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.

Belatedly, The First Of April

I know, today is April 2.  April 1 news is regrettably old news.  A day late will be a regular occurence now-I am back to work.  Making landscape calls for both new house construction and landscape renovation-despite the snow and ice.  Studying site plans and taking pictures.  A few unfinished projects from last year need to be buttoned up. I am almost finished with the the spring display at the shop.  I am back to designing. 

The fifteenth anniversary of Detroit Garden Works means much to me. I am pleased to report we are still going strong.  Keeping a business going 15 years pales in comparison to Clifton Little Venice in England-could it be that they are celebrating their 160th birthday?  Yes, they are.  Established in 1851, they are celebrating 160 years this year.  Clifton Nurseries is London’s oldest garden centre, only minutes from London’s busy West End.  Check them out, as I do, regularly.  www.clifton.co.uk.  Their age, cache and great style does not discourage me in the least bit.  They encourage me to be the best I can be.  I am very pleased to report that I spied English made concrete pots in the classical Italian style in their nursery-we too have these great concrete pots available. 

But April first marks a few other modest milestones. April 1 of 2009 I wrote my first Dirt Simple post. I started writing with the intention of writing every day.  Every day, rain or shine.  I have not been perfect in this regard, but I made a decent effort.  At 703 posts, I am 27 posts shy of perfect given two years, this April 1 of 2011.  Somewhat shy of perfect is plenty ok with me.  I so enjoy the writing. I enjoy so much more the contact I have made with gardeners far from me.  This could be a few miles away, or an ocean away;  my French friend and garden writer, Delphine Gitterman-we have made a relationship, never having met face to face.  Paradis Express is a daily read for me-she exposes me to things I would not have access to otherwise.   Look her up.    Ditto Rochelle Greayer at Studio G-does she not shine? 

Beyond the 2nd anniversary of the blog, April 1 was Rob’s 19th anniversary with me.  Nineteen years-holy heck.  We went to dinner in celebration of that milestone at Pepinos, in Walled Lake.  Early on, we went there regularly after work.  Though I moved away from that neighborhood 15 years ago, the hostess who has been there 27 years recognized us instantly.  She asked after us; her knowledge and interest was genuine.  We got a great booth.  We had a great dinner.  We shared a great bread pudding for dessert on the house-a lit birthday candle stuffed into the whipped cream, on Karen. Any relationship-whether personally or design oriented-matters much.  Should you live near me, and like to have dinner at a great supper club witha relaxed atmosphere, try Pepinos.  

The big idea here?  Age is good for certain things.  Age makes for great lichens, big and gorgeous plants, good looking trees.  Age has its advantages.  April first in my life is all about serious, funny and engaging relationships. This blog-a new member of the April one club.  Rob-a charter member of the April one club.  April first-of course this can only mean the best is yet to come.

Greening Up

 

I can understand why the idea of a conservatory or greenhouse space is so incredibly attractive.  I live in a climate that is inhospitable, even foul almost half the year-if you like growing plants, that is.  This room in the shop had no windows, but thanks to a used Lord and Burnham greenhouse from which I salvaged the roof, I have a green space.  It smells like warm dirt, moisture laden air, and plants-intoxicating.  Even when nothing is blooming, it still smells like life.  The climbing fig that covers two of the four walls is probably 10 years old now.  I had to have it, after seeing the hundred year old vines in the conservatory at Dunbarton Oaks.  I thought the shop had to have water and plants someplace every day-it’s why we do what we do.         

Though the weather is stubbornly refusing to give up winter and warm up, this room is warm and inviting.  The first of our favorite spring green plants have come in.  A single resident Wollemi pine lives happily in this space year round, even though we do not heat the space between January 15 and March 1.  I am not a huge fan of tropical plants in the house.  They always have that air of resignation about them; how theystruggle  to survive in poor light, and hot dry house heat.  This room offers good light, and protection from the elements.       

Elements?  No snow is allowed here.  No wind, no hail, no temperatures below 30, no ice.  The space is not at the mercy of too much rain, or too little.  We rarely have bugs in the winter-it is too chilly.  Most everything goes outdoors once the weather is nice.  We do have the occasional toad-how they find this room, I have no idea.  It is a space we look after, and it rewards us with a place of refuge from winter.  It is also a nursery-for plants that need hardening off.  These topiary lemon cypress just arrived from California.  Though they happily tolerate less than perfect conditions, they need to become acclimatized to the cold.  

These ivy topiary are lovely.  Though they require some work to maintain their beautiful form, they are otherwise little care.  A summer outdoors recuperating from being inside all winter they will appreciate.  They are a complete vision of a garden, in and of themselves.     

The bulb pots are coming on strong, having been moved to this space. We keep it at 55-60 degrees during the day, and 40-45 at night.  The room is helping to create an atmosphere of spring.  I have only participated in the design of 2 conservatories in my whole career.  They are expensive, they require loads of proper engineering, and they can be the devil to get working properly.    

But today I see why gardeners build them.  We have rosemary cones and single ball topiaries, lemon cypress in differing forms, and a collection of ferns.  Fresh green plants-oxygen for the heart and soul.  I asked Buck where we could have one.  We can’t, he said. Too expensive, too problematic, too big a heat bill.  It would be much easier to move to the shop greenhouse for the winter.     

The lemon cypress are not hardy in my zone, but they are easy to keep over.  They grow like weeds.  That lime green color is accompanied by a faint scent of lemon.  A collection of 6 inch pots-like a party.  I have no interest in a greenhouse space in July.  But October through March-wouldn’t it be lovely?   


In the lower left of this picture, a pair of 3 gallon sanseveria.  This black leaved lime-edged variety is quite stunning.  They would be so striking in a simple container in a very shady place, fringed with lime selaginella.  I can feel a fever coming on.  The greenhouse space is providing some welcome heat.