Tell The Story

May 21, 2014 (2)Any seasonal planting begins with an idea.  An organizing metaphor.  That collection of ideas and the resulting metaphor makes for a story.  A story you wish to tell with plants. Plants are one thing, but the plants you choose for a particular container should live together in a meaningful way. The design of in ground annual plantings and container plantings takes many formal design issues into account.  Color, texture, mass, line-these are formal elements of design that apply to any creative expression. The deliberately chosen relationships between all of these elements tell a story.

May 21, 2014 (44)Some containers I plant, the color is the story.  Others, the texture and mass is the story.  Others echo or repeat a story about loss, or love.  Others recreate a moment from the past.  Some stories are about joy. Those stories may be on fire. Some stories are pastoral, or a longing for another place and time. Other stories echo a family history.  Another story may be about refuge. Some stories have to do with agriculture and farming. Important events have stories attached to them.  Some stories are witty, saucy, or funny.

May 21, 2014 (5)All of my clients have their own particular story. Their likes and dislikes.  How they would choose to represent the beauty of a garden is particular to them.  For those with whom I have a long history, I plant in service of what I know of their story. I may not be dead to right in every regard, but a client who returns year after year must feel that I hear them.

May 21, 2014 (38) A plant is a thing of wonder in and of itself.  But a great container planting is not a collection of plants.  It is a community of plants that when planted in a confined space creeate visual and emotional meaning. This client likes green above all. She likes a planting which is serene and quiet.  She likes the relationship between old plants of formal shape, and meadow like plantings which include lavender and other herbs.  She likes plants that remind her of a conservatory, as in ferns.

May 21, 2014 (41)This stone wall/planter has had a lot of things in it over the year.  One year, Chicago figs.  Another year, white nicotiana.  This year we have sky blue Cathedral salvia, icicle helichrysum, variegated licorice, and strawberries.

May 21, 2014 (16)This variegated boxwood also has variegated licorice, as it is near by. And the coloration of the leaves echo one another, and contrast in size and shape.  The little pot-a single Spanish lavender plant.

May 21, 2014 (15)The double ball boxwood topiary in the corner is quite old.  The lavender topiary is new, and beginning to bloom.

May 21, 2014 (40)The long troughs have a mixture of blue green leaved plants, and silver leaved plants.

May 21, 2014 (26)The pool yard is a little less quiet.  A duranta on standard is under planted with surfinia sky blue petunias, and artist ageratum. A rosemary topiary is under planted with a variegated sage.  The center pot has 3 elegant feather plants, surrounded by lime green spikes and bicolor angelonia.

May 21, 2014 (36)White lantana on standard, and polka dot plant. The low planters have green echeverias.

May 21, 2014 (4)4 hanging baskets for the porch are planted with a white variegated plectranthus, and a gray plectranthus, mixed.

May 21, 2014 (32)The far pots are planted with white mandevillea, and a host of attending white flowered and gray leaved plants.

May 21, 2014 (52)The plant stand is planted with white caladiums, bird’s nest ferns, white non stop begonias, Jayde pepperomia, and maidenhair ferns.  The big lead pot is planted with a single Kimberly fern.  Very quiet, and peaceful.  Hopefully the story of these containers is evident in all of the choices.  We will see how it reads in August.

 

 

Garden Design Magazine

the new Garden Design magazineThe new Garden Design Magazine just came out.  The original magazine, which was greatly appreciated by aficianados of great landscape and garden design, quit publishing a few years ago. The rights to the magazine were eventually purchased by Jim Peterson.  What he has created comes from a vision all his own.  The 132 page publication is more book than magazine.  Everything about it is beautiful, including the paper it is printed on.  If you have a strong interest in landscape and garden design, I would urge you to subscribe.

DSC_0936We have another reason to be thrilled with this premier issue.  A feature article about my work, and the evolution of my group of companies, is a very special moment for me, indeed. Most important to me is being part of a group of great designers from all over the country whose work is detailed here.  Thank you, Jim. If you are local, we do have copies available at Detroit Garden Works.

landscape-design.jpgwww.deborahsilver.com

May 20 2014 (3)Deborah Silver and Co, Inc container design

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgwww.detroitgardenworks.com

May 13 2014 (22)Detroit Garden Works

May 20 2014 (7)Detroit Garden Works

May 19 BHG (18)planting workshop at DGW

May 13 2014 (9)the shop

May 16 2014 Branch (7)www.thebranchstudio.com

Oct 3 2013 (22)pergola fabricated by Branch Studio

fountain 1the branch fountain

May 20 2014 (9)box and derrick topiary form by Branch Studio

May 20 2014 (8)elliptical fountain by Branch Studio

May 19a 2013 (3)

My deepest thanks go to landscape and garden designer and writer Susan Cohan, whose article is a gift of a most perfect moment to me.

