Red And Green

holiday container centerpieceThe combination of red and green at the holidays is bound to elicit some yawns or boos from those who would suggest there are more innovative and creative color combinations a gardener might pursue. I find fault with this idea. Color combinations in and of themselves do not suggest traditional or contemporary. Color is a design element that takes its emotional cue from the organizing efforts of a designing eye. Red and green might typically be very traditional colors at the holiday season, but they can be used in a way that is anything but traditional. These clients favor a decidedly contemporary and color rich holiday expression. Red and green – this is what they like.  Their steel topiary form from is stuffed full of cardinal red twigs, or whips, that have very little in the way of side branching. This choice of material accents the strong vertical element established by the form. The form itself is lighted with LED lights from Lumineo. The spare vertical element represented by the lighted form and the red twig branches is countered by a group of lax red berry picks.  The sculptural effect is anything but traditional. Holiday red in this instance is quite contemporary in feeling.

red and green Christmas treeWe also set up and dress their Christmas tree. The tree is decorated with red and lime green ball ornaments, both matte and shiny, stuck with paper wrapped wire stems.  The ornaments are not hung from the tree branches in the traditional way. They are laid into and onto the tree as if they were a pick. The balls are next to weightless, so the stiff stems of the tree hold them up. My crew was certain we would not be able to put all 280 ball picks into this tree, but once they got they got the hang of laying them in, the tree easily handled them all.

holiday treeThis method allowed us to place ornament very close to the trunk of tree, as well as on the tips.  The long wire acts as ballast, and helps to balance them on the tree. The ornaments nearest to front edge appear to be floating. Once the ball ornaments were placed, we added a single white LED light garland. I would say this representation of holiday red and green is layered, crisp, clean, and sculptural. This traditional holiday element, the Christmas tree, has a more contemporary look.

red and green holiday arrangementThe deck off the kitchen has one pot for the winter. Imagine this winter view from the kitchen without that container. A foreground element in a landscape is an important one, as is possible to focus on every detail. What is happening at a distance is visually hazy at best, but it is what I would call a traditional suburban landscape. The contrast between the pot and the landscape is considerable. The design upshot of of the relationship between the foreground and the background elements is the creation of a sense of depth. Interesting spatial relationships make a composition lively. Why would I think the red and the green elements in this container are non traditional? The green portion of the arrangement is the smallest element in size and supports a red top which is over scaled and dominant in feeling. A more traditional arrangement would be more conventionally balanced, with lots of greens at the bottom, and a smaller and less prominent mid section.

holiday containerThe juxtaposition of the brilliant red of the berry picks, and the merlot red of the eucalyptus is a little jarring and standoffish, rather than pretty.

holiday container centerpieceThe pale limey green of the poly mesh is not what I would call traditional holiday green.

holiday containerThe red berry picks were installed at different heights. The effect is deliberately asymmetrical.

holiday containerYou may or may not be convinced by anything I have had to say about these pots, but that was not my intent. I had an interest in explaining the design process for this project.  It is a challenge to warmly represent red and green at the holidays in a non traditional way.  In a bigger sense, is even more of a design challenge to avoid visual stereotypes. I planted my first and one and only dwarf Japanese maple for a client this past spring – in a container. As beautiful as they can be I have yet to figure out how to place one in the landscape that does not look routine.

holiday potsNo matter whether you source materials from from your garden, the farmer’s market, or a roadside field, getting them to look like what you imagined calls for some design.

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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.

 

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