The Raindrops

Dec 1a 012I do so enjoy decorating the front of the shop for the winter. Ideas start surfacing in October, as it may take me six weeks to make up my mind.  November first I planted these six crabapples in my pots-a first step.   I took my further cue from Rob, and his client Claudia, this year.  She has been collecting prisms for years; she hangs them from the branches of her trees in the winter. Glass lightcatchers. Her idea enchanted him such that he loaded the shop with all manner of chandelier prisms, raindrops and icicles. 

Dec 1a 014I fell in love with the idea of the glass drops.  The 30 boxes of inch long glass drops I needed to dress these Coralburst crabs sold out in a matter of days.  Most holiday ornament is manufactured to order; we place most of our orders in January for the following winter season.  No one had these little glass blobs available, in spite of my idea to organize my winter pots around them.

Dec 2a 002The only drops I could find after days of searching were nine inches long.  At the moment I was willing to give up, a supplier had numbers of these very long drops in stock-I fretted for an hour about the long length; would they blow around and break?  I fretted another hour, and then ordered a case-432.   Funny how the only ornament available can sometimes turn out to be just the right thing.  We attached 410 glass drops to these six trees; it was my job to cut off the tags, and attach long wires.  Four of us spent three hours getting those raindrops up there.  

Dec 1a 017How they caught the late day light was beautiful. We did try to place them such that a big wind would result in not so many losses. Some design involves risk; who knows what nature might send my way. Should we loose some, so be it.    

Dec 2a 006At 4:30 in the afternoon, these black and blue drops have my attention. At my request, Buck fished my Mom’s tripod out.  The idea of a tripod for my camera bores me beyond all belief, but I knew I needed one now.  A  photographic record of how the available light would endow these drops would need a hand steadier than mine. 

Dec 2a 005 By 5:30 pm, my clear skies have gone blue. The drop stalks are almost invisible; the bulbs have gone a curvy black.  What I am paying so much attention to outdoors now is singular to this time of year. I would suggest that if great design is on your mind, first and foremost,tune in to what is around you, and be persistent with what you see; something will come.

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At 5:30 this morning, the shop was dark.  I came in very early; I was so excited to see the full moon, and use the tripod.   I could barely see to compose this photograph. I felt like I was talking to her- setting up, fussing and fuming. My camera was entirely still and stable on that tripod I inherited some years ago, but never until today, used.  Thanks a lot, Mom. An impossibly long exposure recorded this. My fence was thrown blue from a security light; the cream colored block building next door makes even more of that blue. The purple sky-gorgeous. Make fun of me if you will, but what I saw this morning made me sing.  Capturing the light-a garden activity I highly recommend.

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The drops are heliotrope blue and turquoise with a silver shimmer-what an outfit for these somber crabapples. Now, the tops of the pots need something-what thing?

Home For Thanksgiving

Aug 12 036We spent over a week tearing apart a thirty year old landscape for this client.  They had decided that though their kids were grown and gone, they would stay, and renovate both the inside and out of their family home.  They had not ever spent much time outdoors; a very small back yard with no privacy from neighboring terrraces and play structures kept them indoors.  New screening, and an enlarged gravel addition to their terrace opened the door to a new living space for them.  The finishing touch-a collection of Italian style, English made concrete planters.

Nov 22 093Their children are all coming home for Thanksgiving; they asked if I could dress the pots in their winter coats in time. They are very excited at the prospect of their kids seeing how their home has been transformed in the past 3 months, and the landscape is part of that.  Four of the five pots on the rear terrace would be planted for winter.  As they have little in the way of outdoor lighting in the back, we installed lights in every pot.  The electrician just installed outdoor plugs for them yesterday, in time for the holiday gathering. 

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We stuffed this long and large rectangular planter with a mix of boxwood and incense cedar.  I like mixed greens in large planters for greater interest.  The fan willow centerpiece is backed up with yellow twig dogwood; the pairing makes each individuall element look better. 

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Straight flame willow, and red curly willow have a very similar color, but a very different texture.  These orangy brown twigs stand out against the bigger landscape gone grey.  The blue of the noble fir contrasts strongly with those flames sticks; the planting looks warm and robust.  The leaves of Magnolia Grandiflora have a beautful felted brown obverse; the shiny green leaves change up the texture.

Nov 22 099Preserved and dyed eucalyptus provdes a leafy texture much like the magnolia.  The chocolate brown color is surprisingly lightfast outdoors.  The container looks dreesed for the weather; the colors perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday will go on looking good as winter settles in. 

