Sunday Opinion: Making An Overture

I know, this Sunday Opinion post is better than 24 hours late-sorry!  My weekend was packed with the best sort of thing- lots of company. That would be people, convening, over the garden.  Our first spring event ever at the shop, in celebration of our 15th anniversary, was a success.  What makes me think this?  We had lots and lots of people come-maybe more people that had ever been in the shop before-all at one time. There wasn’t a parking space for blocks.  Old friends yes, but many new people as well.  We made an invitation, and people came. All the gardeners who came-this made for the best part of the weekend. My friends in the nursery business who brought plants to sell-Bogie Lake Greenhouse, Julie’s Floral, Bordine’s Nursery, and Wiegands Nursery-it was great to have the chance to go public with those relationships so important to me and my business.

Everyone with whom I spoke to especially liked that other garden businesses were welcome and represented at my place.  Why would I leave them out?  Gardeners are willing to drive great distances for great plants.  Gardeners shop everywhere they can.  They know what is out there.  They know who does what well.  This place has swell dwarf conifers, and this place grows stellar geraniums, and this place specializes in water plants, and that place grows great fruit trees, and yet another place specializes in rare perennials or wildflowers. Want a tree-go here.  Should you want to see an important collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, go here.  Other garden businesses are not my enemy, they are my community.

Detroit Garden Works specializes in certain things.  We go to great length to represent fine ornament for garden.  We stock container plants that we love.  We stock plant material for the garden and landscape of size and age.  We are by no means a full service nursery-we specialize in the process of how a garden and landscape gets put together; we specialize in design.  We are good at that service that I call coaching. We do not grow-we buy what is well grown.  You were invited to meet those growers and landscape professionals I treasure. Great landscape professionals-you came to check out my choices.  It made for a great weekend. Many many thanks.

I intended to make that point about community at our spring fair-not one person missed that.  A business has that opportunity-to speak up about what they believe in; I took it.  To that end, a great garden takes a lot of work.  A great garden asks for some shopping around-and a lot of travel.  Should you be interested in doing that great thing on your own, shop at the farmer’s market before I get there.  Go lots of places, trust your eye.  Figure out what matters to you.  Read my essays-I am open about how I design, what I look at, what influences me, where I go-what stymies me. I have not one secret up my sleeve.  I only have my point of view. I promise to never make you work too hard to find out what my point of view is.  Take it, or leave it-no harm, no foul.  Absorb what you have a mind to, and move on.  I might help you-your choice.  It is your garden to own. We are all in this gardening thing together-are we not? Should you catch me in the shop, I am happy to tell you that point of view, face to face, as best I can. 

 A person interested in design on a more comprehensive basis-I do that too.  I can take a new house just finished sitting on a mound of dirt to another level.  Whatever problem I might see that I cannot handle, there is someone in my community I can direct you to.  My idea is about better landscapes.  Gorgeous gardens.  Better communities.   I want to be a part of that.  We are not the be all or end all-we are part of a group that helps people to have a landscape or garden or both-better than they thought they could have it. 

I am keenly interested in landscape and garden design.  However that happens, whether I am involved or not-enchants me.  Great landscapes are much more about thoughtful and enduring relationships than they are about lindens, or classical Italian terra pots.  About saying hello, and happy to meet you.  And then, about listening.  Later-planning.  Later yet, about older and solid relationships.  The lesson of the spring fair?  Any relationship is all about making an overture.  My design clients-I need to be sure I am inviting them to share in that process.  I need to be available.  In the shop-we need to be sure to issue regular invitations.  If you are a gardener, we intend to scoop you up, and invite you over.

I could not be more pleased about the response to my invitation to stop by and celebrate.  Thanks so very much.

At A Glance: The Saturday Fair


What a blast!  We had plenty of evidence today that our garden community is strong.  We had hundreds of visitors-wow!  Thanks to each and every one of you who came out today. A special thanks to you Kathe.  I am very pleased to have had the chance to meet you face to face. Today-a perfect moment.

The Spring Garden Fair

Our very first spring garden fair, in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Detroit Garden Works, is this weekend.  I do feel a little sheepish, making such a fuss about having become a teenager.  But the optimism that comes naturally to a gardener is a pretty big umbrella.  As much as I expect that the brown bulbs I planted last fall will eventually produce plants with gorgeous flowers, I expect to keep on providing the gardening community with a place that respects their interest. I am pleased with our teenage history.  We hung lime green dancing stars in the lindens today-recycled from a fundraiser we did for the Children’s Center in Detroit some years ago.  The mission of the Children’s Center is to help educate kids, and encourage them to work hard and do well.  Their efforts are aimed at helping kids to be properly equipped to have productive lives that make a contribution to their community.  This optimism I like.     I spent the day attending to all the last minute details.  Of course we have a few cut flower arrangements.  After all, this is a party. 

Most of my pots of bulbs planted last fall are still green; the spring has been very slow in coming.  But outside, there are signs of life.  My crocus patches at home are beautiful right now.  The weekend promises warm weather-the first we have had in many months. No gardener will fault me for my green foliaged bulb pots-they understand that nature is a big fluid situation. They will come back for the show-that date is yet to be announced.  

