Every year since 2008, Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Co have jointly sponsored a garden tour to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit. This non-profit organization is devoted to promoting healthy urban spaces through green initiatives. In more concrete terms, they have planted 89,000 trees in the city of Detroit since 1989. I sit on their board of commissioners, although my participation largely centers around this event. We make an effort to raise money for them – over 84,000.00 in the past 7 years.
The money we raise goes towards sponsorship of programs for which there is little or no grant money available. In one such program, the Greening hires young people to fill summer jobs that involve watering trees, and looking after Greening sponsored farms. I have to believe that the experience is a good one. I am all for any program which promotes stewardship of the environment, and a love and respect for nature.
This year’s tour features 7 gardens, five of which were designed and planted by Deborah Silver and Co. The other two belong to gardeners who have done all of their own design and installation work, and have shopped at Detroit Garden works for their pots, furniture, ornament, fountains, sculpture and tools. I have put my own garden on tour every year. People who take our tour every year do not seem to tire of that. I always make some changes in the garden or landscape. And the scheme for planting my pots changes.
The horseradish plant that I planted for Buck has reached an alarmingly magnificent size-as I knew it would. Be sure to take a look at it. If you are relieved the plant is in my yard, and not yours, I completely understand.
We charge 35.00 for a tour ticket, and 50.00 for a tour and reception ticket. For the extra 15.00, we provide enough great food to satisfy hungry people who have been touring all day, and Rob’s current roster of summer cocktails. His gin and tonics are on hand every year, as is his selection of white wines. He will also have available a small group of more unusual summer cocktails-every year that group is different. This years reception will also feature live music from a very very talented local musician – Tola Lewis. And as always, there is always much lively discussion of the landscapes and gardens that were part of the tour.
100% of all of the proceeds from the sale of tickets for the tour go directly to the Greening of Detroit. We do what we can to make the process of contributing to an organization whose work is so vital to our city a great experience. I am very pleased to report that this year’s tour features a wide variety of landscapes and gardens, all of which are interesting in their own way.
One landscape completed only a few months ago shows how a very large property can be designed to be friendly to entertaining friends, family, -and the family dogs – and still be beautiful and visually satisfying. Seeing a landscape that is newly installed is the best possible view of how any successful landscape depends on the creation of a solid framework – a good set of bones. Another landscape has been developed over the past 15 years, and features mature trees and shrubs. This garden has unusual trees and shrubs, in contrast to areas that have recently been reworked. No landscape, no matter how old, is ever truly done. The overall feeling of this landscape is relaxed, informal and serene.
Another large landscape is but a few years old, and is the product of a close collaboration between an experienced and dedicated gardener, and a designer. It features a number of perennial gardens, featuring unusual varieties of plants. One garden is comprised of an interesting mix of dwarf shrubs and perennials. Another area is planted with shrubs, and presided over by a collection of columnar sweet gum. Another area features roses and perennials. Of interest is a large collection of espaliers, both fruiting and ornamental, and a large pond with all of the pond plants to go with.
Yet another landscape features an older home of classic traditional architecture in a neighborhood setting. The landscape is very formal. A large pergola and a collection of custom made containers from the Branch studio punctuate the space. A large rear terrace features a lovely lead fountain of English origin. Custom handmade fencing and gates provides a secure yard for dogs and grandchildren. A lovely semicircular hedge of Venus dogwoods provide screening and privacy.
Another landscape is modeled after Monterey Square in Savannah-a childhood home. This very formal garden has an incredibly lovely old home grounding it. Yet another features a landscape with a strong eye for outdoor living, a level of whimsy that enchants the younger members of the household, and a passion for strong color.
What you are seeing in this post is a look at the planting scheme this year for my containers. I have never planted an all green scheme on my deck at home before, but I am liking how neutral and calm it is looking. In contrast, my pots in front are orange and red, and look great with my yellow brick.
But these pictures do not tell the entire story. There are places and spaces with changes you will just have to see for yourself. For those of you who cannot participate in our tour, I will post more pictures from all of the gardens, after the tour.
It is possible to purchase tickets in person at Detroit Garden Works. Rob will open the shop at 8am on Sunday July 19, for those people who wish to purchase tickets the day of the tour. We can take your order by phone, and mail the tickets. If the time gets short, we can take phone orders, and email tickets. For more information, and descriptions of all of the gardens on this years tour, please visit our website. http://thegardencruise.org/ For more information about the organization we feel is so essential to the environmental vitality of Detroit: The Greening of Detroit
Many of the gardeners who have so graciously agreed to put their gardens on tour will be there to answer questions, and talk. I spend the entire day at home. Buck and I both thoroughly enjoy the chance to meet other people with a serious interest in the landscape and garden. We all are hoping you will be able to join us.
lemon cypress and lime scotch moss
The tulips at the shop have been evolving over the past 3 weeks, when the first of them came into bloom. How appropriate that they are usually about in full bloom on Mother’s Day. My Mom would have loved it, and photographed them over and over again. I came in early today, so I could take my own pictures. I always plant a mix in front of the shop, as I plant lots of them. A minimum of three colors will make a good basic mix.
