The Lattice Box

Lattice refers to overlapping strips of wood or metal joined on the diagonal.  That placement produces diamond shaped air, or empty spaces; the steel or wood forms a continuous series of X’s.  How hard it is to describe in words a shape any gardener would instantly recognize in the garden.  Lattice patterned fence panels, screens, and trellises have graced many a garden.  That diagonal construction is strong.  The large open spaces make it an ideal home for vines that benefit from having places from which to grow in and out.  A lattice screen lets air get to the air conditioner while shielding its bulky steel from view.  A lattice fence provides a kind of privacy that is casually airy.  Why box yourself in, if you don’t need to?  Of course I had a mind to design a lattice box.  My first try featured a button medallion set in a solid diamond.  Should you look carefully at this diamonds, they are perfectly scaled for the size of the panel, and perfectly constructed-all of that is Buck’s doing.  The liner is made of extira board-that water repellant rot proof composite material from which signs are made.              

I know, that first box has something of the look of a Brownie camera-a steel framework around that Brownie camera brown board.  The next boxes featured painted extira board.  We always use Porter paint for any ornament outdoors-their 100% acrylic paint is tough as nails.  The plain rectangular shape at the top did a good job of featuring the lattice pattern, without it becoming visually overwhelming.

This client changes the color of his liners every few years.  The ability to easily and entirely change the look of a container is appealing.  I have one client who had us paint the reverse surface of her liners cranberry red-for the holidays.  The liners are actually 4 separate pieces that drop in behind the lattice.  A finished frame at the top covers the raw edges of the board, and makes for a completely finished appearance.     

Years later, I have moved the plain rectangular planter to the bottom.  I cannot explain why I like this so much better, but I do. These tall boxes look grounded, not top heavy.  They have an elegant air, to my eye.  We make square lattice boxes, but some gardens ask for a little height.  This picture records the first four all steel lattice boxes Buck has made for the Branch Studio.  He just finished them 2 weeks ago.  There is a way in which these four boxes have been 7 years in the making.  I can only say thoughful design takes time; the design and construction of this container has evolved over time.    

Buck welds what are called squashed ball feet to the bottoms of these boxes.  The squashed balls give the visual impression that the box is very solid and very heavy. Those ball feet gone flat are one of my most favorite features of this box.  They are what they appear to be-in the business of beautifully and strongly supporting the life of citrus trees, topiaries, or flowers.     

Once the box gets its final finish, I am pleased to be thinking about how they will outlast me.  They will last my lifetime, and others beyond me.  The fabrication of this box gives me the same pleasure that I get from planting a tree.       

Buck did fabricate a number of steel lattice boxes with copper liners.  All I can think about looking at this picture is a copper lattice box with a steel liner.  How would that look?  The very best part of gardening is how a garden evolves.  The best part of the creative process is that the process is never finished.   

Buck made this steel pergola for the Branch Studio years ago.  I am sure it looks much the same today as it did then.  Sturdy and enduring objects for the landscape enchant me.  I like any garden ornament draped in some kind of story, or history.  My respect for the history of gardens and their ornaments fuels my design.  I am always wondering where I might go from there.   

Buck went there,  all on his own.  He had a mind to construct a series of lattice spheres.  They are amazing and beautiful structures.  How he imagined and fabricated a lattice structure in the round-way beyond my ability.       

Since the fifteenth century, fruit trees have been grown in a two-dimensional lattice known as a Belgian fence.  I sold and planted this group of five latticed pear trees two years ago.  One cannot see the lattice structure at this moment-every tree is studded with pears.  My gardening life-equally studded with pears.

Broom Corn Shocks

Given Michael’s comment about the centerpiece in the pots I wrote about yesterday, maybe I need to expand a little about broom corn.  I wrote about it in great detail a year ago-type “broom corn” into the search line of this blog, if you are interested.  The porch pillar in this picture has been completely engulfed with broom corn shocks.  The wiry stems of the seed heads of the sorghum plant I call broom corn is indeed used to make brooms.  The stems and long lasting seed heads on their long stalks are a favorite fall material of mine.  They stand up to the weather, they represent all of those great colors we associate with fall.   This client clearly has has kids-thus the Halloween slant on fall. We encased the stalks of the broomcorn in dried willow stems.  A double loop of bark covered wire keeps the shocks securely skyward.      

