Winter Red

Our second winter/holiday project comes with a story, just like our first. If you were to ask how I schedule all the work, I am sure I would hesitate before I answered. There are many factors, some involving the availability of materials and other logistical issues. But personal issues for clients play a big part in the scheduling.  A client whose daughter was getting married as I began writing this came first.  No doubt someone else will be first next season. Our second project involves a landscape client who is hosting 19 members of his greater family for Thanksgiving at his home. They live a long ways away; the earliest arrivals are tomorrow. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they are leaving on an extended trip. They wanted their holiday/winter pots to be in place well in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday with family, as they would be celebrating both holidays at once.

We began the fabrication of all of their pots and holiday decorations this past Wednesday. They had a specific request for red, in any form we might manage.  I understand that. The winter landscape in Michigan is varying shades of brown set against interminably gray skies. Our winter daylight is watery and wan. Some of my favorite shrubs and trees feature a red berry set for the winter.  A well grown stand of Michigan holly (ilex verticillata) in full berry mode electrifies our winter landscape. Funny this – I have a love for red in the landscape at the visually hungriest times of year.  Red tulips in the spring are such a welcome and cheery burst of color. A plan for red in our winter landscape is equally as celebratory. Our second year red twig dogwood bunches are especially beautiful this year. We rarely have the opportunity to purchase old growth red twig of this caliber. The thick stems are heavily branched, and arch outwards as if they were still growing. Long faux berry stems zip tied to the natural twigs make a big statement about winter red. Our winter and holiday container arrangements are as much about sculpture as they are about nature.  We know whatever we fabricate has to endure a entire winter’s worth of windy and snowy weather, unfazed. A construction site in our garage means we are able to recreate natural and graceful shapes that are able to endure the worst of our winter weather.

Our clients have one container that is 42″ by 42″ square, by 40″ tall. This is an incredibly large container that is home to a tree sized banana plant over the course of the summer.  Of course the size of a container asks for an arrangement of a proper and proportional size. The centerpiece for this pot needed a good deal of mass and volume. A galvanized tomato cage was perfect for zip tying individual cut stems of second year red twig dogwood all around the outside to create the illusion of great mass. It took 8 bunches of fuchsia eucalyptus to match the scale established by the height and diameter of the dogwood centerpiece, and the size of the container.

The upper galvanized steel ring of the tomato cage is evident in this picture. Topiary forms, or in this case, a heavy gauge galvanized tomato cage, can provide a key sculptural element to a container. I am grateful for topiary forms that enable my mandevilleas to climb skyward during the summer. Those forms can be strung with lights and grapevine for the winter season. In this case, the tomato cage provides an unseen structure for the twigs. Am I concerned that I can see this top ring? No. As you will see in the following picture, this pot is viewed from afar, rather than up close.

Not all tomato cages are created equal. Rob buys very heavy gauge galvanized steel rod cages in a variety of sizes. They provide significant support for vines, and in this case, twigs.  This very large container has a centerpiece appropriate to its size. The fuchsia and red echoes the late fall color of the hedge of the oak leaf hydrangea “Ruby Slippers”.

I asked Dan to take this picture down into the centerpiece from high on the ladder. The red twig is zip tied to the form at the soil line, and again 2/3rds of the way up. This takes some time to do, but it insures that the twigs will stay put throughout the winter. Illuminating this centerpiece from within would take a lot of light, so we installed four strands of 25 count C-9 incandescent lights.

The greens were liberally dosed with Lumineo LED light strands. Barely visible during the day, they will do a great job of illuminating the greens and exterior of the centerpiece at night. This pot will light up a fairly dark spot on the driveway all winter long.

The four boxes at the front door feature lots of that winter red. Marzela stuffs the noble fir into dry foam in the studio, and David constructed all of the centerpieces. The centerpieces are secured with steel rebar and concrete wire. The bottom portion of the foam form is wedged into the box.

 Marzela adds the last element to the pots on site.

The red/red violet seed pods on stems provide a transition from the greens to the centerpiece, and conceal any zip ties from the centerpiece construction. The greens are deliberately shorter in the center, so the entire centerpiece can be seen.

The lighting of the pots comes last. The light fixtures on the house are large, but their light is more glowing than illuminating. The lights in the pots will brighten the entrance walk with lots of light.

David and Dan rewind all of the strands for the pots, so they are easy to install.

The bed to the right of the walk is already planted with tulips for the spring.  It is planted with seasonal plants in the summer and fall.  This year, my clients requested a winter vignette with cut trees and grapevine deer, to add to the festivities. The trees were lighted in the garage before we brought them. The heaviest concentration of light is on the trunk. The lighting on the branches is lighter, both in density and color. The Lumineo strands are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. That design works. It is hard to spot them during the day.

This is the finished installation, as seen from inside our box truck.

the finished front walk

At 5pm, the natural light has all but faded. The length of the exposure taking the picture intensifies the light more than what it looks like in person, but you get the idea.

Their landscape is ready for their holiday, and their winter.


  1. Stunning and magical

  2. Just beautiful, as always!

  3. Wow!!!! Love it!! Would love to make a scaled down version for my entrance!! Do you ever think of printing a materials list?? Hoping to visit the store in 2017!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, I would be reluctant to do a materials list. What you choose in materials and numbers of materials has so much to do with the container location, the size of the containers, the effect you are hoping to achieve, the materials you have available to you, the place where you garden – these are all things that a materials list does not speak to. I do these containers for clients, and their input into what happens is considerable. I do write about what I do as I enjoy that writing process. Best case, the writing about my experience and work encourages other people to imagine and create for themselves. Please do come visit the shop-and be sure to introduce yourself! thanks, Deborah

  4. I so appreciate your demonstration of the process. I may not tackle such a large project but this is super helpful for my smaller entry way containers. Thank you!