There are other characteristics besides color that make up a good mix. A mix of heights rewards the eye with flowers up, down, and in the midsection. All the same type or class of tulips puts all the flowers at the same height. No matter whether you plant 20 or 200 tulips, there will be a horizontal band of green at the bottom, and a horizontal band of color at the top. Tulips have big, splashy flowers, but I like to plant them close together. Choosing tulips of different heights means the individual flowers will read.
Different classes of tulips bloom at different times. Creating a good mix of times is not quite as simple as planting an early, a mid season, and a late tulip. A mix whose early tulip is finished before the mid season tulip comes on means the whole group will never be in full color for that one moment of tulip glory. For that reason, I usually include smaller numbers of a 4th and 5th-and maybe even a 6th tulip. Different types of tulips have different shapes-of course. The classic mid season Darwin hybrid tulip flower is tall, and globular. Single late tulips are very large, and more rounded in shape than the Darwins. Lily flowered tulips have a lily shape-of course. A variety of shapes keeps the mix interesting.
Of course color plays a big part of the mix. Strongly contrasting colors makes for a very lively mix. Bright orange, bright yellow and white is a striking and dramatic mix. That drama can be left as is, or tempered with pale yellow and peach. Pale violet or lavender added to this mix tones down the heat in a visually interesting way. Red would heat up the mix. Leave out the white, the mix will smoulder. 1 part white to 1 part red yellow and orange will be sunny in a very springlike way.
Colors that are closely related make for a harmonious mix. Red and pink is a natural combination, as pink is red mixed with white. In this scheme, there is a near warm white, a white flamed pink and red, a pale pink, a single late rose pink/red, and a medium pink.
There can be great color variations within an individual tulip. Pink impression is a pale pink with blue overtones. The midrib of each petal is darker than the body, and the edges of the petals are lighter than the body.
The blooming of the tulips from start to finish is about 5, maybe 6 weeks. I thoroughly enjoy that process, from the time the leaves emerge from the ground, until the last of the petals mature and fall. The flowers themselves are extraordinary. I would always plant tulips for my Mom for Mother’s Day. I would do my best to plant when she was not there, so she would not know what colors or where I would plant. I also schemed to be sure that the tulips were at their perfect best on Mother’s Day. Though I rarely met that goal perfectly, the process of the selection, the planting, the anticipation of spring, and the blooming was a process we both enjoyed. I so appreciate that every time I see tulips in bloom, I think of her.
Six years ago today, April 1, 2009, I published my very first post. How pleased I was to have a a forum for my gardening journal! I revisited and revised this post in 2010, 2012, and 2014. To follow is this year’s version of the essay Vernissage.
Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition. I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years. Our conversation over the years speaks a lot to the value of nurturing long term commitments. I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her. Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape. She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park. Needless to say, the years flew by, from one project to the next. I have favorite projects. An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant. A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later. Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new. I learned how to operate a bulldozer, I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on part of the sculpting of the ground. There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm. Deterring deer was nearly a full time job. Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new.
In a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening. I would prefer to associate spring with that idea described by vernissage. This has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it. I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring, and it always does. But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Last year’s spring was notable for its icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground. The snow that was still very much a part of the landscape in mid April. This year, a different kind of drama altogether. A cold none of us could shake. My first sign of spring was the birds singing, early in the morning-just a few days ago. I still see snow on the north side of every place. It was a bit of a shock, realizing how long it had been since I had heard the birds. Why the break of my winter this year is about hearing the singing-who knows. Maybe I am listening for the first time, or maybe I am hearing for the first time. Or maybe the birds are singing ahead of the spring. Every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently. To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature. This past winter was the most miserably cold I ever remember. It just about reduced my spirit to a puddle on the ground. Spring is not so close to being here yet, even though it is April 1. But I see the signs.
Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea. I put it to paper. I do the work of installing it. Then I wait for an answer back. This is the most important part of my work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in. The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill. The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure. The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes. I wait for this to grow in and that to mature. I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery. I might take this out, or move it elsewhere. That evolution seems to have a clearly defined beginnings, and no end.
This spring will see more than anyone’s fair share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs. The winter cold was that bad. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, I get my spring. I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally. It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my membership. The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock. And get started.
I can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh. I can coax or stake what the heavy snow crushed. I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark. I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce. I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden. Later, I will have time to celebrate the shade. I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new. What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it. Spring will scoop me up. Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder. Rob’s pot full of hyacinths that he put on a table outdoors was instantly full of bees.
Today also marks 23 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves. Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden. No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir. The beginning of the gardening season we short list as vernissage.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.