The Garden In December

December-garden.jpgEvery gardener’s circumstances are different, but our December is notable for the coming of the cold.  No matter what year it is, my plan for the holiday and winter garden at the shop has to include an element that is warm.  The lighting is warm.  Sparkly or reflective materials can be warm.  The sentiment of the season can be warm.  Rob says the shop garden this year is cozy.  As in yard after yard of thick fir garland.  Concolor fir, noble, silver, Douglas, balsam-fir is a very sturdy and long lasting green outdoors.  The garland was loosely wrapped with grapevine garland.  The contrast of the bare vines and the lush garland   The window boxes have fir blankets.  The windows have fir hats.  It was 14 degrees this morning when I took this picture, but the garden looks warm.

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The window boxes are stuffed with mixed greens.  As the mixed greens are long and lax, we do a few rows of noble fir at the bottom of the greens to support the entire arrangement. Noble fir is very stiff and strong.  Winter weather can be fierce.  Snow, wind, ice and various mayhem from the sky can take a toll on a container garden one would want to last until March.  Making an arrangement sturdy and strong is more than half of the work of it.

warm-winter.jpgThe centerpieces are composed of red bud pussy willow, ochre eucalyptus, a few springs of metallic gold eucalyptus, and a ruff of gold sinamay. For good measure, a dollop of sugar pine cones completes the look.  Given that the building is large, and the garden is mostly viewed from the street, or from a car, the materials are over scaled. A smaller pine cone would not have much impact given the scale of the building.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgOver the summer, these Belgian blue stone plinths supported Italian terra cotta pots with boxwood spheres.  Winter arrangements in my zone ask for pots that are frost proof. Though boxwood is generally hardy in pots, I would be uneasy about an extended period of low temperatures.  We have had an uncharacteristically cold late fall-12 degrees overnight is much more like late January than early December.  This garden would have a very bleak look, but for its winter dress.

holiday-container.jpgWinter gardens are for viewing from a distance.  It is unlikely anyone will be lingering here for long.  Big, warm, and simple gestures go a long way towards banishing the winter blues.  A design which gives the illusion of warmth is appreciated when the weather is so dreary.  Decorating the garden has its benefits.  It feels good to have something to do that at least approximates gardening. And it is nice to have something good to look at while the garden is dormant.  This garden is just about ready for the snow.

warm-winter-decor.jpgThe fir hats over the windows are composed of garlands that are attached to bamboo poles.  Garden has a natural tendency to fall, swoop and swag.  If you want a straight and orderly appearance, a bamboo pole will keep all of the clippings in line.  The poles are then wired to the pediment.  I like this construction technique for mantels too.

wrapped-tree-trunks.jpgMy favorite part of this winter garden are the garlands and grapevines on the tree trunks.  Deciduous trees have a very spare and sculptural look during the winter.  These over sized scarves that puddle on the ground make the trees look protected and warm.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThere are those places yet to finish.  These urns need something.  The pots need some lighting.  A favorite part of this winter project is the ability to work on it as time and inspiration permits.  Last January I had the basic idea for the garden.  I ordered boxes of grapevine garland, for the building, and the trees, and for Rob’s steel hanging spheres.  Taking the time to let a garden space speak back is my idea of luxury, and part of the great pleasure of the doing.  I may still be tinkering with this 2 weeks from now.  There’s no rush.  Winter will be with us for a long time.

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Warm and cozy sounds good.

Sunday Opinion: A Life Span

Everything in the garden has a lifespan.  This is a polite way of saying that every living thing lives their life, and eventually dies.  The redwood trees in California, and the old yews in England, among other ancient plants, are prized by many not only for their size and shape, but their astonishing longevity.  The Wollemi pine trees-of which there are 40 trees in some unknown location in Australia-date back thousands of years.  The National Geographic has made a big issue of protecting first, and secondarily propagating these trees.  Their sales of new starts of Wollemi Pines helps to cover the cost of their protection. They grow no where else on this planet, but for a remote valley in Australia.  Yes, I did buy small starts some 8 years ago-why wouldn’t I?  Both of my Wollemi pines belong to my landscape superintendent-Steve Bernard.  They were a gift.  They are at this moment, thriving.  As is our relationship.  We work together.  But not every plant thrives.  Plants which have lustily grown for years eventually die.  Some plants die just days after they are planted.  Do I have an explanation for this-not really.  The life and death in a landscape is an issue both Steve and I deal with every day.

