A Michigan Gardener

I have been gardening long enough to now have clients who are the children of clients.  I like this.  One such Bebe child belongs to one of my most favorite clients.  Cathy loves her landscape, and her garden, and she has put all of her effort and care behind that for as many years as I have known her.  Her son seems to have inherited all of this passion from her.  Though his favorite place to be is on the golf course, or horsing around with his kids, he is very keen about the out of doors.  Rich and Sue’s first house-a bungalow with not much of anything going on outdoors save some mature pines.  We got a plan together, including some concrete work, and installed the landscape.  Notice how the ground drops awkwardly to the sidewalk-we would fix this.

Some years later, the real gardening story is apparent.  The day I walk away from an installation, my clients are armed with as much as I can give them about looking after what they have. But it is instantly apparent which clients fall, and fall hard, for their landscape. Check it out- the plants have grown, and are healthy.  The pots look beautiful-and most astonishing, the Annabelle hydrangeas are standing upright.  Two years into his stewardship of a substantial hedge of Annabelles, a terrible storm knocked them all to the ground-just as they had come into full bloom.  Rich was beside himself.  He had to have called four times about what to do to restore them to their former glory.  He was genuinely devastated by a storm laying waste to his landscape.  Being young, smart and exceedingly sassy, he was sure he could wave a wand, and get those belles back on their feet.   I would get off the phone, having listened to his latest restoration scheme, and burst out laughing.  A client more obsessed than me-rare.  I will admit when I went to see what he had done, I was impressed.  Believe me, those hydrangeas ever after that disaster in 2006  had the staking mechanism in place the first day of spring-I am talking March 1.

Years later, there is a new house.  Like the old one, there was precious little in the way of landscaping, and even less that he liked.  Before I could even protest, he had taken things down, and shovelled other things out.  A lengthy renovation of the house ensued, but I knew I would get a call sooner or later.  In 2008, he was ready for a plan.  I find the house very interesting architecturally; note the pair of entrance doors in the front.  The landscape design would feature that pair of front doors.

The view from the street tells little.  This I like.  A landscape plan that details an unusual entrance landscape not seen until a visitor is close to the door-the best of all possible worlds. Be friendly to friends.  Posit an elegant statement from the street.  Urban landscapes ask for public and private spaces both.  The house looks beautiful from the street.  The walk to the front door splits into two walks, and goes around the old maple which dominates the landscape.  Once you are inside the yew hedge; a guest can choose which door they want.    

Three days ago I had an appointment with Rich and Sue-about the rear yard landscape.  I could tell he was gunning for me.  The front yard looked superb.  The grass was cut and edged. There were no weeds anywhere.  The symmetrically placed pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” in the lawn are thriving.  Not visible in this picture are a slew of Sum and Substance hostas planted at the base of the maple. My visit a year ago-there was still a weedfest going on under that tree. My threat to revoke his license to garden in the state of Michigan apparently worked.  

This Michigan gardener can annoy me beyond all belief.  If I tell him the sun will be coming up tomorrow morning, he will want a substantive explanation in support of my theory.  He asks more questions than I have time left in my life to answer.  But how could any gardener be miffed for long, once they laid eyes on this container planting?  This mandevillea, prone to spider mites, and fungus, can be the devil to grow.  But there it is, gorgeous and very well grown.  His Spirit Violetta dwarf cleome are the best I have seen anywhere this year-and that includes the plants in my pots at home.   Can you not tell he knows all this?    

They brought this pair of stone Italian vases with them from the old house to the new.  There is no problem spotting them from the road.  This is the first year he has not blown in unannounced on a May Sunday afternoon with Sue, Violet and Rich III in tow, wanting not one scheme for his pots, but multiple schemes from which to choose, a mini-dissertation on the merits of each scheme-and the plants to go with.  When this past June came, I knew he did not need me anymore.  Rich, your pots are really swell.      

The largest part of the house renovation was in the back. Not in this picture-the view from all those new windows to the golf course.  He would be seconds from the links, and sublimely happy about it.   

We three have been kicking around the landscape plan for a year now. This rear terrace faces west, and Sue is very clear she has had enough of the blaring sun from which there is no relief.  She tells me the kids cooked eggs on the concrete aggregate terrace surface on a 98 degree say this summer. After sitting at the table for 1/2 hour, I believed her. Not obstructing the views to the golf course both upstairs and down have been the subject of much discussion, but I could tell even Rich was getting tired of the design and development phase.  So the plan is to go ahead with the landscape and see if it provides the shade they need.  If it does not, we have a plan Aplus in the works.  I will keep you posted.   

