At A Glance: Cafe Au Lait Dahlia

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In early June, I published an essay about the garden to come in the front yard of Detroit Garden Works called “Color Scheming”.  A dahlia named cafe au lait I had read about on Gardenista had gotten my attention. It did not take long for me to decide to organize and design the entire garden around that coffee infused with cream colored dahlia.  My grower managed to obtain and grow on 30 of them for me.

cafe au lait Dahlia (33)The dahlias got planted in the big garden beds in front of the shop, along with a white dinnerplate dahlia, white and lime nicotiana, and lots of purple and bicolor angelonia.  The window boxes were planted with lots of different flowers that I imagined would feature the color and form of that extraordinary dahlia. cafe au lait dahlia (16)The first cafe au lait bloomed today.  The color is everything I had imagined-smoky, creamy, a beige based utterly pale pink .  I cut that stem, and set it in lots of different places in the window boxes – just to see how and if the colors I had chosen for those boxes would compliment a dahlia that I had never seen before.  The following ridiculously large number of pictures is a sign of how pleased I was.

cafe au lait dahlia (17)The coffee and white dahlias are just coming on now-there are buds showing all over the big in ground planting. As I have said before, any response to color is a highly individual and emotional response.  I am delighted with what I am seeing. The excitement over the coming of the dahlias is one of many reasons why I enjoy gardening.  Some days, everything going on in the garden is all good.

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cafe au lait dahlia (18)Today was a very good day to be a gardener.

Learning

July 14 2014 (11)Lots of people ask me about how I work with color in the garden.  How I decide on a color scheme for a container.  I have tried to write about my process, but I always have the nagging feeling that the discussion falls short.  Frustrating, this.  Though I know that any creative process cannot be quantified, or reduced to a step by step, I would teach, if I could.  I had occasion recently to view a video of a TED talk, thanks to Buck.  TED, if you are familiar, is a forum for presenting speakers who have something to say about ideas worth spreading.  Interested?  www.ted.com.   He keeps up better than I do-about what there is out there to learn.  Her had me listen to a talk given by Joi Ito.

July 14 2014 (12)In March of 2011 he was interviewing for the directorship of the MIT media lab. Late that night, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, just several hundred kilometers from his wife, children and family.  In the terrifying hours that ensued, he discovered that he could not reach his family.  Nor was any government or news agency broadcasting any information about the damage to nuclear reactions by the earthquake. Frantic for information about his family, and for all the other families besieged by a disaster of this scale, he went to what he knew.  The internet.

July 14 2014 (5)In the following hours and days he contacted friends, hackers, scientists and families and put together a citizen science group he  called Safecast.  Over the next few months this group of amateurs with no scientific or governmental standing managed to invent a process by which to measure the radiation levels.  They put geiger counters on the ground; they measured the radiation.  They made available at no charge information that people could use.  Information for anyone for whom this earthquake had devastatingly personal consequences.

July 14 2014 (4)In his talk, he speaks eloquently of how his drive to get the information he wanted and needed was enabled by the internet.  The volume of information out there that can be accessed is limitless.  The internet allows people who have similar interests to meet digitally.  His discussion of how the internet makes it possible for citizens of certain groups to meet and solve problems which transcend any map or country interested me.  Most certainly passionate gardeners are citizens of a country all their own.

July 14 2014 (3)Joi Ito went on to discuss in simple terms the process of learning. What stood out to me the most?  “Education is something that someone else does to you.  Learning is something one does to/for oneself.”   I like this idea.  In fact, I like it a lot.  If anyone would ask me what was most valuable part of my college education, I would have to say that I learned how to learn about what interested me.  Of course the world has changed immeasurably since 1970.

July 14 2014 (14)One can access an seemingly limitless amount of information with a computer or a smart phone.  Anyone can learn whatever it is that they truly want to learn.  As far as developing a personal sense of how to user color in containers-I did not study this in school.  I was interested enough to learn. That learning process, which is still ongoing, and still of great interest to me, was all about the doing.  Plenty of color combinations did not work out so well. But their is as much to learn from those combinations that do not work out, as there is from those that do.

July 14 2014 (14)How people perceive color is very personal.  What appeals to my eye may not appeal to yours.  But that is not the point. Anything you see that interests or intrigues you may encourage you enough to learn what you need to know to express your own ideas. To understand what color relationships appeal to you as a gardener is all the fun of it.

July 14 2014 (15)Mr. Ito’s talk was very interesting.  Want to watch it for yourself?     http://www.wimp.com/wantinnovate/

Big Pots

foliage-plants.jpgI am usually done planting containers by the 4th of July.  This year, a very late cold spring meant my container plantings have gone late.  Thankfully most of these late plantings are for clients who had containers planted for spring.  Today we planted 21 very large containers for a commercial client.  As much as I like the idea of having acreage available in which to thoroughly express a container planting idea, big pots can be a challenge.  The plants have to grow to sufficient size to balance, offset, and compliment the size of the container. The late call for planting means I am shopping everywhere for plants in their prime that can answer the call.

July 8 2014 (67)This container is large enough to hold the both of us, and then some. The size of the building entrance, and the building obviously asks for containers of this size.  Proper proportion is a very important element of good design.  Big places need big pots.  Big pots need bigger plantings.  A garden dining table may be perfectly dressed with a low container of much smaller dimensions.  Every space comes with its own visual demands.  Whatever the size of a space, I like to size up with a container.  And further size up with a planting.  Container plantings that go wider, or taller than a container helps keep all of the elements proportional.  A bit more green than pot makes for a happy relationship.  That said, a beautifully shaped or detailed pot might be better featured with an underscaled planting.  The tenants of good design can be broken to great effect. The rule about rules is best summed up by the fact that there are no rules.  Beautiful in the garden has everything to do with an eye that rules and the gardener in charge.

