Twig Time

Our leaves are finally beginning to turn color, and drop. Or drop without having turned color at all, as the case may be.  The grape leaves on the fence were beautiful this morning, with the sunlight coming through.  Once the leaves have dropped, our landscape is much about the twigs, the trunks, the branches and sticks.  This spot will soon be a plane of brown woody vines.    

These hackberry tree branches are fairly representative of what there is to see here in late fall.  This pot has lots and lots of branches in it, but the effect is delicate and subtle.  The color of these branches is what I call winter drab.   But not all branches are created equal. 

Our shipment of fresh cut twigs arrived yesterday.  These are branches of a different sort.  The stems have great color, and form.     The mainstay of our winter container plantings involve natural branches.  Lucky for us, there is a farm that grows shrubs with the specific purpose of harvesting branches.  A twig farm.  Beautiful branches are on my short list of plants I would be happy to farm.  This bale of red bud pussy willow still sports the last of its leaves.  This means we have to do a little stripping.  Who knows the mechanism, but if a branch is cut, it will take lots more time for the leaves to fall.

 I would grow all manner of Salix-most certainly.  Prairie willow.  Japanese fan willow.  Curly willow.  Flame willow. Black willow.  Pussy willow.  I love the willows.  The markedly fasciated fan willow is particularly beautiful.  I would grow a whole host of stoloniferous dogwood-there are lots of beautiful varieties. Cornus sericea Cardinal” is a particularly bright red form of the species dogwood.

Flame willow branches are a particularly beautiful and vibrant shade of orange.  The shrub likes regular moisture, and full sun; it can grow to 20′ tall.  Like most shrubby willows, their shape and leaves are not their long suit.  But the winter color of their branches is spectacular. 

Red bud pussy willow is aptly named.  Branches of this willow will frequently root if stuck in soil in the fall.  This makes these branches a great choice for a fall, winter-and an early spring container planting.  This is one of the few twigs that we purchase both in the fall, and in the spring.  

Fresh cut yellow twig dogwood provides lots of color in the late fall and winter.  The branches are amazingly easy to bend and twist into shape you choose.  The branches make great wreaths; they can easily be formed into topiary shapes.  They retain their color remarkably well, as they dry.

Cardinal red twig is much more vibrant in color than the species.  The best color on any dogwood branch is the current season’s growth.  Stems that mature take on a brown cast as they age.  This brilliant color looks great at the holidays, and throughout our long winter. 

Grapes are a woody vine with long lax branches that can be shaped over forms.  We have had on occasion grapevine wreaths, spheres, picture frames and nests-but these deer are the most elegant expression of weaving and sculpting with grapevine I have ever seen.  The forms are heavy steel, and each vine is laid in parallel to its neighbor, and then woven into the whole figure.  They look great paired with all of the twigs. The people who create these sculptures-artists, each and every one.  They weld their frames, and weave the grapevine in a very individual way.  This doe and fawn pair is distinctly the creation and look of the person who made them.  My next pair will have a different look.

The standing Buck is particularly handsome.  Each antler has a steel pin that slides into a steel cylinder embedded behind the ears.  The Buck stands almost 7 feet tall.  This is my favorite species of deer for the garden! 

I can think of lots of places for the deer.  As for the fresh cut twigs-what would you do with them?

Hello Yellow

It is no accident that school buses are yellow. Though a school bus is a very large object, that yellow color is what you notice first.  National School Bus Glossy Yellow paint was formulated, and adopted for every school bus on the road in the United States in 1939. The black lettering on a school bus read the best in the early morning pickup hours-against this particular color of yellow.  Yellow twig dogwood branches are just about that bright-set in a winter landscape.

My kitchen is painted a happily intense and rich yellow.  The yellow fall color on gingko trees-extraordinary.  Yellow twig dogwood-the summer plant is nothing to celebrate, but its bare yellow twigs are visually compelling.  A thick bunch of those stiffly vertical twigs say stop, and look at me.  My winters may be grey on grey, but I have a few alternatives.      

This client’s clapboard house is painted grey.  The yellow twig in her pots jump off that grey page. During the summer, I have plenty of yellow; those mostly sunny days happily enrich my garden with a warm yellow light.  The winter brings a blue bruised and very cold light. Michigan ranks right up there with big numbers of grey days in the course of a year. My readers in much colder climates-like Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colorado-how I admire how they deal with their cold winters.  But friends of mine out west say their winters are by and large sunny. This helps so much to make the cold more tolerable. Their yellow comes regularly from the sky. Ours need come from another source.     

