Building The Lucerne Pergola

the Lucerne pergola (2)Phase 1:  Design, engineer, and build  Once Buck had my sketch for the pergola, there were a lot of drawings that would need to be done.  The CAD drawings would indicate the angles, the rolling radiuses, and the exact sizes of every piece of steel that would be necessary to fabricate the piece. Buck constructed the pergola full size – down to the last bolt hole – in the computer.

the Lucerne pergola (3)

the Lucerne pergola (4)

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the Lucerne pergola (10)Buck’s crew put the base of the pergola together up side down, to be sure every piece fit together properly. Owen was the lead fabricator on the project, with help from Adam, Riley, Sal, LaBelle, and Buck.

the Lucerne pergola (8)Lattice panels were designed and fabricated as an open wall for the back of the pergola, and feature a steel ball detail.

the Lucerne pergola (9) Each of nine panels were hand fabricated and fitted to each opening.

setting the structure (7)The installation: setting the structure.  The bottom of the pergola was bolted in the rear to a seat wall of brick, through the bull nosed blue stone coping.

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setting the structure (6)The top of the brick wall is seat height, and width.

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setting the structure 2The front post were anchored to 42″ deep concrete footings.

setting the roof beam (7)Setting the roof beams was the most difficult part of the job.  Each half-beam was 12 feet in diameter, and was incredibly heavy.  A support bar made especially to hold these beams, and a loader was necessary to get these pieces to the proper height for bolting on.

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setting the roof beam (4)

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setting the roof beam (1)

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the roof (2)Setting the roof.  These pictures are not so swell, with all that sky behind the action.  The top of the finial is 17 feet off the ground.

the roof (3)

the roof (1)

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hanging the lattice panels (3)hanging the lattice panels

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the finish (3)

Branch Studio pergolaThe finish

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the finish (1)5 of the 6 Branch Studio dudes

the finish (2)The two day installation consumed 110 hours of work on the part of all 6 members of Branch. My clients had the great idea to do a time lapse video of the installation-what a treat this is to watch! If you are interested in watching, click on the link below.

the Lucerne Pergola installation


Landscape Under Construction

landscape under construction (8)A long time has passed since I first laid eyes on this lovely old home in Detroit. Dating back to the 1920’s, all of those beautiful details built in to homes of this era were intact.  The front door has a gorgeous hand carved limestone surround. The brickwork and slate roof are sensational. Gorgeous bones, everywhere. My clients were willing to put what it would take to restore and re imagine the interior to their taste. Every move they made paid great respect to everything original. As for the landscape, there was work to be done. They consulted me about the landscape early on. They both have a love, an appreciation, and a respect for all things green. They were interested in a landscape that would permit them to grow vegetables, a small conservatory in which to grow plants all winter, and a place to be outdoors as much as possible in the summer. Both are very busy professional people for whom a beautiful landscape and garden would be a sanctuary, a delight, and a place to grow plants, and to host friends and family.

landscape under construction (5)The interior renovation took a long time.  This gave me plenty of time to consult with them about where they wanted to take the landscape.  It is obvious from these pictures that no one had cared for the property in a very long time.  The weeds were old, tall, and woody. Some tree seedlings were over six feet tall. There were dead trees, and trees in poor condition.  What shrubs had survived were unkempt. None of them were precious or unusual, but for a group of multi trunk yews in the front yard that were old enough to have attained tree status. They are breathtakingly beautiful, and thriving. The back yard needed some thoughtful design.

landscape under construction (6)Their interior designers, Arturo Sanchez and Barry Harrison from Art Harrison Design Studio made some great decisions early on.  The kitchen windows in the center of this photograph would become French doors.  This would make a trip from the kitchen to the barbecue convenient. There was a great interest in a terrace that would be friendly to dining and entertaining. The question about how to handle the rear terrace would be mine to explore. The other kitchen windows beyond the wall in this picture would be looking out onto the driveway. Driveway?  The drive outside this wall was gravel, and covered in a thick layer of compost and weeds. Once all of the construction was finished, the driveway would be redone. How would that view be handled?

