A GROWING CONCERN: Time to deck out the yard in holiday lights

THE RECENT COLD weather has definitely taken the wind out of the sails on your blooming annuals and dahlias, but by the standards of someone who grew up in the “Frozen Tundra” of Wisconsin, this isn’t so bad.

Yes, you have to get out your layered clothing with silk undergarments before working outdoors and store an extra coat in the car for especially windy days when Jack Frost is blown down from the Olympics into your backyard or parking lot where you scurry between heated car and warm building.

By now you’ve disconnect hoses attached to your home’s water supply and covered the faucets with the Styrofoam caps you’ve stored in the garage so as not to cause a freeze-back into the water lines of an un-insulated wall.

Those of you who overwinter banana plants have gotten out the straw to fill in and around the multiple stems coming out of the ground, wrapping your adorable frost-sensitive beauties until March’s warming day, but I want to share with you a trick I learned to “lighten” up these dark and windy days that lie ahead.

You see, this is the time of year that my schedule goes into night owl mode, as I will begin stringing my clients’ primary focal trees with thousands of tiny holiday lights, cheaply purchased at an outlet store or online, creating focal points controlled by timers that welcome you back home at 5 p.m.

I turn these mostly dormant trees into “light sculptures,” which more appropriately describes their essence and value, providing an intrinsic part of a year-round ornamental program, not normally available in the traditional landscape setting.

I need the natural darkness to wrap the branches and trunks, seeing any gaps that I wouldn’t readily notice during the daylight; however, working in the dark has its own obvious hazards, such as tripping or stumbling over features in the yard, so be physically able to perform this or hire it out. (Having a hot chocolate or toddy or two helps this evening chore.)

Most of what you’ll find in the world’s best light displays are at botanical gardens (or on the Peninsula drive around the Jamestown display in Blyn) because the gardener incorporates everything that is fine landscaping, using a hardscape or tree as their canvas for the light sculpture.

The colors, flow, depth and height of light sculptures will all combine to create one balanced setting, limited only by your imagination.

This is what makes gardening so fun: the challenge of using one’s own concepts in various ways to bring out our vision for an area.

But again, with lights, you can achieve things not done or easily achieved with plants.

That leads to the challenge I have for you today, regardless of whether it is your home, church, business or friend’s residence: Be creative.

Precisely at the darkest time of the year, let’s illuminate the North Olympic Peninsula with our creative passion.

Each of us possesses a distinct personality, along with your own home or apartment.

I want you to use your imagination and light it up (think potted plant near the front door, or the front door itself).

Who cares that the garden is frozen and the bulbs are in the ground?

This is no time to play “wait until spring,” so grab your artist’s hat and let’s figure out how to deck your place out in an expression of yourself (or your favorite sports team).

Maybe it is just one tree each branch in a separate color, with the birdbath trimmed in lights, blue water and all.

Maybe it is a windmill trimmed out, or just a spectacular arrangement of colors across the fence in the backyard.

Just find the inner light artist in you (and where you stored the extension cords).

Here are a couple of trips that can help:

• Buy lights by the thousands. This is much easier if you’re only putting three or four strands on a tree; it takes a lot of time to get the spacing just so.

With 10 or 12 strands and the same tree, you can just whip them up there because the spacing becomes irrelevant with so many lights, achieving full coverage with less thought.

• Staplers, zipties and twist ties.

Easy up, easy down and held right in place, these aid in holding your designs together.

Determine your method of hanging the display so it can be fun and easy when the actual stringing occurs.

• Prepare the lights indoors first.

This is a crucial step to enjoying the process and having fun when you move outdoors to start stringing.

Remove the lights from the box, then take off any plastic, labels and extra lamps and deknot them.

Put these strands in easy-to-grab containers so when you are creating your masterpiece, the strands flow to you smoothly and easily (think 5-gallon buckets, Tupperware, market baskets).

• Get big, beefy, heavy-duty outdoor extension cords and black electrical tape.

You don’t want your performance art to wind up as a huge yule log burning in the yard.

The smaller gauge number on the cord, the heavier the wiring, so 12, 14 and 16 gauge are acceptable, and try to get those with multiple sockets on the end, using the electrical tape to waterproof any connection points.

• Use as many different electrical circuits as possible.

Electricity is always the limiting factor as to how many watts you can run with stranding lights.

It is not the number of sockets; it is using different circuits, which are usually tied into the indoor room it’s closest to. Look for GFCI breakers so if it trips, you know where to go to reset it again.

• Have fun.

This is an extension of gardening and it is artistic: Be in that frame of mind.

My ultimate goal is really quite simple. When people are at Butchart Gardens’ 1 million-plus light display in Victoria, I want them to look south and see a glow on the Peninsula and remember all of the beautiful light sculptures we have developed.

So to all of you veterans out there, a wholehearted thank-you, a beacon of light to all of us in your service to your country.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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