Hot As Bloody Blazes

My shockingly chilly and record setting rainy spring has given way to temperatures hot as bloody blazes.  Temperatures in the mid nineties sounds like July or August-not early June.  I hate planting an annual, a perennial or a tree when it is 95 degrees.  That level of heat is incredibly stressful to transplants-not to mention people. This pool and terrace under construction needs containers-now.  It would be a challenging environment for plants newly transplanted even if it were not 95 degrees.  This will be a blisteringly hot spot in the summer, even on a cloudy day.   

Annual plants have very small root balls-think of it as a life trying to survive in a coffee scoop. Growers use soiless mixes for a lot of reason.  A soilless mix is sterile-no weeds or disease can infect a crop.  Soiless mix is light and easy to handle.  It provides a grower with a lightweight medium that they can fertilize to their personal specification.  If all annual plants were grown in home grown garden soil, no one would have the strength or patience to haul all that weight home and out to the garden.  I transplant all of my container plants into real soil.  That soil will give up its moisture slowly.  This will help the small plants to get established, in spite of their peat based root balls.


A soilless peat based mix can dry out in a matter of hours on a blisteringly hot day. What this means to me is every flat or case of 4 inch flowers needs to be soaked before we load in the morning-never mind that it has been watered 3 times the previous day. Those growers who have plants under glass right now-their lives are a misery. Anyone who grows plants is infected with that miracle of life gene. They would water non stop until bedtime if they needed to. There is that instinct to preserve life.  Preserving life in these containers will require careful plant choices. This means plants that like very hot and exposed locations.

Newly planted plants may need daily water when the temperatures skyrocket. Serious water deprivation may not kill a plant, but it can stress a plant such that its growth is greatly compromised. Make the distinction. Do not water just because it is hot. Some plants wilt from heat-not a lack of water. Butterburrs and dahlias come to mind. They will perk up when the temperatures drop. Water those things whose roots are dry, and water until you are blue in the face. A water bandaid does little-soak thoroughly.  Thern let the soil dry out before watering again.  Overwatering plants in very hot weather is like issuing an engraved invitation to any fungus that happens to be nearby.


Clustering pots in a smaller area is a good look, but it also has  some practical value.  I have containers in 4 places in my garden-and I have a hose nearby for every one of those spots.  Grouping enables me to display a collection.  The collection of pots and the collection of plantings will have interest individually, and as a whole.  These containers are made from large slabs of volcanic stone-hence the perforated surface.  I am assuming the slabs are cut with a giant saw.  The simple round French terra cotta pot is a good foil both in shape and color to the severely geometric grey stone.


Steel box and rectangle keeps a single stone square company midway down the length of the pool.  Of course this arrangement could change, once the pool furniture is placed.  No matter how many times I study the plans and diagrams, there is no ubstitute for seeing all of the elements in place.

This pool terrace asked for a good many containers.  Both the pool and the terrace are very large.  My clients selected what forms and shapes appealed to them; I put together a collection.  I placed all of their containers on the terrace today-it was 105 degrees.  During the entire time I was arranging, I was oblivious to the heat.  Not so my crew.  They were doing the really heavy lifting.  A pair of antique English cast iron horse troughs from the 1850’s weighed over 1 ton each-these we placed with a front end loader.  Once we set them in place, each trough was lifted off the ground via 12 pairs of hands, so a hard rubber spacer could be placed underneath each leg. 

 My clients are wicked intelligent, and have a clearly sophisticated point of view. Though they have a decidedly modern perspective, these antique troughs appealed to them immediately.  They were certain that they wanted them.  They work beautifully here.  They have a very dramatic setting here, which they can handle with aplomb.     

A pool terrace this size asks for a very large statement from every container.  I have some thinking, and some shopping to do.

The Greening Of Detroit

 

I sit on the board of the Greening of Detroit, although I never attend the commissioner’s meetings.  Meetings are not my long suit. I am much better in some other capacity.  My main contribution-I sponsor a garden tour every July to benefit the Greening.  Every dollar we take in from the sale of tickets goes to benefit their programs.  Sometimes I teach classes at the Eastern market. I help however I can. 

But back to the Greening-they have been planting trees, sponsoring urban farms, and teaching people how to grow in Detroit for the past 21 years.  They have been committed to the improvement of my city for a very long time.  Each and every one of them-friendly, engaging and focused.  I admire, and stand behind their misson, and their record.   Last week-a fund raiser dinner.  Every year Monica manages to persuade me to do the flowers-in early May, for Pete’s sake.  I protest, and then I do what I should do-help them.    This year- 26 fiber pots stuffed with pansies-each with their own banner.  Plant it, Detroit.

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.