The Painted Border


Repainting this concrete floor has gone on for over a week now.  I am hoping to finish up quick.  A container from England is sitting in customs; we need to be ready for that delivery. The four color green ground of this painted rug needed a border.  The base color is a dark chocolate.  Though I knew where I wanted to go color wise, I needed a texture that was unlike the texture of the ground.  Contrast is not strictly confined to color.  Though I had the best time signing the floor with loops of paint in a steady stream from my stir stick, I wanted a different texture for the border.  A clear definition of the edge.

The border is entirely painted with drips.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know dirt follows me around.  It is always under my fingernails, and in my sock tops.  As a painter, I know anything I wear will sooner or later show evidence of the painting process.  I am likely to have paint on my shoes, my hands my face, and my hair.  It is a life condition-I have no other explanation.  Paint drips usually land on me.  My plan-the paint would drip on the floor, and not so much on me.   

I was after a gravelly texture.  It seems like it ought to be the simplest thing in the world to get paint to drip-it happens unbidden all the time.  But regular drips, not too fast drips, not too big drips-this involves paint at a perfect consistency.  Thick enough to permit multiple drops, but thin enough to deposit small and civilized gravel-like shapes.  This part was work.  It will be a good thing when this floor is covered with the great things we have coming for spring.  My globs, lines and blips tell the tale.  3/8 inch and down decomposed granite is remarkably uniform.  My painting is anything but.    

But a paint card laid is a paint card played-there is no mopping up.  I could work another two weeks to erase any evidence of my hand, but why would I want to?  My approach to landscape design is formal-whether the result is traditional or contemporary.  I favor landscape design that emphasizes structure and utility.  Distilled design that makes a clear statement.  But I do understand that the most formal design on paper is subject to wind, weather, grade, hardiness, and all manner of unforseen caprice.     

It may be what I like the best about this painting are those capricious places. A loop of green paint might find its way out there, should the muscles fueling my hand unexpectedly flex.  An inadvertent flex might end up being my favorite part.  My advice?  If you want to paint a floor, make a plan, lay it out, prepare for any eventuality, and then go for broke. The same applies to a garden.  Plan your heart out.  Then go for broke. 

Those irrepressible blips are a personal signature.  When I sign a check, or a document, or a letter; when I design a landscape, I sign my name on the dotted line. My signature on the dotted line is not a guarantee of perfection-it is a vote of my confidence in my work.  What I do confidently is anything but perfect.  But it might be interesting.

A Signature

We are into the maelstrom phase of the spring redo of the shop.  It seems like everything has been moved, washed, and otherwise made ready to make friends with what what is on its way here.  Ourt first container from Europe-in customs in Romulus as I write.  Some months ago I wrote about a concrete floor that I had painted to resemble a “tapis vert”.  Lierally translated from the French, a tapis vert is a green carpet.  It is to my mind the most elemental version of a garden.  Every garden bears the signature of the garden maker.  A group of plants are arranged, have a form, that comes from human hands.  Though a wild meadow studded with poplars may not seem to have a signature, it does.  Certain and specific species thrive there.  The placement of the trees has everything to do with how seed is dispersed.  The most natural wild place has a signature, no matter how subtle.  Milo was a baby when I painted the floor with my representation of a lawn edged in gravel; he could not wait for the barricades to come down so he could go lie on it.   

Five years has taken its toll.  Lots of traffic from both people and objects had dulled the colors.  There were places where the paint had simply worn away.  Since spring is all about fresh, a fresh take on the floor seemed in order.  Moving everything to the sidelines was a big job, as was a thorough cleaning.  The paint needs every chance it can get to stick.  Howard decided to pitch in and help Pam with this. 

