The 2015 Winter/Holiday Preview Party, Part 2

IMG_6420When I wrote yesterday about how Detroit Garden Works only hosts one evening event a year, I had no idea of what was to come.  I had gone home after a long day of tuning up the shop to collect myself, and get dressed for our holiday open house.  It was no problem that I would be a little late.  I have a group I trust and respect who would make sure those opening moments would be perfect. The high winds and rain that were forecast appeared to be skirting us.  But at 5pm I got a call from David that the power had gone out. I was calm.  Maybe I was tired from the weeks long job of transforming the look of our shop. But  mostly I knew my group would figure out how to sort out trouble. We were the only building affected by the outage, so we hoped if we could alert DTE, they would give us a hand. By 5:20,  3 DTE trucks were on the scene.

holiday open house 2015 a (6)The shop is across the street from a DTE (as in Detroit Edison power company) substation.  As Rob was flagging down trucks coming in for the night on our street, and Monica was placing phone calls, our internet and phone sales manager Heather walked across the road, stood at the substation gate, and  pitched our problem to the first person who came to the gate..  We are a business with an evening event scheduled-could they get our power back on?

holiday open house 2015 a (8)Scott and David took to lighting candles. Sonny took the big lead in the dark that descended.  She was teaching guests that did not already know how to use their phones as a flashlight.  By time I got to the shop, there were phone flashlights flickering everywhere. There was shopping going on in the dark. I cannot explain or illustrate how that moment felt. Everyone making their way around in the dark by flashlight was hilarious. No one went home. No one complained. That opening half hour in the dark was a lot more nerve wracking for us than for any of our guests.

holiday open house 2015 a (2)A great friend who had come to our open house from Ann Arbor had much to say about that 30 minutes in the dark. He was convinced that we have gardening friends that value us as much as we value them. I barely had time to think about that before the lights came on. Once we had power, I could see we had a whole house full of people.

holiday open house 2015 a (5)I so enjoy the sight of the shop full of people. All of us work all year round to make the shop a destination. A place like no other. A place for anyone keen for the garden to meet, and experience what we try to represent as a gardener’s life. Nothing feels better than to see people responding to that.     holiday open house 2015 a (7)A gardener life s a big one.  Gardeners plant trees.  They shrub up an awkward spot. They plant containers. They rake the leaves. They plant bulbs.  They compost the leavings. They put flowers on the table. They make room for the dogs and the kids. They travel to other gardens.  They are a great group.

holiday open house 2015 a (10)Our thanks to everyone who made last Thursday evening such a pleasure for all of us.

holiday open house 2015 a (4)Our holiday/winter event runs through Sunday. Stop by if you have a chance.

At A Glance: A Spring Evening In The Garden

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HowardHave I ever seen Howard lie down in the bed next to the fountain? Of course not. Did Milo feel compelled to follow suit?  Of course. They insisted it was all in good fun. hmm.

The Herding Dogs

Scotland  2015  8No discussion of sheep farming would be complete without a big nod to the dogs. A flock of 1100 sheep, living on hundreds of acres of hilly land, would be next to impossible to handle without herding dogs.  There comes a time when those sheep have to come in. The ewes are about to have babies. The sheep need to be sheared. The stray sheep from a neighboring farm need to get singled out, and sent home. Farming has its cycles. In and out is simple to write, but much more difficult to accomplish. Farmers who raise livestock need the herding dogs.  There are many different breeds of herding dogs, indigenous to many different countries, that make the work of rounding up and watching the livestock possible.  Though many of them, including my cardigan corgis, have been bred to herd, a lot of work is involved in training the dogs.

herding-dogs.jpgThe dogs at Easegill Head Farm are farm hands. The work that it took to train these dogs when they were pups is repaid 10 fold, when they grow up, and contribute. They help to make a business – a life’s work – viable.

working dogsTheir accommodations are farm style. Not especially luxurious. I have the feeling that even though they are not house dogs or pets, they are valued members of the family. They perform a service not possible any other way. Having seen Rob’s pictures, I have done some reading about these dogs.  They are trained to respond to various verbal commands – lots of them.  Up to 30, on this farm. They have incredible, virtually boundless energy. Nothing is right with the world for these dogs unless they are working.

border-collie-giving-the-eyThis border collie is staring down a group of sheep.  The dogs are very small, in comparison to the sheep.  And miniscule in comparison to a flock of sheep. Their ability to learn how to handle a crowd with a look is astonishing. I would not dream of challenging this dog, and neither do the sheep.

herding-dogs.jpgSome dogs work in groups.

454699-20140928_SheepDogTriOthers can manage a group all on their own.

herding-dog.jpgherding dog working

dog-and-his-flock.jpgOne dog managing a big flock

371903697Blue merle Australian shepard herding

willow-farm-sheep-dogs3Farm hands

Protector_of_the_sheepThis breed of dog is known as a Maremma.  They protect a flock from harm.  They work the night shift, making sure predators do not harm any member of a flock. This Maremma looks cool and calm, but I would guess he would go to the ropes defending his flock.

Cardigan_Corgi_Sept_1_2010_at_Elvies_-_pic_by_RobinVisitors to Detroit Garden Works are skeptical when I tell them that Cardigan Welsh corgis are herding dogs. How could a dog with such short legs keep up with goats, sheep and cattle?? Milo is actually lightening fast.  He can get down the driveway faster than a tennis ball I heave with all my might in a ball launcher. The short legs are a result of natural selection.  They nip at the feet of the animals they are herding. A cow that kicks after being nipped would clip a tall legged corgi in the head. I have explained this countless times.herding diagram
This hilarious drawing tells the tale.  Corgis have very short legs for good reason. They are small, and have short legs. They avoid trouble. This does not mean they do not excel as a herding dog.

