Sunday Opinion: The Leftovers

Thanksgiving dinner at our house always means lots of leftovers.  Buck’s style of cooking has its roots in his Texan background.  When he cooks, he cooks for the many.  That is his idea of hospitality-more than plenty to eat.  Though our dinner was limited to the two of us, he cooked a huge pan chock full of short ribs, a pot brimming with brussel sprouts, and an endless store of mashed potatoes and stuffing.  To accompany said potaoes and stuffing – gallons of gravy.  The cranberry relish would have been enough for 8, with several servings in reserve.  No matter all of this leftover food.  He had leftovers for breakfast and lunch on Friday.  Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast the day after?  He chowed down.  He persuaded me that the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers would provide a perfect day after dinner.  This holiday dinner fueled the both of us through Saturday.

I went along, although leftovers are not my favorite.  I rarely am faced with the second round of a dinner idea-he sees to that.  Buck would never dream of oatmeal or eggs or cereal for breakfast, though this menu would be my first choice.  Whatever we had left over from the previous night’s dinner is his breakfast of choice. I would not be interested in last night’s pork chop with a side of last night’s field peas first thing the following morning.  But I am interested that he eats our leftovers with gusto.  This means I don’t have to.  We have an arrangement regarding leftovers that works.  By this I mean, we do not throw food away.

Though I am not a big fan of leftover food, I have a tough time throwing away any leftover materials.  This may mean half bunches of eucalyptus, a few stems of curly willow, a glass garland with a broken bulb, a cracked pot, a feathered bird with a broken clip, a cattail wreath with a stain, an acorn stem that is missing some acorns.   I have an astonishing collection of those materials though perfect, have gone unloved.  Why do I keep them?  I like the challenge.

Years ago, I did weekly flower arrangements for a client.  She has a company which purchased cut flowers for events.  I would arrive on her doorstep every week, with boxes full of flowers waiting for me.  She did not choose them, nor did I.  But my job was to take those stems not of my choosing or hers, and make something of them that she would like.  There would be no rhyme or reason to the contents of the box.  Perhaps her supplier packaged up the weekly leftovers, and sent them along.  Perhaps whomever packed the boxes was not so focused on enabling an end result.  Did I call the office with a long list of complaints?  Absolutely not.  I loved the challenge of making much of a group of flowers that seemed to have no relationship whatsoever sing together.  Week after week, I did flower arrangements from the flowers sent to me.

My winter pots at home will be constructed from the leftovers at the shop.  Do I feel slighted?  Not in the least.  Any leftover material can be arranged in a beautiful way.  Creating something beautiful is not about the materials.  It is always about the imagination, the thought,  and the effort.  Those leftovers, the perennial stems still standing, the branches from the field down the street, the damaged picks, the browned hydrangea blooms, the leftover string, the broken bits from last year, the materials from the field next door, the fresh cuttings from the garden-materials you can use.  The most beautiful materials on the planet does not demand so much from you.  The leftovers ask for the best you have to give to them, and to yourself.

I like the idea that the leftovers available to me might spark my best work ever.  There is so much to be thankful for – including that client who was confident that I could make something of anything.

Sunday Opinion: Keeping America Beautiful

 

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Keep America Beautiful is an organization which has been devoted to promoting the idea that a clean environment is a beautiful and healthy environment since 1953.  The original group of business people and public figures had the idea to link the private and public sector in a campaign to stamp out littering.  If you are any where near me in age, you will remember the public service announcements in the 1970′s featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline “People start pollution.  People can stop it”.  The Ad Council of America considers it one of the most successful public service campaigns ever mounted. It had to have been fairly successful-I still remember it vividly, some 40 years after the fact.  I would sooner stuff my lunch trash in my own coat pocket than throw it on the ground.  Their role in recent years has been to focus on the merits of recycling.  Both technology and human ingenuity have helped to create ways to transform trash into products that can be reused.

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Why am I talking about litter?  We were downtown last week, decorating 50 planter boxes on Woodward Avenue that feature trees at the center.  As the aluminum fencing around each box is about 18 inches tall, I suggested decorating each tree truck with corn shocks, and other decor that suggested fall.  The result is a celebration of fall that can be seen from a car, or on foot.  So what does this have to do with litter?  The boxes themselves were littered.  Lots of litter.  I would guess that it takes an incredible amount of time and money to regularly clean them.  Though there’s no need to litter, it happens.