July 8 2014 (71)A big city downtown is more hard surfaces than green spaces. Vast hard spaces.  Businesses who own big buildings understand that the experience of the city is softened by generous sized plantings in containers.  A big container in a city is an opportunity to make a statement about nature in a place that is anything but natural. When we plant downtown, it is a rare passerby who does not comment, or stop to talk.  The natural world is a place that all of us respond to.

July 8 2014 (82)I do think the plantings should appeal, interest, or provoke those people who come and go. They should be scaled such to provide a natural visual haven. Designing for containers in public places requires lots of thought, and a lot more shopping.  The pots we planted today meant a previous busy week of scouting what material would be available the second week of July. Some plants I have to rule out.  I was not interested in blooming plants that needed a lot of deadheading.  Or a watering schedule that could not be quantified. Or plants that would not grow large.  Plants for commercial projects need to grow vigorously.  Fuss budget plants need not apply.

July 8 2014 (91)Commercial plantings in the shade are the toughest to design. Urban shade is different than your shade.  Cities with hard surfaces everywhere means that light gets reflected from cars and the street into the shadiest spaces. Planting shady commercial spaces with sun plants is a gamble that routinely pays off.  The reflected light keeps those sun plants thriving.  Plants that thrive in the sun also thrive with less than perfect watering.  Some commercial spaces tucked underneath awnings or expansive overhangs-sun or shade?   I went with the shade here.  The alocasia and the abutilon should grow large and arch over this container, given enough water. This combination, properly watered, with thrive in the shade.

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These pots are under a large awning.  However, this is a very light shady spot.  The glare in the window of the revolving door makes that obvious. There is no worry about a lack of light.  There is a worry about the water though.  Even in a pelting rainstorm that must have dropped between 1 and 2 inches of rain, none of that rain got into these pots.  They will have to be hand watered.

July 8 2014 (92)I am sure you have noticed by now that many of the plant choices for these shady pots are foliage plants.  The centerpiece of this pot is a strelitzia-a bird of paradise.  They can grow to an enormous size, and they are quite tolerant of shade.  The wasabi coleus is a big grower too.  I have seen it grow to better than 3 feet tall in a single season.  The caladiums do a great job of representing the color red in a big way.  The wasabi coleus above, and the lime licorice and creeping jenny below do a great job of making that red glow.

July 8 2014 (93)Big growing and large leaved foliage plants do a great job of stepping up to large containers. The light coming through the leaves-beautiful.

 

Roses On The Mend

007Once the piles of snow melted this spring, the rose news was not so good.  All of my roses were holding onto their dead leaves for dear life-as if our terrible winter caught them completely off guard.  This scene just about broke my heart. A good part of the heartbreak was the uncertainty about the future.  Were my roses dead? The early spring was cold and unfriendly.  The garden was groggy, and slow to wake up.  This story was a story about uncertainty that went on for weeks.

AQpril 26 2014a (17)I did not touch them-that was pure instinct.  It looked as though every cane was dead. The idea of giving up this old rose garden was very tough to take. The late spring meant we have had an incredibly busy spring at work.  I quit looking at the roses, and hoped for a miracle.  Hoping for a miracle-what else was there to be done?

ROSES 2014 (2)More than a few readers of this blog have suggested that our foul winter meant the roses got a rejuvenation pruning.  This is polite talk for dead back to the ground. Dead back to the ground, I have learned, does not mean dead.  I am glad I have been to busy to fuss over them. It took well into May to see what was gone for good, and what would survive. I watered deeply when it was hot and dry-that’s all. Today’s story? Most of the climbers died back to the ground.  The few canes of Jeannie Le Joie that survived are bravely blooming.  All of the climbers, including Eden, are coming back strong, from the root. Only one shrub rose is dead.  Two of them I suspected were dead send up new canes jut a week ago.   I decided not to cut back the dead climbing canes.  My idea is to attach the new canes coming on from the ground to the trellis made by the old canes.  How do those surviving canes look today? Not gorgeous.  Just brave.

ROSES 2014 (4)My Carefree Beauty and Sally Holmes roses are coming back strong from below ground.  The foliage is glossy green, and full sized.  A scant month ago I was sure this garden would need to be replanted from start to finish.  Not so.  The will to live is a very strong will indeed. Any plant that is challenged by a brutal winter, or a lack of water, or a swarm of Japanese beetles-plants respond on their own schedule. The first and the last word belongs to nature. The Carefree Beauty roses I have blooming now are indeed a little miracle.

ROSES 2014 (6) I am delighted about this turn of events.  The two burned spots in the boxwood is the only winter damage I have to any of my boxwood. I was lucky in that regard. The roses are almost 5 feet tall.  The Japanese anemone and boltonia are spreading their wings, with all the space and sun they have now.

Sept 8, 2013 (182)I took the following pictures last June. This June is remarkably different, but I wonder if that winter rejuvenation pruning to prove to be all for the better. I have the feeling I will have beautiful roses again.  It just may take a while.

Sept 8, 2013 (184)Roses blooming

Sept 8, 2013 (153)Roses

Sept 8, 2013 (160) I am pleased the roses are on the mend.