The Stick Crop

natural-twigs.jpgThe most glorious color award in the landscape must surely go to the fall season.  From the asparagus to the sweet gums, color is in the air.  The green of the evergreen shrubs and trees is all the more intense by contrast with the colors sported by the leaves of deciduous plants.  Once those leaves fall, the landscape takes on a much more subdued and subtle palette. The natural birch branches, honeysuckle vine rolls, grapevine deer, wood crates and pumpkins in the above picture are one shade of brown or another.  The bark of the linden is a gray variation of brown. So much brown!  The garden is going quiet. For every gardener unwilling to go quiet, the branches, twigs and poles available late in the fall can offer a new lease on a garden life.

red-curly-willow.jpgFor those gardeners who live in more northerly zones, the time between the last of the fall leaves and the spring crocus can be a very long time indeed. This means that the shrubs and trees that sport bark with great color are of great interest. Planning a landscape for winter interest is a good idea in my zone. My dilemma-space.  I have a very small urban property.  I run up against the limits of the space all the time.  Given a large property, I could have swaths of red and yellow twig dogwood, groves of bungeana pine, a group of London planes, and all manner of interesting willows.  Lacking that kind of space does not mean that I have to do without some winter color.        red-twig-dogwood-bundles.jpgI am fortunate that there are farmers in this country that grow certain species of shrubs and trees from which they harvest cut branches. Our shipment of cut branches arrived a few days ago.  The colors are astonishing.  The dogwood branches have glossy bark in a variety of shades of red and yellow.  The curly copper willow is a yellowy orange.  The flame willow is the color of cinnamon. The red bud pussy willow has a glossy dark red brown bark, and red orange buds. This color and bark texture destined to last throughout the winter- so welcome.

red-twig-dogwood.jpgThe species red twig dogwood is dull and dark red. Cut from the garden, this dogwood has small branchlets, and cream colored growth scars. New cultivars of dogwood sport clearer and more intense color than the species.  Spring Meadow Farms has been instrumental in offering great new cultivars of vibrantly barked shrubs to nurseries.  Dogwood which is grown for branches is at some point cut back near to the ground. This process is known as coppicing.  The English have been growing shrubs and cutting them back hard with the express purpose of harvesting the branches for fencing for centuries. A shrub that is cut back hard responds with vigorous new growth.  The straight and unbranched new growth provides the best color, and the glossiest bark.  The red twig dogwood “Cardinal” has the most brilliantly red bark of any cultivar I know.  The color of these branches is as luscious as a red tulip.

pussy-willow.jpgPussy willow is an enormous growing shrub whose main claim to fame is the fuzzy and silvery spring catkins that sally forth in the spring. But pussy willow branches are a gift to a winter landscape. We buy the cut branches at 6 feet tall or better.  The green and chocolate bark, and the orange red buds are sensational.  So how do I use these glossy barked and beautifully colored branches?  In containers at the front door.  On the mantle for the holidays. Over the door.  They can be woven into wreaths. In any application, they are a lively reminder that the harvest from the garden can endow your winter seaso..

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpg A casual bunch of branches has a more informal and traditional look. They pair well with other materials available for the season-grapevine, evergreen boughs, pine cones, dry hydrangea flowers and berries-even the sturdy remains of perennials from the garden.  Ornamental grasses, cut and fixed to a bamboo stake make a graceful foil to the more substantial branches.

yellow-twig-dogwood.jpgAn arrangement of fresh cut branches can have a very contemporary look, placed vertically in a container. The height is a welcome addition to a winter container.  Stems stuck into soil may very well root and sprout in the spring.  The willow leafing out means the branches can be part of a spring container planting.

cut-twigs-and-branches.jpgThe branches are beautiful this year.  They make an enormous visual impact in a winter landscape with minimal color.poplar-poles-and-grapevine-rolls.jpg These poplar poles are much bigger than a branch.  There are places where barked poles are the perfect thing.  A celebration of the season in whatever style and shape suits you.

twig-time.jpgDetroit Garden Works is a source for branches, twigs, poles, and other natural materials in November.  These materials help to make the celebration of the winter season all the better.  These branches can help make a winter landscape all the more beautiful.




Late To The Party

Ethe-greenhouse-at-Wisley.jpgFew months in the garden in Michigan can rival October.  The changing of the leaves on the trees and shrubs saturates the garden with color from top to bottom. I would not say that we are having a peak color year. The factors that influence fall color are many.  Factoring every variable in does not fully explain why one year is more colorful than another.  But nor every plant in the garden is remarkable solely from their fall color. These photographs of the RHS garden at Wisley, taken by Rob two weeks ago, are ample evidence that the garden can persist long into the fall.