The floor got washed twice, and hand dried, in an effort to remove as much grime as possible.  The cleaning of this building is a full time job.  Dirt, plants and water get tracked all over.  Last time, I painted with floor with Benjamin Moore exterior 100% acrylic paint in a satin finish.  Acrylic paint is much harder than latex; the paint finish is washable, but not too shiny.  This time, I decided to use the acrylic version manufactured by Porter Paint.  We use this brand on all our painted furniture that goes outdoors, and on the extira board panels in the Jackie boxes we make.  Porter paint is a paint of choice for sign painters.  It is extremely durable outdoors.  This floor gets plenty of abuse-every muddy or wet day in every season, someone is bringing what’s on the ground across this floor.  Durability is important. 

What particular green to use as a base coat-I spent plenty of time stewing over that.  As the previous painting featured a green leaning towards yellow, I decided to change to a grass green.  Fern green.  A green not yellow, not blue.  Just green.  You cannot tell the temperature from this picture; the building is cold this time of year.  Big and drafty and a fortune to heat, we keep the temp down and out coats on-usually somewhere between 50 and 55.  This means the paint dries slowly, but I cannot imagine taking on a project like this any other time of year.   

The chocolate border is a paint color called “afternoon tea”.  How appropriate to the time of year.  Have you ever picked a paint color that had a name you did not like?  I haven’t either.  The person whose job it is to name paint colors-they must be bursting at the seams with ingenuity, and endowed with a stellar vocabulary.  Two base coats were applied-this part took 3 days.  Letting the paint dry enough is essential.  I do like to apply a second coat as the first coat is just barely shy of being dry.  I believe this makes the top layer stick better.   

The texture of the green ground the first time around came from a series of stokes meant to have a grassy feel.  I am sure I applied 3 additional colors over the ground.  Ths time I had something different in mind.  I wanted to apply the paint as if it were being written rather than painted.  This meant thinning the paint down until it ran a bit.  All of the paint was applied with a paint stir stick, not a brush. 

My paint stick was just inches above the surface while I was writing-this was a tough position to maintain for long.  But it was great fun.  That paint stick was a cross between a baton, a light stick and a pen.  Sometimes I would draw, sometimes I would sign.  I shook the stick on occasion like Milo shakes off the snow.

What did I write?  Whose names did I sign?  You will have to decide for yourself, come March.

The border-tomorrow.

Good News


When Tony B. from Martha Stewart Living Magazine emailed me this past October that they were interested in featuring some objects Detroit Garden Works carries for their March garden issue, my heart skipped a beat.  OK, maybe many more than one beat.  Why wouldn’t my heart pound?  Martha Stewart has done plenty to make gardening mainstream.  I so admire how she connects thoughtful living, decorating, celebrating, cooking, gardening and growing-I read every issue.  I bring the recipes home for Buck.  Why is this?  I have choices about how to live my life day to day.  But I am, like many other people, interested in her take.  She has devoted an enormous amount of time to documenting and inspiring creativity.  In the home.  In the kitchen-and in the garden.  For regular people-coast to coast, and beyond.  She made a gorgeous garden seem attainable. 

 Like you, I have failed miserably to repreduce her gorgeous outcomes-no matter how detailed her instructions might be.  My years ago kitchen never recovered from my efforts to reproduce her spun sugar.  My garden in no way looks like hers.  This has never really bothered me.  The important thing is that she encouraged me to try all sorts of things. She tells me where she shops.  Whom she admires.  She sows all kinds of seeds-she is a teacher.  Regularly and reliably I will run from learning something.  Maybe that’s from worry that I cannot learn something. But I seem to have no problem trying out what she suggests.  I treasure her for this.

I am not always so interested in what is hip, current and fashionable-I have my own ideas about things.  But I respect her take.  I can be fancy-talk to me about hellebores, landscape design, good garden plants, winter containers, garden antiques-and so on.  But I can also be a plain and simple citizen-interested in a little guidance, a few fresh ideas.  Anyone who sows seed gets my respect.  Seed sowers-they are a breed all their own.  They might generate an idea, a recipe, a design; they plant.  They conduct.  They advise.  They suggest.  They connect with you and me and lots of others.  One seed at a time, they make a difference.  One seed at a time, they speak up. 