landscape under construction (7)
The wall which connected the house to the garage had been beautiful in its day.  It would need to be rebuilt.  And perhaps rebuilt in some other configuration. Designing the walls and hard surfaces would come first.  But there needed to be a concept established for how the entire space would work.  They wanted to cook and entertain outdoors.  They wanted a pool.  They wanted a spa they could use year round.  A conservatory was on the list. Perhaps the conservatory could be located behind this wall. This is an urban property with 3 neighbors.  How would we establish some privacy in the rear yard?  How could we maximize the the outdoor living spaces?

landscape planThis conceptual plan for the entire property evolved over a period of time.  The design for the rear yard is at the top of this picture.  The rear terrace would span the space from the new kitchen doors to the entry to screened porch at the opposite side.  Given a terrace of this size, there would be two sets of steps down into the back yard. The spa would be situated just below that terrace.  The pool would be round.  The rear yard is not that large.  A round pool would fit the space with ease, and be conducive to entertaining. As the grade of the rear yard rose the further one was away from the house, the pool was designed to have its front half out of the ground, with a coping set a seat height.  The rear half of the pool would be set at grade.  Beyond this round pool would be a pergola-the design to be determined. Once my clients were convinced that the round pool, and the terrace with a curved front and dual stairs was to their liking, the discussion turned to all of the details.


Branch pergola (3)A good bit of time was devoted to the design of the pergola. Eventually it was decided that the pergola would have curved wings that would follow the radius of the pool. The center section would be round, and have an open roof. The posts at the back would rest on a brick wall at seat height. The back of the pergola would be finished with lattice panels, for privacy.  The poles in front would sit at grade.  In the center, a round pavilion with a curved roof. This center section would provide ample space for a large dining table and chairs. The Branch Studio would manufacture the pergola.

Branch pergola (2)This picture of the finial to go on top of the finished pergola gives an idea of the size of the finished structure.  There will be lots of space to entertain.  A swimming pool can be a beautiful and welcome feature in a landscape.  That feature asks for a place to be, pool side.

Branch pergola (1)Each piece of the pergola will be fitted together prior to the galvanizing process, to be sure everything fits. The body of the pergola can be installed by the landscape crews, and the Branch crew put together, but the roof will have to be set by a crane. If all goes well, that pergola should be ready for installation in less than a month. landscape under construction (4)The terrace, pool, and spa were well underway by time winter arrived last year.  The pool terrace, and the new wall separating the back yard from the driveway would have to wait until this spring.

landscape under construction (14)It has taken more than 5 months to complete all of the stone and brickwork, and the pool.  The area in the foreground which will be occupied by the pergola has been barked, to keep the dirt and dust down.  This area will be graveled with decomposed granite, to provide a hard yet water permeable surface.  The back of the pool sitting at grade is accompanied by a generously sized terrace perfect for lounges and containers.  The back wall of the pergola features posts which will be set into a brick seat height wall with blue stone coping in the immediate foreground.

landscape under construction (13)The spa sits just below the house terrace, making it convenient for winter use.  The ground between the spa and the pool will be lawn.  On the left side, a wild flower and shade garden loaded with spring flowering bulbs will feature hemlocks and dogwoods.

landscape under construction (10)On the rear lot line, a hedge of recently planted American arborvitae provides loads of instant privacy to the yard. The shade garden will curve around and blend into this hedge.

landscape under construction (12)A dressing room is in the process of being built off the back of the garage.  And the conservatory?  it will be built on top of the brick wall off the side of the garage.

landscape under construction (11)The new brick wall dividing the garage and driveway from the back yard is soon to get an iron gate. On the backside of these walls, we will plant gardens.  The driveway garden is always an important garden. Everyone visits that garden at least several times a day, all year round. Now that the hard surfaces are done, I can revisit the landscape plan, and see if anything needs to be changed.  It is always a good idea to let the space speak back to you before you plant.

Sept 2, 2015 (10)Once the pergola is installed, I will better be able to judge where any additional trees and shrubs should be planted. The shade garden down the side of the yard needs to be integrated into the hard surfaces and spaces.  Will I plant on the pergola?  If course.


