Fabricating Arrangements For The Winter Pots

It is indeed that time again. This past Friday we swept out the garage at Detroit Garden Works, and set up our fabrication shop. The most useful and best part of the shop is its heat. Warm space to work makes for good and thoughtful work. So does good materials.  Rob works his heart out to be sure we have a huge selection of materials for our winter and holiday installations. His fresh cut twigs are the best I have ever seem. Farmed twigs, grown on great soil, mean all the dogwood and willow cut branches we have to offer have superior color and form. Every bunch features unblemished stems typical of the current years growth. Ron snapped up some very tall second year growth red twig which is equally as spectacular. Those glossy colorfully barked stems makes our winter container work easy. We construct forms that fit tight into the intended containers from large sheets of dry floral foam, layered up via hot melt glue.  One layer of foam goes below the surface. The upper layer gets stuck with greens, and whatever else we have in mind. At exactly the angle we like. Of course we save client’s forms from year to year. The above form is for a very large planter box. Note the exterior grade plywood at the bottom. That plywood enables us to transport this arrangement safely. As last year’s form had been reused for the past three years, we added a new layer of fresh foam to the top. The degraded foam goes to the bottom, into the pot.  The new foam gets top billing. This client has a decidedly contemporary view. Their winter container arrangements will follow suit. The center of this form was filled in with dark gray birch branches. More on that decision later.  David stuck every stem of fresh yellow twig dogwood, one stem at a time. I managed to capture him in the act. He is an accomplished fabricator. He knows to look to the airspace to tell him where he needs a branch. Once he claims a visual space for his branch overhead, he inserts that branch in that spot in the foam that puts his branch where he wants it. Does he ever look down at that branch is going into the foam? No. He is always looking at the overall shape from above.

I regret to say that our supplier of preserved and dyed eucalyptus has closed up shop. We bought out every bunch he had available, once we knew he was closing up.  We did have a few barrels of the color “Rain” available.  I liked the idea of those yellow twig branches faced down by this dark blue gray eucalyptus.

I decided to use the materials in a less formal way this year than last. This is a color palette I know my client will like, but changing up the style can make the most familiar materials look fresh and different. Winter arrangements with a simple and sculptural quality look great in all kinds of weather. In addition, this volume of branches will help to shed the snow, or at least keep it from damaging the overall arrangement. This is by way of saying that designing winter arrangements that can withstand snow is a good idea in zones that can rack up the inches in the winter. We will not dismantle this arrangment until mid March, so it has to be winter weatherproof.

This close up of the yellow twig set against the dark gray brown birch bunches on the interior illustrates how the effect of the color can be intensified by way of a contrasting backing. The addition of branches on the interior create the illusion that the form is tightly packed with yellow twig stems. The reality is quite different; there are just 2 rows of them. The matte birch stems also help make the yellow twig bark appear all the more glossy. A third reason for that dark interior?  In a subtle way, their darker color provide a transition from the dark of the blue gray eucalyptus, to the bright of the yellow twig.

A pair of round pots are further from the road, and nearer the house. I want the arrangements in the pots to appear brighter than the planter box. The interior branches in this case are whitewashed birch.

This yellow twig looks brighter yellow to my eye. That brightness will be compounded, once the arrangements are placed in the pots.

It made sense to stuff the rest of the form with variegated boxwood. This green comes to us in 40 pound boxes. The branches are long and densely twiggy. All of our greens are premium grade, like this.  It  means there is great scale, size and volume to every branch, and almost no waste. Greens intended for interior winter and holiday arrangements are generally small, and do not translate so well to use in pots.  We try to keep each stem intact, rather than cutting it up into smaller pieces. For a less formal arrangement, we let the natural grown branch be what it is.

The light gray branches are called natrag. That is the sum total of what I know about them, except that they have a very sculptural and exotic appearance.

The natrag was introduced into the arrangement only on the front and back.  They are so strong visually that more of them would dilute their overall effect.

The arrangements were done and ready to be installed this morning. In the foreground, the forms for our next project. My landscape crew generally handles the installation.  They have a great eye for positioning plants in the landscape.  This skill translates into installing these arrangements so they look like live plant material. If you look at the larger arrangement in the above picture, you can see that the blue gray eucalyptus looks almost black at the base. Part of the design was to deliberately create a shadow, and a sense of depth between the boxwood and the eucalyptus.