In any event, I could not be more pleased that Martha Stewart Living reserved a place for three items we carry-in their “Great Finds- Our 50 favorite products, projects and places inspired by the world of gardening.”  I could not be more pleased that Detroit Garden Works was included in their list.  One item, sourced by Rob.  Another-by me.  And the third-a product we manufacture.  I very much like this part.  Many thanks, Martha Stewart Living.


Stuck inside, that is.  The inside story-we are repainting parts of Detroit Garden Works for the spring. Every square inch is torn up, everything is stacked up, on hold, or in storage.  Then what we have has to be introduced to what is on the way for spring. The visit to the Atlanta Mart gave rise to plenty of ideas about display spaces.  I walked through my shop rooms this past week, and tried to imagine what new spaces might look like.  Not one idea surfaces.  A bad cold didn’t help things.  The January weather adds to the inertia that best describes winter; there is a sopping wet and partially frozen dingy grey wool blanket everywhere I look.  Every square foot of our 10,000 square feet will be home to our the spring gardening congress.  I know I need to be ready, but there needs to be a plan first.  All the possibilities and sheer the size of this place means I have less time that I think to get it thought out.  It is just hard to shake off that longing for another time and another place-like my garden in the spring or summer or fall- and get going.  This makes for a design headache. 

We have 2 containers coming from the Europe, the first of which is scheduled to make Montreal February 4.  What happens next is anyone’s guess. Should that part of Canada see a snow storm the likes of which invaded New York City a few days ago, the railway will be shut down, or keep traffic moving at a crawl.  A 2 day trip from Montreal might take 10 days.  We have a customs broker who attends to the process of our container being cleared for entrance into the US.  That process is a good deal more stringent and time consuming today than 10 years ago.  I have no earthly idea what day that semi will pull in with that container on board.  It could be days-it could be more time than I bargained for.


If you are a gardener, you get design headaches too, particular to the winter months.  The process of deciding what trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, annuals, tropicals, vegetables, herbs you are crazy for-easy.  What we all  have a mind to grow next season-easy. Every tomato under the sun looks good right about now.  What we plan to change, renovate, turn around and rethink-easy.  Putting all of this together in a coherent scheme-a design headache. Beautiful meadows-there are many that are nature driven and naturally maintained.  They tend to be really big spaces-much bigger than my yard.  When nature has an idea, she expresses it on a really big scale.    A mini meadow requires such thoughtful design-there’s simply no room for mucking about with obviously unresolved areas.  Full scheme ahead.

On my small property, in my small business, I do not have unlimited space and time.  I need to pick and choose which statements I wish to make, and then decide how to make them.  This means my gardening broadcasts need a lot of distillation, and fast.  The Mart in Atlanta-so many things in one place.  Making sense of it all-big work that is still going on.  One finite space, one small voice-looking to organize and energize a collection.  Seed catalogues, tools, nursery stock availability lists, annuals, pots and benches for spring-there is plenty to to see, read and absorb.  There is also the matter of the stack of site plans on my drafting table-projects which need design time before spring. 


   Customers straggle to my door-we are happy to let the garden-starved in, but we do not provide that much comfort. The shop is just about 55 degrees. The most lively thing going on is the dogs barking.  The January doldrums have set in.  The shop is in so many fragments, waiting for an organizing metaphor.  In spite of my headache,  I like these days when every room is taken down to its bare bones, and the thought of putting it all back together scares me.  It means I have work to do that I like.

  Sorry to say this, but we northern gardeners have the entire month of February, and perhaps into March to go before there is any hint of spring.  Not so good for you-not so great for me either.  I so miss my garden.  But for the shop, the deconstruction is good.  It means our spring will be a fresh.     If there ever was a time for a big idea, this is it.  I feel sure that if I look long enough, I’ll spot one.

Madame Nature, I’ll be ready when you are.