Placing Garden Art

garden stakes between the plantsI like to buy garden art and ornaments from local artists. The works are often different from those you see in stores, and it’s more meaningful when you know where a piece comes from and who created it. In the past, I’ve bought a metal trellis from Jennifer Wolcott and two local gentlemen designed and assembled the pergola in my backyard.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought two glass garden stakes from Geralyn Thelen, who shows her work at the Northfield Riverwalk Market Fair on Saturdays. I’ve long admired the bright colors and luminous texture of Gerie’s jewelry, home decor and furniture. So when she created these stakes for the garden, I had to have one — or two.

I picked two slightly different stakes in colors that work well together and with my plants and house. Being design-challenged, it took a bit of moving around to figure out how to place them well.

I thought they would be a bright spot and focal point in my front door garden. So I put a stake with bright oranges and maroons behind this Autumn Joy sedum and in front of a dark maroon coleus I’m growing on trial this summer. (Fantastic plant, by the way, but more on that in a later post.) I like the surprise of the art between the plants, but in some ways the piece seems lost.

garden stake with short plantsTo try a different approach, I put the second one in a back bed near some orange impatiens and lamium under an ash tree. Because the plants are short, this stake seems to stand out more. The plants behind it are mostly done blooming, so the artwork becomes a slightly taller focal point in the bed.

Placing artwork and other structural elements in a bed takes some trial and error. In the September/October issue of Northern Gardener (which will be on newsstands soon), columnist Don Engebretson offers insights into why and how to place fountains, benches, arbors, sculpture and other nonplant elements. One of his main points is to put the objects in a bed — rather than sitting them out in the lawn by themselves.

In writing this post, I noticed Gerie has a photo of the stakes in a group of three. Might be another reason for a trip to the market!

What are some of your favorite ways to display art in the garden?

Winter Garden Decor — The Fun Variety

Mannequins in corner garden, dressed for winter. They look like they are waiting for the bus.

I was driving back from taking photos of some winter containers for an upcoming article, when I noticed these garden denizens along West 46th Street in south Minneapolis. What a cute idea — though the gardeners may have been overdressed for yesterday’s sunny February afternoon. Today, they are just right as the wind has picked up and temps have dropped.

Judging from the plants left standing, this looks like it would be a beautiful garden at all seasons of the year. What are your favorite garden decor ideas for winter?

Metal in Garden Art (and a Coupon)

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Wolcott’s metal garden art since she designed the Book Heads Dancing located near the main entry of the Northfield Public Library back in 2008. I love the whimsy of her sculptures and the way the natural, hard metal contrasts with the flowing shapes. Her garden balls made of straps of metal always make me smile and they look wonderful in a perennial bed.

Last winter, I talked with Jennifer about designing a stand-alone trellis for a climbing rose. I did not want to have to attach the trellis to my house. And, of course, my request was for something “tasteful, not too expensive.” She liked the idea and designed several of these tall, triangular shaped trellis/obelisk garden pieces. I got first pick and have one placed right near the corner of my front yard bed. The rose and some stray morning glories are covering it now. (That’s a detail of it at right.)

But now the big offer! This weekend is Defeat of Jesse James Days in my hometown, Northfield, Minn. It’s gorgeous weather, so drive down and check out the art fair near the river downtown. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow. Jennifer will be displaying her garden orbs, trellises and other sculptures there. Print out the coupon with this post (click on the image to make it big and printable) and you’ll get 10 percent off any purchases.

Holiday Containers by the Numbers, Part 2

img_4383With the basics of container design in mind (see previous post), I set up shop in the mudroom and gathered the equipment and materials for making a holiday container. These included: the pot filled to within 2 inches of the top with compost, four kinds of greens, three decorative things that are pretty and not green (in my case, red-twig dogwood branches, fake poinsettia flowers, and fake red berries), and a by-pass pruner for cutting branches. I donned my garden gloves and went to work.

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Spruce tips give a basic structure.
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Cedar and pine add texture.

For complete instructions on how to make a holiday container, see the post I did last year after observing Kathy Oss of Squire House Gardens design a wonderful container. Basically, you start with the greens, cutting each branch at an angle before shoving it in the dirt. Since I had a pack of spruce tips, I started with those and created a full base.  Then, I added in the other greens: cedar and two kinds of pine. The different greens give the pot texture and color contrast.

img_4400Once the pot looks full enough with greens, it’s time to add the other elements. Since my container has a definite front side, I put most of the red-twig dogwoods in the middle back to give it some height, then I added in the red flowers and berries. At left is my finished product, which didn’t look quite right to me, so I took a break.

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It’s all about the texture.