October 23 2014 (18)Their are those garden plants that are just late to the party.  My favorite late fall perennial is the Japanese anemone.  The white flowering “Honorine Jobert” is at its peak right now-the 22nd of October.  It has been flowering for a month or better.  I find them easy to grow-decent sun and reasonable water is all they ask for.  The pink species anemone robustissima is vigorous in more shade. The fall blooming anemones are persistent; my patch has been in place for almost 20 years.  Their simple flowers are extraordinarily beautiful.  Atop long willowy stems, they nod in the slightest breeze.  The large grape like foliage is lower, and dense.

Europe 2014 825

The fall blooming colchicum is not a perennial-it is a bulb.  They are every bit as long lived as the anemones. They come up in the spring, with their long gawky leaves.  Their dramatic flowers emerge from the ground, leafless, in the fall.  Commonly known as autumn crocus, their flowers are crocus shaped, and over sized.  They need almost nothing in the way of care, and persist in the garden. The bulbs ask for a very early fall planting.  Those colchicums you see blooming in a bulb bin in the fall are blooming under stress.  That said, blooming colchicum that I have taken home in the fall took hold without a missed beat.

Europe 2014 801There are those perennials that mature in the fall-their fall statement may be just as beautiful as their summer flowering.  In my garden, hardy hibiscus stems are beautiful in the fall.  The large seed heads crack open revealing shiny black seeds.  The remains of the flowering echinacea stems will persist late into the fall. In Rob’s photo from Wisley, I am guessing that these are the seed heads of phlomis.  What a handsome statement they are making in October.  To follow are more of Rob’s pictures from Wisley. The fall gardens there are stunning. The late blooming perennials and bulbs, the ornamental grasses, the fruit trees in the orchard garden, and the perennials that persist into the fall all contribute to a garden still full of life.


Wisley-in-the-fall.jpgwaiting for tulips



beech-trunk.jpgwet beech trunk

ornamental-grasses.jpgornamental grass

grass-pattern.jpgsculpted lawn

ornamental-grasses.jpgcarpinus and ornamental grass

Europe 2014 775Asian pears

Europe 2014 764pears

Europe 2014 767pears

Europe 2014 773pears

Europe 2014 747ripe chestnuts


Recent Work


fall-container-planting.jpgFall is an incredibly beautiful season in Michigan. The sun low in the sky, and the morning fog makes every color intensely saturated.  The leaves changing electrifies a fall palette of color in the landscape in a way that no flower could hope to achieve. The sugar maples are brilliantly fiery; the hydrangeas are a muted shade of brown and pink.   No season celebrates color like the fall. We are in the early stages of that transition from summer to fall.  This is a season that I follow closely, as I do not wish to miss one moment of it. The materials available for fall are spectacular in color.  The ornamental cabbages and kales intensify in color as the temperature drops. The pumpkins and gourds are impossible to resist. Everything about them speaks to the harvest, and to fall color.

coral-bells.jpgThese pots are planted all around at the bottom with heuchera.  I am not so much a fan of dark leaved coral bells in the summer garden.  They are shockingly gloomy to me in the heat of August.   In the fall, they shine in containers. These dark colors are so beautiful on a rainy fall day. I see many more growers offering large heuchera plants for sale in the fall.  There are so many foliage plants with great color available.  No doubt I associate and welcome certain colors with certain seasons.  This is a luxury enjoyed by a gardener in a four season zone.

DSC_5372The window boxes in the front of the shop are showing signs of fall color.  I so appreciate those years when the fall comes slowly, and the killing frost is late.  The brown potato vine and the coleus are singed with cold.  The color in these boxes is changing with the season.  It is easy to replace certain very cold susceptible elements in a summer container with more cold tolerant plants.  But letting the fall season work its magic on a a summer planting can be quite beautiful.

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These urns sitting at the front door empty would be just lovely.  But planted for fall, they have a warm and welcoming appeal .  week of Sept 29 (14)Red Bor kale is one of the most versatile of all fall container plants.  They are tall enough to make a vertical statement.  The crinkled dark purple leaves darken more as the temperatures get cooler. They are less rigid in shape than the other cabbages and kales, making it easy to fill in the gaps between the other plants.

DSC_5408Not every fall arrangement needs to be standard issue orange and yellow.  There is an astonishing number of white and green pumpkins and gourds to be had.  Every grower has something a little different.  Every fall I see gourd shapes and color combinations I have not seen before.  An arrangement of pumpkins and gourds in a window box is as lovely a celebration of the fall as a boxful of foliage and flowers.

DSC_5364pots at the shop

JR fall 2014  5fall pots with dry hydrangeas

White kale and dry banana stems


fall container with broom corn, plum eucalyptus, orange floral picks, red bor kale and red chidori kale.

JR fall 2014red cabbage, cirrus dusty miller, gray eucalyptus and white banana stems

Red bor kale, pink cabbage and succulents

coleus-in-the-fall.jpgHow I am enjoying this beautiful moment.

