The Spring Fair

Spring fair 2014 (30)Detroit Garden Works hosted the first day of its annual spring garden fair yesterday.  In 2010, we decided to sponsor a spring fair for a a few good reasons.  Rob has shopped overseas for Detroit Garden Works for 18 years.  In fact, we just had a container from Belgium arrive a few days ago.  In his travels, he has had occasion to attend garden fairs in a number of different countries, in spring summer and fall.  The European fairs feature growers of plants, vegetables and fruits.  Some fairs have chickens for sale, or mushrooms in season. People of a gardening persuasion have a chance to gather over a coffee and a little something to eat.

Spring fair 2014 (36)We are firmly behind celebrating the spring season.  Michigan winters are long and hard.  This past winter was a record breaking heartbreak.  Once nature suggests that the winter is about to be over, we like to celebrate.  Last year’s fair proceeded as scheduled despite very cold temperatures, and snow flurries. 11 vendors representing topiary plants, spring flowering shrubs and tree peonies, cut flowers, spring container plants, herbs, wildflowers, spring flowering perennials including an extensive collection of hellebore cultivars, tools, succulents, spring wreaths, dry and preserved materials-I believe I even saw a strelitizia in bloom.

Spring fair 2014 (33)Spring was in the air. Yesterday was the best weather we have had in 6 months. The day was marked by lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of smiles.  Even though we provide valet parking as so many people attend  this event, lots of people parked blocks away and walked. The day was that nice.  If you plan to come to the fair today, and park your own car, be advised that no cars can be parked blocking the bike path that is a bridge over Telegraph.  When in doubt, let the valet people park your car.

Spring fair 2014 (26)Of course there was plenty of talk about the ruins of our winter, but there is nothing like an incredibly bad winter to make the experience of the first spring day so welcome.  Liberating.  We had as many people outdoors walking the shop grounds as indoors. We’ll be open today from 14 to 4.  If you have a mind to, come to the fair.

Spring fair 2014 (8)parrot tulips

Spring fair 2014 (19)pots of grape hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (5)bunches of sweet peas

Spring fair 2014 (32)spring fair

Spring fair 2014 (9)daffodils and hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (10)Juliet roses

Spring fair 2014 (25)potted pansies and violas

Spring fair 2014 (28)spring container planting with dianthus and violas

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgCome to the fair!

Spring fair 2014 (15)box of daffodils

Spring fair 2014 (6)cut pale pink parrot tulips with variegated leaves

Spring fair 2014 (3)the Weed Lady booth

Spring fair 2014 (4)cineraria and moss phlox from Bogie Lake greenhouse

Spring fair 2014 (12)pots of miniature daffodils

pansies and lettuceSpring it on.

Moss It

DSC_9020The signs of spring in my area are still few and far between.  I do have a few crocus just coming into bloom now – in April, for pete’s sake. My garden cannot be cleaned up yet, as a layer of ice still covers most of it.  I have winter pots still so frozen in place I cannot take them apart.  But I have other options for spring.  As in planting pots for spring.  We are in the process of planting lots of them for the shop.  Shortly we will be planting spring pots for clients.  I do have a love for mossed containers.  Nature represented in both the top and the bottom is a very good look. Lining moss baskets has always been about the art of patching.  Florist’s moss comes packed in cases of pieces.  Some moss pieces are big and thick.  Rob calls these moss hides.  Some pieces are thin and small.  A wirework basket may need a number of pieces of moss, stitched together via a puzzle of overlapping pieces.  Any natural material comes in all manner of natural shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

DSC_9021One of our suppliers had the brilliant idea of attaching moss to a biodegradable backing.  Don’t ask me how they do this-I have no clue.  But I do know that mossing a wire basket just got a whole lot easier.  For a round wirework container, Rob rolls the container in a natural arc across the moss mat.  He marks that radius with a nursery marking pen.  The marks describing the top of the container, and the bottom.  That pair of lines create an arc.  He cuts that arc big and wide- oversized.

DSC_9025That arc derived from the top and bottom of the container means that the moss mat fits smoothly inside the basket.   Of course there is a lot of fussing.  Anything in the garden that means much to a gardener requires the work of a pair of hands.  A pair of hands on a shovel, or a hose, or a rake.  As for my gardening efforts today, I am putting my hands to planting containers for spring.

DSC_9026Not that I do as good a job as Rob does.  He has infinite patience.  He eases the moss mat into place.

DSC_9028The bottom of this wirework container is filled with drainage material. By a third.  Container plantings require more drainage material than soil.  Waterlogged plants never prosper, unless you plan to pot up bog plants.  A seasonal pot planting does well with bark as drainage material. Making sure that water can drain from a container is essential.

DSC_9031After the bark, the container is filled with soil.  We use a soil mix that is custom blended for us.  Lots of compost.  A big dash of sand.  And soil.  We do not use peat based growers mix in our pots.  Soilless mixes are perfect for professional growers who can manage the fertility levels and water to a tee.  For gardeners, we recommend a soil based mix. We like dirt.