How we do this is very difficult to photograph, so suffice it to say that there is a 4″ wide band of incense cedar that is installed flat to the base of the form. An incense cedar moat, if you will. That space is what creates the shadow.

The eucalyptus and boxwood are both fairly tall. The cedar is inserted into the form on a horizontal angle, so it is barely an inch tall. I will post pictures of the finished installation tomorrow. For anyone who is new to our work, or has questions about the construction, I have posted many times over the past 9 years about them. You can click on and read my November posts from past years, if you are so inclined.

 

 

Part Three: The Pergola

If you  have been reading this series of posts, you will recall that my landscape design called for a rectangular cloister style pergola to be built off my client’s sun porch and garage. That shape was dictated by an L shaped space established by the sun porch, and the long back side of the garage.  The center of that cloister would be a fountain pool. My drawing, pictured in the previous post, was schematic, meaning that drawing was a generic structure, just holding a place on the page.  Once she indicated an interest in a pergola surrounding the fountain, I went to work to actually design that structure.

 

 

So what is a cloister?  A cloister is a covered walkway, frequently surrounded by a building or buildings on all four sides. Historically, it was an architectural feature common in monasteries and courtyard spaces in universities. The design for this pergola is predicated on a 6 foot wide covered walkway which would provide overhead structure to the fountain pool. The photo above shows Buck’s CAD drawing of the long side, which is almost 47 feet long. The design revolves around a series of elongated diamonds of different sizes, and steel spheres of 3 sizes. Buck added some figures to his drawing, so I could see what the relationship would be between person and structure. A good part of the reason it is 11 feet tall is its placement. Standing at the bottom of five steps from the sun porch grade, it was important that the roof did not appear too low from that vantage point. That height will also give it some presence from the upstairs windows, and the balcony which is on top of the sun porch roof.

This drawing of the roof panels makes clear the idea of a covered rectangular walkway. And that the interior space would be open to the sky. It was almost a year ago that we ordered the John Davis roses that would be planted on the pergola columns. I still have hopes of putting them in the ground yet this year, but if not, we can winter them over in our landscape building.

The drawings are useful to a designer, but maybe not so much to a client. Buck figured out how to scale the three drawings the same, and I built this model from sheets of copy paper. Buck drew the schematic for the pool on the roof plan. All of the white spaces on the paper will be open spaces.


This model came months after the presentation of the original plan. Once my client approved it, there would be much more work to come. Not only were there engineering issues to sort out, all of the dimensions would have to be coordinated with Mike Newman, as his steps and walls were an integral part of the installation. The following drawings were passed back and forth between Buck and Mike, so all the the locations and dimensions could be mutually agreed upon before anything was built.

This plan view of he steps, walls, and pergola show the relationships between the various elements. The walls would have 2  12′ wide openings that would provide access to the back and side yards. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, there would be 5 feet of open space before reaching the pergola.

These drawings do the best job of illustrating the fact that there are pairs of columns that would hold up the roof. There are 32 in all. And the columns are round.  I designed as much of this pergola to feature round shapes, as opposed to square or rectangular. The round shapes seemed less industrial, and more fitting to the period of the house. Buck said this decision made the engineering much more difficult, but I think it will prove to be well worth the trouble.

view from above

view from the far end

the view of both exits

Pictured above is a group of the roof panels, after the galvanizing process. The round rods are captured in a square steel channel. The solid steel spheres, welded at the juncture of every other diamond, will face down. There are 2000 of them, in all.

These fascia panels feature a larger gauge steel rod, and 2″ diameter solid steel spheres. These are finished panels in their raw steel state.

The pallet in the foreground is stacked with the pergola entrance panels. These have the largest diamonds, and 3″ diameter steel balls. In the background, pallets full of columns.

Branch limited the weight of every pallet so it would be easy to offload them at the site.

Prior to loading up the pallets, Buck had his guys pick random pieces from each stack of parts, and had them put together one 12′ by 6′ section. He wanted to be sure all of the parts would go together easily. Putting a pergola together in the field is a much different operation than putting it together in a warm dry shop, with a bridge crane overhead. The install will be lengthy, as it is a big structure. Maintaining the precision with which each piece was fabricated was a challenge. That precision is what will make the install go smoothly.

