The Gift Of The Season

holiday treeThose of you have have read this journal regularly over the past 7 years probably recognize my landscape at home. I post pictures of it often, as  I find that almost every issue that concerns, delights, or challenges me as a designer are right there brewing in my own back yard. Most every day, I tour my landscape, as there is always something to see and reflect upon. That daily tour sustains me in a way I cannot really explain. I have taken these steps up to my rose garden countless times over the past 20 years. Buck and I, accompanied by the corgis, would make the trip at the end of every day, during the gardening season. In the summer season, we took the steps up in anticipation of the roses, the beautifully aging boxwood hedges, and the quiet. We quit going the year that the extreme winter cold all but killed the roses. The devastation was very tough to take. But late in that summer, we resumed our trips.  The white Japanese anemone Honorine Jobert came on strong, swept through the devastated roses, and went on to bloom in profusion for weeks. It was a happening. The four of us celebrated the gift of the season. That next winter that killed all of the last of the life left in my roses was even harder to take. But the anemones were all that much stronger, and all that much more beautiful. Every season has its heartaches, but it is equally true that every season has its gifts. Pictured above is the view of those steps a few nights ago, just after Dan and his crew had been there to install a tree in the pot.

holiday treeThe giant pot in my rose garden organizes that small space, several seasons of the year. I plant it for summer, and for winter. The winter season is at hand. I have for many years installed a cut and lighted Christmas tree in that pot. This year’s tree was incredibly large. My landscape superintendent Dan did not blink. That giant tree dressed with thousands of lights makes me happy. Thousands of lights? Rob’s Lumineo lights from the Netherlands means that my thousands of lights from 8 strands draw next to no electricity. They are good for 50,000 hours, or ten years. I told Dan to fire up the tree.  Milo and I made the trek up those stairs that night to see the tree. I was enchanted.

holiday treeBy the next late afternoon, we had had our first snow. It was a big snow. I trudged through 10 inches of that snow after work to see my tree. I was not so keen to walk up the stairs.  What nature engineers does not need my foot prints.  I like my snow exactly as nature intended it. These LED lights generate very little in the way of heat. The light and the snow were equally compelling. The relationship established by the tree, the snow, the lights and the landscape-perfect.

late day yesterday

snow covered steps

The rose garden pot dressed for winter has never been better. It is my first stop when I get home.

The rose garden pot just past dusk, out my south side window.

The rose garden pot at 7 pm

That lighted tree, at night

A pot, a tree, and some lights can energize a winter garden. My rose garden container makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.

winter landscape lightingMake of this picture what you will. In my opinion, some light in the winter garden is a great idea.








Through The Lens, Part 2



Yesterday’s photoshoot took 12 hours.  I was relieved to hear Bob was as tired as I was, at the end of the day.  We parted ways at 6:45 pm, with a plan to meet at 6:30 am this morning.  I was 5 minutes late-I was relieved he was not yet there.  Three of the photographs requested were slated by the BHG Art Director to feature winter pots with lighting.  This meant photoigraphs taken very early, or very late. Bob and I have been on deck both early and late.  I was so sleepy this morning I forgot my camera-pardon this unfocused picture taken with my iphone. I was a little alarmed to see that the lighting in the pots trumped by the lighting from the sconces on the house.  I had a feeling I would hear about this.   

Sure enough, Bob was not happy about those hot lights.  After some discussion, I asked him if he could unscrew the light bulbs in the lanterns.  6:30 am is no time to call an electrician.  No doubt,  my job was to help solve problems.     


 This winter pot features strings of mini lights, interrupted every so often by a light cover.  A light cover?  Years ago a company we bought from sold boxes of plastic spheres with an icy texture-designed to slip over a mini light.  What a great idea- these globes of light are so beautiful in our dark season.  We have never been able to source them again.  When I retire, I may design and manufacture light covers-do they not look great?

I was relieved that Bob was able to do his work, once we dialed down the lumens from those lanterns.  Of course the lights in the containers went off midway through the shoot.  I disabled the timer long enough for him to get what he wanted.  After the shoot concluded, we screwed every light bulb back in, and reset the timer.   


 He photographed the lights at the shop late in the day.  These pictures of mine were taken at dawn the day before he arrived.  I was ready 45 minutes before dawn to take some snapshots-this would help him plan.  The corgis were unsettled by this change in routine-breakfast at 5:30 am-really?

I never have any need for an alarm clock.  I am always up early.  But I set an alarm on a little digital clock I have had almost 40 years.  I wanted to be sure I was on time.  Once I got to work, and had a second cup of coffee, I was happy to be there.  The corgis quieted down, and rose to the moment.  We have had so little in the way of winter weather, I was delighted for this particular moment in a place I have come to every day for 16 years. I have nature to thank for that.  This particular moment. 

Bob says he was pleased with his photographs of the lighting in the winter pots at the shop.  He photographed from across the street.  Really?  Like I said, this was an educational trip. 

