Picture Taking, Garden Making

Sept 14, 2015 003I have been tinkering some with taking pictures with my new iphone 6. I am not very technically inclined, meaning I have always used a cell phone as a phone, and not much else. But this phone is capable of facilitating communications of all sorts, and in very sophisticated visual ways. The photo feature produces images that are amazingly sharp and detailed. Even at close range, in the hands of an older person.The fact that it is light, and fits in my pocket, means that there is no need to plan ahead. I am almost always ready, for anything that strikes my fancy.  Or that unexpected, interesting, or enchanting moment.

image6 (9)I just learned that I can edit my pictures.  I can change or rearrange the composition.  This means I can set the four edges of the photograph wherever I want. I can crop-as in blow up the image to the edges I have set, to eliminate all of those unnecessary visual details.  This is the heart and soul of editing. Keep what matters the most, feature what brings an idea to life visually in its simplest and most dramatic form, and discard what distracts. This crop feature makes that easy. Even when it is not so easy, this camera is a great tool by which to learn. A photograph is two-dimensional-flat. How the composition of that two dimensional picture is handled can create the illusion of great depth. Think of it.  This phone has a filter feature.  Any photograph can be overlaid with a number of different transparent color overlays-like acetate gels over a lens. This cropped photograph of succulents got overlaid with a color overlay called chroma. That overlay gives the greens in the picture picture a more intense blue/green cast.

image5 (11)This overlay is called noir. Whatever the color of the overlay, it turns the greens in the original photograph to black. Succulents in black and white-a very different point of view. An interesting point of view.

image7 (11)This overlay is called “instant”.  I have no idea what that means.  I chose it for this picture, as it enhanced the natural pale and muddy blue green of the lavender and the flapjack. The red edges of the flapjack are now a muted, muddy and moody terra cotta color. This overlay does not accurately depict the appearance of the plants the moment that I took the picture, but it accurately depicts how I see these plants.

Sept 14, 2015 039Seeing is not only about the optics of vision. How people see things is overlaid by many layers.  History, experience, memory, desire-these are but 4 of 1004 factors that influence how any given person sees.  No one sees optically.  They see emotionally.  That complex organism we know as a person sees like no other.  For any designer, how they see is their most precious asset. Successfully communicating that seeing can forge an artist from a designer.

Sept 14, 2015 034My IPhone recorded this arrangement of flowers on my sunny daytime deck based on numerous scientific calculations about how to handle the exposure in the best and most pleasing way possible.

flowers 2A chroma overlay, with a bright light overlay makes the saturation of the color more intense. This photograph is edited.  I would guess that the editing would not read as well if the picture were printed.  Computers are glorified light boxes.  The light shines through the image, like those Kodak slides from 50 years ago. The intensity of the light is a pleasure to see.

flowers 3This overlay is even more intense, and dramatic.  The photograph begins to have an aura about it.

image15 (2)This sunny overlay saturates the color of my terra cotta pot. These pots are a pale peach, on a day with no overlays.  Here, the color is on fire.  The shadows on my brown chairs are blue. The pink and yellow flowers are brilliantly pink and blue. This edit is a happy edit.  A high  summer edit.

Sept 14, 2015 037This picture is as the camera read it.

Sept 14, 2015 036The same picture, edited, is an expression of how I felt, and what I truly saw, when I took this picture. How do I explain this in words?  Nature is a vast and ultimately a most important stage.  Everything of any consequence goes on there.  I have great respect for the story that is to come when the lights dim. The light is drama in and of itself.  The light and dark in a landscape-that relationship can be very dramatic.

image1 (16)If you are a garden maker, all of the above is of critical importance.  The composition. The editing. The plants arranged in a fresh or unexpected way.  The design that is is subject to a series of overlays that describe the maker. I feel quite sure that if 100 landscape designers were asked to create a design for the same space, every design would be different. Distinctively different. A designer and client that share certain overlays are bound to produce a project of note. A great landscape rings true, and is emotionally sound.

image15As for me, I like landscape designs that are simple, and saturated. Saturated with thoughtful composition.Saturated with shapes, color, textures, memories, events, and moments. I have not explained this very well, but that process by which gardeners create is loaded with mono, tonal, noir, chroma, fade, process, transfer and instant overlays.  A life applied to a landscape design-would that every project I do would have this overlay. Adding some light, dark, and color to this mix we call design- it could be brilliant.


On Tour Tomorrow

July 18, 2015 (16)I was in the garden early this morning. Early enough that the dew still covered every surface.  The agreement to be on a garden tour is just the beginning.  Of course you want every moment in the garden to mean something, and make a good case for that meaning. The planning starts months ahead, long about when you see what did not survive the winter, and later, when you go to plant the pots.