This view from the mezzanine at Branch shows a roof panel set in place.

Jackie arranged for a dedicated flatbed truck to transport the pieces to the job. Even so, there were 6 pallets left over that my landscape crews loaded in their trucks. None of the pallets could be stacked.

We had our loader on site, so we could offload once the truck arrived.

There was one part to the story we did not anticipate.  3.5 inches of rain fell in the area where the boom truck would be located, and those pallets would be staged.  We had not gotten to a finished grade in this side yard. The ground was very low here. Our original delivery and installation date came and went. I was not pleased with the prospect of having to waiting until the ground froze. I put in a call to my large tree contractor, and asked if there was anything he could do.

Ralph brought in 80 yards of sand, and 100 sheets of 3/4 inch thick plywood, with the intent of building up the grade such that we could access the site.

He built a road in that would be able to handle the weight of the pergola pieces, and trucks. Fortunately, this side yard is still so low, that all of that sand will eventually become part of the finished grade.  He is estimating he will need another 200 yards of soil to bring this space up to grade.

The boom truck is an incredibly heavy piece of equipment, featuring a large arm that will pick up each piece in the proper building order. That truck has huge steel arms that come out, and rest on the ground, to stabilize the truck.  Plywood and sand would not be enough to keep that truck stationary.  The construction mats you see in the above picture weigh 1000 pounds each. Ralph assured me that they would stabilize the ground for any truck we needed to get back there.

finishing up the road in

Sheets of plywood were all we needed to stash the various pallets.  The boom truck operator will be able to pick up any part he wants, when he needs it. It took 3 days to get the site ready. Templeton Building Company will do the actual installation. Buck will be there the first day, to advise.

Everything is ready. The boom truck is scheduled to arrive this afternoon. I hear the scaffolding is going up now. Each column will be bolted to the footings that Mike poured some time ago. The structure will be bolted together, one piece at a time. It could take a week, from start to finish. For now, I am just very happy to know we are in the home stretch.

The Holiday/ Winter Preview Party 2018

Rob and his group did an incredible job of getting the shop turned over to the holiday and winter season to come. I know there are those that are grumpy seeing this in what rightfully is the fall, but it takes many days and many pairs of hands to get this all ready. Our one evening event of the year featured Rob’s lighting as usual, and pizza cooked up fresh on the driveway. The description doesn’t sound all the great, but sitting on the driveway in 40 degree weather, eating pizza right out of the oven – perfect.  To follow are pictures of the before during and after of that event, for those readers too far away to attend.  Our season kickoff open house goes on all weekend, and is a perfect prelude to the season to come. If you are nearby, we are well worth the trip.

antique bottle rack, lighted on the interior and decorated with green glass globes

picks and such

Dutch made artificial tree with 11,000 lights

fresh cut magnolia bunches

wood cheese boards and deer

red and white

swan cart

gold colored metal ornaments

rustic look

amaryllis in glass forcing vaseswood ornament

the shop

shop window with swan sleighs

lighted starbursts

a party

shop at night

lighting on the pergola


And this morning-our first snow!


A perfect day for a winter open house, don’t you think?

The Schematic Plan: Part Two

As promised, here is part two of the story of this landscape installation. The limestone terraces and wall caps were next up. I am very fortunate to have a stone mason that is as capable of building walls as he is installing flat work. That is not always the case. I suspect all of the trades are much more specialized than they were years ago. I have no doubt that the craftsmen that built this house to begin with had design skills. By that I mean, they could design their way past a problem to a functional solution. And they had a broad range of knowledge. I absolutely ascribe the visual success of this hard scape project to just such an old school craftsman, Mike Newman.

The contribution he and his crew made to this project is enormous. Their work is completely appropriate to the style and period of the house.  We had several discussions about the pattern of the limestone, and the sizes of the stone. Choosing 24″ square limestone tiles for the body of the terrace had a residential and more vintage feel. This smaller area, designated as the grilling and dining terrace, would have been overwhelmed by larger pieces of stone.  I associate larger pieces of limestone with commercial projects, and more contemporary projects.  The terraces would have a 16″ by 48″ border of limestone all around. The purpose of the tent? It was 92 degrees and sunny this day.