 Rob made this pair of winter sculptures for me every year.  I never ask for them.  I never make any suggestions.  What he does is a gift-I treat them as such.  They sit on top of a retaining wall at the end of my driveway.  They are what I see when I leave home in the morning.  They are what welcome me home at night.  I took this snapshot of them this past December.  They make me certain that there are certain seasonal elements in a landscape that truly do provide seasoning.  I would not want to do without them.  I take pains to make room for a little seasoning in every landscape I design.  What landscape would not be better, given the fragrance from lavender, or rosemary, or basil?  Winter pots provide a seasoning unlike any other-especially if you live in my zone.   

Late in the day, or early in the morning, these pots light my way, and my heart.   

Bob photographed them at 6:30 am the first day he was here. I was not privy to anything he did-I was completely absorbed with unfreezing the lock on the gates.  He wanted the gates open.  In retrospect, I understand this.  Every garden should issue an invitation.  An invitation to interact-an invitation to share.  I did finally get the gates opened.  What Bob photographed-I have no idea. 

The first day of this shoot was day and night.  I was great fun to be a part of that.

Keep The Lights On, Please

The only thing warm about my garden this late December afternoon are the lights. Some years I think to skip putting them up; I am invariably glad that I don’t give in to that idea.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like, seeing a city street or home lit with electric lights for the first time. Though in 1882 the first commercial power station ever built supplied light and electric power to 59 customers on Pearl St. in lower Manhattan, the widespread availability of electricity is a 20th century phenomenon. The landscape lighting permits me some interaction with my garden, at a time when there are more dark hours than light.   The magnolia garland does a good job of concealing the substantial light cords.  My glassed in front porch is a winter home to a pair of Italian terra cotta urns on plinths.  Just having them where I can see them , and lighting them, helps drive away the winter blues.  Though hand made terra cotta is vastly stronger than machine made, I would not leave these pots out over the winter.  Our winter weather is predictably vicious.  Luckily, this pot is beautiful in its empty state.   Though these pots appear to be terra cotta, they are actually fiber reinforced concrete.  I like the look; I like even better that I can leave them out all winter.  I left a double ball taxus topiary in the pot; I am hoping it will successfully survive the winter.  The volume of soil in this pot is huge, compared to the rootball in question.  I think that gives me better than decent odds of survival.  I watered right up until the ground froze.  Adequate water both late into the fall, and early in the spring, helps improve your chances of wintering evergreens in pots.  I wound lighted mixed evergreen garland on top of the soil. 

The yellow twig in the pots is a pale color, but it does not read well at night.  The lights in the evergreens helps light them considerably.  But once it is completely dark, a well placed andscape spotlight does a better job of rescuing them from the gloom.  The yellow twig does stand out against the dominant blue grey of the winter. 

The view into my side yard from the street would be bleak indeed without my lit evergreen tree. This large Italian style square concrete pot looks good planted for the winter.  A short statured cut Christmas tree is vastly less expensive than a live dwarf or topiary evergreen.  I really don’t mind being free of the responsibility to keep plants alive for a few months.  I have no plants inside my house-for exactly this reason.  Having 2 live topiaries in pots to worry through the winter was enough. Though I think my untrimmed Limelight flower heads look great over the winter, they are not much to look at in the dark.  

From inside the garden, the side yard gets to be tough to navigate, unless you are a corgi.  My lit tree not only lights up the entire side yard, it provides me with something bright to look at out of all of the south side windows.  I have no thought to pull the plug after New Years.  It is my plan to let the light shine until March first.  Though March is a winter month, but it is vastly better than January and February.  By that time, the days will be much longer than they are now; I will be ready to do without the lights.

I only have landscape lighting in the front of my house.  In the summer, it is light so late, I do not feel the need.  I am thinking it might be a good idea to plan for some lighting here for next winter, but in any event,  I do not have any plans to give up this lighted tree. 

Rob put these pots together for me.  I see them first thing when I come home at night, and when I leave for work in the morning.  He cut a disk of floral foam that fit each urn, and frosted them with strings of C-7 white lights.  Then he stuck umpteen dozen stems of dried rose hips, and several bunches of copper curly willow into each disk, taking care not to puncture a cord.  This pair of pots are giant night lights; they glow.  This construction would be great for those places in the garden that could stand to have the lights switched on. 

This cheers me as much as a fire in the fireplace-maybe more. I like that this winter pot uses no evergreens whatsoever-just sticks, and lights.  The rose hips dried and are stuck fast on the stems, making them an ideal material for a winter pot.  All you need is the patience to collect lots of sticks, and stick them.  I like the big old fashioned C-7 lights.    

A neighbor behind and several doors down from me stuffed a giant yew in his front yard with lights for the holiday.  This is one of the better parts of living in an urban community; the good lighting works of others make my winter better.