The shocks I buy at market are 6 to 8 feet tall.  I remove most of the lower leaves.  The upper leaves that I leave dry and twist in a way I cannot predict, but always like.  We wired the shocks to this porch pillar; a giant bow of orange raffia that covers that wire adds an unexpectedly dressy bow tie type note to those natural stems.  I try to edit as little as possible.  Preserving the feeling of a naturally grown plant is an essential element of using cut materials.   


The fall season is all about slowing down, going dormant, preparing for winter.  That said, there are certain plants that are never better than they are just before a hard frost.  That fall leaf ripe with fall color that moment before it falls-beautiful.  The broom corn seed heads hang on tenaciously throughout the fall-they insure that my fall season container plantings goes long.  Plan to be at your local farmer’s market early on Saturday.  You will not be disappointed.  Any plant in the garden speaks modestly.  Once you have a mind to feature a certain plant, modest moves up and out.  Any beautiful move in a garden, a landscape, or a container depends on you.

Constructing The Centerpiece

No matter what season is in question, a centerpiece in a container planting can organize the planting, and enrich the visual experience.  Fall in my zone means a limited selection of plants grow at a vastly reduced rate.  My summer pots have nicotiana mutabilis topping 6 feet now-none of my fall plants will grow like this.  I have no objection to creating a centerpiece in a fall pot from natural materials that have already grown up, and been harvested.  A case of really beautiful bittersweet arrived a few days ago-I could not wait to use it in some fall container plantings. 

Other natural materials are from places far from my home.  Bahia spears-I have not the faintest idea what plant produced these stems.  They are stiff and woody; these chocolate and gold stems look just like fall.  Dried natural materials are an element that can spice up a fall planting. I love each and every one of my living plants, but the ability to create a shape from natural materials, and integrate that into a planting is great fun-try it!      

The base of this centerpiece-a pair of broomcorn shocks.  Broomcorn-yes, this plant has been widely grown for for brooms.  This means the stalks are stiff and weather impervious.  The seed heads come in a range of colors from cream to red to black.  I zip tie several bunches around a stout bamboo stake.  That stake will keep my centerpiece straight up and down, no matter the weather.  Zip ties-love them.  They hold the heaviest centerpiece together.  I use lots of them, in the early stages of construction.This centerpiece is ready; there are three layers- all zip tied to a stake.  The lower tier-10 faux grass stems.  Fault me if you will for the fake statement, but anything that pleases my eye is ok.  The long portion of this stake will be set way down into to soil of a pot.  This stake is an anchor, and a rudder.  A centerpiece gone out of level is not a good look.  The centerpieces need to stand up straight.  The beauty of any design depends on what your eye can believe.  This centerpiece has a ways to go, before I would call it finished.    

This three tiered centerpiece gets some air from the bittersweet vine sections, and a welcome shot of fall color. I cut the stems on an extreme angle, and work them under the zip tie.  These wild and curving stems will start to loosen up that strictly zip tied affair.  I use lots of zip ties in the construction of a centerpiece, as it will need to travel to the job.  Should you be constructing a fall centerpiece for a treasured pair of pots-go large, go tall-be loose. The ties you do not really need once the entire container is finished can be cut off, for a looser yet effect. 

My centerpiece made the trip to the job without any damage.  It is very heavy, but easy to handle.  My crews handle anything I send their way with aplomb.  The fabric you see draped over the edge of a pot keeps the pot from getting dirty on the rim.  The tarp on the ground is there for the same reason.  A little care keeps the cleanup part fast and easy.  The Redbor kale are the center plants.  These we plant first, so its easy to tell exactly where the centerpiece goes.  Getting the centerpiece in the center is as important as making sure it is perfectly upright.         

Levelling the centerpiece takes some time-and at least four hands.  Once that centerpiece is set, level, and solid, we tweak.  The top most zip tie-we cut that off.  We move this element up, we move that element down.  We deconstruct what we constructed. This is the most important part.  A centerpiece has to be strong and securely made.  But how it gets loosened up is what creates a very natural look.   

All of the elements of the centerpiece gets adjusted after it is installed.  I try to integrate it with the living material in such a way that it all looks lively, and of a piece.

