Winter Window Boxes

A good many posts ago, I described a window box as a hybrid vehicle. It is generally more expansive than a pot, but smaller than an in ground garden bed. A window box is an above ground defined space which is large enough to thoroughly explore an idea, and small enough to finish every square inch beautifully. I like any landscape project that is as beautiful and polished at the finish as it was from the design beginning. This means tailoring seasonal efforts to a size that celebrates aspiration, and acknowledges limits. Planting an area in the garden with seasonal plants leaves me cold. There is too much square footage to deal with. More on the knees work than I am willing to do anymore. Too much poor soil and poorer drainage than I want to address. Get me off the ground, please and thank you. A window box is the perfectly sized venue for a bigger seasonal gesture.

A landscape client with a new house signed up for four window boxes on stands in the front of her house. Branch made them to my specifications. Though the window boxes were fabricated this past summer, it was not until November when the landscape was ready for their installation. Meaning we would address them for the winter season. We made forms for the boxes, and fabricated the winter arrangements in our shop. Dry floral foam forms were a vehicle for a collection of sparkly white picks, cut magnolia branches, faux white berry picks and noble fir. Presiding over all, a three foot diameter light ring.

We do as much of the work as we can, in the shop. We like the better part of the work to be done in a warm space. The construction is faster, and more thoughtful. All of us want to focus on the project at hand, rather than enduring the cold conditions on site. This work included creating the arrangement, and dressing the greens with lights. This layout table was large enough to hold two arrangements at a good height for working.

Each form was moved outdoors once it was finished. The cold temperature outside favors keeping the greens fresh. The palette of materials is simple. The volume and texture of the noble fir does a great job of showcasing the magnolia based centerpiece. A form this long needs support when it is moved, although all of the woody stems of the evergreens helps strengthen it. Though the form is long and narrow, we took great care to provide a rolling shape from back to front.  A good winter arrangement needs to supply a finished shape from the beginning, and create the illusion of motion and rhythm. Though most of these materials are natural, they will not grow. Creating a sense of growth from cut materials informs the best of winter container arrangements.

The form is slightly smaller than the interior dimension of the box, so it was easy to drop it in.

The pots look over scaled for the windows, but that will change once the new shutters are installed. The boxes and their contents have a very formal and dressy look, which is in keeping with the architecture.

After dark, the lights define the shapes and volumes. The view at night is important in my zone. We have a lot of short days and long nights ahead.

By this time next year, this landscape project will have landscape lighting. But for now, the window boxes provide some welcome illumination.

Every year we fill the window boxes at Detroit Garden Works for the winter season. This year, our winter and seasonal pot obligations ran long. On December 21, my crews had gone home for the holidays, and our storefront boxes were still bare. My crew had a long and arduous season, so I was not about to have them fret over the shop winter window boxes. And our supplies of branches and greens were low. Happily, our supplier emailed Rob that he had a late cutting of a new branch for him – were we interested? It did not take long for him to send 12 bales of Midwinter Fire dogwood stems our way. The form in the above picture has its fair share of holes, as this is its third season. But with a few minor repairs, it was ready. My part in the process of our winter pots is the design. My crew does all of the construction admirably well. But given that there was a time when I designed and fabricated, I was sure I could do that again. The idea was simple. Embed a light ring in a thicket of dogwood branches.

Christmas Eve day, the shop was open, so Karen had time to me a hand sticking the greens on the front face and sides of the forms. Rob and Scott helped trim the bottoms off the thickest branches. I set a row of branches close together across the back of the form, and 2 lengths of a 33 foot long light strand in front of them before starting the next row of branches. 4 rows of branches separated by four rows of lights. The branches are pushed in all the way to the bottom of the form.

The work of it was integrating each new branch into the neighboring branches. As they were fresh cut, the stems were pliable. A pair of thick wool gloves made that work easier. There was no need to cover the back of the form, as the window box hugs the window. The bottom layer of foam goes into the box. The soil had already been lowered a corresponding amount. The top layer on the front and sides holds the greens. Short stems of magnolia would separate the greens layer from the twig thicket. The large brown and green leaves not only separate the similar textures of the greens and twigs, they conceal the mechanics of the light source from view.

Though my crew would have sailed through this fabrication, it took me two days. No deadline was looming, and I wanted to enjoy the process. No twigs cover the lower portion of the light ring. The ring disappearing into the thicket and re-emerging at the top implies the thicket has depth. I would consider how to finish that spot once the boxes were installed.

Flipping the switch on the lights once the arrangements were done was great fun. We would indeed have a little midwinter fire.

Marzela and David came in the Thursday and Friday after Christmas. They fabricated and installed 2 projects we had not finished before the holiday. Karen, Rob and Scott joined in. We sometimes remove the light rings after fabrication, and reinstall them on the job. But in this case, it seemed vastly easier to just leave them in. They took care of all of the finishing work and electrical, once the forms were set.

Some of the finishing touches will only be seen by those who walk by or come over to take a closer look. We tried to address the near and far, and the day and night. The shop boxes are just the right size for that.

The pots on either side of the door are stuffed with fir and boxwood, and lit with a single 3 foot tall LED light burst from the shop. It came with a pointed metal stake that is easy to push into a form or soil.

Rob took this picture from the top of a 12 foot ladder, right at dusk. The look of them in the transition between day and night was subtle. The visual changes wrought by the light and weather come courtesy of mother nature.

I never thought about how they would look from inside my office, but I am enjoying it.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Absolutely stunning!!