Nov 22 108The pots are positioned to provide good views of the outdoors from the inside.  I will move pots from a summer location to a winter one, if need be.  I spend a lot more time looking at my garden in the winter from indoors; I am outdoors as much as possible in the summer. These pots can help alleviate that cooped up feeling invariably creeps up on any northern gardener.    

Nov 22 090After the rear terrace pots were installed, they called-could I please do three more.  Though they plan to replace these front door pots in the spring, they are not the center of attention here.  Red bud pussy willow and dark purple eucalyptus make a formal and quietly beautiful statement at the door.  My landscape crews construct and install all of this work; they do such a beautiful job. Clients who have winter pots done for the first time are surprised at what a difference they make.  I hear about how nice it feels to have something beautiful to look at outdoors at this time.

Nov 22 086The side door has the same pot as the front, but a different treatment.  As variety is a very precious commodity this time of year, I avoid repeating  the same materials everywhere.  These snow branches are all plastic; they look just as good up close, as they do in this picture. I try to include a third, mid-level element in all the winter pots; just sticks and greens is a little too spare for my taste.   

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This is my idea of warm holiday wishes from the garden.

No Roots

Oct 19b 010Our entire method of sturdily constructing an arrangement for a winter pot is predicated on one concept-you have to create the roots, and the trunk.  I rarely worry about my summer pots going out of kilter.  The roots of the plant secure them to the soil; plants grow upwards, towards the sun.  I do not have that luxury in the winter, and Michigan has more than its fair share of stormy winter weather.  So the mechanics of fastening all the materials  is really important to the longevity and beauty of the piece. Tall skinny pots like these get lots of gravel in the bottom; a large centerpiece can be a big sail in disguise, just waiting for a decent wind to get airborne. We then construct a form in which to secure all the materials-glued up with industrial strength hot melt glue-that sits tight in the container.  A loosely fitting form is just asking for trouble.  If you have ever tried standing up in a pair of ice skates that do not lace up tight over your ankles, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Oct 19bc 004These pots will have lights in the vertical dimension; a steel form provides stability as light strings are heavy.  They also make it possible to cleanly and crisply mimic a geometric form.  As light strings shapes are governed by gravity, a rigid form insures they will be representing the form you choose for them today, next March. 

Oct 19bc 003Winding the lights around a form is time consuming.  It also makes the removal of the lights tedious.  Zip ties make for an easy in and easy off. It’s also easy to spot in the above picture how close we space those zip ties; the closer, the better.  Light string wires have strong kinks and curves when they come out of the package, but droop they will, given time. They do not hold a graceful curve on their own; we are generous with the fasteners. The centerpiece is set through a hole in the center of the form; a stout bamboo stake at the center of the arrangement goes far enough down into the pot to insure it stays vertical.  There is something so wrenching about a listing centerpiece-who needs that in the winter? Oct 19bc 006The fantail willow is set into the form based on a determination of the front elevation.  When pots are placed such that they can be seen from all sides, we work in the round.  As the form will be covered in a skin of lichen mat, the form is shaved into a rounded shape.

Oct 21 003Once the form is covered in the lichen, we add a little icing to our lichen cake-just for the holidays. Gold leaves and a luminous red berry garland-yummy. These elements can be removed after the first of the year, so the pots look good throughout the winter. A client can use the lights in the winter-or not.  The topiary form has a decidedly dressy look to it, with the added attraction of absolutely no maintenance.  It will still look fine come next April, provided the construction is sound.  

Oct 21 001Getting the installation to match in a pair of pots is harder than you think.  I try to work on pairs side by side. Some pairs of pots that demand a very formal arrangement, I make sure that one person does both.  Everyone’s eye and hand is noticeably all their own. My rule of thumb-I work on the second pot, never taking my eyes off the first.

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Day and night-never is that idea more evident than in a winter pot. In high summer here, daylight persists well past 9pm. Very shortly now, it will be dark at 4pm. Day length has everything to do with the onset of flowering in plants.  How I design the winter pots respects this science, in a parallel way.     

Nov 16 024Your winter pots are the best they will ever be, the first day they are done.  Unlike a landscape that fills out, and blossoms with age, there is no growing involved.  They need to be constructed tall, wide, and robust from the beginning. The winter is a season that can handle a little unedited excess, with a dash of over the top sparkly, with aplomb.