The Burford Garden Company

Burford bulbsRob is back home after a 4 week shopping trip buying for the Detroit Garden Works spring 2015 collection. He drove over 4000 miles, and visited over 50 garden antiques shops and shows- not to mention individual artists and craftspeople whose work he admires and would want to represent. He brought home close to 1500 pictures from his trip, some of which I will surely post. He had business in the Cotswolds in England, and had time to to visit the Burford Garden Company in the heart of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.  From their website:

Burford Garden Company is a family-run business, established nearly four decades ago by Nigel and Louise Johnson. We started life as a simple plant nursery on a derelict farm in the Cotswolds, where we still are today – perched above the hills in the Oxfordshire countryside. We have now grown to become home to one of England’s largest and most exciting shopping destinations. We have one of the country’s most imaginative and inspirational product ranges for the garden and the home, all hand-picked and expertly curated by our team, the people who make up Burford Garden Company. Our innovative and creative retail practices have always blazed a trail – winning medals at Chelsea Flower Show along the way – and setting new standards of excellence which have made the Store a much envied market leader in its field today.”

Burford bulbs 2Rob emailed me these pictures from their bulb room. What a thrill for any gardener with a big love for spring flowering bulbs to walk into this room!  There were bulbs of every description and cultivar as far as the eye could see. I would be beside myself, trying to decide which bulbs and how many. Their display was plain breathtaking – crates chock full of bulbs, and neatly arranged and labeled brown paper bags to the side. Just imagining what all these bulbs would look like in full bloom – exciting.

Burford-bulbs.jpgA roomful of brown orbs that would need to be planted when the weather has gone chilly-only a gardener who loves flowers in the spring would fall for this.  Each of those brown bulbs represents the opportunity for a glorious spring moment many months away.  Nature is pretty strict about the planting requirements-plant them now, or do without in March, April, and May.  Even the bulbous alliums need to be planted now, for a bloom time in June. I don’t mind planting bulbs.  It is an investment in the future.  Most bulbs are fairly tolerant of any positioning, provided they get below ground before the ground freezes.

prepared bagsA tulip can be planted any side up. A bulb which is planted up side down does not mean game over.  Tulips will sprout, and grow towards the light, no matter your planting technique. I rarely dig holes for bulbs. That method of excavating soil, setting a bulb, and refilling the hole is so tedious. And unnecessary.  A perennial spade that can make the slightest slot in the ground down about 6 inches will do.  Small bulbs can be pushed into the ground the requisite 3 inches with an index finger, providing you have good and friable soil.

chionodoxa_forbesii_blue_giant_mainThe spring flowering bulbs we have available at Detroit Garden Works is nothing like the experience of the Burford Garden Company.  We have a highly edited and quirky list of spring flowering bulbs we would not want to live without.  Chionodoxa Forbesii Giant is astonishing beautiful in bloom.  Though this picture (courtesy of John Sheepers Bulbs) is a very close view of a very small flower stalk, what gardener would not want this spring blue in their life! The bulbs are no bigger than a thumb – this means easy to plant.  My advice-plant this fall for the spring to come.  You won’t be sorry.

hyac_hispanica_excelsior_extraspring flowering bulbs that we recommend?  Look over our short list.  Scilla hyacinthoides hispanica

musc_magical_mix_mainphotograph of Muscari Magical Mix  courtesy of John Sheepers

Muscari Pink Sunrise-500x500muscari Pink Sunrise

best_puschkinia_libanotica_mainPushkinia libanotica takes little effort to plant, it will appear and spread regularly in the spring for many springs to come.

Galanthus elwesiiThis photograph of galanthus came from Carolyn’s Shade Garden blog.  She is a big fan. Reading her blog will make you a fan of galanthus.

tulips 2014 (3)tulip mix at Detroit Garden Works spring 2014 – we have this mix available for purchase.

tul_lily_ballerina_main_the lily flowered tulip Ballerina

PL2000008177_card2_lgwhite parrot tuliptul_single_late_renown_maintulip  Renown

tul_giant_silverstream_extra_2_Darwin tulip  Silverstream

tulip  Dordogne

tul_single_late_pink_diamond_mainstulip  Pink Impression


tulip  Jaap Groot


The lily flowered tulip Mariette is a beautiful shade of dark carmine pink.

Longfield Gardensphotograph from Longfield Gardens.  Tulip  “Daydream”

tul_single_late_maureen_extra_1_from Van Engelen’s- tulip  “Maureen”

tul_single_late_menton_extra_5_tulip  Mentontul_single_late_camargue_maintulip  Carmargue

tul_parrot_apricot_parrot_mainapricot parrot tulip

tul_lily_elegant_lady_mainpictured is the tulip Elegant Lady.  Plant now for spring.  Look into your choices.  Plan.  Buy.  Plant.  Your spring will be all the better for what you do now.