The Garden Tour

This coming Sunday is the date of the third garden tour my companies have sponsored to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  Should you not be familiar with this organization, I can provide my overview.  The have been planting trees by the thousands in the city of Detroit for the past twenty years.  They sponsor some 700 urban farms.  They teach.  They teach people how to grow food.  They help people to understand the importance of a healthy environment.  They have an uncanny ability to translate an idea into a working organization.  They impress me.  They work incredibly hard to make a dent in support of  what an industrial city neglects.  Trees-the planet needs lots of them.  The residents of our city-they are getting what they need to live, expand, and eat from the Greening.  The Greening of Detroit-look them up.

The noted architect Michael Willoughby persuaded me to take a place on the Greening board.  I have little to contribute as a board member, but I told him I would do what I could to raise money for their programs.  They are an organization that makes a giant difference to my greater community.  I am incredibly impressed with what they do. The 20,000 trees they have planted in our greater metropolitan landscape over the past 20 years-worthy of your attention.  My response-a garden tour.

 The tour involves gardens of my design, or my influence.  The tour ends at my shop-Detroit Garden Works.  We serve finger friendly dinner, and Rob’s gin and tonics.  Christine oversees the wine bar. I feel I should support the work of the Greening of Detroit-so I do.  Every dollar of every ticket sale goes to them.  I donate the rest, as well I should.  We are open Sunday morning, the day of the tour, at 8:30 am.  We are ready for you.

I so believe that a healthy planet, a beautiful landscape, a thriving relationship between people and plants is important.  I have devoted a life and a career to this-why would I not support the Greening?  Please support the work of the Greening of Detroit. This coming Sunday-please join us.  If you are able, please donate, and tour.  Our afterglow is a blast-try it.  A giant group of people who love gardens and landscape in one place for an evening in July-what could be better?  Please join us.

For all of you gardeners that signed up to put your landscape on this tour-many thanks.  I know every one of them favors a green Detroit.  In the interest of a green Detroit, take the tour.   Thanks, Deborah

Ready For Water

These early June days, my days are filled with projects, and those scraps and pieces more commonly known as following up.  The fulfillment of all of those little ending details that transforms a job to be done into a finished and beautiful presentation.  These big things and little things, at the same time, is the normal course of events.  At home, a big and little thing of my own.  Carter has rebuilt my leaking fountain, and Buck repainted the inside.  The chlorinated rubber pool paint has to cure five days before the pool can be filled. It seems like it has been a lifetime since I have had  my water.      

Post the appropriate waiting period, Buck is filling the fountain.  Gillette Pools installed new out take jets-installed properly in the wall of the basin.  The original pool had these jets installed in the stone riser-not such a good look. Lest you not understand the effort expended for my fountain by Gillette Pools, they took on a massive mess, and made it right. They took on a deconstruction and reconstruction; this is tedious and uncertain work.  I had to commit to the project before what they knew what it would take to fix it. Yikes! Though we cleaned the inside, the sandy grit from the concrete work is still visible on the bottom of the pool.     

Howard and Milo are happy about getting their overscaled water dish back; the moment water started pouring into the fountain, they were there checking it out. Sometimes I leave the water at the level shown here-sometimes I fill it all the way to the top.  Today, I am feeling like to the top is an excellent idea. If you think this was the equivalent of Christmas Day to me, you are right. 

Milo is in motion running for his life the very second water starts blasting out of those jets. How did I know when the exact moment was at hand?  Buck and I were on the phone with each other-as he needed to be in the basement to adjust the valves governing the height of the water.  I was so worried the pumps would not work at all-having been silent almost 10 months.  No science here-just a nagging worry that something else would go wrong.  Buck had hauled the filters outside and cleaned them, and was very confident all would work fine. 

The water coming out of the jets-old stinky and dirty water. It will take a few minutes for each jet to be flushed out, and spouting clean water.  The corgis are no where to be seen.  Then the tedious job of getting the jets adjusted so the height is just so-meaning high enough to make enough sound to blotto the sound of my neighbor’s lawn mower.  The sound that a jet of water produces is the best part of having a fountain. 