When the 16-year-old got home from choir practice, she took one look at the pot, and sighed, “Mom, you need a focal point.” Ah-ha! So, we did a little re-arranging of the flowers and added a few more of the berries, and things started to come together. One thing I like about my pot is the texture of the cedar, the spruce, the pine, and the berries.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I set the pot out on the front porch and watered it well. The water froze last night (temperatures were in the teens here), so the design is frozen in place for now. Since I’ve been thinking about holiday containers recently, I’ve noticed some attractive designs in downtown Northfield. I’m hoping to post some photos of those in advance of Winter Walk, which is Thursday night.

Holiday Containers by the Numbers, Part 1

I’ve always been in awe of people who are just naturally visual, who can pick the perfect color for an outfit or a room or place a knock-out plant in just the right spot in the garden. I need more guidance than that, so when I was interviewing floral designers about holiday containers for a recent issue of Northern Gardener, I fished around for some math to make the art work. Happily, Ardith Beveridge, director of Koehler & Dramm’s Institute of Floristry and an internationally known floral designer, and Corinnne du Preez, annual and perennial manager at Gertens in Inver Grove Heights, suggested a few proportions and other specific ideas for making holiday containers.

Yesterday, I put those ideas to work on a container for my front porch. But first, the theory. The first step in any container project is to find the container and what to put in it.  Last year, I made a holiday-themed container so I reused that pot. Then, following the guides from Ardith and Corinne, I gathered my materials. A well-balanced container typically has 4 to 5 kinds of greens and 3 or 4 extras, like flowers, twigs or berries. Any less than that and it may look plain (although I’ve seen some very nice plain ones this year); any more and it will look chaotic.

I didn’t want to spend too much so I did a combination buy and scrounge for the materials for the pot. I bought a pack of spruce tips and a small bundle of fragrant cedar.  I cut greens from a large white pine in our yard and a mugo pine. For extras, I cut red-twig dogwood branches from the garden and found some fake poinsettia flowers and red berries that I picked up at a dollar store last summer for 50 cents each.

OK, now here comes the helpful math. First, think geometry — how will people look at your pot. Mine stands in the corner near our front door, so it has a definite front, and really only needs to look good for about 180 degrees. If people will look at it from all sides, you have to decorate 360 degrees.

graphic of holiday container proportionsSecond, think proportions. For a pot to look “full enough,” the top of the display should be at least 1.5 times the height of the pot. But it can be more, and Beveridge suggests the top of the display be two times the height of the pot, plus the width of the pot (2H + W = Pretty). My pot is 15 inches across and 12 inches high, so [ (2×12) + 15 = 39]. The top point on the container should be about 39 inches above the container.

That’s enough math to get me started.

Garden Art in Public Places

During the recent America in Bloom competition, this sculpture was installed at the Northfield Public Library. Made by artist Jennifer Wolcott, the steel sculpture has the working title of Bookheads Dancing. In creating the piece, Wolcott walked all around the library looking for the right place to put the sculpture, and settled on this shady hosta garden near the Washington Street entry.

Placing art in a garden is tricky. It needs to complement the garden around it, without overwhelming the garden or being so small that the garden obscures the art. In a northern climate like ours, the art will be a dominant view in the garden for several months of the year. [While taking photos of the Wolcott piece, I found myself wishing (horrors!) that it were January so the sculpture would stand out more.] What I like about the Wolcott piece is it has many places for snow to rest, allowing the view of the work to change as seasons progress. This is a piece viewers would find intriguing even after it had been in place many years.

Northfield Note: I’m a member of the board of the Friends of the Library, which last night decided to offer partial funding for the purchase and permanent installation of the Wolcott sculpture. Others in the community are looking for additional support for the sculpture. If you would like to assist in funding the sculpture, contact Lynne Young at the library.

Use a Pumpkin for a Pot

pumpkin planter with sedum
A pink sedum looks pretty in the orange pumpkin.

I stole this fall decorating idea from an item I saw in a Gardener’s Supply catalog. The catalog was selling a ceramic, pumpkin-shaped pot to display fall-blooming plants.

Very cute, but why not use a real pumpkin? The pots start at $19.95 (not bad, considering how expensive pots are) but pumpkins each cost $3 at the Bridgewater Produce stand outside of Northfield. I’ve done this several times, using perennials that were on sale as well as annuals.

I cut the tops off the pumpkins and slashed a couple of cuts in the bottom for drainage, cleaned out the seeds, added a little potting soil, and pushed the plants into their new home. I’ll find a place for the grass and mum in my gardens in a few weeks, and the petunias will go in the compost pile. My only concern for the planters is that the pumpkins will rot and cause some damage to the roots of the plants. We’ll see.

UPDATE: I have done this several years now, and the pumpkins hold up as long as you would want a pumpkin to last. The pumpkins get soft, of course, depending on how long you keep them outside and how damp the weather is. But for a temporary, seasonal decoration—not bad!

purple kale planted in pumpkin
Purple kale makes a terrific focal point in a pumpkin planter—spooky!