The 2015 Holiday/Winter Preview Party

holiday open houseI have long been of the mind that the gardening season can thrive during the late fall and can not only endure, but robustly represent a gardener’s point of view throughout the winter months. The stakes are high.  The winters in my zone can be fierce. The skies are an unvarying shade of gray for months on end. We pile on the winter gear, and slog through the snow to work. Our winters are cold and dark. Winter gardening asks for a different idea, different tools, and an active imagination.  I may light a dormant shade garden with twinkle lights strewn on the ground, given that the chartreuse hostas have gone dormant.  The mixed fir evergreen garland wired up with pine cones and other natural materials that will go over my front door for the holiday season will please the gardener in me.  I most assuredly will stuff my containers with cut greens, fresh cut twigs, and anything else I might fancy, with the idea that they will recall the warmth and comfort of the garden over the winter.

holiday preview (18)Gardeners are working people.  Once the last of the spring flowering bulbs are planted, those hands are hard to keep still. I am not ready to cozy up to a stack of books. It was many years ago that Rob and I decided to make something more of the coming of the cold than resignation. We transform the shop into a destination for materials to enrich the holiday and winter season.  Most of the shopping was done this past January.  When our purchases begin to arrive in July, it is easy to spot why we liked them.  Invariably, there is a reference to nature and natural materials.

holiday preview (12)There are lots of bird ornaments. They may be feathered or felted, but no matter the material, they appeal to gardeners.

holiday preview (17)Every year we feature one sort of holiday tree or another.  This year, Rob has sourced tall and thin trees in a variety of species that share a certain look in common.  These trees have been deliberately pruned and grown to produce an old fashioned shape.  These sparse, short needled trees are grown Victorian style, meaning those big open spaces are friendly to hanging ornaments, birds on clips, and garland.

holiday preview (20)We will have plants. We have a great selection of amaryllis, available as bulbs, potted up, or growing in water in glass cylinders. There will be pots of berried wintergreen, and white variegated club moss.  And of course, some hellebores. But the majority of what we have available are garden ornaments that evoke the materials and spirit of the garden.

holiday preview (5)The grapevine deer sculptures are life size, and beautifully made. The frames are steel. The vines will last for many years, given a yearly application of sealer. These are the kind of deer one could welcome to a garden-especially a winter garden.

holiday preview (10)We will open our winter/ holiday season tonight from 5 to 9.  This party is in large part a thank you to the community of gardeners that frequent our doors. We always have new people, for whom this night is an introduction to our place. We will have something good to eat and drink, live music, and lively conversation. We invite everyone to preview our winter collection.

holiday preview (1)Dutch jingle bells in varying shades of blue and gray

holiday preview (11)reproductions of vintage holiday figures

holiday preview (2)fresh cut twigs are a winter staple for containers.  Also slated to arrive today, a truckload of cut greens from a wide range of evergreen species.

holiday preview (13)felted animal ornaments

holiday preview (4)weatherproof contemporary stars

holiday preview (8)wood deer with burlap coats

holiday preview (3)And finally, Rob’s lighting collection. We have some very exciting new options available this year. For those of you who are too far away to attend, I will post pictures of how the shop looks at night. Great lighting can transform a winter landscape.  You’ll see.


The Hybridizer

hybrid pumpkinEvery  gardener at one time or another comes in contact with plant cultivars introduced as a result of the painstaking work of  someone who breeds plants. Bressingham gardens in England has a group of fine perennial plants marketed under the aegis of Blooms of Bressingham. There are countless other individuals who have devoted themselves to breeding towards a better plant.  Some hybrids are more disease resistant.  Some are more sturdy-others have larger flowers with interesting variations in color. The dogwood Venus, a cross between Cornus kousa, and Cornus nuttallii, was bred at Rutgers University by Elwin Orton.  His Venus dogwood, once it was introduced, took a gold medal at Chelsea.  Anyone who loves the landscape is all the better for the introduction of this tree.