Fall  plantings are all about some cabbages, some mums, some late representing grasses, the pansies-those plants that tolerate cold temperatures.  But fall container plantings are greatly about that gardener that has a mind to represent fall in a way they think is beautiful.    

What is in your yard, drying, now?  Sounds like a centerpiece to be, to me.

If your yard is light on materials that might work in a container, your local nursery or famer’s market is bound to have something. There are lots of possibilities for fall pots- make the most of having a choice.  Your fall pots have lots of possibilities.  Make much of the fall plants that tolerate the cold.  Make more of putting it all together.

Buck’s Fruits And Vegetables

A Canadian city north of Toronto is in the process of updating its library and landscape.  They have devoted some of their property to the development of a space suitable for a farmer’s market.  I suspect they are interested in the library being a community center of sorts, which will attract lots of visitors-for lots of reasons.  I like this idea.  I do think libraries are very important.  Books tell stories, and teach.  Libraries give anyone, everyone, access to books.  What is written or pictured in books is priceless-they are in a way the sum total of our knowledge and our art.  Farmer’s markets are another community icon-over the growing of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Much of the fabric of a family is woven over shared meals.  This is the sum total of our community.  I place as much value on this as I do the works of Shakespeare.  The landscape architect commissioned four steel sculptures which will be placed in the new market area landscape.  He was intrigued by Buck’s strap steel spheres, and wanted sculptures in that manner to represent fruits and vegetables.        

I think Buck must have more clamps than any other artisan on the planet.  When he is welding steel straps to one another, every piece must be clamped into place before he fires up that torch.  Before the clamps came out, he did a series of drawing based on the architect’s specifications.  Once the drawings were approved, he printed the vertical steel ribs on a plotter exactly the size they would be in the finished sculpture.  These drawings were 20 times the size of what comes out of my printer.  The steel could be laid to the paper, and bent in the proper arc.        

The vertical ribs were bent in a 3-axis vertical roller.  The steel may appear slight in these pictures, but steel is very strong.  It cannot be bent evenly in a prescribed curve without a mechanical slip roller.  Each vertical rib was welded to a 24″ diameter steel base.  The sculptures will be installed over a light fixture which will illuminate the sculptures at night; this base will accomodate that light.    

The vertical ribs were bent to exactly match the curves indicated on the drawings.  The hroizontal ribs-now the fabrication gets very difficult.  The horizontal ribs needs to be rolled in circular shapes to start.  But in order for those ribs to lay flat on the vertical ribs, they needed a second rolling. A rolling that expresses the cant. You see how this lowest rib lays flat against the vertical rib-there were multiple steps getting the steel to perfectly mimic this shape.

This strap steel pumpkin is a low oval shape, without many clues as to its identity.  Strap steel does not lend itself to delicate gestures.  The curved stem is a signature. 

The raw steel shows all of the welds, and the streaks that come from high heat.  The stem is constructed from vineyard bar-steel embossed with the pattern of grape vines. All of the construction marks will disappear, once the piece gets its finish.  Sculpting in steel is exhausting work.  Buck came home plenty of nights to tell that this sculpture was just about to get the best of him.    Every moment is consumed with handled the weight and changing its shape with high heat and electricity.  This stem will make the identity of this sculpture easy.  

The apple is tall and gracefully curved.  I will confess it reminded me of a hot air balloon-until he attached the stem and leaf.  Poof-apple here. 

It interests me that these very abstract shapes got a representational identity boost with something so simple as a stem and a leaf.  This part of the sculptures was more about sculpting than recreating a paper based drawing in steel.   

This squash is almost 6 feet tall. Imposing, this.  No stem was called out.  I think it will hold its own just fine.   

The pear was the bear.  The shape is not in the least bit symmetrical.  At some point, I saw Buck and Dan throw their drawings away, and fabricate by instinct. Drawing this shape may be easy-making it takes a world of time and trouble. I am sympathetic.  There are times that I need to leave the landcape plan in the car, and just dance.   

Tomorrow these raw steel sculptures will enter the first phase of finishing.  I promise to post pictures of the final finish, before they are crated and shipped. This is a quick visual on the way to a finished sculpture.  Buck and his group turn out some very fine pieces-yes.