Garden Party

200720fisher2015Come August in Michigan, the garden ought to be the perfect place for a party. This garden was spectacularly ready.  The occasion of this party-a very special once in a lifetime event.  My client was determined to pull out all the stops for her husband/gardener .

200720fisher2023The maintenance of this garden is a regular thing, but everyone knew in advance we have a date to work towards.  I did the cut flowers; my client orchestrated all the rest.

200720fisher2022Every gardener knows what non-stop work a garden demands, but there are rewards from that work.  It was breathtaking that afternoon. I delivered the flowers, and while setting them in place I had a chance to take the time to look, and enjoy.  The grass cutting crew, the maintenance crew, the landscape projects started and completed over the years-the list of people involved in getting this landscape to this particular night is a long one.

200720fisher2028Add to the top of that list,  my client, and how she graciously dressed the garden for this party, and went on to entertain a number of guests.  Though this is a very formal garden to begin with, it was even more so for this event. Every corner of the garden, dressed up, and awaiting company.

200720fisher2018The roses and Oriental lilies were arranged in florist’s oasis on top of the vases, so as not to interfere with conversation at the table.  They seemed to float above the tables; it was a very romantic look.

I was pleased to see that the pots at the pool readily made the transition from their day time job to a formal evening. The furniture looked like so many tuxedos in the garden.

200720fisher2040I doubt I will ever entertain like this in my garden, but that does not mean I do not entertain.  I have more dinner guests the month of August than any other month of the year. I take a lot of pleasure in sharing my garden. Thank heavens, Buck handles the menu, and the cooking.  I do the garden.

200720fisher2037I think I am especially fond of this garden as I know how much my clients love and respect it.  They are stewards of their property, in the most serious way.  But this night was about the fun and the pleasure of having a garden; they more than deserved it.

Designing an Entrance

A sunny Michigan March day is a good day to look at the landscape, especially when that landscape is intimately involved with an existing hardscape.  The entrance to a property is  always viewed from a car, either driving by, or pulling in.  The driveway itself plays a major part in an entrance presentation.  This property has the added structure of the walls and piers.  What isn’t working here?

dsc_0007The walls are substantial, and large.  They serve to announce the entrance, and enclose the private part of the property from the street.  The current placement of the boxwood runs counter to the curve of the wall in a tentative way; the small scale of the boxwood is no match for the heft of the wall.  The boxwood placement further chops up a space already bounded on every side by hard surfaces.  Oddly enough, the smallest space is planted with hydrangeas and hostas already leaning over the boxwood.  The largest space had one lonely boxwood in an ocean of winter burned ivy. 

dsc_0008An entrance planting not well-designed can be difficult to maintain.  They are a long way from the hose spigot, or the wheelbarrow.   They suffer from salt spray, and the carelessly driven delivery truck. How snow gets plowed figures prominently.  Good entrance design plans for all the maintenance issues without making a visual issue of them.


In May, I look at the winter damage to the baltic ivy.  Wind, salt, and tire damage has taken its toll. The boxwood needs to flow in a way similar to the flow of the drive.  I think better than twice as many boxwood on each side would showcase the walls properly.

The lone dead boxwood removed, this big space with a few rocks, and the mailbox, looks empty.  I suggested to my client that rather than planting flowers in this big space, it might be time to look at the placement and selection of woody plant material that would provide some visual weight consistent with the substance of the wall. She agreed.

july220031After digging out all of the existing material, we added 8 yards of soil to each side.  This allowed me to roll the soil down to the grade of the road and drive.  This helps keep vehicles out of the bed.  Planting the boxwood at a higher elevation  helps keep its foliage out of contact with salt spray from cars.  In areas where the speed limits are higher, evergreen material needs distance from the road, or planting heights well above the level of the road. 

We transplanted her existing boxwood in a line parallel to the drive.  In addition to opening up the space, this makes for a consistent and rhythmic view while driving in. We left 2 feet of space for spring annuals and bulbs, summer annuals, and the leavings from the snow plow.  The land rising off the road allowed the “warning -do not drive here- rocks” to be embedded in soil.  Rocks on top of the ground have a particularly unnatural and standoffish look.

aug320041The views of an entrance planting are equally important from the inside.  The boxwood is now visible from the inside, and the annuals soften the edge of the road, and describe in a beautifully way the curve to the road.

aug320042Most of the beds are woody plant material that do not demand every day care beyond watering. The blue sky petunias and variegated licorice thrive on the hot dry roadside.  Should any plant material be damaged, or not do well, it will be a small thing to repair, as it is a small area.   The curved swath of verbena bonariensis fills the breathing room between the hydrangeas in a light and airy way. 

aug320050The curve of the landscape, counter to the backdrop of the curve of the wall, is the idea here; all the plantings are geared to express that one thought.  

aug320051Extending the large open curves beyond the end of the wall makes for a welcoming entrance.  It’s clear the property goes on beyond the wall.