DSC_9033The upper side of the moss mat gets folded over. A rolled moss edge looks generously finished.  That thickness contrasts beautifully with the thin wire that describes the shape of the container.   That roll also helps to keep the soil right where it belongs-inside.

DSC_9034Once the wirework container is moss lined, it is time to plant the plants.  For this pot, white tulips, white English daisies, and white variegated ivy.

DSC_9038Planting a pot no doubt involves design.  Color, texture, mass-and a vision about the mature shape of the planting.  But planting a pot is also about that magical moment.  An idea. The plants. The dirt.  The act of planting.

DSC_9043This mossed wirework basket-an expression of spring.  An expression of spring?  I expect both nature and every gardener to be making news, soon.

A Sunny Window Sill

DSC_8638I was shocked to see that a post I wrote just about this time last year featured the same dirty snow and cold temperatures we are having right now.  It’s easy to forget that as a winter month, March can be only slightly more moderate than February.  As a spring month, it is stingy with both the sun and moderating temperatures.  March can go either way, and neither way is particularly wonderful. This year, I still have my nose pressed to the glass, looking from the inside out.  It was 12 degrees this morning, and barely better by 3pm. But we have had more sun the past few weeks than all of January and February.  We have a little warm and sunny weather streaming through the windows.

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Our helleborus festivalis held over the past 3 days drew lots of gardeners looking for some sign of spring.  Many commented that the greenhouse smelled like life.  My observation?  I could hear gardeners exhaling their dry winter air.  The shop smelled fresh.  Sun was streaming in every window.  Lot’s of hellebores went home to good gardening families.

DSC_8669I have never been a fan of plants in the house.  In my opinion, plants belong outside. Whether in the ground or in pots, plants need fresh air, the sun and rain from the sky.  A plant stuck indoors is a plant longing for another time and situation.  But this very cold and still snowy late March is a situation few plants could endure outdoors.  Indoors, they make the lack of a garden for me to tend a little easier to endure.  Handling garden plants indoors is different than handling tropical plants indoors.

DSC_8646My house is hot, dry, and dark, by plant standards. The heated house air has just about no humidity.  The light inside my house largely is courtesy of the miracle of electricity.  That light is miraculous for people, but not so swell for plants.  I might be able to get some tropical plants with a very low light requirement to live. But tropical plants don’t so much interest me.  I am ready to garden. Can garden plants live indoors long enough for me to take them, and me, outside? I do have some sunny window sills. Given my need for some signs of green life, there are plants that will oblige.

DSC_8655I would not say that any plant loves to be grown indoors.  I would say that a fair number plants tolerate life indoors.  Some low light tropical plants have the ability to adapt to interior conditions for years.  The successful culture of tropical plants indoors is not my expertise.  My interest in plants inside the house is confined to living through the madness I call March.  Some garden plants will tolerate a short stint inside on a sunny window sill, providing certain cultural conditions are met.  Spring flowering bulbs, once their requirement for cold has been met, will send forth leaves and bloom stalks in a low light too warm interior environment.  Don’t expect them to love the house for long.  Luckily, lots of nurseries carry pots of forced bulbs.  Buy lots, and stock your sunny window sills.  Restock when you need to.

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Lemon cypress is not hardy in our zone.  Hardiness zones refer to the hardiness of the roots of a plant-not the tops.  Lemon cypress can actually tolerate a good bit of cold.  Should you see a lemon cypress now that you have a mind to grow on this summer, chances are you can bring it along on that sunny window sill until the night temperatures are warm enough to move it outdoors.

DSC_8643Helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids, are incredibly cold tolerant.  They stir in late March.  They send up flowering stalks in April.  They are glorious in bloom, in late April.  In May, and in to June, the green tepels still look great.  Can you hold them indoors until the ground is ready to be worked?  Sure.  Give them the sunniest window sill you have.  Enjoy those gorgeous flowers.  Go easy on the water. Garden plants do not transpire or grow so much indoors.  If they are not growing so much, they don’t need so much water. Though they appreciate some sun, they would not appreciate the cooking heat from a radiator or heat duct.

DSC_8653I have kept ivy topiaries in the house over the winter plenty of times.  I err on the side of dry.  I give them the best sun I have.  A sunny window sill indoors is but a small shadow of a sunny place outdoors.  For plants lacking sun, dial back the water.  Plants in full sun outdoors transpire a lot, and need a regular drink.

DSC_8658Myrtus communis is an evergreen shrub in zone 8.  They like full sun, but will tolerate some shade.  What they will not tolerate is getting too dry.  As they are willing to be trained and pruned into topiary forms, they are a popular garden plant for indoors for the winter season.  Garden plants that are being grown indoors are not so much growing on.  They are holding on until they can get back outdoors.  This makes growing myrtle topiaries indoors dicey.  They need just enough water, not too little and not too much.  They are much easier to kill than grow.  As for the table in the above picture, do not try this at home!  Myrtle topiaries may look great on your dining room table or mantle, but they cannot be grown in the dark.

