Once A Year. This Is It!

We have been slammed at the shop since this past Monday.  Detroit Garden Works conducts one sale a year.  From the day after Christmas until January the 8th, we put every holiday item on sale for 50% off-and everything and anything else in the shop at 20% off.  Should you be a gardener interested in a bit of a bargain-once a year, we oblige.  This is it.  Jenny has plenty of pictures posted; www.detroitgardenworks.com.  After the 8th, we are open by chance or by appointment until March 1.  This gives us some time to travel, shop, repaint, clean, and plan.  So should you have a mind to drop by after January 8, email us, call ahead, or knock on my front door.        

Gardening might be best defined as a “this is it” pursuit. Should I neglect to plant crocus in the fall, I will have plenty of time regret it, come spring.  Should I not take the time to see and enjoy my March crocus, I might miss them. A two day span of exceptionally cold weather-those flowers will vanish-until next year.  There are times when I might turn back the clock, or ask for an extension-but time waits for no garden. Tune in to the crocus, or wait until next year.   

The hellebore flowers are not nearly so fragile.  They stay with me for a while in late March and April.  I make it my spring business to look at them every day.  Planting them on the driveway was no accident; I have two chances every day to enjoy them.   How the flowers emerge from the ground, mature, and dry right on the stalk is a process that takes weeks.  But once those weeks pass, hellebore heaven will have to wait until next year.  I leave the flowers be, hoping some seed will mature, drop and grow.        

I may photograph the tulips outside my office every day.  Like the hellebores, observing their manner of emerging from the ground and growing is a yearly treat.  The flowers are glorious.  They come in an extraordinary range of sizes, colors and forms.  For my pots in the garage, I bought smaller numbers and as great a variety as I could.  Why not try as many as possible?  I was caight flat footed by the early cold this fall; the pots were outdoors a little too long. Every time I look at these pots filled with dirt, I search for signs of a bulb-fest to come.  Nothing doing.  I’ll have my this is it moment, for better or for worse, months from now.     

With the exception of double bloodroot, no flower is more fleeting than the magnolia.  Really cold spring weather can shut down the show before it even opens.  No matter than you have a valid ticket. Should I be so fortunate to have a good show from my Galaxy magnolia, I can be assured it will not be a long one.  I have 2 chairs and a table on my upper deck.  They are placed to take advantage of the aerial view pictured above.   I may need a coat and hat, but I am out there. The ephemeral beauty of everything that blooms in my garden has much to do with why 2011 will be my 33rd gardening season.   

I cannot remember another year when the roses were this prolific. 2010 provided spectacularly great growing weather from early spring through June.  This John Davis rose of Janet’s was smothered in flowers for weeks. Wherever I saw roses, they were glorious.  Janet, who devotes her summer gardening life to her roses insisted that I come and spend some time with hers.  I am so glad I did.  On both of our minds-is this it?  Is this the best the roses will ever be?    

Even the Queen Anne’s Lace in the field was lush.  Regular rain early, and a very hot and dry July made the meadow next door look dreamy.  This was nature at its weediest best.      

The sunflower season is one of my favorites.  I buy them at market as often as I can.  There is not a form shape or color I do not like-although the orangy brown varieties seem a little silly.  I like my sunflowers to remind me of the sun, and sunny summer days.  I like to have bouquets of them throughout the season.  These stems I stuck into a large brick of oasis taped into a clear floral dish.  Sunflowers are big, heavy and unwieldy.  Worst of all, the water fouls quickly, and needs frequent changing.  I set this dish on top of a glas vase full of water which I tinted yellow with food coloring.  Amazingly, sunflowers last for days out of water altogether. 

By the time my Honorine Jobert anemones start blooming, I know the end of the season is not long off. The cooler nights make this once a year display go on for quite some time.  But once the nights turn very cold, the flowers vanish-until next year.   


The fall color on the Boston Ivy was short lived this year.  Some leaves dropped from cold before they turned. The color-not so great as it was in 2009.  But I had no complaints.  Once a year, I have my chance to enjoy it.

