Behind The Scenes

Six weeks ago, a garden editor from Better Homes and Gardens rang up-could she send a crew out to photograph my spring pots?  I grew up with this publication at home, as my Mom subscribed for many years.  She was not so interested in the home decor, cooking, or entertaining part, but she avidly followed their articles about gardening and crafts.  I was delighted that they wanted to come.  James Meredith, the US Secretary of Agriculture under Woodrow Wilson, founded Meredith Publishing, and Better Homes and Gardens in 1922-this information is courtesy of Wikipedia.  I had 6 weeks to get ready.  I planted 12 containers ornamented with with twigs, and planted with spring flowering bulbs, herbs, spring vegetables and cold tolerant annual and perennial plants.  The containers were chosen by Scott Johnson, an art director with Meredith.  I was surprised that he chose fairly contemporary containers-but today’s Better Homes is a publication with plenty of surprises.

The six weeks prior to the shoot were cold and rainy.  At one point I had all of the containers inside our greenhouse space where it was warm.  But once the plants started to stretch, I had to move them outside.  I placed them just outside my office door, and hoped for the best.  It is a southern and very protected location.   2 days of very hot weather just before they arrived helped to move my pots along.  And the tulips obliged by throwing their first few blooms.  By far and away the best part of the visit was the opportunity to watch how these 3 people put a composition together for a photograph.  Scott would choose a container, and place it.  Kitsada would take a series of photographs, the results of which could instantly be seen on a computer and screen which was wired into his digital camera. 

Don’t quote me on any of the technical issues-I was just an interested observer.  The container would be placed on a surface.  Other companionable elements would be added and subtracted  They were incredibly focused and persistent about an arrangement that would suit them.  They knew instantly what was not working, and were confident about what was.  We put anything and everything in the shop at their disposal.  One photograph took almost 2 hours to arrange, and shoot. 

A photograph is an image with 4 edges.  I was very interested to see how and where they placed objects in the physical space, given what they wanted to see in the visual space.  The pot of grape hyacinths pictured above-only 3 stems appeared in the foreground space of the photograph. 

I believe Kitsada spent more time on the ground than he did standing up. It only makes sense.  He wanted his eye at the same level as the object of his attention.  This is the same idea as placing small containers on tables in the garden, and very large containers on the ground.  This makes for a stronger view. 

It took quite some time to compose each photograph. Good composition does take a long time; a landscape takes years.  A photograph records a moment which will never to be again.  A landscape is always in motion-growing over the edges of your composition just as yuo get them set.       

They were a great group-I could hardly keep up with them.  They shot the first night until 8 pm, and were on the job the next morning at 5:30. 

Next February or March-we’ll see what came of their visit.  Scot brought me an advance issue of their June magazine.  There is a great article about a gardener who makes sense of a piece of land 50 feet wide, and 260 feet long.  Her garden is beautiful; don’t miss it.

Errington Reay & Co. Ltd

 

I am awash in English salt glazed garden pots,  hand made at Errington Reay & Co in England.  The pleasure is all mine; I am delighted with them.  Rob has been interested in this pottery for a few years.  This past fall, a shopping trip to England made for an opportunity to purchase them.  They are beautifully varied in shape, texture and color.  They have a very English look about them.  What do I mean by this?  To my mind, English garden pots are as much about utility and serviceabillty as they are about aesthetics.  These pots are thick and heavy; I am sure they will withstand the perils faced by any object left outdoors. No matter the shape, they all have plenty of space for plants.  They are sensibly roomy. 

Some pots are shaped like crocks, others like mixing bowls.  The shapes are simple enough to invite any number of uses.  They are all asking to be put to use.  There is a quiet beauty to this.  Each pot is hand made; this is evident.  All of the pots have a salt glaze finish.         

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Salt glazed pots date back to the 18th century in England.  Doulton-Lambeth, which later became known as Royal Doulton, manufactured lots of salt glazed pots and sanitary ware.  In the 1830’s and 1840’s, salt glazed sewer pipes helped provide better sanitary conditions in urban areas. At the hottest moment of the firing, common salt is thrown into the kiln. The sodium in the salt reacts with the silica in the clay, to form a glossy coating of sodium silicate. This results in a a subtle texture that resembles that of an orange peel.  

Some salt glaze is colorless, or quite purplish in color given the presence of manganese in the glaze.  We have had French salt glazed pots on occasion from the Poterie at Noron.  These pots are various shades of brown given the iron oxide in the glaze.  No two pots are exactly ther same.  Rob thinks they have the look of freshly baked bread.   

Clean air regulations passed in England in the 1870’s prohibited the production of salt glazed clay in urban areas.  Royal Doulton quit producing pots with this glaze as a result.  Errington Reay and Co is the only pottery in England currently licensed to produce salt glazed pots.  Pictured above, their rhubarb forcers.  Placed over an emerging rhubard plant, they limit that plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll-this is known as photosynthesis.  Once the rhubarb has produced shoots above ground, the lid of the forcer is removed.  The plant grows towards the light, in limited light.  This results in more tender rhubarb.  They can also be used to blanch asparagus; so called white asparagus is green asparagus grown in the absence of chlorophyll.  

These tall pots would be great for any plant needing a long root run-tomatoes, for example. The pale biscuit color of the interior of the pots is just as lovely as the color of the outside 

The lot line is full full of these freshly unpacked pots.  The pair of horse troughs with their richly rusted surface visually explains everything about the iron oxide in the salt glaze.


Errington Reay & Co was founded by Robert Errington and William Reay at Bardon Mill-the site of a water powered woolen mill established in the late 17th century.  “Since Victorian times, when it earned its nationwide reputation for high quality sanitary ware, drainage pipes and ornamental pottery for domestic use, Errington Reay has remained a traditional family run pottery.  We still only practice traditional ways of hand throwing, hand moulding and casting.”  This is just part of what is written on the tag that comes with every pot.  We are very pleased indeed to offer them.

