Up On The Roof

holiday-garland.jpgReader Dianne commented on this blog yesterday that she always wondered how people installed holiday decorations that would stay put.  We wonder that same thing on occasion.  Few buildings come outfitted with hooks and screws especially installed to make a holiday decorating scheme easy to install.  We had but the most sketchy plan to install garland on this giant metal awning at the First National Building in downtown Detroit.  We had never been up there, and had no idea what to expect.  We knew the length of garland that we needed, and had a design and fabrication plan in place.  How would we hang it?  We brought giant metal hooks, concrete wire, long bamboo poles, florist’s wire, a bucket of tools, and some big ladders.

holiday-garland.jpgThe roof over the doors was almost 40 feet long, and better than 14 feet off the ground.  The building goes up many stories.  This meant that everything about this garland had to be overscaled.  A extra lush and thick fir garland was not enough.  We wired two garlands together.  Then we added 100 feet of grapevine garland, and lots of big sugar pine cones.  We had an incredibly heavy 50 foot long garland that needed to get up on that roof.  The saving grace of the day?  The roof was strong enough to walk on.

installing-a-holiday-garland.jpgWhat a relief.  Handling a very heavy garland high in the air on a ladder takes lots of physical strength and just as much nerve.  My crew handles it with aplomb.  But everyone was happy that they could be up on the roof.

evergreen-garland.jpgOnce the garland was on the roof, it had to be positioned such that the decoration attached in the shop was facing front and center.  We usually attach materials to garland with zip ties or florists wire that is loose-in the shop.  It is easy tighten up elements in a garland-it is time consuming and tough to loosen them up.  A garland with all of the other elements pasted to its surface looks clumsy.  Making a big heavy and cumbersome thing look airy and natural-that would entail a great installation.  Though we do as much as we can in the shop, the installation may require some changes in the field.  Changes in the field need to be handled with simple tools, and quickly.  As in pliers and spring loaded wire cutters.  It was 41 degrees today. A beautiful installation is a strong and sturdy installation that appears graceful and light.

holiday-garland.jpgWe had three people on the roof, and three people on the ground.  Securing the garland was one job.  Advising about what made it appear natural and beautiful came from me- from my view across the street.  The fact that we could walk on the roof-what a relief.  It took hours off the installation time.


Every person who works on my crews is talented and gifted in their own right.  They know that every plant has a face.  They can plant a hedge that is straight within inches.  They know how to fluff a holiday look.  They know how to properly plant trees.  They can plant a container from a plan in no time-perfectly.  They make the work of hauling many pounds of garland to a roof, and installing it an art form.

mixed-fir-garland.jpgOne on the roof, and one on the ground-talking about what to move this way or that.  This is a moment I treasure-whether we are installing a garden, installing a landscape, or creating a seasonal garden.  Watching them work out the final details is a pleasure.

gold-sinamay.jpgOur first sinamay bow was way too small.  There was much discussion about the scale and proportion.  I like that discussion.  If I don’t get it right the first time around, I have a crew which is happy to go back, and make it right.  At 7:30 this morning I was making another one – three times larger. In my hand, it seemed impossibly large.  Up on the roof, it seemed just fine.

holiday-2013.jpgWe made this.  I so love being part of this group.


  1. IT is all about the details. Thank you for this post as it reminds us all to appreciate the efforts of so many that make the holidays special. Always beautiful work by your group…you are an inspiration!!!

  2. what is a sinamay bow? I see the photo but what exactly is it? Love your blog.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Maryfran, Sinamay is a spring polyester fabric that comes in 21″ wide rolls. It keeps its curves, no matter the weather. Detroit Garden Works has it in all diferent colors and textures. It takes all of the work out of bow making. Deborah

  3. Beautiful!

  4. Cara Kazanowski says

    I so enjoy your BTS reports! This garland and the pots strike the perfect holiday notes!

  5. And I so love reading everything you write!

  6. Looks great!

  7. The decorations are beautiful and worth a trip to Detroit taking the long route down Woodward Avenue. Your crew is the very best along with the “director!” I vote Detroit Garden Works the top place in Michigan to work. Listen up Free Press!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Jane, I only hope we are a top place in Michigan to shop. Some days, work is just plain work! Thanks, Deborah

      • The best place to work always translates into the best place to shop..ALWAYS. You fill both categories six times over.

  8. What a GREAT team….Some say it takes a village, in your case a GREAT team! It looks truly beautiful……

  9. If ever there were a gardening ambassador to the world, it’s you.
    This post gave me the much-needed inspiration to head to the garage and dust off the dust on last year’s garland and prepare it to hang over the front door. In the desert, fresh greenery lasts only a couple of days. But we have wonderful artificial greenery in the stores.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Terry, the artificial greens are amazingly convincing. Good thing for those gardeners who want the spirit of the holidays in a hot climate. Deborah

  10. Thanks for the details on how this is done, I have wondered what goes into getting these displays in place, not done by elves during the night afterall! You have a great crew, working at that height to secure the garland is tricky work! I am curious as to how well the garland holds up, as I assume it will be place for a good six weeks. Does it start to shed needles and look scraggly or does it look good till after Christmas? Always love your posts Deborah, thanks!

    • Deborah Silver says

      This garland will look good until March. We only use fir, as it has the best weather resistance and longevity. Thanks, Deborah

      • That is interesting, I had no idea fir has that kind of longevity. We mostly have spruce and pine where I live, but there is the odd balsam fir, I will try using that and see how it goes. Your posts are always inspiring, many thanks!

  11. Being in the construction field I know what it takes the amount of preparation and field work hats off to your crew and to your clients for the vision and the pocket book. Thank you for a well written inspirational blog.

  12. Lovely!

  13. Nancy Edwards says

    Your projects are so complicated and inspiring – makes me think my little garden projects are easy as pie! Could you please share some of your bow making tips (for the home rather than commercial) with us & include pictures? I’ve seen the Sinamay fabric before, but had no idea how to begin to make a bow with it. Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, if you type ruching the sinamay into the search line of Dirt Simple, you can read the blog post I wrote on how to use it. I will write about residential projects. We just do the commercial ones first, as trhey like their holiday display early. Thanks, Deborah

  14. Wow! Thank you! That is the teriffic information. I do however have a couple of questions: what’s concrete wire and why bamboo poles? What do the poles do?
    You and your team are brilliant and I can see that you love people as well as plants.You are a pleasure to read and your projects inspiring and innovative.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dianne, concrete wire is very heavy steel wire ordinarily used to bind steel rebar which is used for reinforcing concrete. Only a very heavy installation would require this. If the garland is secured to a very long bamboo pole, the bamboo helps to keep the garland together in bad weather. We only use it where the garland is displayed in a straight line. We have done a lot of work together-for sure! Thanks, Deborah

  15. You’ve given me a new appreciation of the hard work that accompanies the installation of the outdoor holiday displays. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything as attractive in downtown LA, though. Yours is wonderful!

  16. It turned out wonderfully!

  17. Thank you, thank you, for helping to make Detroit look so attractive for the holidays. It isn’t very easy to do, that, but you have brought your fresh ideas and exciting design to this old building in ways we have not seen in decades. It’s very exciting to see!

  18. gorgeous, and totally brilliant that you used such subtle colors that this installation will look seasonal from thanksgiving through the new year!

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