Too Much Fun

July18 056I have never done one lick of design work for this client-she and her husband do their own.  They design, they plant, they mow and maintain-on their own.  They shop my store, and I may advise about this object or that pot, but they have a point of view, and they act on that. Parts of their gardens are designed for the pure unadulterated pleasure of their three childen.  They cleared this shady area behind the house, and set to making that spot condusive to play.  The blue rectangle in the above picture-an in-ground trampoline- what a blast.

July18 059They like rustic and whimsical objects in their garden-this spot is no exception.  The Adirondacks style bench with integral planter gives them a place to sit and watch the kids. The ground is thickly mulched with pine needles.  This makes for soft landings. 

July18 062This playhouse began as an actual stump, to which a second floor was added.  What small child would not be delighted to have this as a clubhouse in the woods?  I could not help but laugh when I first laid eyes on this.  Though the architecture was aimed at their children, it is incredibly beautifully built.  The child-size doors keeps adults out.  My favorite part?  That brand spanking new roof, sagging dramatically.

July18 069The staircase with its woven rope railings looks like a gangplank-I can imagine lots of childplay set on this stage.  Nestled in close to an existing tree, and furnished with its own birdhouse and barrel of flowers, its a home away from home. 

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A stump sculpture depicts a bear, slumped over a tree stump, asleep.  The wood is starting to acquire some moss with age.  This kind of exposure to a woodland playground has to be good-don’t you think?  This is as friendly, unassuming and undemanding an exposure to nature and natural forms aimed at kids as I have ever seen.

July18 077My clients situated their seating area close enough to the woodland to keep an eye on the kids, but this space was designed for grown ups.  Oversized furniture and pillows upholstered in bright colored fabrics looks sumptuous and inviting.  The pergola overhead makes outdoor entertaining in the rain a distinct possibility.  There are gorgeous views to gardens on three sides. 

July18 054The pool deck is loaded with big handmade Italian terra cotta  pots, stuffed to overflowing with annual flowers in mixed colors. The old farm pump spilling into a vintage wood farm bucket is not only whimsical, but fun. My clients tell me their kids love splling the bucket on each other’s heads. This does sound like great fun.
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The front yard is home to a wood house built from pallets, originally part of a Halloween haunted house vignette.  In the summer, the house gets dressed up like a garden shed, complete with a tin rooster on the roof.�
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It is obvious that beyond the time and daily effort they spend making their gardens beautiful, this is a very happy place for a family.  This garden is jam-packed with joy.

The Faces of Italy

I have a big love for Italian gardens, and Italian garden ornament-no wonder. Rob has taken countless pictures on his trips there over the years to buy.  I own an embarassing number of books on Italian culture, gardens, villas, terra cotta, art, interiors, flora and fauna-and the history thereof. Italian gardens-those two words evoke for me all things good about  great gardens.  I go so far as to have picture books of this region or that; I am quite sure heaven looks very much like Tuscany.  My own collection of pots is almost entirely handmade Italian terra cotta-and three large English-made concrete pots in the manner of Italian terra cotta. 


I am particularly interested in the faces.  Italian pots, perhaps more so than pots from other countries, feature faces.  The faces of women, satyrs, dogs, lions, putti, gargoyles, goats, birds.  The faces of Italian life, I call them.   It is astonishing how emotionally evocative those faces are, though made of fired earth.

aug-29b-020In much the same way as I imagine the face of a person I have only talked to on the phone, I imagine plenty about Italy, based on these faces.  This face, part cat, part lion, part sun, part satyr-what is the meaning behind those wrinkled brows, and intense gaze?   I have my own mythology which I have enjoyed imagining. 

aug-29b-022 Some faces of the women can recall the Italian paintings of the Renaissance.   The modelling of the features of this face is quite extraordinarily soft and fluid. The contrast of this face, with the heft and solidity of the clay is beautiful.

Even the faces without so much detail make an impression.  This imposing face, with a shell helmet, is surely the face of the guardian of the pot.  I have never felt the need to actually research the history of the design of these pots-I like my own impressions.  But after years of looking at garden ornament, I have no problem knowing what country they come from, based on how the figure is represented.

aug-29b-023I see some of the history of Italian garden making and culture. This I get, before I ever fill them with dirt, and plant something in them.  It also makes me careful about how I plant-so that a mature planting does not obscure what is represented on the pot.


 This sculpture Rob brought back from Milan probably 14 years ago.  The lion seems horrified by what he has had to do to eat, to live.  This is a long way of saying-what a strong expression of angst.  There are those who would make a distinction between art and craft-but that argument breaks down quickly for me.  There is a story here, being eloquently and simply told.  My Italian pots are beautiful sculptures in which I make things grow.

aug-29b-026I like so much that the women have strong faces. She seems able and willing, her eyes wide open.  Those who love the surfaces of their contemporary pots take just as much pleasure as I do from mine; everyone to their point of view.

This Bacchus with the goat horns and ropy beard is smiling; those smile wrinkles at the corners of his mischievious eyes make me smile. Italian garden figures, beautifully rendered faces, a story, a tale from a moment in the history of a culture, a myth-imagine getting so much from a terra cotta pot. I will confess I put them inside for the winter-I would not want to do without them.