This yellow twig centerpiece has help banishing the winter greys.  The white faux berries brighten and heighten that yellow. The yellow in the stone, the grey clapboard-the grey stone porch surface-the contrasting color combinations here engage the eye in a lively way.Yellow twigs do a great job of backing up a dark element in a pot. These fan willow stems read so much better, given their yellow backdrop.   

The cinnamon brown siding on this house-beautiful.  A pair of teak pots flanking the front door repeat that color. The bunches of yellow twig, the white frost eucalyptus, and the low greens are just plain pretty to look at. 

This sage-grey colored eucalyptus is a more unusual color combination, but I chose it as this container is but one of three.  Rowdy color combinations can be a bit too much if repeated in close proximity. 

This more subtle composition scheme finds its strength in the repetition.  These pots will look amazingly good yet in April, when I plant these pots for spring.  These pots would be empty, or in storage for 5 months, barring a winter “planting”.

There yellow twig stems are placed in the pot singly, rather that as a bunch.  Space was left in the center for a stout mossed stick that was covered in lights.  The warm C-7 light string brings that yellow to life after hours.  The moss treatment at the bottom is in simple contrast to all the fireworks going on up top.    

I like these lit yellow twig landscape lighting fixtures.  Handsome.

The Warm Up

Nov 2b 020

No gardener’s November need be drab. Though the time for planting in ground is drawing to a close, we are just warming up for the late fall, winter, and holiday seasons. Since the winter season in Michigan is every bit as long as the summer, why not celebrate it? We have made a specialty of making all manner of natural materials available to anyone for whom a pot sitting empty and forlorn all winter is not an option.  The fantail willow I discussed last week has other equally beautiful relatives. Shrub form dogwood branches are available in a wide range of colors-and I do mean color.  Should I ever decide to take up farming, I think I would grow shrubs for their twigs, and milkweeds.  The above picture of flame willow and milkweeds is just one idea aimed at decorating November.

Nov 8 019

I do have curly willow trees on my shop property.  They can be a headache, dropping twigs constantly; one 30 foot tree fell flat to the ground on a very windy day. But what makes them bad also makes them good.  We topped that tree at six feet, dragged it upright with a truck and chain, and replanted the exposed portion of its rootball; it is back to growing just fine now.  The willows take very well to hard pruning, and provides us with a source of brilliantly colored branches.  Barely worth a glance in leaf, the bare branches are luscious in color, form and texture. 

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (104)

Copper red curly willow-the name says it all.  As the new growth has the best color, regular pruning is key.  This fresh growth is known as the coppice wood.  The stout branches that make up our hazelwood fence panels are harvested in the same way. 

Nov 8 071The golden coppery orange is a great foil for the landscape gone to black and white.  The fresh branches are limber and pliable. The curly tops can be tied up in a good approximation of a pony tail, or twisted and tied into new shapes not necessarily natural, and perhaps more contemporary. 

Nov 9 010

Red bud willow comes bundled ten stems to a bunch, and ten bunches to a bale.  The stems are straight; the color is good top to bottom. It’s clear these plants are being grown specifically for harvest.  Left outside in a pot all winter, the buds will break in the spring.  This pussy willow will look great from November on into the following May.  Many of the willow stems will root, if they are stuck in soil in a pot.  If you arrange all of your materials in dry floral foam as I do, sometimes a fresh cut and a well watered spot in the garden will produce rooting.   

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (103)The shrubby dogwoods are every bit as useful as the willows.  They also produce the best color on new wood.  If you grow these dogwoods in your garden, be sure to prune them down regularly and hard.  The old bark of shrubby dogwoods is dull, and invariably scarred by exposure to weather. I rarely see yellow twig dogwood planted any more-plants do go in and out of fashion.  This cultivar was specifically bred for color superior to the species- and it delivers.   

Nov 8 022Many cultivars of red twig dogwood are available now. With bark ranging in color from pink-coral to coral, orange red, fire engine scarlet red, and maroon, these twigs make quick work of banishing the winter gardening blues.  This cultivar, aptly named “Cardinal”  is the brightest red bark I have ever seen.  The 1500 stems in this crate makes me wish I could see the entire field from which they were cut-the day the leaves drop. I would bet that view is a perfect gardening moment. 

2008 DGW HOLIDAY INVENTORY 12-29-08 (102)Whatever you might fancy, the dormant garden has plenty to recommend it. The gathering of materials, and the act of decorating for the cold season is an act of Mitchell-esque defiance I can get right behind. 

Nov 9 014
These arrangements are the first of the season out the door. The color is subtle, and most of ther materials natural.  The preserved eucalyptus will perform just fine outdoors.  The forms are constructed such that my client has only to drop them in her pots, and level them. She is ready and looking forward to the new season.