The 2014 Gardening Season

2-27-2014 (14)Though nature had no plans to attend the opening of Detroit Garden Works today for the 2014 gardening season, the robins in the tree next door are here right on schedule.  Rob says they look to be the fattest robins ever.  I personally think they have their feathers fluffed out to the max-trying to defend themselves against the extreme cold.  On the news this morning, the following.  The combination of cold and snow this winter makes this the worst winter we have had for 130 years.  This means that the oldest gardener in my zone is experiencing a record breaking and a particularly heart breakingly endless winter for the first time.  This going on 64 year old gardener can attest to the accuracy of this statement.  I have never.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgTaking the 2013 version of Detroit Garden Works apart, repainting and cleaning, reinventing and redoing with all the new things for 2014 is a big job.  Both of my landscape crews are instrumental in helping out the shop staff with this transformation.  This means that both Steve and I have been there with Rob to plan and consider every move that gets made.  Keeping up with the winter landscape design work for projects on deck for spring, with a big dose of Detroit Garden Works on the side means I have been really busy.  This level of being busy helps to keep my mind off the winter that has engulfed us all.  Though my landscape design practice is the love of my life, the shop is a close second.  How so?

DSC_7937All of what Rob buys interests me.  Containers, sculpture, fountains, tools are an integral part of gardening.  But placing every element in a 10,000 square foot space in an interesting and well designed way is a challenge.  But I am happy for the work-this greatly informs my landscape practice.  I am dealing with objects big and small.  Lots of colors.  This line and that one.  This shape that relates to that one.  A garage full of pallets of objects I have never seen before all need to have a home, a scheme.  Rob does the vast majority of the buying for the shop.  It falls some to him, and a lot to me about how to present his collection. It is not so much different than designing a landscape for a particular property, and a particular client.  Objects from many countries in February, each with their own shape, color, texture and mass ask for an arrangement that will please the eye.  Making sense of a whole world of disparate objects can be exasperating, but it is a job I would not trade for any other.

DSC_7944Designing a landscape asks for everything a gardener has available to them.  A love of the living earth.  A plan to compost, which will enrich any planting.  A plan to plant.  Lots of energy and good will.  Faith in one’s convictions.  And a plan that personally expresses what that gardeners values and needs from their garden.  A plan that is coherent.  Dissonant shapes, forms, textures and colors all ask for some sense to be made.  And sense can be made of those things in many different ways.  How Rob puts a series of things together is very different than mine, as it should be.  I can’t be privy to why he selected certain things, until I start to work with them.  Even then, I may visualize them in a very different way. As much as I enjoy poking around the pallets, I more enjoy making a melody from a lot of different voices.

DSC_7928Surfaces really interest me.  Some are shiny.  Some are smooth and matte.  Some are rough textured.  Others are dark-some are light.  One surface contrasted with another generates interest.  What is happening near the ground level interests me as much as what is at eye level.  Then there is that vast space overhead.  My first moves in the shop always involve covering the walls, and populating the air space.  Part of that had to do with staging the work.  An empty room is the ideal place to navigate with a big ladder.  Once that work is done, everything else is arranged to fit in the physical and visual space.

2-27-2014 (2)Anything that generates an interest in the garden is of interest to me.  What I like is big and wide-a lot.  On a good and rare day, it is deep.  Any person who responds to the garden interests me, whether it comes via my landscape practice, or my shop.  Any place that encourages people to garden is my idea of a good place.  Rob and I both subscribe to the idea that a great garden shop ultimately should provide an experience of the garden.

2-27-2014 (17)I will confess I am tired out from the work of the past month.  But this kind of tired is a good kind of tired.  I was truly thrilled that Detroit Garden Works opened for the 2014 gardening season as usual March 1-even though our winter rages on.  I am pleased we have been welcoming gardeners of every persuasion for 18 years, come March 29.  We were happy to have gardeners gracing our gates today. Spring is a state of mind-is it not?

2-27-2014 (12)Rob’s buying trips to growers of hellebores all over the US and Canada means we have plants in our greenhouse now, with many more to come.  The sight and smell of live and blooming plants is a sight for sore eyes.  We have planned an event the third week of March-a Helleborus Festivalis.  For every winter weary gardener who has another month of winter to go yet.  We have missed all of you that visit our shop!  See you soon.