House on a Hill

The idea of a house on a hill has a grand and romantic ring to it-especially considering I have spent my entire life standing on ground no higher than sea level. The terraced gardens of the villas of the Italian Lakes-heavenly.  Meaning, heavenly to look at, and the devil to visit and maintain.  The crest of this fairly steep slope was home to a narrow driveway.  Driving uncomfortably close to  a steep slope can be nervewracking;  I would not have wanted to drive it at night, after a few cocktails.  A beautiful drivecourt would provide room to drive and park. The requirement for flat space would be provided by a retaining wall of pressure treated lumber.  As I planned to grow climbing hydrangea on the face, I chose the most reasonable and serviceable material.

aug-28a-742The driveway was equally close to the front door, and ran past the house to the garage.  This made for little opportunity for a presentation of the house, and its fourteen foot width did not permit much parking.  It seemed appropriate to splurge here.  Two inch thick bluestone laid in a classic aschlar pattern, and bordered in granite setts  announced the entrance in an elegant and spacious way.   

aug-28a-480When not in use as a driveway, or for parking, this  areafunctioned as a terrace. I have known my clients to host a pre-dinner hour here on a nice night.  The asphalt would remain in place on either side.  A stone driveway demands expert installation, a service which is well worth the expense.

aug-28d-760The landscape is simple.  Rectangles planted solidly with yews abut four rectangles of pachysandra and  matching English Oaks.  The triple wide hedge of yews  adjacent to the retaining wall provide security for people and vehicles. These masses of yews did have that polka-dot pattern for a few years until they grew in; proper spacing at planting helps to avoid cultural problems later.

egren0905-11A driveway that runs parallel to the front door  needs a landscape statement that signals an imminent entrance. This drivecourt landscape creates the impression that the garden came first, and the drive through second.  The English oaks enclose the space, without obstructing the view of the house.

egren-7-07It has been a number of years since this garden was installed.  This photograph clearly illustrates what a graceful space has been created from the simple idea of flat ground. Sloped spaces are not particularly sociable or functional spaces.  Deciding how you need a space to function, should organize the design to come.   

egren-7-07-3A pair of French orangery boxes from Les Jardin du Roi Soleil define the transition from driveway to walkway. These boxes have been manufactured in this shape, design, and color since ythe 17th century.  The legs, corners and hinges are cast iron.  Originally, the slatted oak boards and hinged iron permitted the boxes to be opened from the side.  A lemon tree that had summered outdoors could be slid out of its box, and stored in the orangery for the winter. How’s that for a little romance? 

Simple rectangles of painted wood contain boxwood hedges that sit between the columns of the porch, and on the roof.  The modification of the roof to hold those boxes-the work of a very thoughtful interior designer. 


There is a fine view from the inside looking out as well.  Flat spaces are great places  to meet and to be.

Lamenting September

dsc06554The last two nights the temperatures have been in the high forties and low fifties.  Great.  I am on the deck last night- in my fleece-having a glass of wine, and contemplating the end of summer.   My plants in my pots have gone from gorgeous to grumpy. What to do? The topiary sculptures I make from natural materials in the fall and winter help me face the 6 months we have coming up in Michigan when the garden is dormant. The sculptures are set in dry florist’s foam-I use the John Henry brand.  This sculpture, made from a dyed and preserved grass, preserved reindeer moss, and paper dogwood flowers, helps me to bring the beauty of the garden indoors.

dsc06886Glass can make great containers for sculptures.  This vase by the Parisian artist Vanessa Mittrani is filled with white sand to give it weight.  I seal the sand in the vase with a giant blob of hot melt glue, and wedge the foam in the top.  Paper hydrangeas, mini-roses, and paper covered wire make for a sassy little something that reminds me of the garden. The purple paper hydrangeas bring out the purple/rust color of the wire in the glass.

dsc03690I consider paper a natural material, since it comes from trees.  This combination of paper hydrangea petals, and diminuitive paper daisies describe a classic topiary cone shape.  The flowery pompom at the top is constructed from individual dried bleached seed pods.

dsc03673Integrifolia is a plant native to Australia, and probably other places as well.  The leaves hold tight to the stems for a long time; they also take dye beautifully.  This topiary began with individual leaves glued to a spherical form in a pattern reminiscent of an artichoke.  As I worked towards the bottom, I reversed the curve on the individual leaves for more volume.  The very bottom of the sphere is stuck with short branches just a few inches in length. Preserved reeds bowing out from a twig trunck make for a stem; the base is covered in preserved green seedheads.

dsc08518Paper roses on paper covered wires are a delicate contrast to the heft of dried okra pods.

2008-lobsinger-pot-3This very large scale sculpture has twigs and short birch branches for a centerpiece; the collar was constructed of fresh southern magnolia leaves.  Magnolia dries beautifully, and lasts a long time.

dsc03678The science of preserving natural materials has become quite sophisticated.  I for one would never have a house plant.  I am happy for the season where I am not a plant caretaker.  An object like this demands nothing from me; I just look.  The reindeer moss in a color they call spring green is  my idea of  good color.

october-25-pictures-0341These steel leaves are by no means a natural material, but they describe one.  The base was buttered with ceramic tile mastic, and embedded with tiny shells.  The stainless steel wire is difficult to handle; I usually have to get help from a second pair of hands to glue it in. 

dsc03675This whimsical topairy makes use of two bird’s nests made of various natural materials, sandwiched together.  I buy these long stems covered with hundreds of chocolate seeds.  After taking the seeds from the stem, I glued the individual seeds onto this base.

dsc_0006I call this a presentation box. The box itself is a photo box meant to hold 8 x 10 photographs.  Should the box never have anything in it, it will still be fun to look at. 

My landscape superintendent gave me a book on crop circles.  I am embarassed to say I had never heard of them.  This sculpture I made was motivated by my excitement about those circles. I stuffed the pocket created by gluing two magnolia leaves together with all manner of dried snippets from the garden.  I scratched my own version of a crop circle into the magnolia leaf around a hole in the leaf.  Today I will cut some limelight hydrangeas pinking in the cool weather to dry.  Okay, its September in Michigan.