Copper-moving-her-sheep1-3-29-14working cardigan corgi

p1280669x_lh1cardigan corgi working hard

farm dogs on flickrThe herding dogs have my respect. They make a certain kind of farming easier. They are a very important part of the agricultural landscape. A herding dog who can guide a flock to a specified location without alarming or upsetting them is a very valuable asset to a farmer, no matter whether they raise ducks, goats, sheep, or cattle. Good relationships between people and nature have existed for centuries, and take a lot of different forms. Every gardener has a relationship with nature.  Spoken, or unspoken.  The dogs pictured above make me think about how great gardening is not so much about the spoken language. It is about a bred in the bone need to work. A great love of nature.  And a pair of hands looking for work.

corgis-in-winter.jpgMy corgis are not taking the long winter so well. They like a working life.  This picture of them sparring-they are not happy with a lack of work. I get this.  Our hope is that spring is not far off.


Breaking Out The Redheads

redhead socks 003We are having a run of astonishingly cold weather, as in -12 degrees this morning. Cold weather is fine by me, as long as I can keep my feet warm.  In weather like this, I roll out the redheads.  Basspro makes these socks (in the USA I might add) for people who are outdoors in winter for work or for sport. Should you be a ballet dancer, a librarian, or a Mom who watches a kid play hockey, I would still recommend these socks. Warm feet are good, no matter your job. They are expensive, considering that they are socks. Balance that with a lifetime guarantee. And the fact that they will keep your feet warm-even in below zero temperatures. I would not do without them. They work.

redhead socks 004I only have a few pair-that is all I need. I am not working outside now, but I have a pair of Corgis who want me with them when they go out. Can you hear me sighing?  Howard makes his trips out short-he is not so keen about this weather. But he refuses to be left behind.  I am sure Milo was a sheep herding dog in Cumbria in his previous life. He is happiest outdoors, working.  He has a long fur coat that keeps both water and cold at bay. When the temperature is 12 below zero, he is happy out there longer than I can stand. My best defense against walks in the snow with him-these socks.

redhead socks 005It doesn’t really matter whether I am wearing boots, or tennis shoes.  The insulation provided by these socks is what keeps my feet warm, and dry. Their insulating quality is easy to figure-they are 88% Merino wool.  Some say Merino wool is the finest wool on the planet. Like the sheepskin rug that Milo is curled up on under my desk, certain natural fibers have great insulating qualities.

merino-sheep.jpgThe Merino sheep is raised, and prized for its wool. The annual shearing varies, depending on the country and climate, but suffice it to say a Merino sheep has a wool coat most of the year. Insulation, no matter the source, can protect against heat just as it protects against the cold. If you are like me, wool can be scratchy and irritating.  But Merino wool is very fine textured, and soft. Merino wool socks-perfect for the winter.

merino-is-the-best-wool-in-the-world1Given that this wool comes from an animal that must be cared for every day of its life, good wool is expensive. The lambs get born. They get raised. The sheep graze, but they get counted every day. They get health care. They get extra feed during lambing season. They get sheared once a year.  There is a sheep farmer with a farm and a family behind anything you buy that is made from Merino wool. Chances are, the entire family participates in sheep farming. Any honest work, I support. But I buy the socks because they are of great quality. Wool is a great insulator-against the discomfort of a really cold winter day.

February snow and cold 009But let’s get back to these socks. For this picture, I flipped the top of the sock inside out. I was curious-why do these socks keep my feet so warm? The knit is regular and smooth on the outside.  The inside of the sock tells a different story. It looks dense and wooly – lofty.  As in lots of loft.  redhead socks 011The 88 percent Merino wool has a looped structure on the inside.  These loops hold their springy shape, no matter how many hours I wear these socks.  Those loops create an insulating layer.  The thick wool layer, endowed with a commensurate layer of air the temperature of my body, insulates me from the cold. Am I making a pitch for basspro redhead socks?  No. My idea is to address the idea of insulation, for a gardener.

winter-2008.jpgThough this picture was taken at the shop in 2008, it accurately describes our current snow cover. That thick layer of snow then, as now, insulates the plants against the devastating effects of severe cold and wind.  Just like a rocking pair of Basspro looped Merino wool socks insulates a foot against the cold ground, and the cold air. Plants in my zone subjected to incredibly cold temperatures without the insulation provided by snow will surely show damage come spring. Extended cold and wind will adversely affect marginally hardy plants. Every gardener in my zone learned all about this the hard way, this past spring.  But plants buried under a thick layer of looped ice crystals suspended in air keeps the daily vagaries of the weather at bay. Winter protection has everything to do with steady conditions. If a plant is buried in snow, the daily swings in temperature and wind are not much to worry about. A wild swing in conditions can be deadly. A landscape with no snow cover subjected to vicious cold and wind can sustain considerable damage. My boxwood need their wool socks right now. Happily, they have the socks they need to survive.  I am hoping this cold snap will snap out of it fast. A few days is no cause for alarm. This is a very long way of saying that I am not worried about the effect of this current bitter cold snap on my landscape and garden.  It is buried deep below nature’s alternate version of the gift of Marino wool-the snow cover.