Woodweard-Avenue-Detroit.jpg While we were installing this fall display, a Detroit police officer pulled over to the curb near us, set off his siren, and turned on his lights. Yes, we were startled, and yes we watched.  The officer called out to a man on the side walk who had just thoughtlessly dumped his lunch trash and plastic bottle on the sidewalk to pick up his mess, and put it in the trash barrel not 10 feet away.  There was much discussion and lots of resistance, but the man finally picked up his mess and put it in the garbage can.  I admire that officer who treated littering and polluting as a crime against the environment.

Woodward-Avenue-planters.jpgThat officer let it be known loud and clear that he expects his city to be orderly, safe, friendly, busy, crime free-and clean. Pollution free-one trashy moment at a time. The incident made a big impression on me.  Obviously clean cities happen via groups of concerned people who bring their influence to bear.  Clean cities perhaps rely even more on those individuals who take the time and effort to protect the environment.  It also occurs to me that a clean and litter free city has much to do with a collective sense of ownership, and stewardship.  How can that pride of  ownership and stewardship be fostered?  One litter free block at a time.  One clean day at a time.  One proud person at a time.

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We were hired to make a statement about fall in the downtown Detroit area.  My thoughts regarding the design were as follows.  I wanted to celebrate those trees on Woodward Avenue that managed to grow in a thoroughly urbanized city.  I wanted to draw attention to the trees, and the planter boxes.  I wanted to make anyone who rode or walked down Woodward to be engaged by what we did.  I wanted to, for a brief moment, to draw attention to nature.  My hope was that attention would foster respect.

city-tree.jpgI may not get my wish-this go round. If you are a gardener, you understand that it can take a lot of time to develop a garden, or a landscape.  It can take more than a lifetime.  As for a litter free America, it may take many generations.  But I am happy to report that more people than not are informed and supportive of a clean, beautiful, and healthy America.  Gardeners have for generations been interested in a clean and beautiful environment.     Woodward-Avenue.jpg

Gardeners have homes that they choose to keep beautiful and clean.  Gardeners who move to another property have been stewards.  My idea?  I would encourage anyone and everyone to garden.  Once you garden, you understand the treasure inviolate that is nature. Would that everyone would be a gardener.

 

Garden On Tour

summer-storm.jpgThe prospect of having ones garden on tour is equal parts excitement, and dread.  I know.  It is my job early each season to persuade 6 gardeners, most of which are clients of mine, to open their garden to visitors.  The fact that every ticket dollar goes to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit helps considerably.  But a garden on tour implies a garden that is not only imaginatively designed, but well maintained.  Getting a garden ready for an event is plenty of work.  My garden has been on the Greening of Detroit tour every year since 2007.  It seems fair.  If I would ask someone else to put their garden on tour, I like to be able to say I am right there with them.  We are on call at no charge for any participating gardener the 2 weeks before the tour.  Every gardener with a garden on tour wants that garden to look its best.  Our gardening season has been tough.  A very cold and wet spring.  Torrential rains, regularly.  Storms and storm damage-everywhere. Last week, blistering and relentless heat.  This giant tree limb came down across the street from me-just this past Friday.

rain-and-wind.jpgI do the best I can to get my garden road ready for this tour. I would want every square inch of my landscape and garden to be thriving.  Many of the people who take this tour are very interested gardeners.  They look at what is there-intently.   It is my idea to do whatever I can to encourage people to garden. Gardening is good for people-I truly believe this.  But a garden has a tough side.  The weather can be terrible.  Plants die.  Some days nothing seems to be right.  Thee are those places that look rough.  IO would not want that to discourage anyone. A garden tour is a visual expression about the value of a landscape and garden.  That visual expression is not perfect, corner to corner.  Gardens have problems and failures. Gaps.  Troubles.

saturated.jpgI never get my wish for a perfect tour garden. Every gardening season presents challenges.  If I had my way, I would have no challenges the month before our tour. But in fact my garden has as many gaps and troubles as it has good moments.  I have said this so many times to both old and prospective clients.  Perfect applies only to diamonds, and moments.  The most beautiful moment of a garden may last but a few hours, on that one day. Maybe no one else will be there to see it with you.  Rough spots in a garden cannot always be fixed.

tour-garden.jpgHaving had my garden on tour, once a year, for the past seven years, I have this to say.  The time and effort that it takes to maintain a landscape and garden is always evident.  Those places that do not look so good-every gardener has them.  The evidence of bad weather-that is a battle every gardener understands.  I don’t fret about every square inch anymore. The people who take our tour seem to simply appreciate every gesture. They see things entirely differently than I do.

rose-garden.jpgMy yard was not at its finest this past Sunday.  Even Buck remarked that my container plantings seemed listless-plagued by rain.  He was right.  No matter my efforts, the stormy weather prevailed.  Was I worried the day of the tour?  Not in the least.

