18 Years

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18 years ago, on March 29, Rob and I were hosting a party to celebrate the opening of Detroit Garden Works.  My landscape design and installation firm was the ripe old age of 10.  I had always had a dream of a place where clients could find beautiful and intriguing objects to ornament their garden.  No such place existed in my area.  So Rob and I decided to create one.  Crucial to the mix – my accountant.  He also represented a gentleman with a machine shop for sale.  Jeff was able to persuade his client to sell the property and building to me on a land contract.  This proved to be crucial to the mix.  Had I gone to a bank asking for a commercial mortgage to open a retail garden ornament business in an area zoned for light manufacturing, I would have been politely swept out the door.  A shop retailing garden ornament?  What exactly is garden ornament?

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A garden group came to the shop Saturday for a talk on garden ornament. I pointed out that garden ornament – as in furniture, tables and chairs, benches and other seating- provides a place for a person to be in a garden.  It is one thing to observe or review a garden, but garden ornament can provide a place to spend time in that garden.  After work.  Before work.  To watch the birds.  To entertain friends. To relax.  To think things over.  To rest.

antique-iron-trough.jpgA garden ornament can provide a focal point for a garden.  An old galvanized washtub overstuffed stuffed with lavender or rosemary can be the star attraction of an herb garden.  A sculpture in the landscape can organize a garden, endow it with atmosphere, and make an invitation to interact.  Pots positioned on either side of a front door say welcome to my house.  And welcome to my idea of making you feel welcome.  Gardeners place birdbaths in their gardens for obvious reasons.  Gardeners also have very different views about what constitutes a beautiful birdbath.  Finding a garden ornament that suits your garden in particular is what gives that garden a personal and individual feeling.

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A structure in a garden, as in a pergola, can enclose a space, and give it a sense of intimacy.  A fountain brings the sound and sparkle of water to the garden.  An arbor or trellis provides a home for climbing plants. A vintage bootscraper, rain barrel or garden umbrella is utilitarian.  I could say that any non-living element in a garden would qualify as a garden ornament, but that is not exactly true.  Some objects trigger a memory of an experience, a special occasion, or a person. Those memories are very real.  Some vintage or antique garden ornament come with a feeling of history or culture attached to them.  Some ornament is whimsical.  Some is repurposed from old farm implements and tools. But no matter the origin, I am still interested, 18 years later, in how garden ornament can endow a garden with a little magic.

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Interested in more on that moment which was so magical to me 18 years ago?  Here you go.

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.

Helleborus Festivalis

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Detroit Garden Works plans to hold its first ever spring festival the weekend of March 21, 22, and 23.   We are calling the event the Helleborus Festivalis, in celebration of one of our most favorite spring flowering perennials, the hellebore.  Rob has spent weeks traveling to and ordering from nurseries all over the US and Canada, in order for us to have a collection available that will enchant both gardeners unfamiliar with hellebores, and long time serious collectors.  I have had lots of emails requesting more information on exactly what plants we have available, and in what sizes.  This post is some about our love for hellebores, and more about the specifics.  600 hellebores have been delivered over the past 2 weeks-to follow is a the Helleborus Festivalis preview.  Helleborus Onyx Odyssey, pictured above, is certainly one of the most striking varieties we have been able to obtain.

Helleborus-Black-Odyssey.jpgThis very dark and inky wine red double hellebore was bred by Marietta O’Byrne in Eugene, Oregon, and and introduced into commerce in 2008.  We have 20 in bloom 1 gallon size stocky plants available.  This cultivar is most definitely not the helleborus orientalis my Mom grew.  The O’Byrne’s breeding program has turned over the hellebore world.

helleborus-orientalis-hybrids.jpgOther 1 gallon size hellebores, pictured above from left to right, helleborus Spring Promise Conny, which features white blooms with distinctive dark wine red speckles.  Also pictured,  Spring Promise Elly, a double rose pink, the heavy flowering single flowering Merlin, and Spring Promise Bridget, a frilly single pink.  As with helleborus Onyx Odyssey, these hellebores are all blooming.  Have the idea to scout what cultivars you might want to grow or add to your collection?  We have other hellebores in bloom.  Mahogany Snow.  Icebreaker Fancy.  Icebreaker Prelude.  Our Icebreaker Corsica is already sold out-sorry.

helleborus-Snow-Frills.jpgSnow Frills is a semi double to double pure white.  Breaktakingly beautiful, the flowers of this hellebore.  This sturdy plant comes in an 8″ pot with multiple blooms, as pictured.  Snow Frills is that new cultivar of hellebore which features outfacing or upfacing flowers.  If you like white flowers in the spring, this cultivar may interest you.

one-gallon-hellebores.jpgBoth Snow Frills and Merlin are substantial blooming plants in 8 inch pots.  Merlin is a single blush pink, and clearly a heavy bloomer.

Helleborus-Spring-Promise-Elly.jpgThis picture is a closeup of the bloom of the Spring Promise cultivar known as Elly. The double flowers are astonishing in color and form .  We have a limited number of 1 gallon blooming plants available.

spring-promise-hellebores.jpgWe have a select group pf 4.5 inch pots of hellebores ready.  Though these are smaller plants, many of them are blooming.

helleborus winter-jewel-Golden-Lotus.jpgGolden Lotus is a strain of double flowered yellow hellebores exhibiting subtly different characteristics.  Though every plant is distinctly individual, every member of this seed strain group is stellar. All of our 4.5 inch plants are blooming.

helleborus-Black-Diamond.jpgBlack Diamond is just that-jet black.  None of these 4.5 inch plants are in bloom.  If you have a mind to have faith in a long history of breeding and a plant not in flower, we have healthy lustily growing plants available.

perennial_m_Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewel Cherry BlossomWe have  four flats of 4.5 inch helleborus Winter Jewel Cherry Blossom available for purchase.  Only one plant has a flower. This cultivar is a must have, in my opinion.  Most nurseries offer just a few cultivars for sale, in their green state.  This makes them easy to miss.  Hellebores grow slowly.  Few cultivars grow on to blooming size in one season.  If you are a gardener willing to take chances, sign up for a Cherry Blossom.  Next spring, the anemone flowered blooms will enchant you.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgIn this picture, Spring Promise Bridget is sharing the stage with flats of English daisies.  We do have a number of other spring flowering perennials in stock as companions to our hellebores.  Bellis, double flowering primroses, and several cultivars of auricula primroses are available along with dwarf daffodils and hyacinths.

helleborus-Pink-Frost.jpgWe do have some 2 gallon pots of hellebores available.  Joseph Lemper is a white hellebore blooming very early in the spring.  The Pink Frost Hellebore pictured above- big plants.

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This Winter Jewels Golden Sunrise-we have this plant in one gallon size.  Though our plants are not flowering, the promise of what is to come is clear.  We also have good sized divisions of the pale yellow hellebore, Spring Promise “Sally”.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgThis has been a very long and very trying winter.  Detroit Garden Works has the idea to jump start spring. Helleborus Festivalis-a week from tomorrow. With a collection of hellebores and accompanying plants that are eminently garden worthy.  If you are a collector, or a gardener willing to gamble, we have a few divisions of rarer hellebores available.  White Lady, Frilly Kitty, Tiffany, Valerie, WD Elegance White, WD Pale Pink, Winter Jewel Sparkling Diamond, Winter Jewel Double Painted, Winter Jewel Jade Tiger, Winter Thriller Green Gambler-email me for details. We are ready for spring-what about you?