A successful entrance planting makes you feel glad every day that you are getting home.

Sunday Opinion: You Never Know

At the risk of encouraging my good friend and client Janet to send me an email demanding to know when I will quit talking about her on this blog, I will talk about her again anyway.  I cannot really remember how the subject came up, but many years ago we were talking about what she got from her Mom that has proved influential.  Parents try to get plenty to stick in their kids minds and hearts-what actually works out  is another story.  “You never know when you will meet your intended”, her Mom said.  Though Janet is sure this was in reference to her not wanting to get dressed up for a date she was definitely not looking forward to, this big idea very much describes how she gardens.

Janet has a five acre garden.  That in and of itself tells you plenty about the level of Henry Mitchell-esque defiance of which she is capable and ready to put to use. She looks after that landscape every day, every year, as she believes that unexpectedly, the perfect garden moment might show up at the front door, and ring the bell.  Or maybe a good gardening friend, or the Queen of England; no doubt she would treat either visit with equal care. She intends to be ready.  But five acres of landscape also means the chances are excellent that on any given day, and in any given year, somewhere on that huge property, a garden disaster is either brewing or in full bloom.  She may tell me she is going to dig up all her roses, and grass over the damn spot, but don’t believe her.  I have never known her to give in, or give up.  All of us at one time or another give out; there are times when I am just too tired or too disgusted, but this state of mind never lasts very long.  Over the past 25 years I have seen Janet’s garden not ready for Janet-but I have never seen it not ready for her intended.

I sold my 5 acres fourteen years ago in order to finance the purchase of the building and property that houses my store.   I moved to a city house, with a city-size piece of land. The unexpected benefit?  My exposure to garden disaster is limited; I look after a tenth of what I used to. Some disasters may seem large, as there is no hiding them.  One of my Princeton Gold maples is such a disaster I may have to dig it out.  I may be thinking the “for pete’s sake” thoughts, but if I need to start over in that spot, I will.  I have no reason to complain; this tree thing will get sorted out.

Meaning,  I intend to be ready for my intended.  Every day when I get home, my garden and landscape gets what it needs for an hour or two-maybe more.  Buck is good natured about our conversation about the day that has to happen in tandem with the watering or the deadheading.  As he came to me with an exposure to landscape that involved riding the lawn mower around 3 hours, twice a week, like it or not, I am impressed with this.  Should I start to apologize for a particularly lengthy evening garden project,  he likely will interrupt with “What if  Janet rings up tomorrow that she would like to pop around for a look ?”   When I am done laughing, I realize she definitely is on my intended A list-as is anyone really serious about gardens.  I furthermore believe there are people on that list I have yet to meet , or I dream about meeting.  So like she does,  I do what I need to do, every day.

We are finally getting some warm weather. The Michigan dog days of summer can take their toll.  The grass threatens to go brown, there is fungus brewing in the magnolias, and the zinnias, at the end of a scorching day the pots wilt like I have not watered them in a month, the perennial garden flags, the panic grass falls over.  Such is the garden.  Keeping up every day is my only defense against coming home to disasters that have multiplied such I would want to fall to the ground and weep.  This I would no doubt recover from.  But what if I was about to meet my intended?

Last night the light was so beautiful when I got home. Buck was already watering, thank God.  I parked my car on the street, cleaned up the day’s garden debris, and got out my camera.  Though I do not think my 2009 garden has peaked yet, maybe it has.  Just in case, I took 189 pictures, of which I saved 50.  In 10 days, I may take another set, and throw these 50 pictures away.  Equally likely, in ten days a late summer storm with wind rain and hail could shred it all-and I will need those 50 pictures.  So I have a set of pictures I can look at while I am picking up the pieces, or when I can’t stand one more minute of snow, ice and 19 degrees.  Maybe a certain picture will show me in January that I need to make a change.  I take pictures regularly; this helps shore up my garden spirit,  given how ephemeral a garden can be, and how important the memories of it are to me.  Lest this sound entirely too gloomy, I firmly believe the best is yet to come for my garden, for Janet’s garden-for everyone’s garden.

At a Glance- Summer Color

                                                    dinnerplate dahlia

             nicotiana alata lime         green coleus cultivar              pilea
89          showy oregano                                     chocolate sweet potato vine

                                                    echinacea hybrid

white annual phlox      diamond frost euphorbia                angelina sedum

                                                    dahlia cultivar
accent pink impatiens         solenia orange begonia          caladium cultivar
scaevola     lime coleus     lime licorice  heliotrope     petunia sky blue

              teddy bear sunflowers     confetti rose      orange supreme rose