English Stoneware Garden Pots

English-stoneware-garden-pots.jpgAnywhere in the world where garden pots are made, there are stoneware pots being made. As noted in the post on Belgian stoneware, the stone like quality of the pots has to do with the mineral content of the clay, which when fired at very high temperatures, becomes very hard, and impervious to frost. The English made stoneware pots pictured above have a particularly beautiful color and surface, which comes from a process known as salt glazing. From Wikipedia:  “Salt glaze pottery is stoneware with a glaze of glossy, translucent and slightly orange-peel-like texture which was formed by throwing common salt into the kiln during the higher temperature part of the firing process. Sodium from the salt reacts with silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate.”  The glazed surfaces of these pots is definitely glassy. The color reminds me of freshly baked bread. Delicious.  That glossy brown color is beautiful, in contrast to a treasured group of plants.

English-pottery.jpgThe pottery has been in production since 1878. It has remained a family owned business throughout the past 237 years. Each pot is either hand thrown, molded, or cast. The people who make these pots are working people.  Just like the gardeners I know.  Rob toured the pottery last September, and placed a large order. Pictured above is his rental car in the pottery lot.  That order was delivered to our shipper several weeks ago, and will hopefully be on its way to us shortly.

English-coal-fired-kiln.jpgThe beehive kiln is very old, but works well enough to thoroughly cook these iconic British pots.  The heat from the kiln is recycled into the building where the pots are made, via that large pipe at the top. This ancient kiln is as beautiful as the pots.

coal-for-the-kiln.jpgThe kiln is coal fired, with a type of coal that is very hard and clean burning. Anthracite is very difficult to ignite, but once it is burning, it burns with a smokeless blue flame.

English-stoneware.jpgThe temperature inside the kiln at the height of the firing cycle is incredibly hot. Handfuls of salt are thrown inside, at the hottest moment. This results in a lot of variation in color – but every color variation is beautiful.   That heat keeps the adjacent studio warm. Though this kiln is ancient, the pots have a timeless quality to them. They are quiet and sturdy.  We so value stoneware garden pots, as when they are properly cared for, they can survive our winters. At one time or another I have left all manner of handmade garden pots outside over the winter.  The handmade pots have thick walls, and are fired at very high temperatures. This makes them a more durable pot all around. Stoneware pots are exceptionally durable.  If you love terra cotta pots in your garden, consider a stoneware pot. They will grace your garden year after year, without complaint. The design of these pots is all about their functionality.  The rims are thick, and resist chipping.  The drain holes are generous. Even the small sizes have generous planting area.

garden-pot-production.jpgThe real beauty of these pots is the beauty that comes from within. They are made one at a time, all by hand. They have a history that dates back centuries. They are not fancy.  They are handsome, and serviceable. The surface glows, and the colors are scrumptious. These pots do the work, of providing a quietly beautiful home for a collection of flowering plants, or a grouping of rosemaries. The first container load we purchased from them 2 years ago is gone now. It was time to restock. They are very different than the Belgian stoneware pots-but I would not hesitate to put them together. I would be confident to place them in a more contemporary setting as much as a more traditional garden.  Their clean lines and simple shapes would work just about anywhere.

Europe 2014 1017It took four months for our order to be made. One pot at a time. They are worth waiting for – of that I am sure.  I have held them in my hands, and felt glad to be a gardener. Rob’s pictures of his visit to the pottery tells that story. Early in March, we will be awash in these pots.  I can’t wait.

kiln-door.jpgkiln door

Europe 2014 1068stacks of salt glazed potssalt-glazed-pots.jpgEnglish salt glazed pots

salt-glazed-pots.jpgfired earth

salt-glazed-stoneware-pots.jpgsalt glazed stoneware pots

English-salt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgpot stacks

salt-glazed-strawberry-jar.jpgstrawberry jars

pot-stack.jpgEnglish stoneware garden pots

ssalt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgThese pots may be subtle, but their story is remarkable. I am so looking forward to having them again.