Mike did do this drawing for me showing the sizes and pattern of the stone. This drawing reveals that centered on both windows and the door are 48″ by 48″ limestone slabs. I like a client being able to walk out a door onto a solid piece of stone, rather than a mortar joint. The adjacent slabs centered on the windows gives visual weight to this detail. The large slabs as a group indicate the center of the space. There is strength in numbers. A house built on symmetry such as this one is asks for that kind of centering. Though Mike is a craftsman of the old world sort, he is perfectly capable of producing a CAD drawing to verify the pattern and dimensions. Verbal explanations can be misinterpreted.

The sizes of the tiles and the pattern is a very subtle detail, as the mortar color matches that of the stone. But those subtle details are what helps to make a landscape project visually believable. The size of the border tiles is repeated in the size of the step treads.

We brought a couple chairs out, so our client could sit up there, and get a feeling for what was to come. There is yet a long way to go to complete the project. I am sure some landscape issues that will have to wait until spring for completion. After finishing the flat work, Mike installed 32 concrete footings for the cloister pergola. They look like stools, in the lower left of the above picture. Once the soil in this area is brought up to the proper grade, these footings will not be visible. Each of 32 columns that hold up the cloister roof will be bolted to these 42″ deep footings. 42″ is the outermost typical depth of the frost in the ground in our zone in the winter. When the frost comes out of the ground, it can heave around anything that is not securely anchored below the frost line. A large steel pergola gone out of level would not be a good look, nor would it be easy to fix.

The next order of business in this area would be the fountain. That fountain will double as a spa, meaning it would be heated, and have spa jets below the water line. Decorative water jets will arc from the sides of the fountain towards the center, rather than having jets in the middle. The center of the fountain will be open, like a swimming pool. I know very little about the construction of a pool, except to say it is complicated and messy at best. A fountain that is a spa which is also a pool is even more complex.

The first step is to build a form which is deeper, wider and longer than the finished interior dimension. This assumes that the pool has been designed, and the plans submitted and approved by the city.

Once the form is in place, all of the plumbing work can begin. You can see in the above picture that each fountain jet will be operated by its dedicated pipe. Each water function is plumbed.  It was a little easier by this point for my client to see that the pergola would have a roof around the perimeter, and be open to the sky above the pool. Once the interior plumbing is finished, the inside would be sprayed with a thick coating of concrete and sand called gunite. This process insures that the pool is water tight.

One would think that once the concrete had been sprayed on the pool, all that would be left to do was the final finish and hardware. In fact, the process of hooking up all of the plumbing and filtration was just about to begin.

Once the gunite is finished, the process of running all of the pipes to the pumps began. This is the messiest and the longest phase of the construction. The small structure that had been added onto the garage from my previous post would house all of the pool equipment. A mini excavator was used to dig the trenches required for all of the pipes. The operator did an amazing job of navigating that machine around the pergola footings.  At this moment, I was relieved that most of what would be planted in this area is grass.

It is fortunate that most of the construction part of this project was confined largely to this area. We were able to begin the landscape installation in other areas not affected by this level of upheaval.

Once all of the underground pipes were installed, this area would be ready to back fill with the existing piles of soil. Great care was taken not to disturb the footings.

Hiding these pipes going into the pool equipment room would be a landscape issue. We have had worse to deal with than this.

Once the back filling was complete, and the area cleaned, the limestone pool coping could be installed. The pool coping was installed by the pool contractor, Gillette Brothers Pool and Spa, as opposed to the stone mason. Any element of the pool that touches the water is installed by the pool contractor, as he is responsibility for the warranty on that work. The best way for them to insure the quality and integrity of that work is to do it themselves. Once the coping was installed, the copper grounding wire that ran all the way around the pool had to be inspected. You can see that wire laying on the ground in the above picture, just in front of the pool wall.  Every pool has to be grounded, as the combination of water and electricity can be dangerous.

It eventually was time for my crew to come in, and bring the soil up to grade. A lot of the filling had to be done one wheel barrow load at a time, as we could not drive the skid steer over the footings. The difference it made to have the footings buried and the pool coping installed-considerable. Five months worth of work had been finished, and I am very pleased with how it looks.