The Holiday Outdoors

holiday (1)As much as I like representing the holiday season in the garden, I like getting ready for it in the garage. Our garage space is large; we can set up a pop up fabrication shop that even Buck would like.  The approach to the work comes first. It is key to doing a job efficiently, and successfully.  We had a garland to make for a holiday installation.  Dan Prielipp from Prielipp Greenhouses, a long time supplier at the Oakland County Farmer’s market, custom makes our mixed fir garland. We find that concolor, noble and douglas fir holds up the best and the longest of all the possible garland greens.  We stretch out the garland on a series of cardboard boxes we save especially for this purpose.  This brings the garland up to a height that is comfortable to work on.  We split the garland in half, and reattach the pieces such that the vertical parts of the garland both left and right side have branches that face up. Branches up one side, and down the other offends my sense of symmetry.  Upfacing branches will eventually respond to gravity, and open up. Open branches are more volumetric.  Branches hung down will close as they loose their moisture.

holiday (2)We add noble fir where we think the garland needs more presence-these new boughs are attached with zip ties.  We loosely wire and attach groups of pine cones to the garland.  This is not a job to do on a ladder.  All we will do on the ladder is wire the finished garland in place.  Working on a flat surface helps to establish the front face of the garland. Once the groups of cones are attached, we wrap the garland with grapevine.  Rob makes sure we have loads of these 35 foot long rolls in stock for the winter season.  The grapevine was cut and rolled when fresh.  When dry, these branches are wiry, and keep their circular shape no matter the weather.

holiday (3)The grapevine, rolled generously over the surface of the garland, is beautiful in its own right.  But it also provides an armature upon which lots of other elements of the garland can be attached. I like garland that has is airy, and has a sculptural shape.  The faux berries and glass ornaments of this garland were attached to nthe grapevine, not the garland.  More importantly, we attached brown corded 100 count light strands to the grapevine.  This placement will illuminate the garland at night.  Lights wound around the greens are too close to assembly to properly illuminate it.  I like to get the lights out there, over and above the garland.

holiday (4)Any materials that go outdoors have to be prepared to deal with freeze, and thaw.  Every glass ornament we attached to the greens in the containers needed to be sealed with glue.  Any water that would get inside and freeze would wreak havoc.  The big idea here?  Any element going in the garden for the holidays needs to be water tight, and securely attached.  Take the time.  The time it takes me to stake up a flopping Annabelle hydrangea or delphinium in bloom is 7 times the time it takes to put the plant supports in early on.  Why this concern about the time it takes?  Every gardener needs some free time to enjoy the results of the work they have done.   holiday (5)

The garland got wired up in no time.  For those of you who are afraid to put a screw into an exterior wall, I would suggest that the potential damage to the integrity of the wall from such a slight act is minimal.  Hanging screws make hanging a garland simple.  The peace of mind knowing that garland will stay put is well worth those little holes.  My advice?  Don’t fret over some holes in the wall 1/8 inch in diameter. Give your attention to the bigger picture.

holiday (7)A holiday expression in the garden takes some effort.  Minimize the effort with a construction plan.  Good planning can make the effort well worth the reward.  This weekend promises milder temperatures. Get out there.  Your family, friends, and community will appreciate it. Driving home tonight, I see so many houses in my neighborhood with holiday lighting ablaze. Love that.  The installation of this project took only 2 hours.  The centerpieces and greens were arranged ahead.  The garland was road ready on delivery. There is no need to stand outside in cold weather longer than necessary.

holiday (8)This client likes red at the holidays.  Integrifolia dyed red is perfect for her pots.  The red glass dots enliven the greens.  The garland lights will make the container glow, after hours.  Red in December shines.

DSC_6742My crew spent a lot of time getting this project ready for installation. It was better than a day’s work.  There was a lot of talk between them about the look of the finish.  This I like. They review everything we do, and talk to me about it.  The review from my crew-I treasure that moment. Work is one thing, but reflection and appreciation is better.  Make, furiously. Reflect.  Remake, or stand pat.  Wade into the process.  Enjoy every step of the way. Do more than you thought to do.  Be generous. This is how I would describe garden making.

holiday (9)Brown corded lights attached to grapevine

holiday (6)red integrifolia centerpieces

holiday (10)A holiday landscape is a landscape for a moment.  The winter celebration-delightful.



  1. What a glorious entry!

    Each year I have struggled with a multi-layered garland over the front door — greenery, lighting, glass balls, and ribbon — and now I get the importance of having an assembly area. Sometimes the obvious just needs to be depicted in a photo!

    Your holiday pots for your clients are absolutely magical.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Where do those terra-cotta pots come from…….do you sell?

  3. Jo Ann Marsh says

    Love those cone shaped baskets I can glimpse at the side!
    Last summer, we moved from a house to a first floor apartment–a huge adjustment to give up a garden, neighbors, and surroundings. And here we have no outdoor electrical outlets. Thanks for inspiring me! Your shop and blog taught me about containers–so we have a new gorgeous one at the front door, thanks to you .I come often to look and learn and soak up the beauty. Now an evergreen in the courtyard, shrubs, and the container are all sporting new battery powered lights. We’ll see how they work… I am adapting and enjoying. With gratitude and pleasure, I thank you.

  4. I learned so much from this one post, thank you! After closer examination we found two long nails in the moulding around the door this morning. The garland is successfully hung. I cut it and reattached to be sure the sides were going in the same direction but I have them going down. Next year I will go up as u recommend. I have not seen the grapevine or brown corded lights around here. Can I order from yoj next year?
    Thanks again for a wonderful post. That project is a stunner.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Londen, we do ship, yes. In our area, English Gardens carries brown corded lights, in addition to us. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  5. This is outstanding for any outdoor landscape.

  6. JoyceB in Atlanta says

    OK, I’m seeing product development opportunities here… why is no one making pre-filled ceramic or glass balls for outdoor decor? This seems like a perfect use for expanding foam. Sealing each ball and inserting a piece of wire is piles of work, when the balls could be manufactured for the purpose just as easily and with less expense. All the hand labor could be in the actual design instead of in preparation of the decorations. Of course, it goes without saying that the garland is beautiful, but I look at some of the steps involved, and wonder if time savers are unavailable or if they are considered somehow ‘less authentic’. I personally also miss the little gold or silver crimped tops on each of the balls. None of this is criticism, just a thought… others must have similar needs. You already manufacture products… why not?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Joyce, these balls come with wires, in a cluster-they do not have caps. They are fine for wiring on a small tree, or holiday flower arrangement. To use them outdoors, some modifications have to be made. I like that they look like dots, rather than traditional ornaments. Thanks, Deborah

  7. This is truly beautiful. The detail and attention to same are so appealing, and the color echoes ..nice ! My question-wouldn’t cheap-o folding banquet tables work better for the assembly portion of the job ? My back would be killing me after leaning over those boxes all day because of how low they are. And bulky for storage too. Banquet tables could be folded away and used over and over.
    Love looking at your designs Deborah, they are unlike anything seen here in the snowless-summer drought California wine country .

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear KS, banquet tables is a great idea! We just use the current crop of available boxes. Thanks for your letter. Deborah

  8. I just started following your blog when a friend told me about it. I love how you describe the details of how you put it together. I have a company in Cincinnati that does the same type of thing, and I really appreciate learning about how you all hunker down for harsher weather because last year we needed the extra oomph and I didn’t know what to do. Your decorations are beautiful.

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