  5. Marie E Daly says

    I so appreciate your vision and talent ! I just happened upon your blog and now I check it each day to see what I can take and use.

    Thank you!

  6. Have you ever used battery operated lights in a container if no outlets were nearby? I have that situation and wondering how that would work.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Angela, I have used battery operated lights in containers with mixed results. But that was a few years ago-maybe they are better now. My understanding is that the batteries don’t work well in cold conditions. I would research that on line. best regards, Deborah

  7. Outstanding! So well done. I love your blog, and look forward to all your posts.
    Your energy is contagious. Thank you for sharing your love with us.

  8. Truly stunning. Most of us would never understand the complexity of the work involved. That’s the beauty; it all looks so simple and beautiful. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  9. Beautiful as usual I so look forward to seeing your blog in my email!!!

  10. Thank you for this-it inspires me to do a lighted arrangement in my front door large urn(-you have taught me to evolve and change it out with the seasons-it formerly held a boxwood topiary ball that died after 4 good years.) I discovered your work through Maria Killiam, the decorator. I really appreciate your vision and have had my eyes opened to see the outdoor landscape in a new way!! Thank you again, because to share this takes time away from other projects- and I want you to know how much we appreciate it!!

  11. Nancy Szerlag says

    What a wonderful way to begin a cold gray day! Your magic always puts a smile on my face and warms my heart.

  12. Your displays are lovely and always inspiring. I live in MA and did use faux red berry picks in an outside container once but the red color chipped off. They ended up white and not very pretty. Perhaps it was the quality of the product. Happy Holidays to all!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laurie, we specifically carry faux berry stems that shrug off the weather outdoors. The ones in this post are all hard plastic. best, Deborah

      • diamond geiger says

        Hi Deborah, what is the price of the hard plastic red berries? Do you happen to also have them in white? And may I ask what is the length of each berry stem?

  13. Dear Deborah,

    That is absolutely stunning. You outdo yourself each and every year. Lucky clients to have you in their lives. Happy Holidays!

  14. Stunning!!
    Absolutely gobsmacked at how gorgeous that last photo is.

  15. Joni Holland says

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said. Your posts are (literally) illuminating!

  16. Michaele Anderson says

    You are truly generous to share so many tips on the behind the scene secrets that go into making these stunning creations. I highly value your words, photos and the talents of you and your staff. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, it is for a pair of hands to take materials and construction advise and turn it into something beautiful. Just like gardening-everyone does it differently. all the best, Deborah

  17. Deborah,
    I love reading your blog. Your work is outstanding. You are such an asset to people. I especially want to thank you for responding to readers questions. I appreciate the effort you make to respond to questions from your readers.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ann, I don’t always have time to answer, but I do like to acknowledge every letter if I can. thanks, Deborah

  18. So beautiful!!! Thank you for the thorough explanation.

  19. What a wonderful container that first one is…. with fantastic feet! I think my dog and I could go scuba diving in it. What a treat to have those scenes in one’s visual field during the dark cold winter. The bench outside is truly lovely as well . I can see how important it is to have an experienced (and physically able) team to put all these elements together after the vision has been decided upon. I admire you all ! Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, I have a pot identical to this in my tiny side yard-that huge size looks great even in a small space. It is big enough for just about anything! kind regards, Deborah

  20. Dear Deborah, I love your design style as well as your writing style. With both, I often marvel at the choices you make. This blog posting again was so inspiring. Thank you for sharing. Forgive me for assuming that I know enough to suggest an improvement, but nonetheless I cannot resist the urge. If one were to paint black the top exposed ring of the tomato cage, would it visually disappear even more? Might not be worth the extra work.
    Please keep sharing about your wonderful work. You are making a positive contribution.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margie, your suggestion is a good one, but I want it to look just as good and right with tomatoes in the summer. I could have added more red twig to make it denser, but it did not seem worth it, given that it is so far from the main view. best regards, Deborah

      • Nina Sgriccia says

        I purchased tomato cages that are in a variety of colors. The are covered with a rubbery texture. I was thinking that my bright red one would disappear in the red twigs. Your winter containers are stunning. I too thank you for sharing your tips. Love, love, love your posts!

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Nina, I have never seen those before, but I will look for them. That red ring would disappear perfectly with red twig dogwood. thanks, Deborah

  21. I love your posts. This is a stunning installation. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Love your work! This is definitely a Show Stopper!

  23. Nora from Baltimore says

    Perfection! And I really appreciate that you share your tips with your readers .

  24. The red twig is so festive. Love the size of the pots and the scale of the container content. Perfect balance. You have a great eye for design. Truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Dear Deborah,
    Thank you so much for such good explanations of the pots. They are so beautiful and I am so impressed.

  26. jennifer taylor says

    WOW!!! Simply spectacular Deborah.
    I found myself wishing I could be a member of your installation team. How wonderful to have a hand in bringing your visions to life and creating such beauty, not to mention bringing joy to the homeowners and magic to the neighborhood.
    Thank you so much for taking time to share with your fans.

  27. Lucy Reinhart says

    Where to buy luminescent led lights

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