  2. How long do cut greens last outdoors there? Do you schedule regular change-outs? I work at a public garden in Washington, DC and we struggle to get cut greens and garlands to last from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

    • Dear Anna, we install greens in November and December. Most years they still look great in March. I suspect you have warmer early winters than we do. all the best, Deborah

  3. Brenda Marean says:

    Happy New Year, GazonUA!

    For several years I enjoyed receiving your wonderful Dirt Simple posts; all of a sudden, a couple of years ago, they stopped coming to my inbox. I have sent a few emails requesting that I be added back to your list to no avail. Perhaps 2019 will get me back in the loop!
    Many thanks,
    Brenda Marean
    Salem, MA

    • Dear Brenda, once you sign up, you get an email back asking if you wish to be added to the subscriber list. You have to approve that. Maybe that email went to your spam mail. I will ask my IT person to look into getting you subscribed again. Happy New Year. best, Deborah

  4. Babs Williams says:

    Thank you Deborah for inspiring me with your winter work. I spend half my year in London where the streets are quite narrow and my house is quite old, in France I have lots of space in the countryside so adapting your designs to work for me has been interesting. I have decided that old containers from brocantes and vide greniers are the way forward so thanks for showing me the way. Happy New Year to you all Babs

  5. Sasha Roberts-Levi says:

    Your “Midwinter Fire” boxes are absolutely stunning. As a visual artist, I appreciate every inch of your store. Every time I come I find little treasures to bring back to my classroom. Would you ever be interested in hosting a drawing or watercolor workshop there? I’ll be there soon to soul my soul with the natural beauty you collect and display!

  6. Your creativity and passion are inspirational.
    I have always struggled with the colour, shape and size of pots to place in front of my home. Can you offer any guiding principles in making that decision any less
    difficult?

    • Dear Daena, there are no easy answers for your question/dilemma. Perhaps there is a design professional near you that could give you a hand. I like pots that look just as good empty as full. I try to consider the architecture, and the taste of the client. Understanding what you hope to achieve with them is key. Good luck! all the best, Deborah

  7. Blessings to the crew and to you and your family. Your creative work is so inspiring and breath-taking, each and every time. I am glad I found your blog in 2018! Best wishes for a prosperous and gorgeous 2019!

  8. Jennifer Taylor says:

    You have reached a new high (if that’s even possible) with these window boxes. Absolutely stunning! Happy New Year Deborah, Buck, Rob and all the crew. Wishing you all the best in 2019.

    • Thanks for your letter, Jennifer. We do have a good group, don’t we? Happy New Year to you and yours. best regards, Deborah

  9. Enjoyed your post as usual. I commented to my daughter how attractive your arrangements are, so when they traveled out East from Colorado, they stopped at your store and purchased several of the ring of fires and we all had them for our Christmas decorations in pots. We sure did enjoy them and she enjoyed meeting you. Happy New Year!

  10. When I see an email from you in my inbox, it is the first one I open! You are truly an amazing artist. You also have an effortless way of of writing that is a pleasure to read. The fact that you share your talents and trade secrets so generously with your readers is such a rarity. I thank you for being so passionate of your work and inspirational to me. I wish I lived closer to see your work in person.
    Have a wonderful New Year !
    Best
    Sharon (first time writer,long time reader)

  11. colleen wilberding says:

    Happy New Year to you Deborah and Rob. I usually never comment on you’re blogs I just love and admire the great creative things you do. Much happiness to you.

    • Dear Colleen, I am delighted to hear from you-thanks. And I appreciate that you read. Happy New Year to you too. all the best, Deborah

  12. Wilma Pacey says:

    Beautiful!!! Inspiring as always. I am always delighted when I open my e-mail and see a new article from you. Happy New Year to you and your team!

  13. Just wonderful! It must be a blast to drive by these places you’ve lit up for the holidays!! Can you tell me, what type of lights do you use for the light rings? and how, oh how do you get the lights only on the one side to stand up like little soldiers? Amazing!!

    • Dear Lisa, we manufacture the rings with a steel channel the correct depth and width to hold the lights we use. The light strings are Lumineo LED’s. best, Deborah

  14. Absolutely stunning.
    The rings are fantastic in the arrangements, alongside the light bursts.
    This is what I would call a real fire and light show.

  15. divine ~

  16. Pat Ferguson says:

    Looks like a ring of fire! Stunning as usual! Thank you for sharing.

    Pat

  17. There are only a few blogs that excite me these days. Your use of photos and explanations are just fantastic. I just love everything about your work, you and your shop. Happy New Year!

    • Happy New Year to you too, Heather. This morning is sunny-and those twigs are brilliant in sunshine. This may be the first sunny day since they were delivered. They look good! Many thanks to you for reading. all the best, Deborah

  18. Brilliant!!

    • Dear Chris, thank you. I had a very good and relaxing time making them-and I am grateful; for the help I had. best, Deborah

  19. Gorgeous inside and out, daytime and nighttime.
    Thank you for the inspiration.
    Happy New Year!

    • Happy New Year to you too, Shan. These boxes will help make the visual weight of winter a little lighter. best, Deborah

  20. Laura Tonar says:

    EXQUISITE!

  21. Cara Kazanowski says:

    Happy New Year to you, Rob & your talented, hard-working crew! Many, many thanks for your inspiring posts! I especially love your arrangements & installations lighting up the winter darkness!

    • Dear Cara, you should drop in or drive by at night and see them in person. They are worth the trip. Those twigs are gorgeous. best, Deborah

  22. Michaele Anderson says:

    ‘Midwinter Fire’ is so aptly named…it is breathtaking as used in your arrangements.The inclusion of the lighted rings is pure genius.

    • Dear Michaele, it was pure genius on Rob’s part to design and make those rings. We have clients that run them all year round.And clients all over the country who have them. best, Deborah

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