Landscape clients want me to guarantee that the plant material I put in the ground will live-for at least the warranty period.  For one year, I am asked to stave off death.  I oblige, in spite of the fact that the life of a landscape and garden depends more on nature than me.  I do what I can, but I am rarely in charge. Some plants thrive in spite of my skepticism.  Other robust plants inexplicably die, leaving me with lots of questions and not so much comfort.  Anyone who gardens knows that every plant has a lifespan.  Every gorgeous moment in a garden is just that-a moment.  And that which is treasured is ephemeral.

I have a few plants that are original to my garden from the day I moved in.  A magnolia, some dogwoods, a pair of picea mucrunulatum, some rhododendron, a norway spruce some 40 feet tall,  some azaleas, and some challenged maples in the tree lawn.  But these plants are not centuries old. They are at best 90 years old.  Ninety years old is a blip that one blink will miss, in the history of our planet.  Every gardener needs to realize that their influence is short.  And not necessarily what nature values.  Peonies and asparagus are very long lived.  Trees that have a good siting and thoughtful planting live a long time.  As in my lifetime.  Perennials live but a very short time.  Foxgloves are beautiful, and short lived.

The lifetime of the planet-vastly more years than mine.  I understand that eventually, and sooner rather than later, I will wear out and die.  The numbers of perennials and annuals in my garden that will wear out and die before me-considerable.  Lots.  The trees that will mature and finally die-they will be much older than me on the day of their demise. My gardening is but a brief moment in a scheme that is long, substantial, and just about impossible to predict.

Does the prospect of a limited lifespan to my landscape worry me?  Not really.  A beginning and an end to anything significant in the landscape is beyond my grasp to orchestrate.  I spend an extraordinary amount of time in an effort to keep every plant in my landscape happy and healthy.   Every gardener, just like me, learns, and leans into the natural demands of a life span.  Leaning in-what every gardener knows how to do.

At A Glance: Landscape Materials

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A multi-story building downtown at 1001 Woodward had an entry plaza that I would call chilly and uninviting.  Bedrock Realty, the new owner, has an idea to warm things up.  Kelly Deines of Rossetti Architects asked if I could put together a landscape that would include 2 pair of our espaliered arbors.  We were happy to oblige.  The livestock tanks-courtesy of our local farm store.  The steel arbors-courtesy of Buck and his group at Branch.

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Espaliered pear arbor

espaliered-pear-arbor.jpgOwen was one of a crew of 7 that helped plant those trees.

artificial-turf.jpgArtificial turf

arbors-and-stock-tanks.jpgSteel forms for the espaliers

planting.jpgcosmos and pennisetum under planting the espaliers

1001 Woodward 2013 (43)finished planting

planted.jpgartificial turf bands on the stock tanks

turf-band.jpgartificial turf secured with hot pink zip ties

trimming-the-turf.jpgtrimming the turf square and true

furniture.jpgurethane furniture specified and installed by Rossetti Architects

downtown.jpgpeople in the space

landscape-materials.jpgThe linden trees in a granite planter box were underplanted with creeping jenny.  Espaliered trees, artificial turf, pink zip ties, galvanized metal livestock watering tanks, cosmos, little bunny pennisetum, molded urethane French style arm chairs and creeping jenny and a plaza typical of a vintage urban skyscraper-landscape materials that came together to create a place for people to congregate outdoors.

 

The Landscape Plan

Sept 6, 2012.jpgIn September of last year, a plan for a pool, pool house, and landscape was approved and awarded a permit to build.  Those drawings, and the concept for the pool house-time consuming to produce. There are ideas, drafts, and more drawings.  There are lots of meetings.  A client, with a Capital C.  An architect.  A pool contractor.  A building contractor.  And planning with a big P.  A big organizing idea is essential. These clients wanted a pool, and place to entertain family and friends.  This meant siting the pool near the house and existing terrace.  A home, terrace and a pool when sited properly make the flow of traffic in the space easy and comfortable.  The pool, pool house, and surrounding landscape needed a flat place to be, despite the existing slope from the yard towards the house.  Sloped sites are good for mountain climbers, hikers, and short visits.  A landscape that invites people to linger asks for a flat, or near to flat grade, to navigate.  To sit.  To congregate. The idea to create a level landscape with a close proximity to the house was the organizing metaphor for the design. A primary or seminal idea will provide a foundation that connects every other gesture to the whole.

