Our supply of fresh cut twigs was equally skimpy, but for two bundles of red bud pussy willow we put on reserve for our last project. I toured the shop at least three times before I focused on a pair of steel topiary cones that we had Missy cover with grapevine and brown corded incandescent lights. These topiary forms are 5.5 feet tall. The scale would be perfect for my 30″ tall and 30″ diameter Branch Hudson tapers, given that we had no branches available for the center. I had no use for those incandescent lights. There had to be another idea. While David was removing those lights, I toured the store for the 4th time. We had a case of 10′ long LED rice light strands on silver wire still available. These lights would need their transformer and plug protected from the elements. We could do that. As the lights seemed so minuscule (each light is truly the size of a grain of rice), I doubled up the strands. David and I took 4 minutes to wind them around each topiary form in an informal spiral.
What next? The intersection of that vertical topiary form with that horizontally oriented bed of greens was bare, stark and dry. Awkward. An intermediary element that would soften and provide visual interest would be a good idea. That softening intersection would be at eye level, as my tapers are set on tall steel socles. I knew I would want to load up that interior/center level with Lumineo cluster lights, but those lights needed something at eye level to illuminate besides the bare legs of the topiary cones. Successful containers, no matter the season, need to be designed and planted as a complete and literate visual world unto themselves. The spring, summer and fall plants, and winter materials, play a considerable role in container plantings. But it is the design, the overall sculpture, which is eventually revealed, that makes a container a garden unto itself.
We had plenty of bunches of dried okra pods on slim wood stems in a pot in the shop greenhouse. I love these pods-we always have them. The numbers of bunches available were sufficient for my pots. OK, bring on the okra. David and I faced all of those curving pods inward. Like a chrysanthemum flower, or an artichoke. We left the pods tall, so they would represent entirely above the level of the greens. The slight wood stems on the pods would not in any way obstruct the light at the center. Setting the levels for all of the materials for these pots was all about sculpture. All of landscape and garden design is about sculpture, oh yes. Okra? Few on my crew had ever heard of okra. OK, no one in my group knew what the devil was okra. Over the course of building my winter pots, there was a discussion of that vegetable okra. We all had an experience that which was unfamiliar and challenging. Working with the okra pods was an exercise in creating relationships and friendships. And sharing knowledge.
Though I spent much time melding a design to the available materials, I was not prepared for this outcome. The rice lights were anything but shy. The four strands on two pots illuminates my entire driveway. The okra pods set tall on wood skewers both absorbed and reflected the bright rice light.
These winter pots are by far and away the best I have every had. That best had everything to do with a love and a passion for the garden, and a group for whom doing the best possible job is a a way of life. No matter the deep snow and the incredibly cold temperatures, we are all happy to be still gardening in one form or another. The design and fabrication of these pots is all about the intersection of a set of materials, and an eye emboldened by a love of nature.
Nothing prepared me for how intense the light was from the rice lights. I had no idea that the okra pods would so dramatically provide so much needed weight to the bottom of these pots. The transition from the top to the bottom glows. Ha! Having the creation of my winter pots scheduled next to dead last has its advantages. There was time to create. And time to observe the results.