Avant Gardening

Avant Gardening & Landscaping

Archive: November 2016

How-To Create A Lovely Winter Container in 5 Steps

Annual container displays aren’t just for the warmer months! Just think of all the possibilities – instead of the traditional wreath this year, why not an ice skate filled with bright berries or an antique children’s sled propped up with birch branches? Make your front entry unique this holiday season.

This blog post will provide step-by-step instructions for creating a simple, yet elegant winter evergreen display in a container for your front porch or patio area.

1. Empty Your Container – It’s important to start fresh, be sure to remove and compost any old annual material from summer/fall before starting your winter display. We don’t want any unsightly material poking through. Now is a good time to gather all of the materials you need , so you’re not running around wasting time during the creation of your holiday display.


2. Base Layer of Evergreens – This layer won’t be very noticeable later on so we suggest using more of your “filler” evergreen material (aka less expensive), possibly a good layer of balsam or frasier fir. There are multiple ways to assemble your evergreen boughs but I think it is easiest with a small container to start in the middle and work your way out, sticking in bough ends into the soil ~4″ in different directions. Remember that both sides of the bough can be used, rotating them can add extra interest. Depending on the size of your container you may want to cut the bough down to the next node, for the appropriate size and scale. You want them just poking out over the edge of your container ~4-6″, you can hang over more if you’re going for a more draping effect though, or if it’s not in a high traffic area.


3. Add Diversity – Displays can be filled with an wide assortment of evergreens that will hold their color during our long winter months. Types of evergreens include: balsam, scotch, red & white pine, frasier & concolor fir, junipers, arborvitae, boxwood, blue & Norway spruce, etc. If you’re not sure about a certain type, test it out! Just use a little of it sparingly the first year and if it holds up well and you like the look, go ahead and use more the following year!


4. Create Height – Now we’re getting into the fun part! Start in the center of your container and add stems. Just like the evergreen options, there is a wide variety of natural materials you can use. Consider curly willow, pussy willow, kerria, ninebark, birch branches, and of course any kind of dogwood twigs – red, yellow, coral. There’s even a Dogwood cultivar called ‘Arctic Sun’ with stems that change from yellow to red!

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5. A Little Something Special… the final touches! These are the cute details that really make it your own creation. Think about tucking in small splashes of extra accent material. Possibly some dried flowers (hydrangeas and allium work well), preserved ruscus, eucalyptus, pine cones, and winter berries… Really whatever your heart desires! Don’t forget about the more traditional holiday decorations too, such as: twinkling lights, shiny ornaments (we’d recommend the shatter-proof ones!!), glittery floral picks, silky bows and ribbon. The sky is the limit! Just make sure it will hold up to our harsh winter climate.


Our Avant Gardening & Landscaping team has created seasonal displays for many years. Nothing welcomes guests and visitors to your home or business better than a cheerful holiday display. If you need help designing and installing your winter container displays, just give us a call or email us!

608.838.2054 or


Book Review for Small Space Gardening

“So many plants, so little space” is a lament heard many times over by gardeners who long for more room to get their hands dirty.  It can be very challenging to create an attractive and functional small space, as well as carving out an intimate area that affords some privacy within a larger landscape.

Don’t despair, Melinda Meyers to the rescue! Here’s a great book to put on your holiday wish lists – 

Small Space Gardening guides you through a step-by-step process to help you achieve your little piece of heaven. Melinda starts by explaining how to analyze your space by sketching out the area, evaluating how you want to use the space and identifying what landscape style you’re trying to achieve. Then it’s on to the design process followed by recommendations on how to maintain your completed project. There’s also a chapter on the challenges and opportunities that small space gardeners face.

The last third of the book is devoted to a comprehensive plant directory that includes perennials, grasses, shrubs, vines, and trees (yes, trees!) that are small space favorites. The high resolution plant photographs include a description of plant culture and characteristics, and is an excellent resource for buying decisions.

