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.


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The 2021 Winter Pots: Take Your Pick


Amassing a collection of beautiful materials for winter and holiday containers and home decor at our place usually begins at least a year in advance of the season in question. Behind the scenes, ideas are tested, and those great ideas become prototypes.  Orders are placed from the prototypes, and manufacturing is based on orders taken by the manufacturer’s reps from shop owners like us.  This is a highly simplified sentence describing a very complicated and labor intensive process known as commerce. The big idea is that any gardener wishing to persist gardening into our winter season will have the materials to do so. This means potted hellebores and cyclamen, and a substantial variety of amaryllis bulbs. It also means fresh cut branches, mostly dogwood and willow. But the floral picks, the likes of which are pictured above, make it possible to create winter arrangements for containers. Pots placed on a front porch or at a side door asked to be filled, no matter the season.

Rob handles all of the buying for Detroit Garden Works, and he buys beautifully. Everything he purchases for his seasonal collections bear witness to his astonishing eye for fine design, beauty, utility, and serendipity.  There may be those who would suggest that seasonal containers and decor have little to nothing to do with the garden or the landscape, but I disagree. The process of designing/creating and fabricating winter and holiday containers has everything to do with a need for an individual expression of appreciation of the beauty of nature. Creating winter container gardens have their roots in the living landscape, and those who garden with a passion – no matter what materials are chosen.  Rob makes sure every gardener so inclined to garden on through and past the holiday and winter season has plenty of materials available to express that inclination in beautiful detail. If you shop at Detroit Garden Works, you can take your pick.

Rob’s work as a buyer has been defined by his travel both in the US and abroad –  for decades. The event of the past two years made it all but impossible to travel to shop anywhere in person. But the steady and sincere relationships that he developed over the years with suppliers, product reps and manufacturers was the saving grace of this winter season. Rob was able to shop person to person, door to door, and from one continent to the next – over the phone, and via email. Amazing, this.  Most all of  our materials came late, and some materials never materialized. But what we have available now is terrific. As in lots and lots. By and large, this is the most product rich winter season we have ever had.

Ordering materials for containers on line or from a print catalogue is incredibly difficult. I have tried it, and I have had plenty of materials delivered that were not great. As in, did I buy this, no kidding??? I have tried to avoid shopping on line. I  shopped the holiday and winter materials in person with Rob for 5 or 6 years. I liked being able to hold a pick in my hand. I could see the color. I could assess what its durability would be in a container. I could see the finished height-and the width. I could see how it would read. I could see how the shape, mass, and color would work with other elements under consideration. I could see what picks would be investment caliber, and which would be a one season fling. My shopping days are over now. I am happy to turn over the shopping for the winter season materials to Rob and Sunne. I have confidence that their choices will work for a wide range of my projects. And I respect and am intrigued by what materials they chooses from their own individual aesthetic.  It is up to me to put what they buy together in such a way that my clients feel their taste is represented.  If you are thinking that my design for holiday and winter container arrangements is fueled by beautiful materials- you are right.

In person buying was not possible in January of 2021, so Rob did the next best thing. He bought very long and very wide. He bought what seemed perfect and appropriate, and he also bought unusual materials. Everything he spoke for he hoped would be great. That is how he works. He crossed his heart and hoped to die. OK, just kidding – but how he buys is a serious business. Consider this. There are numbers of blueberry picks from his buying from which to choose-each one different. Some capture the texture and the color of blueberries honestly. Other picks describe the color of blueberries in more poetic ways. Deep purple muscadine grape berries,  or blue speckled bird egg berries.  Some picks are spare. A few berries sparsely populate long stems. Still other blueberry picks feature berries that are short and chubby and not at all like how blueberries grow. It is astonishing how realistic some faux materials can be now. But the idea is not to attempt to reproduce nature.  That is not possible. The purpose of the materials is to allow gardeners to create seasonal arrangements that represent their individual interpretation of nature and its forms. The intent is not to fool the eye, but rather to appeal to one’s love of the garden.

These chubby wine red berry stems do not replicate any plant that I know of.  But they are indeed reminiscent of the bounty and largess of nature.  They would be beautiful, paired with pale sage green picks. Or noble fir. They would be lovely, encircling a stand of pussy willow stems. They would provide a rich and warm addition, punctuating a fresh evergreen garland. They are the berries-ha. They represent the lush scenes in the garden of my imagination.  You get the idea.

Good looking and good quality materials can suggest a scheme for an arrangement. These picks have the lush green color and texture of broccoli. The stems look good enough to eat. Some winter arrangements do indeed have the aura of a feast, at a time when the landscape provides only the barest visual sustenance.

Snowball picks on chocolate seeded stems

frosted red berry picks


brown and white picks

gold berry picks and stainless steel spheres on rods

berry picks

These pale green/gray fuzz ball picks have a distinctive glow when back lit.

Paired with fresh cut branches and greens and lights,  a winter container will please the eye and the spirit all winter long.

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.