• Neil Atzinger

An entrance accented by a winter potting arrangement

Assembling winter potting containers has been a festive way to end our gardening season. One of our head gardeners, Calla Butler, remarked, "they're a reminder that the gardening season never ends." Customers who want a cherry on top to their growing season ask for winter potting containers.

Atzinger Gardens started offering winter potting containers in 2019. They are installed weeks before Christmas, but color selections and styles are chosen for the entire winter season. The arrangements last through to spring due to the materials chosen, the durable installation technique, and the use of anti-desiccant spray.

For 12 years, Ruth Atzinger has put together wonderful annual potting arrangements in late May or early July. The three elements of a successful arrangement are thriller (upright), spiller (trailing), and filler (colorful mortar to the joints). In 2018, Ruth Atzinger attended a course with Deborah Silver of Detroit Garden Works to learn how to take those techniques from summertime pots to winter potting arrangements. Here is an example of how we have adapted these techniques.

1. Create the Form

Cut dry floral foam to shape

Dry floral foam is only 2" thick max. We want 2" of foam below and 2" above the top rim of the frost-resistant or non-ceramic pots we've chosen. This allows for greens to be inserted horizontally into the edge of the foam, giving more fullness to the arrangement. Therefore, foam must be pieced together with hot glue before being cut to size for a tight, snug fit so that the arrangement stays in place through the winter.

2. Cut a hole for the centerpiece

Use a long razor or thin knife to cut into foam

A vertical (thriller) centerpiece will be lashed together with zip ties to a bamboo stake. Mulch or sand is put into the bottom of the pot for two reasons - 1) to gain a lower center of gravity so that the arrangement doesn't blow over in the wind, and 2) to provide material that the centerpiece can be pushed into, stabilizing the centerpiece. In order to make room for the centerpiece, cut a hole in the foam. Wear a dust mask - do not breathe in foam particles.

3. Add Greens

Source fresh cut winter greens such as boxwood, hemlock, thuja, noble fir, or juniper. Sharpen or lightly whittle each cut stem so that the stem fits snugly into the form. Start from the base and circle round and round until the center is reached. Do not skimp on material used. Select a secondary material towards the center of the arrangement for interest. Magnolia or eucalyptus are good choices.

4. Create the Centerpiece

Pussywillow and dogwood centerpiece.

Choose interesting, colorful branches or branches with interesting structure and texture that can be added as is or spray painted. Accent colors with a light spray of reflective spray paint. Cut a length of bamboo that will go to the very bottom of the pot but not be visible above the greenery. Range the centerpiece material around the bamboo and tie with zip ties tightly. Use more material than you think is necessary for a large, voluptuous centerpiece scaled to the size of the pot.

4. Assemble

Fill the bottom of the pot approximately 1/3 full with mulch or sand. Then, set the foam form firmly into the rim of the pot. Once in place, insert the separate centerpiece into the hole in the foam, setting the bamboo stake into the mulch. Ensure the centerpiece is strait and set firmly. If a plastic or frost proof pot is used, water can be sprayed into the mulch so that freezing temperatures will set the centerpiece more firmly in place. Ceramic pots could freeze and break.

5. Spray

Anti-desiccant spray such as Wilt-Pruf should be sprayed over the arrangement. This prevents the greenery from drying out and helps to keep the color. Spray to the point of dripping.

  • Theresa Ziolkowski

Updated: Oct 24

This spring, we welcomed Theresa Ziolkowski to our staff at Atzinger Gardens. Theresa will be serving as a head gardener, leading a gardening crew and being available to consult on your gardening projects. Her vast experience and personal care will fit in perfectly with the specialized work we offer. Below, Theresa introduces herself.

I originally hail from Baltimore, MD, and

have been gardening since I was a wee tyke, spending countless hours testing plant arrangements in my parents’ yard and secretly

ordering bulbs without my father knowing. I began my official horticulture career with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Virginia Tech.

I have worked at several public gardens including Brookside Gardens outside of Washington, D.C., and Longwood Gardens in PA (which spoiled me for life). Post-college, I ventured through several posts, including a rare plant nursery and several seasons as a nursery inspector for the MD Department of Agriculture.

In recent years, after spending a chunk of my life tending a garden full of babies, where my inspector skills came in handy, I moved into volunteering at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in the perennial garden. I have also worked privately as a small scale garden designer and consultant. My travels have included visits to many well known gardens including Chanticleer, Wisley, Versailles, Kew, and others which have inspired my passion for bringing landscapes to life.

My favorite plants range from ornamental grasses to anything in the witch hazel family; from the big and gaudy to the modest and unassuming. I love being outside, especially when the seasons are changing. One of my favorite times of the year is winter, when I can observe the severe yet beautiful outlines of trees against the sky.

I take a particular pleasure in pruning, weeding, and shaping gardens into beautiful art. I am eager to help you realize your garden’s potential!

  • Neil Atzinger

Updated: Oct 23

This spring, we are excited to introduce to you the new members of our gardening team. Many of you will meet Patti Dale in person as we open up your gardens for the spring and put together new designs, but here is a quick exposition of her experience, expertise and exceptional personality!

Patti Dale is a native Michigander recently returned from living and working in the Hudson Valley of New York. She began her career as an AmeriCorps member and then volunteer organizer for a social service organization. La vie en rose began with rigorous, English-influenced horticultural training at Stonecrop Gardens, a public botanic garden and former home of horticulturist Frank Cabot. Life would never be the same. After four years, she returned home to spend a season with her alma mater, the University of Michigan, at Matthaei Botanical Garden and the historical Peony collection at Nichols Arboretum. Her style is exuberant, lush, and full but sharply tidy to show bloom and foliage at its best.

Patti most enjoys horticulture for the opportunity to be outside, witnessing the nuances of our daily weather, changing seasons, and flora and fauna. Her favorite time of year is early spring with a particular love for bulbs and other ephemerals. A really rewarding day in her eyes concludes with a scrub of the knees and fingernails. She loves learning and using Latin names, rattling off tongue-twisters or rhyming names because "if you don't use it, you lose it!"

Please test Patti's horticultural expertise as you consult with her about your gardens. We look forward to caring for your gardens as if they were our own this year.


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