there.   I am only lucky that weather that threatens lives comes my way only once in a blue moon.  Most of the time, should I be forced to change my schedule to accommodate the weather, I have enjoyed the show.  The winter holiday of 2005 was one of my favorites.  This is not to say that I did not work hard on my end.  The giant grapevine spheres and hickory bark strips Rob brought back from Europe needed a home.  He has this idea that I will figure out what to do with materials he likes.  I can be challenged by this, but I am not shy about taking on trouble.  Four thick 10 foot long bamboo poles buried in the concrete pots captured those spheres.  I cannot remember now how we managed it, but each grapevine sphere had a starlight embedded within. The hickory bark strips were stiff and ornery-they had to be wired on with concrete wire. They may look graceful, but the installation was anything but.  A finishing and thick nest of white pine at the bottom; we had a winter holiday going on.   

Rob had lit all the trunks of the lindens with garland lights. Light strings that have the bulbs spaced close-we like these.  More light, less wire-this makes for a very good winter look.  He always hangs something in the trees.  Who doesn’t have a tree in their yard that could use a winter outfit?  Simple flat gold stars, and red plastic sputnik ornaments-jazzy. 

We looked good at night-which means we looked good at 4:30 in the afternoon.  All the winter blue sky and snow and black trunks were just asking for a little electricity.  Among other things, Rob is incredibly good at designing with light and dark.  2005 was no exception.   

Upon reflection, I think these three dimensional lighted north stars had plastic arms that could be unscrewed. Once the light knob was inside the sphere, we could reattach the arms.  Any material that I can break down is a material that gets my attention.  I may only need half of it, or a wisp of it.  When in doubt about any material, cut it up, and put it back together in your own way. 

The front of the shop was subtly lit; the lights on either side of the front door did the lion’s share of the work.  The warm yellow of the spotlights on the pots-the resulting blue and yellow-we were pleased. 

 I was not much prepared for what nature thought to deliver- a substantial snowstorm.  The snow fall was fast and steady.  I went to bed in one world, and woke up in another, ala JB Priestly.  I think we had 10 inches in all of a wet snow that stuck fast to every surface it touched.

What I thought was a fine holiday display was transformed overnight in a way that took my breath away.  I had no hand in this whatsoever.  I was nonetheless thrilled it came my way, for me to see.   

My shop has never looked like it did this day-not before.  Not since. Very few photographs do justice to an experience, but this is the best record I have for that night.  Moments like this account entirely for my belief that nature rules my roost.  

Don’t be fooled by this picture-it took hours to dig out the front door to the shop. This branchy linden roof of snow-the finest it has ever been my privilege to witness.  My advice?  Be convinced by what you witness.  Once you have done that,  enjoy.

Berry Sunny Day

A sunny December day!  I am thrilled.

A sunny December day-it’s the berries.

Winter White

If you live in Michigan, white figures prominently in your winter landscape. On sunny days, this is a blinding white; on gloomy days, a blue/grey white.  Chilly.  White in the spring or summer landscape can be fresh and crisp; this is a white of a different sort.  Our first snow fell fast and hard.  The temperatures were actually above freezing; that snow stuck to everything it touched.    

Driving was a challenge, but I am so glad I got to see these Himalayan white barked birch in a winter setting. I landscaped the common areas of this community a good many years ago.  The birch planted in irregular drifts are paired with scotch pine, placed in a similar fashion.  I like these two trees planted together.  The stout long needled evergreens are a beautiful foil for the wispy birch.  A green and white landscape.  This day, the white clearly had the upper hand. 

The birch are planted in a large square picture frame around the entrance building-three trees wide.  Planted on 12 foot centers, the lacy branches are beginning to meet overhead. My favorite part of the winter landscape is the ability to see the structure of woody plants.  Though I am unhappy to see burning bush and the like pruned into artificial shapes, the winter look of this style of pruning is interesting.  The overall shapes that many branches make can be be quite striking.     

These birch were planted in a loose grove, and left unpruned. The landscape is quietly beautiful on a snowy day. 

I use lots of birch branches in winter containers.  Their graceful and very twiggy appearance is in sharp contrast to the pole like stems of the willows. I am able to buy them from a farm in their natural state, and as lacquered natural branches.  That shine is useful in some places.  The branches are also available in a variety of colors-including white.  For the holidays, they are available in platinum, silver and gold.  This English antique oval wirework planter is 5 feet long, by about 30 inches wide-large.  A long and dense centerpiece of white birch branches and green eucalyptus was good with the length of the planter, but this composition needed much more in the way of height and scale.    