The Last Container From England

What a relief that this last container load of garden ornament from England is finally in my possession.  Though importing garden ornament from Europe really belongs on that “do not try this at home” list, it is incredibly exciting to cut off that lock, and unload the truck.  It has been seven months since Rob shopped in England-for him, the unloading is old home week.  I am always surprised by what I see, in spite of the fact that he sends me lots of pictures.  There is no substitute for the real thing.  

Some purchases might make you wonder.  Who imports fence poles from England?  Someone whose romance with the garden is long standing and on going-that would be Rob.  These are no ordinary fence poles.  They are whittled from sweet chestnut with a draw knife, and designed to anchor rolls of sweet chestnut pale fencing. Castanea sativa was introduced to Britain by the Romans; it is a very important tree in the English landscape.  An introduction to a segment of British gardening life is what came off the container-not a pallet of poles.

An exposure to the tools and ornament of a garden culture other than my own is a gift from an unlikely source-modern technology.  I am sure there was a time when garden ornament never travelled far from where it was made.  The ocean between my garden, and a British garden, does not seem as large as it once was, given shipping containers, giant boats, and trucks-not to mention the communications systems that keep them all functioning towards a specific end.  My local decomposed granite is so different than that granite available in California, but should you want our granite, it is possible for you to have it.    

These large simple wood panels are known as sheep’s hurdles. They are traditionally used to make a temporary pen for sheep taken to market.  What would I do with them?  One panel would make a suberb support for a lax growing rose; a pair might beautifully signal the entrance to a vegetable or cutting garden.  They would make a great companion to any number of vining plants.   

A pair of Victoian era cast iron horse troughs took my breath away.  OK, how does a horse trough get this level of respect?  They are visually very strong, and have great scale.

Six inch diameter chestnut poles are processed for fencing on a woodland site by a pale-maker.  The poles are stripped of their bark, and then they are riven by hand on the radial axis, to produce those fairly regular triangular shaped slats know as pales.  Once bound together with galvanized wire, the result is a rustic but entirely serviceable fencing.  The Chestnut Fencing Manufacturer’s Society puts the lifespan of this fencing at 20 years or better.  All of the above is courtesy of Chris Howkins’ book “Sweet Chestnut: History, Landscape, People”.   

These poles will do an admirable job of holding up the paling fencing.  Their history will add a good deal of flavor to a garden.

This weathered English bench is of classical design and workmanship.  Made from both teak and iroko, it has many years of service ahead of it. 

And for the first time, Burgon and Ball garden tools.  Based in Sheffield, England, they make sheep shears-perfect for pruning the soft growth on boxwood. 

    And lest I forget-this container had boxes and boxes of Nutscene jute garden twine.  Just to open the boxes is an experience; that organic and pungent smell of jute filled the garage.   We have just about all the fixings for a great spring now.  Like every other gardener we are impatiently waiting on some spring weather to go with.

The Spring Garden Fair

Our very first spring garden fair, in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Detroit Garden Works, is this weekend.  I do feel a little sheepish, making such a fuss about having become a teenager.  But the optimism that comes naturally to a gardener is a pretty big umbrella.  As much as I expect that the brown bulbs I planted last fall will eventually produce plants with gorgeous flowers, I expect to keep on providing the gardening community with a place that respects their interest. I am pleased with our teenage history.  We hung lime green dancing stars in the lindens today-recycled from a fundraiser we did for the Children’s Center in Detroit some years ago.  The mission of the Children’s Center is to help educate kids, and encourage them to work hard and do well.  Their efforts are aimed at helping kids to be properly equipped to have productive lives that make a contribution to their community.  This optimism I like.     I spent the day attending to all the last minute details.  Of course we have a few cut flower arrangements.  After all, this is a party. 

Most of my pots of bulbs planted last fall are still green; the spring has been very slow in coming.  But outside, there are signs of life.  My crocus patches at home are beautiful right now.  The weekend promises warm weather-the first we have had in many months. No gardener will fault me for my green foliaged bulb pots-they understand that nature is a big fluid situation. They will come back for the show-that date is yet to be announced.  

I will admit that many of the spring containers I planted up for this event have been in a greenhouse for some time.  Spring in Michigan can be so variable.  Last year, the spring was early, and moderate.  It might have been the most beautiful spring that has ever been my pleasure to witness.  This spring-where is it?  I think it might be arriving tomorrow. We have a great weather forecast for the weekend. 

I have planted lots of containers at the shop, and all of the window boxes- just for spring.  Though our spring has the potential to last only days, I prefer to focus on the potential part.  The only days part-I refuse to be bullied.   


I am not willing to give up planting pansies and violas over a worry about how many days they might last.  I am optimistic that everyone will benefit from a big dose of spring-I know I do.  What nature delivers to its winter weary population is welcome at my place.

Lettuce in flats-the promise of the good that is to come. Should you read this blog regularly, you know I plant lettuce in pots as it is beautiful.  I am not much of a vegetable gardener.  But I do eat lettuce most every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to make a salad, he’ll fix me a mess of greens, and dress them. Like most gardeners,  I need the greens.   


Vernissage is a French word referring most usually to the opening of an art exhibit.  It was the title of my first blog post April 1 of 2009.  Spring-it is the opening of an art exhibit that will go on and enchant for the next 7 months.  I hope to see you at the opening.  Should you live far away-we still have a community.  I will keep you posted.  I hope to hear from you.  Gardeners everywhere are about to celebrate spring.  Come round, should you have the chance.