hybrid pumpkinsI am thinking about hybridizing right now, as Rob has such a big love for the various forms and colors of pumpkins that he collects fruits from countless farms within a day’s drive of us. He cannot get enough of them.  Of course most pumpkins are grown to eat, or to carve for Halloween, but others are grown for their sheer beauty.  Every farmer who grows pumpkins is a hybridizer, whether they intend to be, or not.  Cucurbits are plants of the gourd family, and include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumber. All of these plants, grown within range of one another, will cross pollinate with abandon. Squash flowers are huge-they intend to have progeny.  And progeny they do produce. Any pollen on the wind might settle in these giant flowers. As a result, every farm who grows curcurbits has their own distinctive offering of pumpkins and gourds. These hybrid crosses are random.  Some are beautiful, sturdy, and robust.  Others-not so much.

hybrid pumpkinsRob has been fortunate to meet some gardeners in the course of his pumpkin collecting whose big love is hybridizing these big fruits.  You are looking at pictures of pumpkins that are the result of a lifetime of careful breeding. The gentleman in question is in his late sixties, and has been hybridizing pumpkins for decades. He grows his pumpkins in a tunnel house, so he can eliminate accidental crosses. Pumpkins and squash take up an enormous amount of space as they grow.  The breeding process is slow, as not so many crosses can be made in a given year. His crosses are thoughtful, and methodical.

pumpkins 2015 (9)His current crop of fancy pumpkins sit in a shed.  They are not displayed on his farm stand, as they are not for sale. They are part of his breeding stock.  He will harvest the seed, and breed again. The near black pumpkin in my first picture with a brilliant orange waist-I have never seen anything like it.  The black pumpkin in my second picture-astonishing.  I know squash with dark green rinds-I am a fan of acorn squash, and eat them regularly over the winter.  But this black pumpkin is like nothing I have ever seen.

pumpkins 2015 (8)Anyone who grows plants has at one time or another placed a plant in their garden whose form, color and texture is a result of years of breeding.  Endless crosses that amount to nothing.  A few crosses that have promise.  And perhaps a few plants in a lifetime that are worthy of introduction.

IMG_6456I am an old school gardener-I admit to that. I favor plants that look good all season, in leaf and in bloom.  I like plants that are vigorous, and hardy.  I love plants that ask little, and perform willingly.  I love those plants that verge on the weedy side.   I see some perennial and shrubby plants that have been introduced that seem unlikely to survive the test of time.  Should I have a landscape client who is interested in the garden, I make sure that what I select for their garden has a history of great performance.  Nothing discourages a gardener more than failure. Some plant breeding quits too soon-before there is a cultivar worthy of introduction.

pumpkins 2015 (22)Keeping plants alive, and keeping plants thriving, is a big job. I can be challenged by it, despite my many years as a gardener.  One of the most important aspects of landscape design to me is to do what I can to insure success for my clients. Success in a garden encourages interest.  I mean to encourage others to garden.  Great plant hybridizers do a lot of this work for me. They spend years and thought developing plants that gardeners can grow.

pumpkins 2015 (23)The man who hybridized that black pumpkin does not make a living from his fancy pumpkins.  He grows acres of orange pumpkins that get shipped nation wide.  His tall thin pumpkins that sit up on their own are especially good looking.  We sold out of our group within two days.

pumpkins 2015 (10)All of his pumpkins, squash, and gourds have great color.  Many of them sport what we call witches warts. Rob loves the bumps.

IMG_5933But even his most simple pumpkins feature strong stems. The long stems are part and parcel of a fall fruit that delights the eye, and speaks to the harvest. I never knew how beautiful a pumpkin stem could be, until I saw his pumpkins.  Rob is a looker.  When he sees something that makes him look twice, he does what he can to foster a relationship. The pumpkins we have at Detroit Garden Works right now are all about the thoughtful work of a hybridizer with many years in the game. We so value his contribution to every garden.  And every front porch in the fall season.

pumpkin stemIf you are like me, you have wrongly picked up a pumpkin by its stem, and had that stem detach. Dang. I will confess that I have hot melt glued broken stems on to a pumpkin.  No pumpkin stem can stay intact, given the weight of most pumpkins. But for our current pumpkin collection. We have a breeder who means to meld the stem with the body of the fruit.

pumpkin stemImagine a hybridizer whose goal is to develop stems that come down onto the fruit.  Gripping stems. A stem which is integral with the fruit. What hybridizers imagine and breed for-so simple, but so important. A garden does imply a generous grip.  Some of that comes from plant breeders.  Some of that comes from us. The mix is a really good one.