About the author:

Melinda Meyers has a master’s degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist, started the Master Gardener program in Milwaukee and is a horticulture instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical School. She hosts “Great Lakes Gardening” on PBS, and writes the twice monthly “Gardener’s Questions” columns for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


YUM!! – Autumn Apple Butter Recipe to Share

Recipe courtesy of the Kielstrup’s Kitchen (Thanks Becky!!)

Start with 4# apples, quartered – do not peel

Hand-Picked Locally Grown Apples

Put in large saucepan with 2 cups water and 1 cup apple cider vinegar, cook until apples are soft. Then put the mix through food mill to make apple sauce like consistency. Transfer puree mix back to pot, add ½ cup of sugar for every 1 cup of puree.

Then add spices:

  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Zest of ½ of lemon
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • Dash of salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg, if desired

Cook on stove top for 1-2 hours stirring consistently or cook on low in crock pot for 4-6 hours – but keep an eye on it! You are done when mix is reduced in half. It will thicken as it cools. Refrigerate final product or can for storage. Water bath can for 10 minutes.

For more seasonal recipes, click here!


Partnership with Village of Shorewood Hills – Educational Signage

The Village of Shorewood Hills received a Dane County Environmental Community Partner grant ($1,000) in 2015.  The grant funded public education and awareness of stormwater management and bio-retention sites in the community. Because Avant Gardening & Landscaping was involved in the design and planting, Shorewood Hills partnered with us to create educational signage at a highly visible bio-retention area near the Shorewood Hills Elementary School.

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

The project idea was suggested by a local parent who walks by this bio-retention garden twice a day with their child, to and from school. The parent was very supportive of the work being done, but desired more information so they could educate their ever-questioning child. The goal of the signage is to provide informal educational opportunities and “teaching moments” for both the parents and students, as well as raise awareness of rain gardens and encourage environmental stewardship.

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The signage was installed at the corner of Amherst Drive and Bowdoin Road in Shorewood Hills (east of the tennis courts) near the Shorewood Hills Elementary School. Six signs (1 large and 5 small) were placed in the bio-retention area. The large sign (24”x36”) exhibits a map of Shorewood Hills with the locations of all the community bio-retention sites, defines a bio-retention area, and gives an overview of Shorewood Hills’ stormwater management program. The 5 smaller signs (8.5”x11”) are plant identification markers and highlight specific native plants in the rain gardens.

Click here to see the digital copies of the smaller plant identification signs – They each have fun facts and a “Did You Know?” section for quick learning!

The Village of Shorewood Hills is a leading example of integrating bio-retention areas throughout their neighborhood. In 2008, they adopted a more stringent erosion control and stormwater management ordinance than the county and state, because the standards did not regulate small-scale land disturbing activities or redevelopment projects that were commonly occurring in the Village. The Village residents expressed their environmental concerns which were fortified by the fact that the Village is surrounded by development pressure on all sides and an extremely valuable natural resource, Lake Mendota, to the north and northwest. The new regulations, coupled with the creation of multiple bio-retention areas, are designed to reduce the amount of sediment washed from the Village into Lake Mendota, thus improving the overall water quality for fish and wildlife.

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

The bio-retention areas are stormwater treatment systems that consist of a slight depression which is integrated into the surrounding landscape. They capture stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces and allow the water to infiltrate through the soil media slowly. As the water infiltrates, pollutants are removed from through a variety of mechanisms including: plant uptake, microbial activity, sedimentation, and filtration.

In order to foster creative learning, promote awareness and inspire residents to install their own bio-retention areas/rain gardens at home – we need to provide interesting, informative and useful signage about the overall bio-retention areas and specific plant identification for Village citizens.


Do you need help designing educational plant signage? We can help – contact us here!

Does your non-profit organization, city and/or school districts have an environmental project in mind?

For more information on application process for this grant, visit: Dane County Environmental Council

To learn about projects that received grants in 2016, click here!