Sept-13-2012.jpgOnce the space was graded flat, the construction of the pool began.  The soil that was available as a result of the excavation of the pool was repurposed on site in a spot that would afford the client more flat space.  These clients planned to spend a lot of time in the landscape.  They did not have the idea to view it from afar.  They wanted plenty of room for any activity that involved people.

November-2012.jpgOnce the pool walls were installed, the retaining walls that would hold back the sloping ground were installed. These concrete walls had footings installed down 42″ below grade.  This is standard in my zone.  A footing 42″ below ground means frost will not heave or damage the wall.  The wall has a purpose-holding back all of that soil on the upper level.

November-9-2012.jpgThe foundation for a pool house included the apparatus required for heated floors.  That came first.  The pool house itself would be constructed with solar panels on the back side of the roof that would heat the space in the fall.  Details like this makes a landscape in a climate like ours enjoyable early in the summer season, and late into the fall.

November-14-2012.jpgThe concrete retaining walls needed a skilled stone mason to transform them from the necessary to the beautiful.  Steve Templeton, owner of Templeton Construction, managed all of the construction with  grace, speed, and aplomb.  The dirt and disarray notwithstanding, these walls were beautifully conceived, and solidly constructed.

December-2012.jpgThe construction of the pool and pool house was an affair handled start to finish by my clients, and Templeton Construction.  My part?  I watched. My design work was long finished.  The landscape installation-to come.

 

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By the time that March of 2013 arrived, the big ideas were beginning to take shape.  Some parts of the landscape took place into the late fall months, notably the finish grading and seeding of the displaced soil.  The first order of business in the landscape was the installation of the large trees.  They had to be planted first, as once the rest of the landscape was finished, there would be no access for the equipment necessary to handle large trees.

April-2012.jpgBy April, the pool house was up; the interior was under construction. The pool was finished, and waiting for warmer weather.  The landscape comes last, as the heavy construction occupies just about every inch of the space around it.  Once the exterior was finished and the debris cleaned up, we were ready to begin.

May-2013.jpgIn May, the addition of soil, grading, and prepping of the oil to plant was underway.  All of the beds were graded to meet the grade established by the pool and pool house. The existing landscape needed to be welcomed into the new design.

June-2013.jpgOnce all of the woody plant material was planted, and an irrigation system in place, the project was ready for grass, perennials and annuals.

June-2013.jpgBy this time, my clients were more than ready to give up the construction phase, and move in.  Who could blame them?  A project like this takes a lot of time to plan and execute.  There are problems that require attention.  In this case, quite a bit of drainage work was done before the finish.  Heavy spring rains created delays.

August-2013.jpgThe day when all of the commotion dies down, and a project comes to a finish, is a good day for a client. From start to finish, 11 months.  It is a satisfying day for all of the contractors who contributed to the final outcome.

August-2013.jpgOf course with a landscape, there is no final outcome.  This was the beginning.  I find that big projects created from a few bold and simple ideas are easier to stage and execute.  A plan for the logical order of events helps make a project come to fruition with a minimum amount of lost, down, or wasted time.  But even more importantly, a simple plan that focuses on establishing spaces, and creating structure leaves the door open for the future.  Should a client have success with a new landscape, and become more interested, gardens can be added.  A grove of fruit trees might be just the thing.

August-2013.jpgNew landscapes, whether big or small, benefit from a plan that prioritizes what needs to happen first.  A plan that asks for a lifetime’s worth of landscape development to be installed all at once puts a big burden on the client.  Once the installation is finished, my work is done.  But the work is just beginning for the client.  I like them to have the opportunity to decide whether they would like to take things further.  After they catch their breath with this phase, that is.

August-2013.jpgOnce the structure of a landscape is installed, it may speak back in a way that a designer and the client did not anticipate.  There may be surprises, second thoughts, or new ideas.  There may be something that does not work out.  Better one problem to solve, than a long list of problems to solve.

August-2013.jpgI think it is important for clients to experience success in maintaining a project.  A landscape design and installation is no better than the maintenance it takes for it to prosper.  They might decide they like the landscape that is doing well enough to do more.  A big perennial garden might be just the thing, providing the timing is right.  Not everyone would want as much to care for as I have.  Not everyone would want as little to care for as I have.  That degree has to emerge.  Better that the first part of the project creates a structure which can stand on its own.

late-August-2013.jpgThe degree to which a client is willing and excited to take ownership at the end of a project is no small measure of the success of the design.