Early Fall

saturated (6)The beginning of the fall season is a beginning to treasure.  All of the hard work growing from the spring through the summer of  comes to fruition. Literally. The tomatoes ripen. The farmers market is bursting with racks of brussel sprouts, giant rosettes of cabbage, and fresh and fragrant onions. Home vegetable gardens yields such that there is plenty for  neighbors and friends. The spring planted perennials have put on a lot of weight. The trees planted in the spring seem to have weathered the transplant shock, and look happier – more settled and comfortable. The memory of insults dealt to the landscape and garden from the hard winter past fade. No need now to remember them.   The beginning of fall can be the last chapter of a very good short story, or the last quarter mile of a long and exhausting run. Or both. There is a good amount of time before the fall sinks and sets in, to enjoy the fruits.

saturated (11)Fall is a favorite season for Rob.  He endures the heat of the summer.  Every plant gets watered as it should.  He good naturedly tolerates the glare.  Once the season begins to shift to fall, he is energized.  He is back and forth across every square inch of the shop, making changes appropriate to the season. Materials he has ordered for the fall season at the shop months ago arrive every day. Much to my delight, he tracks back and forth across a 100 mile radius from the shop, selecting pumpkins and gourds for his fall collection.

saturated (8)There are those gardeners who collect day lilies, or hostas.  Or perhaps they focus on wild flowers, or native plants.  Some love all manner of hardy ornamental grasses.  Some nurture their collection of African violets, or Japanese maples.  There are the rosarians, who keep the interest in great garden roses alive. When I had five acres of land, I lined out peonies in rows, like crops. The alpine plants, the lilies, the dahlias-every plant has a coterie of aficionados. The fans of gourds and the pumpkins are many. Illinois is the nation’s largest producer of pumpkins-over 12,000 acres of crop land are devoted to growing them. Though dwarfed by the Illinois production, Michigan is still the second largest producer of pumpkins and gourds. Though many carve the traditional orange pumpkin for Halloween, or use the pulp for pies, there are those who appreciate the sculptural shapes and colors.

saturated (12)About that color. My favorite part of the fall is how the low light saturates the color of everything it touches.  In summer, the sun high in the sky interrogates everything it touches. Sunny summer days are bright, and shadowless. The slanted and softer fall light brings saturated color back into the landscape. I suspect that Rob’s enchantment with the pumpkins and gourds is as much about color as the forms, textures and shapes. Fall color is term every gardener is familiar with. The leaves turning means a landscape ablaze in yellow, orange, red and purple.  An overcast summer day in a garden means any color will more intense. Never is any color in the garden more intensely representing than in the fall. The light from the sun highlights every plant from the side.  The fall garden appears as though it were on fire.

saturated (14)Every pumpkin or gourd that Rob chooses for his collection at the store has a story about color, texture, and shape behind it.  He will not buy any fall fruit that cannot stand up on its own.  He treasures the stem every bit as much as the fruit. He is as great with subtle fall color as he is with those those colors that blaze away. He probably has other criteria I am not aware of. Rob curates his collection. Every pumpkin and gourd could stand alone, and look great.  A grouping is a pleasure to be enjoyed throughout the fall.

saturated (19)The low fall light reveals texture in a spectacular way. This week was my first look at peanut pumpkins.

saturated (13)Equally astonishing is Rob’s collection of long stemmed pumpkins. He knows a grower who has been hybridizing pumpkins for 55 years. A long stem was a trait he sought. This was a friendship that has taken years to establish. Rob will visit him multiple times in late September.

saturated (22) I am so enjoying this warm late September sun.

aaaat the shop

pastel pumpkinspastel pumpkins


saturated (10)red, white, and wood

saturated (18)a saturated experience of orange

saturated (16)contrast

saturated (2)so orange, and so green.

saturated (3)red and white

pumpkins and gourdspumpkins and gourds

saturated (15)fall light

saturated (7)Last, but certainly not least, those big stems that come with pumpkins attached.

Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.