 

A Big Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall yards-don’t most people have them?  I would not ever describe my property in terms of its acreage.  I have a city lot, 105 feet on the short side, and 125.76 feet on the long side.  I am a steward  of 13,230 square feet.  One city lot and a half.  Just to put this in another perspective, the building that houses Detroit Garden Works is 9870 square feet.  The building that houses my manufacturing company Branch is big enough to easily house Detroit Garden Works, and plenty big enough to house my entire house and property – comfortably.  Though my landscape and garden has its overwhelming moments, it is not big.  as in sea to shining sea big.  The loss of a maple upwards of 80 years old in the front yard of the small urban property pictured above was a big loss.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe loss of a big tree that had organized, for better or for worse,  the entire front yard landscape of this small urban property, was a very big loss indeed.  The landscape had lost some of its reason for being.  Exposed for all to see from the street?  A pair of kousa dogwoods near the front door that were struggling from the shade of the maple.  A lack of any substantial landscape statement whatsoever on the right side of the front door.  A pair of yews flanking either side of the front door that tolerated the shade were all of a sudden overpowering and gloomy.  An architecturally noteworthy house looked lost at sea.  Unbalanced.  Utterly symmetrical architecture asks for an equally strong landscape.  The big bump in the front yard was asking for an answer.  The landscape-listing to one side.

pair-of-carpinus.jpgSmall properties advertise their problems in a big and graphic way.  It was not my idea to replace the tree in the front yard.  Why would I propose to repeat an idea that did little to enhance this small property in the first place?  I thought that a pair of carpinus that would flank and frame the front door, and a boxwood hedge on the right side that would answer the existing boxwood hedge on the left would bring some order to the landscape.  My clients were great gardeners, and keen about the landscape.  They liked informal, but orderly schemes.  They had long been retired, and were not so interested in a landscape that would require a lot of lifting and hauling.

front-door.jpgWe removed the struggling dogwoods.  They were so poor, I doubt anyone noticed.  The yews got transplanted.  In their stead, a pair of climbing hydrangeas.  The big leaves are a welcome leafy texture; they were not in any way bothered by the northern exposure.  Deep shade has few takers.  Hydrangea petiolaris is slow to get going, but it is amazingly shade tolerant.   The pachysandra may be the most ordinary ground cover on the planet, but it tolerates, and thrives, in tough conditions.  Lush and green on the ground plane is a good thing.

front-door.jpgWe kept the climbing hydrangea away from the front porch light fixtures-regular pruning keeps this climbing plant in bounds.  Few other vining plants can clothe a wall so elegantly.  We added a few pots to the front porch area-why not?  Though my clients were not able to handle big digging, they were able and willing to look after those pots.

winter.jpgThe columnar carpinus grew. They framed the view to the front door from the street.  They divided the the public part of the landscape from the private and personal part of their home-the front door.  Most happily, every other plant within their range was able to thrive.  The porch had a little light.  I do think that the nurturing of visually thoughtful relationships between shaded and sunny spaces in a landscape is crucial to good design. I believe it is even more crucial to small properties.  The sun and shade can provide lots of atmosphere in the smallest space.

view.jpgDirectly underneath the carpinus -dappled shade.  The pachysandra did not mind this irregular light.  It grew lush and thick. On the house side-a small sun zone.  Sun is inviting in a garden.  The light attracts the eye.  The interplay of sun and shade can provide so much interest in a very small space.  From the sun to the shade and back to the sun-this creates a visual rhythm in a landscape composition that lacks physical space.  Good design in small spaces asks for every base to be covered.  How long does it take to cover every base on a small city lot?  I am not there yet, so I can’t answer.

front-door.jpgThe loss of a very big and old tree presented an opportunity to celebrate a small front yard landscape in an entirely different way.  A change up in a small environment is a pitch no gardener sees coming.  I would encourage you to quit wringing your hands, and swing away.  As it turns out, my clients loved being freed from a maple that entirely dominated their landscape.  They were happy to have the opportunity to make the front porch details more important.

coleus-topiary.jpgI did plant their pots differently every year.  But no matter the scheme, I always planted non stop begonias.  Mr. B had a way with them that was extraordinary.  They grew for him.  I have never seen better.  Though he was always self effacing about his success growing them, I knew he brought his head, heart and experience to bear with them. The new landscape configuration was not maintenance free.  No landscape thrives without attention. But a thriving landscape gave him the go ahead to devote his efforts to growing on the plants in his pots.

yellow-begonias.jpgI want to say that his pots gave him immense pleasure and satisfaction. No matter what day I would drive by, the pots always looked perfectly tended and beautiful.  We took care of maintaining the rest.  I will say they had a rich and involved gardening life long before I met them.  I worked for them for many years, before they sold this property, and moved to the east coast to be close to their children.

walk-to-the-door.jpgThe changes we made in this landscape were over a period of twelve years.  I was happy for my part in this.  Their thoughtful thirty years gardening before me, and my twelve years of revisions made for an updated design that worked for them.

hornbeams.jpgThey sold this property several years ago.  Ill health and age triggered a change.  I understood this.  Landscapes and lives evolve.  They day they lost that old maple-a big loss.  The day they gave up this house and landscape, and moved away-a big loss for me.  Small properties, such as they are, have a big story to tell.  A big hearted landscape design on a small property- all about a story.