In Case You Missed It

My heart goes out to all of those people on the east coast who are up their proverbial armpits in snow.  I have never experienced 20 plus inches of snow at one time; this I cannot imagine.  I remember a storm in the late seventies while I was living in Ann Arbor.  I was young, unprepared, and had few options except to go home.  It took a week for me to be able to get there.  I still remember the 6 inch thick ice patches on I-94; the trip home was very, very slow, and very bumpy.  Not so many years ago we got a foot of snow in one fell swoop.  I stayed at the shop, ordered in pizza, and worked on a project during the five days it took for the neighborhood to get shovelled out.      

The snow that just buried New York and New Jersey goes far beyond imposing an enforced time out on the people who live there. They have serious trouble out there.   I am only lucky that weather that threatens lives comes my way only once in a blue moon.  Most of the time, should I be forced to change my schedule to accommodate the weather, I have enjoyed the show.  The winter holiday of 2005 was one of my favorites.  This is not to say that I did not work hard on my end.  The giant grapevine spheres and hickory bark strips Rob brought back from Europe needed a home.  He has this idea that I will figure out what to do with materials he likes.  I can be challenged by this, but I am not shy about taking on trouble.  Four thick 10 foot long bamboo poles buried in the concrete pots captured those spheres.  I cannot remember now how we managed it, but each grapevine sphere had a starlight embedded within. The hickory bark strips were stiff and ornery-they had to be wired on with concrete wire. They may look graceful, but the installation was anything but.  A finishing and thick nest of white pine at the bottom; we had a winter holiday going on.   

Rob had lit all the trunks of the lindens with garland lights. Light strings that have the bulbs spaced close-we like these.  More light, less wire-this makes for a very good winter look.  He always hangs something in the trees.  Who doesn’t have a tree in their yard that could use a winter outfit?  Simple flat gold stars, and red plastic sputnik ornaments-jazzy. 

We looked good at night-which means we looked good at 4:30 in the afternoon.  All the winter blue sky and snow and black trunks were just asking for a little electricity.  Among other things, Rob is incredibly good at designing with light and dark.  2005 was no exception.   

Upon reflection, I think these three dimensional lighted north stars had plastic arms that could be unscrewed. Once the light knob was inside the sphere, we could reattach the arms.  Any material that I can break down is a material that gets my attention.  I may only need half of it, or a wisp of it.  When in doubt about any material, cut it up, and put it back together in your own way. 

The front of the shop was subtly lit; the lights on either side of the front door did the lion’s share of the work.  The warm yellow of the spotlights on the pots-the resulting blue and yellow-we were pleased. 

 I was not much prepared for what nature thought to deliver- a substantial snowstorm.  The snow fall was fast and steady.  I went to bed in one world, and woke up in another, ala JB Priestly.  I think we had 10 inches in all of a wet snow that stuck fast to every surface it touched.

What I thought was a fine holiday display was transformed overnight in a way that took my breath away.  I had no hand in this whatsoever.  I was nonetheless thrilled it came my way, for me to see.   

My shop has never looked like it did this day-not before.  Not since. Very few photographs do justice to an experience, but this is the best record I have for that night.  Moments like this account entirely for my belief that nature rules my roost.  


Don’t be fooled by this picture-it took hours to dig out the front door to the shop. This branchy linden roof of snow-the finest it has ever been my privilege to witness.  My advice?  Be convinced by what you witness.  Once you have done that,  enjoy.