Belgian Stoneware

stoneware 3Rob has been shopping in Belgium for at least 15 years. He has a considerable affection for the topography and natural landscape, as it reminds him of Michigan. The garden ornament has a solid and unaffected feeling about it. Many of the things he buys there have their roots in agriculture-cisterns, troughs, and the like. The pot pictured above comes from a pottery whose work he greatly admires. This will be the third year we have offered these Belgian stoneware garden pots. The come in three colors-taupe, gray, and black. The shapes are simple.  Though the shapes are smooth and graceful, the surface texture is gritty and rough, in a subtle sort of way.

pots 4That gritty texture and surface is typical of stoneware.  The name stoneware comes from the dense and hard quality of the clay body. This clay body, or type of clay from which a pot is made, has natural characteristics that result in pots more like stone than fired earth, or terracotta.  Stoneware pots are fired at a high temperature, and do not absorb water much after the firing. This inclination to repel water after firing makes this type of clay, and this type of pot, perfect for our climate.  Water that is absorbed by a pot which is them subjected to freezing can result in breakage.  Water expands as it freezes. This freezing action can shatter or break a clay pot. Anyone who has ever inadvertently left a machine made Italian terra cotta pot outdoors over the Michigan winter knows from whence I speak.  This stoneware is frost proof- this is great news for anyone who likes terracotta. Clay pots are made the world over. Clay dug from the ground in Philadelphia is very different than the native clay of southern France, or Italy. Not all clay is of a natural stoneware type. Pots made from stoneware clay bodies are of interest to us, and gardeners in our zone.

stoneware 2Some potters mix their own clay, or choose a clay body/mix that has been made available commercially, that suits their interest and intended use.  Porcelain is the material of choice for an artisan interested in a very fine and formal clay that can be thrown very precisely, and very thin. These large thick walled Belgian pots are made to hold many hundreds of pounds of wet soil without complaint. The natural clay is a friendly visual companion to plants that go in that soil. The texture is just enough, and no more. The gritty surface of this stoneware is a result of adding grog to the stoneware clay body. Grog refers to clay which has been fired, and then ground into hard particles of various sizes. Those particles are then mixed into the fresh wedged wet clay body before the pots are thrown.  As wet clay is incredibly heavy, there is a limit to how large and tall a pot can be thrown, before the clay starts to collapse from its own weight. In addition to providing great texture, both visual and tactile, grog helps provide the construction of a big pot with a little structure. The grog particles have been fired.  They will not absorb water, and melt.  Grog stiffens the wet clay, so larger forms can be thrown at one sitting.

Belgian stoneware 8Even so, very large stoneware pots may need to be thrown in stages. The lower portion may need to rest, and begin to harden, as in leather hard, before the pot can be made any taller. This accounts for one reason why large handmade pots are much more expensive than smaller pots that can be made in one sitting or throwing session. Another reason-the volume of clay consumed.  Very large French terra cotta pots are incredibly thick. Thin walled, large pots would not likely survive the heat of the firing. There may be many hundreds of pounds of wet clay in one pot. I would bet that clay bodies are sold by weight, and that weight can make it expensive to ship them. Of course as the water evaporates out of the pot, the weight is much less.  How a pot is dried, and how it reacts to the firing is a topic of much study.  Pots that have taken days to throw that break or explode in the kiln is a big loss in materials and time.  The cost of breakage becomes part of the cost of those pots that survive the firing.  stoneware rock collectionThese stoneware “rocks” are forms that can be used as a sculpture or seat in the garden.  The shapes are all beautiful, and different.  They have an aura about them, as they have gone beyond function to another level.  I am sure every gardener would perceive and use them differently. Nor would they appeal to every gardener.

stoneware 14These pots seemed quite contemporary in form and color when I first saw them, but I have since learned that what they do best is take on the quality and character of their environment.   I have seen them used successfully in modern, and even quite traditional architectural settings. One client with a classic 1920’s English tudor style house has a pair of these pots at the front door.  They look great.  They do not impose, or attract undue attention. They are simply and beautifully made. They look great, planted up. The statement they make when they are empty-sober and strong. I am not surprised that Rob would have them, a third time around. To follow are some of his pictures of the two containers that came in last week.  You can tell from his pictures, how much he likes them.

stoneware rocks

stoneware collection

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Belgian stoneware 6My discussion of the clay is cursory. I am not a scientist, or a potter.  I just love these pots.  If you have a further interest, you can read more about clay at  Hammill & Gillespie