I will admit that many of the spring containers I planted up for this event have been in a greenhouse for some time.  Spring in Michigan can be so variable.  Last year, the spring was early, and moderate.  It might have been the most beautiful spring that has ever been my pleasure to witness.  This spring-where is it?  I think it might be arriving tomorrow. We have a great weather forecast for the weekend. 

I have planted lots of containers at the shop, and all of the window boxes- just for spring.  Though our spring has the potential to last only days, I prefer to focus on the potential part.  The only days part-I refuse to be bullied.   


I am not willing to give up planting pansies and violas over a worry about how many days they might last.  I am optimistic that everyone will benefit from a big dose of spring-I know I do.  What nature delivers to its winter weary population is welcome at my place.

Lettuce in flats-the promise of the good that is to come. Should you read this blog regularly, you know I plant lettuce in pots as it is beautiful.  I am not much of a vegetable gardener.  But I do eat lettuce most every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to make a salad, he’ll fix me a mess of greens, and dress them. Like most gardeners,  I need the greens.   


Vernissage is a French word referring most usually to the opening of an art exhibit.  It was the title of my first blog post April 1 of 2009.  Spring-it is the opening of an art exhibit that will go on and enchant for the next 7 months.  I hope to see you at the opening.  Should you live far away-we still have a community.  I will keep you posted.  I hope to hear from you.  Gardeners everywhere are about to celebrate spring.  Come round, should you have the chance.

A Cottage Garden

Mackinac Island, Michigan, is any perennial garden’s heaven on earth.  The drainage is perfect.  The breeze off the water and the cool nights keeps fungus at bay.  It is a lean life; there is not much soil.  But it is a good life.  The air and the water are clean.  The color of the flowers is brilliant.  Though the island is far north, the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Most anything hardy for me in the Detroit area is hardy there. Mackinac Island?  A really great place for a cottage garden.

A summer cottage on the island means there is no particular call for evergreen structure. There is no need for a winter landscape.  The summer perennial gardens can be the sum total of the landscape.This particular garden-every shrub was a rose.  The thriving Rosa Glauca at the top right of this picture was beautiful in bloom, and equally beautiful in leaf. The large stands of shasta daisies, beautiful.  

What exactly is a cottage garden?  My understanding is as follows. The origin of cottage gardens reside firmly on English turf; such is their history.  Big, easy, loose, breezy, informal, friendly, meadowy-a cottage garden gives space for every plant to be the best it can be.  No edging.  No roll call. Local-most assuredly. Situated in the village or neighborhood-of course.  Low key-by this I mean artless.  A hello garden.  Come round to see the columbines-they look rather good today.  Later, the delphiniums might be representing.  No need for a letter-just a friendly call.  The delphiniums look great-want to pop by for a glass of wine and a tour?      

Cottage gardens are welcoming. A stone walk leading to the house from a pair of garden gazebos asked for some planting, some softening.  Rock garden plants thrived here.  Armerias, thymes, sedums, heathers and heaths, saxifrage, iris setosa, flax-I could go on.  I planted this walk with the intent that the way to the front door would be a garden experience.  Walkways can be planted.  A walk can be a garden, should you plan for this.  Any tall plant in a walk can slow down the pace.  If you have a garden, you are in charge of the experience of that garden.  This garden says hello, welcome, how are you doing-so pleased to see you.  All of this exchange, easy and exuberant.      

Herbs played a big role in the plant material specified for this cottage garden.  This patch of dill-beautiful. Cottage gardens suggest utility as much as they suggest the beauty of nature.  The generous intersection of the beauty of nature, flowers, herbs, and optimitistic community.  This makes for a cottage garden.    

Hollyhocks-what could be better?  This stand, accompanied by the salvia hybrid May Night- this is a good look.  Old fashioned hollyhocks-most every cottage gardener would fall for them, as well they should.        

The Carefree Beauty rose hedge across the front of this cottage provided structure, and stature.  Shrub roses are so easy to love. They are equally easy to make happy. Why would you not have them?  A Mackinac garden is different than most-the spring and the summer run together.  The dianthus blooms with the roses.  There is but one big blooming each season.  This garden is particular to a place.  Your garden is equally as particular.  Take notes.       

Plants thrive, given a judicious placement.  This stand of lamb’s ears-really happy.  Should you have and love a cottage garden, place every plant in the spot you deem the best.  Plan, and plan again.  Plant.  Once you have planted. watch what happens.  Interfere as little as you can.  Expect to hear music.    

Certain plants speak to the cottage garden idea.  Shrub and species roses, monardas, salvias, hollyhocks.  Boltonia, shasta daisies, astilbe, hyssop, dill, fennel, species delphiniums, columbines, echinacea, asters, Japanese Anemones-and so on.   There are lots of perennial plants out there.  A version of spring arrived today in my zone; it is about time.       


The roses, the herbs, the tomato plants, the rock garden plants, the perennials, the meadow, this and the structure that-write a recipe, and cook.  It is spring.