rain-storm.jpgNot one person who came to my house for the tour remarked about the Japanese beetle damage, the mildew on the dahlias, the rain soaked petunias, the rotting scotch moss or the delphiniums out of bloom and listing from the wind.  Instead, to the last,  they chose to thank me for opening my garden.

ferns-and-European-ginger.jpgA garden is a very personal relationship between a gardener, and the environment. A garden tour presents that relationship to visitors, without any commentary.

garden-on-tour.jpgI am not so interested in the commentary about gardens.  Go see gardens. Every garden you can. Absorb from them what seems pertinent.  Take home what works, and do better.  The tour seems to encourage people to go home, and take on a project.  This is the best part of putting a garden on tour.

boxwood-garden.jpgMy landscape is a blueprint for my life.  No matter the troubles.  As for being on tour-I would hope that any person who came to my garden this past Sunday would not be discouraged by its failures. I would hope they would be encouraged by the care and energy I put to my landscape.

garden-on-tour.jpgIt was a great tour!  So many visitors-so many questions.  So many kind comments.  Those garden failures-the furthest thing from my mind.

garden-cruise.jpgA garden?  What is it?  So sunny.

 

 

Sunday Opinion: Until It Hurts

rosemary-topiaries.jpgGarden?  Landscape?  These are single words which describe what I call a big fluid situation.  A landscape and garden design is utterly dependent on a series of conditions that is not always so easy to make sense of.  A design I love may not enchant a client.  A tree, shrub, or perennial may not like my placement-contrary to my best and experienced effort.  The plan I have in mind for a spot in my garden may fail for 100 reasons-all of those reasons may be good reasons. The perennial of my dreams may not like any of 10 different locations in my yard.  A vicious winter can kill marginally hardy plants a gardener has worked so hard to establish.  A tree can succumb to fire blight, girdling roots, or old age.  A planting scheme for pots can peter out the end of July.  What has taken 20 or 200 years to grow can be lost in an instant in a storm.

French-glazed-pots.jpgEvery gardener knows what it means to give to their garden until it hurts. The planning, the buying, the planting, the tending- may be for naught.  My internist told me once that a great doctor needed to be a good scientist.  But really great doctors are gifted diagnosticians.  They review every test, every measurement, every symptom, and make a decision about what is fueling the problem.  Diagnosis is as much an art as a science.  I am a middling gardening diagnostician.  Given that, I have had to learn when it is a good idea to let go.  Or try again.  Or sleep on it.  I do not have a laboratory.  I just have a garden.  But giving to anything until it hurts has very special rewards.  Every gardener knows this.

potted-rosemarys.jpgI agreed some months ago to donate centerpieces for a fundraiser for Mott’s Childrens Hospital in Ann Arbor.  The Event on Main, a fundraiser established to raise money for the CS Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospitals, an affliliate and member of the University of Michigan Hospital system, has raised over 1 million dollars to support building and research in just the past 3 years. This fundraiser targeted the U of M food allergy center.  This is the largest center of its kind which provides both clinical care and research into food allergies that afflict children. Ann Arbor based interior designer Jane Wood, a client of the store, and a member of the design committee, asked if I would donate 26 centerpieces for this event.

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Our primary community event is the garden tour we sponsor to benefit the summer employment programs of the Greening of Detroit.  But I felt that we could lend a hand to Jane’s project.  We potted up 26 gorgeous rosemary topiaries in a variety of sizes of French glazed terra cotta pots.  The invitation was designed and printed in white, gray, and pale yellow.  I knew the tent would be large.  I knew our French glazed pots in pale yellow and green, planted with rosemary topiaries would look good.  A portion of Main Street in Ann Arbor would be closed for the evening for this event.  Angie, Olga and I got all of the pots planted up, the rosemaries staked, and tied up with raffia.

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A van operated by a volunteer driver arrived at noon the day of the event. Scott helped pack all of the pots in boxes with reams of bubble wrap.  We loaded the van, and sent it on its way.  We did not want any accidents in transport. Jane wrote me a day later about the centerpieces.  She was not expecting the level at which we contributed.  I told her that gardeners have an instinct to give to the garden, any garden project, until it hurts.  We committed to helping her, so we did.  Just like we commit all of the energy and experience we have to the garden.  The CS Mott Children’s and Women’s hospital at U of M may not mean much-until you need them.  Should you need them, a lot of private individuals in Ann Arbor gave their all to make them available to you.  We were happy to help-that part felt really good.  Interested in more information about the Event on Main?     http://www.mottchildren.org/