Each valve gets turned up or down and up again until the pressure produces spouts of equal height. 

The water is murky with mortar and dirt.  It will take a few days stirring up and filtering out before the water is clean.  The reconstruction was such a beautiful job; the water appears to my eye to be exactly level-as if the fountain had a sheet of glass over the top.   

In another few days, the water is clean, and the Corgis are back to drinking from it like nothing had ever happened. But I know plenty has happened-and more is yet to come.  Dealing with the damage to the landscape is the next order of business.  There is more work to go than what I would like.  The good part-I have the luxury of rethinking certain parts of the composition.  Luxury from disaster-this is what I call trying to keep a good attitude going.    

I will keep you posted.

Turning Loose


Fifteen years ago I engaged Madame Pellier from the Poterie de la Madeleine to make three number 0 classic anduze pots-for the front of my then new shop.  They number their pot sizes; the largest pot is a zero, the smallest, a number 8.  The 0 pot is their largest-plenty big enough for me to climb in, and be hidden from sight.  There might be room left over for the Corgis, and my most treasured possessions.  They are very big footed vases.   

Every six months or so, she would call.  She would tell me pots were breaking, during the cooking.  The third year after placing the order, Rob went to Anduze to select pots, and place an order. He told me the hillside above the pottery was littered with broken number 0’s-with my name on them.  At the end of the third year, she had three perfect pots.  Our shipper in London, Headlees, drove to Anduze, collected the pots, crated them in London, and sent them to me.

I remember the day they arrived vividly.  I thought they were surely the most beautiful three pots I had ever seen. They came with some 1’s, and 2’s of the same classic design, but those zeros were beautiful to the bone.  How I worried that I could never plant them beautifully enough.  The French-they edit everything in the garden in a way I could never hope to aspire to.  I imagine a French designer, placing them, and not planting them at all.  

I am an American designer through and through.  In my mind, I saw a garden in those pots, the shape of fireworks exploding.  Up, and out-graceful, lush-bigger than those beautiful vases.  The best dress that in my life I could ever design for those gorgeous dark green shapes.

After some years in front of the store, I took them home.  It could be I always wanted that. I placed two in the front of the house-dead center to the windows in my dining room, and our den. Having dinner, or relaxing with the dogs, they were right there-representing.  I placed the third vase in my side half lot.  This small garden came to life when this giant pot took the center; every other element revolved around it.    

I stuffed it with giant nicotianas, white angelonia, a vigorously trailing white variegated plectranthus-and petunias.  It may not be so sophisticated, but petunias deliver the goods-great color, great scent, easy care, and exceptional vigor. Fireworks.  The early days, creating a shop devoted to fine objects for gardens-there were none. No precedents. Early visitors to the shop often demanded an explanation-a shop devoted solely to fine objects for gardens?  I had none. Just a fire burning inside-every gardener can understand that. My love for landscapes and all that entailed was a very powerful engine that powered my ideas.  I am much better able to explain years later.   The commission of these pots fifteen years ago-I am amazed, and so appreciative of whatever fueled that audacity.

I could see that stately vase from inside in the morning, from the lower terrace, from the street as I drove by on my way home.  A pair of chairs in that garden made it possible for Buck and I to talk about the day’s events; close by a party of the first order going on.

I planted a path of herniaria, rupturewort, up to, and all the way around those pots in the front.  The pot was every bit as important to my garden as what was planted in it.  I wanted to be sure to devote the space to the celebration of that 0.   The hedge of dwarf Russian sage framed my view-for those days when I was just too tired to walk up close and say hello.    

Two years ago I returned the Anduze pots, and this Madeleine Faune pot to the shop.  I could not leave them out in the winter, and I so wanted pots that could stay in place over the winter; I wanted pots I could dress for the winter season. This was not an easy decision. The Faune found a loving home straight away. The zero trio-this is the second season they have been in the shop.  Only a few days ago, a client for whom I had specified a completely different series of pots, spoke for a pair of the zeros.  They were the vases she had been looking for.  She told me today she could not imagine that it would not be difficult for me to give them up.  Indeed it is. Her question alone tells me they are going to the right home. She and her husband are both crazy about them.  I will place them, plant them, and visit regularly.  I am pleased that those vases that for so many years so enchanted me are due to be passed along to someone equally as impassioned about them as I have always been.  Today was a very good day.