DSC_8665Myrtles grown indoors are great on an interior table for a party, or a weekend, but any longer that this in the dark will bring trouble.  Plants need light to survive.  Some gardeners buy myrtle topiaries in pairs.  One sits on the kitchen counter while the other has a sunny cooler sill.  Once every 3 or 4 days, the plants switch positions.  Forced spring flowering bulbs are much easier to keep indoors than a myrtle topiary.  Once they start to grow, they are programmed to bloom.  They will do their destiny unless impossibly challenged.

DSC_8667English daisies are available now.  Their small scale makes them a great choice for the average shallow window sill.

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The idea is just to have a small sign of the garden inside the glass.  Long enough for the season to turn.

DSC_8679My office has very deep window sills, and faces south.  There is room on them to bring on some rare hellebores that were only available as very small plants.  The windows are very tall, so the space is light.   I have to look in on them over every day, watching the water, and turning the pots so every side gets some of that sun.  What started out being a chore has become a ritual I am enjoying.

DSC_8663They are saying 50 degrees here next week.

Our Hellebore Festival

greenhouse-frog.jpgThe Helleborus Festivalis starts at Detroit Garden Works at 9am tomorrow-sharp.  What has taken months to put together is just about ready for the curtain to rise.  Rob has done his usual incredible job, sourcing interesting hellebore cultivars of size and in bloom for our gardening clientele.  The resident greenhouse frog approves of our case of baby tears.  All of us feel, given his appearance, that our festival will be a good one.  We had David and Mary Moore in today, owners of Stone Cottage Gardens in Gladwin Michigan.  We had a young man in the area on a business trip choosing hellebores for his gardener girlfriend. He made this older gardener happy.  Young gardeners, older gardeners-I welcome all of them.  As for avid collectors of hellebores, we will ship when the weather moderates, to Rochester Minnesota, Cleveland, Ohio, and Flint Michigan.  I like this.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgWe have lots of companion plants to the hellebores.  Honeysuckle boxwood.  Euonymus and myrtle topiaries.  Silver pilea.  baby tears.  Hyacinths throwing bloom stalks.  Every plant Rob chose is a celebration of the spring.  A celebration of green.  This first day of spring, we are ready for the chance to garden again.  And ready for those other gardeners that grace our doors.  Conversation about the garden over a boatload of well grown hellebores-a pleasure for everyone.

spring-containers.jpgMy garden at home still has lots of snow.  But I can see the signs of spring.  I hear the birds in the morning.  The evergreens in my garden are emerald green, not that black shade of winter green.  I put away my winter coat-I was so tired of it.  We had sun today.  The ice is melting.  The hellebores in my garden are still under 3 feet of snow.  Not my first choice of a garden situation.  In the greenhouse at Detroit Garden Works, there is a different situation.  Spring on our schedule. Though we know we have little influence over the state of the garden, we can create a spring of our own.

spring-container-planting.jpgIt was pure serendipity, deciding to do a March festival especially in honor of the hellebore.  Both Rob and I are big fans of this particular perennial.  The flowers of cultivars of Helleborus Orientalis – the Lenten Rose – are showstopping.  The plants are vigorous, meaning they show up every spring without any handholding.  The petals cure and hold on for 6 weeks or better.  They seed generously.  The foliage is almost evergreen.  What’s not to love?  An event given over to the spring flowering hellebores made us plant lots of spring flowering containers.  This box of cyclamen, grape hyacinths and white bellis is a sure sign of what is to come.  Spring-what could possibly be better?

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgWe had no idea the winter would go on so long.  As in, we still have winter here.  Our spring hellebore celebration has a special meaning we never anticipated.  Though nature has been amazingly uncooperative in making a change of seasons, our idea is to bring a celebration of spring of our own to bear.  Gardeners make the garden.  We hear their voices.  If you are in our area, pay us a visit.  We promise you will not be disappointed.   Hellebores make great container plants that can tolerate being house bound until the garden is ready to be worked.

hellebores-in-the-greenhouse.jpgOur small greenhouse is stuffed with decent numbers of 28 cultivars of helleborus orientalis.  Rob added pots of double primroses to the mix.  These prikmroses are hardy to 30 below zero.  Given our past winter, that root hardiness rating may be appealing.  We have pots of primula obconica. There is more-auricula primroses just coming in to bloom..  Honeysuckle boxwood on standard.  Bellis in bloom. Hyacinths and daffodils in pots.  A celebration of spring in spite of a winter that will not let go.

spring-festival.jpgHow spring starved we all are makes all of Rob’s choices that much more to treasure.  I have dirt and moss stains on my hands-how great is that?  I have been planting spring pots.  What a relief-what a treasure.

spring-2014.jpgIf you garden in our area, I would suggest that our helleborus festivalis might be just the jumpstart of spring that will bring a smile to your gardening heart.

double-primrose.jpgdouble primrose

spring-flowering-branches.jpgforced forsythia and cherry branches

pots-of-hyacinths.jpgpotted hyacinths

myrtle-topiaries.jpgmyrtle topiaries and white hyacinths

potted-hellebore.jpga hellebore in a pot with curly pussy willow

spring-container-planting.jpgA spring container planting with hellebores.  We are ready.  We would guess you are too.