The long smooth branches-silver painted manzanita.  These thick and sculptural branches were individually set around and over the inner centerpiece.  Silver in a snowy setting such as this reads much like white.  A planter of this size benefits from a mix of greens.  Boxwood and noble fir contrast in color and texture.  This mix helps keep the surface of this container lively looking. 

Tall white birch branches and white frosted eucalyptus make a substantial statement in these square white wood boxes.  A layer of faux snowy white pine picks add another layer to the centerpiece.  A wide and low planter asks for some bulk around the middle.  

The faux branches have a windswept look that takes readily to a placement outdoors; they are convincing.  Low and layered evergreens in the same mix finish the composition.  Even on a very grey day like today these boxes have a festive winter look.

A small wire work planter gets a similar treatment, but in a wispy and scaled down way appropriate to the style and size of the planter. My client likes green and white, summer and winter.    

White will be the predominant color of the landscape here for months to come; this white wirework planter needs the green as much as it needs a large scale white element.  The white dining table overed in snow on this terrace- barely visible today.

Pattern and Texture

There is nothing like a snowfall to make patterns and textures in the landscape stand out.  Boxwood provides a small and fine texture and a uniform pattern; this picture makes that very clear.  The branching on trees stands out dramatically when those branches are coated with snow.  These brown concrete pots have very smooth surfaces; only the rims catch the snow.  The pots read as a homogeneous shape.  Given the somber colors of a winter landscape, the interest here is all about line, pattern, texture, and mass.  Winter greatly restricts the color palette in the landscape-that change is not all bad.  It makes the other elements of design easier to see.  

A dusting of snow has collected on the exposed surfaces of these bundles of copper willow.  The bunches provide quite a hairdo for this bench.  Individually, the sticks are quite linear.  The mass of sticks have a curved pattern.  The snow makes clear that anything in a mass reads quite diferently than it does as an individual.  A single plant might be distinguished in its flower or leaf, or stature; a mass of that plant is more about an overall shape, sweep, or drift. 

This cast iron grate has a distinctive pattern and a densely complex texture.  Snow makes all the more of that. How snow softens the outlines of hard structures and surfaces is one of the pleasures of the winter landscape.  A snowfall can make the most ordinary landscape look spectacularly beautiful.  It would be more accurate to say that most natural phenomena are spectacularly beautiful-even if I neglect to see it.  The snow turns on the lights.  

We are not buried in snow like other parts of the country, but we did get 6-8 inches.  The snow fell fast, and stuck to everything.  Why does it sometime snow when the temperature is above freezing?  It was 35 degrees here at one point yesterday and snowing like mad; it was 7 degrees when I got to work this morning.  All the wet snow is now frozen in place, so I have had plenty of time to look around.  The pruning pattern on the katsura espaliers can be readily seen; branches that were cut back hard responded by sprouting a number of stick straight branches from a single cut.  The pattern I see on these trees is a very clear explanation of how a branch responds to pruning. A pruning cut issues an invitation to grow.   

These vintage trench drains have a repetitive and very geometric pattern. They are most clearly a human-generated form.  The wildly curving branches of the pollarded willow are anything human. This idea shocks me some, and interests me a lot. The snow outlines the massive main trunks of the tree. I will loose this pollarded tree sooner rather than later. A high wind several years ago uprooted it.  My efforts to replant it were in vain; the bark is shedding in giant strips, and bracket fungus fruiting bodies have appeared.   

The copper curly willow is very curly. This branching is obscured in the summer by leaves.  I have to admit that this tree looks better in the winter than the summer, and that the pattern is outstanding in the snow.  The most difficult thing about choosing plants for their winter interest is that when that idea strikes home, as in today, nothing can be done about it.  I keep files of photographs of my own garden organized by the month.  I photograph certain key spots from the same angle 12 times a year.  I wish I had started doing this 14 years ago, instead of four.    Nonetheless, these pictures tell me a lot about whether the design and planting is working as well as it could.   

I did not clean out the boxes on the roof this year-the first time ever for that.  The fall and very late fall was a beautiful season for the boxes.  I am not surprised that the elegant feather persisted in its skeletal state, but I am surprised to see so much of the dichondra and plectranthus still holding on.  The pattern and texture provides something moody and textural to see.  The empty box alternative seems much less interesting. 

This pile of cut burning bush branches is dramatic covered with snow.  They are all the more dramatic for their accidental placement in front of a concrete wall, covered in the dark stems of boston ivy.  This wall faces the west; I have no idea why there is not one bit of snow on it anywhere-unless the snow was born on wind out of the west. So much pattern and texture-all ruled by a study in light and dark. 

A pair of espaliered crabapples need to come into the garage for the winter.  As soon as the bulk of our winter containers are done, space will open up for them. This is the only plant with color on the entire shop property.  The pattern of the snow on the berries-I am glad I got a chance to see this.