Keep The Lights On, Please

The only thing warm about my garden this late December afternoon are the lights. Some years I think to skip putting them up; I am invariably glad that I don’t give in to that idea.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like, seeing a city street or home lit with electric lights for the first time. Though in 1882 the first commercial power station ever built supplied light and electric power to 59 customers on Pearl St. in lower Manhattan, the widespread availability of electricity is a 20th century phenomenon. The landscape lighting permits me some interaction with my garden, at a time when there are more dark hours than light.   The magnolia garland does a good job of concealing the substantial light cords.  My glassed in front porch is a winter home to a pair of Italian terra cotta urns on plinths.  Just having them where I can see them , and lighting them, helps drive away the winter blues.  Though hand made terra cotta is vastly stronger than machine made, I would not leave these pots out over the winter.  Our winter weather is predictably vicious.  Luckily, this pot is beautiful in its empty state.   Though these pots appear to be terra cotta, they are actually fiber reinforced concrete.  I like the look; I like even better that I can leave them out all winter.  I left a double ball taxus topiary in the pot; I am hoping it will successfully survive the winter.  The volume of soil in this pot is huge, compared to the rootball in question.  I think that gives me better than decent odds of survival.  I watered right up until the ground froze.  Adequate water both late into the fall, and early in the spring, helps improve your chances of wintering evergreens in pots.  I wound lighted mixed evergreen garland on top of the soil. 

The yellow twig in the pots is a pale color, but it does not read well at night.  The lights in the evergreens helps light them considerably.  But once it is completely dark, a well placed andscape spotlight does a better job of rescuing them from the gloom.  The yellow twig does stand out against the dominant blue grey of the winter. 

The view into my side yard from the street would be bleak indeed without my lit evergreen tree. This large Italian style square concrete pot looks good planted for the winter.  A short statured cut Christmas tree is vastly less expensive than a live dwarf or topiary evergreen.  I really don’t mind being free of the responsibility to keep plants alive for a few months.  I have no plants inside my house-for exactly this reason.  Having 2 live topiaries in pots to worry through the winter was enough. Though I think my untrimmed Limelight flower heads look great over the winter, they are not much to look at in the dark.  

From inside the garden, the side yard gets to be tough to navigate, unless you are a corgi.  My lit tree not only lights up the entire side yard, it provides me with something bright to look at out of all of the south side windows.  I have no thought to pull the plug after New Years.  It is my plan to let the light shine until March first.  Though March is a winter month, but it is vastly better than January and February.  By that time, the days will be much longer than they are now; I will be ready to do without the lights.

I only have landscape lighting in the front of my house.  In the summer, it is light so late, I do not feel the need.  I am thinking it might be a good idea to plan for some lighting here for next winter, but in any event,  I do not have any plans to give up this lighted tree. 

Rob put these pots together for me.  I see them first thing when I come home at night, and when I leave for work in the morning.  He cut a disk of floral foam that fit each urn, and frosted them with strings of C-7 white lights.  Then he stuck umpteen dozen stems of dried rose hips, and several bunches of copper curly willow into each disk, taking care not to puncture a cord.  This pair of pots are giant night lights; they glow.  This construction would be great for those places in the garden that could stand to have the lights switched on. 

This cheers me as much as a fire in the fireplace-maybe more. I like that this winter pot uses no evergreens whatsoever-just sticks, and lights.  The rose hips dried and are stuck fast on the stems, making them an ideal material for a winter pot.  All you need is the patience to collect lots of sticks, and stick them.  I like the big old fashioned C-7 lights.    

A neighbor behind and several doors down from me stuffed a giant yew in his front yard with lights for the holiday.  This is one of the better parts of living in an urban community; the good lighting works of others make my winter better.

Sunday Opinion: Enchanted

No person in their right mind would avoid the opportunity to be enchanted. I use the word opportunity loosely; it really is the wrong word.  The experience of enchantment cannot be summoned, or conjured.  If I could really demand enchantment, it would come reluctantly- sulking and muffled-as if wrapped in a wet blanket. Engineering is best applied to roads and buildings, not moments.  I have always thought the French word “enchante” was as much a spontaneous expression of surprise as it is a gesture of appreciation.  Do you agree?  One cannot foresee an enchanted moment or experience; it is the spontaneous gift of another. It more often than not is the unintended gift of another. More than once I have given a gift, sure that it would enchant.  The very moment I am sure it will enchant, my gift souffle is doomed to crumple and fall flat.  Other gifts I thought bordered on a big bunch of nothing were received as if they had an energy supply all their own. Funny, that.  To paraphrase JB Priestly, the first fall of snow is not just an event, it is a magical event.  One goes to bed in one world, and wakes up in another. 

Anyone who gardens understands this.  We all know the snowdrops bloom here in March, but to suddenly and unexpectedly see the snowdrops in bloom is enchanting.  Some springs I am unexpectedly awakened by birds singing-that singing is so powerful, given its long absense. A gift-that sure singing sign that winter is over. Though nicotiana alata lime is my most favorite annual flower, I am perennially shocked by the beauty of the first blooms.  And the last blooms.  A gangly 5 foot tall Venus dogwood I planted on a lark in a client garden in 2005 knocks me over and out- on a chance June visit in 2010; I had never seen any tree flower like this.  The clematis hybrid Sho-Un, clumsily planted in heavy clay and shade early in my 20’s gardening life, bloomed intermittently, and continuously that entire summer.  That heliotrope blue was unforgettable.  I bought a one way ticket; that enchanting experience made me a gardener. For years, the space I devoted to my parrotia grove makes me wonder what I was thinking.  In 2008, all of a sudden I noticed the thick and curving trunks, and the bark dramatically exfoliating.  The science of the maturation of trees was not on my mind-just the magic.  Just as I was about to pull out every shred of herniaria in my front gardens, the weeds disappeared.  No more verbena bonariensis seedlings.  No more crabgrass. No more poa grass.  No more oxalis.  No more dead spots.  That all my troubles disappeared by magic-enchanting. Not that I believe solely in the magic part-it was a gift.  From whom, I cannot say.  But most gardening days I go to bed in one world, and wake up in another.

This late summer , there were sightings at the shop.  A woman unbeknownst to any of us, coming to the shop on Sunday mornings, setting up props, and photographing.  One Sunday, the police called.  I drove over.  She had set up a dressmaker’s form in a limestone pot.  On the form, a stole trimmed in fake fur, child-sized.  A hat, and a fake fur muff.  I asked her if I could help her; we talked.  Though she had a job at a dress shop, she designs and hand makes beautiful princess dress clothes for young women.  They were beautifully executed.  Her Sunday forays to the shop-she wanted to photograph her work with that garden in the background.  I saw no problem with that; we parted on friendly terms.  Just last week, she unexpectedly comes to the shop with a giant box of Christmas cookies.  But it was the letter that was enchanting.  It was all about her passion to make clothes for young people.  Every stitch supported her argument; this I already knew.  But she wrote me compellingly about how the shop garden enchanted her.   She believed her work would be endowed with the magic with which she sought to create them-photographed in front of the shop.    She was so pleased I had listened to her, and agreed. One never knows how much the simplest response can mean to another. It was a gift I never had any intention of giving.

My blood family consists of a brother Pete, and his wife, Tine. That Tine-she is an angel. For as long as she has known Pete, she has been so exceptionally good to me.  When they lived here, I had an invitation to dinner every single Sunday.  She took it upon herself to sort out some accounting problems for me-she is a CPA.  She would stop by for no reason, bring me things for no reason. They moved to Aspen some years ago-that was tough for the both of us. Her love at my back enchants my life.

She sent me, among other things,  a Christmas ornament of the Eiffel Tower.  It took my breath away.  That is to say, this ornament inexplicably enchanted me.  I hung it up, and took lots of photographs.  I haver been thinking about this gift for the better part of two days; I have never been to Paris. She says, should I have a mind to, she will go with me.  This further enchants me. I am thinking I might go to Paris.

For me, the lesson of the holiday is simple.  Give what you can.  Good things can come of that.  You never know what gesture that you might make that could resolve itself in enchantment for all. There is always the chance you will go to bed in one world, and wake up in another.  This day after Christmas, thanks to a gift from Tine, I am thinking about Paris.