July 18, 2015 (31)That comittment to put your garden out there is one part bravado, one part luck, one part a benevolent mother nature, and 100 parts work.  I try to mitigate those circumstances with my clients as much as I can for the Greening tour. Monica Tabares from the Greening staffs every garden with two people. Detroit Garden Works springs for tee shirts for all of them, including the shop staff, so every tour person remembers that this event is all about the work that the Greening does.  This year means 28 people – the morning and the afternoon shifts – will be staffing the 7 gardens on tour.  Monica has told me in years past that the tour docents are volunteers from the Wayne State dental school.  I never asked about how that came to be, but I appreciate all of those students who take time on a Sunday to help make the experience a good one for all.

July 18, 2015 (18)Both crews from Deborah Silver and Co pitch in. We handle this and that.  We are available to replace plants that have gone down from whitefly, or add new grass in spots that need it. And we send tickets to the tour and reception for every client who agrees to put their garden on tour.  Some enjoy the day at homer meeting fellow gardeners.  Others leave the garden in the capable hands of the Greening people, and go on tour themselves.  Others yet are willing, but able to keep a comittment in another place that day.

July 18, 2015 (9)Every landscape that is on our tour belongs to people for whom the garden is a way of life.  Every tree, shrub, perennial and seasonal plant gets in the ground is a result of the belief that stewardship of the environment is a pleasure, a joy, and a responsibility.  The Greening has been all about that belief, since 1989.  They have planted in excess of 90,000 trees in the city of the Detroit since their inception.  They sponsor urban farms.  They teach people how to care for trees, and grow food.

July 18, 2015 (23)They are a self sufficient non profit organization. Meaning they have staff who apply for grants, and raise money.  I sit on their board, but after my first board meeting I knew that I would never catch up to their history and long range plans enough to be of any use to them. So 8 years ago Rob and I decided to put on this tour, all of the proceeds of which would go to the Greening.

July 18, 2015 (27)The money we have raised usually goes to those programs that cannot be funded by grants – programs that rely on donations.  One of those programs involves hiring young people with not so much opportunity to obtain a job.  The Greening pays them to water newly planted trees, and tend vegetable patches.  I have had occasion to hear about what an impact this experience has had on young people who were so fortunate to participate in this program. Of course I like the idea that young people become exposed to the work, and the satisfaction that gardening provides.

July 18, 2015 (67)I can barely remember my life before I grew plants, and gardened. I would want to do what I could to pass that along to others.  Especially young people. My generation will need young people to grow peonies, and heirloom tomatoes, and as many trees as they can mange. Suffice it to say that this is a cause near and dear to my heart.

July 18, 2015 (8)Monica W, the manager of Detroit Garden Works, Deborah Silver and Co, and the Branch Studio, organizes the reception we hold after the tour at the store. She furthermore organizes all of the ticket sales, so soon after the tour we have a check available to the Greening.  It is an amazing amount of work on her part to make it all seem effortless. Though she is very much behind the scenes, she is the unusual combination of the work of an engineer, and the work of a compassionate and caring person.

July 18, 2015 (49)As for me, my garden will be on tour for the 8th time tomorrow. I am happy with most everything I see.  The delphiniums that bloomed their hearts out in early June are suffering from a fungus brought on by the cold and rainy early summer.  I have no plans to replace this plant, or disguise it.  I am a gardener, and I have plenty of trouble in my garden.  It comes with the territory.

July 18, 2015 (51)I have talked with every client who has a garden on tour tomorrow. To the last they are concerned about this bad spot, or that plant that is not performing, or some boxwood still showing signs of damage from last winter.  My job near the time of the tour is to suggest that no garden on this tour is a show garden.  They are gardens that belong to real people.  People with kids, jobs, and lots of other responsibilities. Our tour is a chance for people who garden to see what other people who garden do.  This tour is about exchange. My garden is for all to see what it is –  tomorrow.

July 18, 2015 (50)Though some parts of my perennial patch are not so swell, other places look fine to my eye.  I have no doubt that every person who visits my garden tomorrow will remember the good things.  None of them will hold my failures against me.  Why would they?

July 18, 2015 (59)After years of trying to get herniaria to take hold in this garden in the front of my house, I grassed over it.  The grass looks great, and is easy to keep. I am happy to come home, and not have to weed the herniaria.

July 18, 2015 (5)If you are able to come on our tour tomorrow, I would encourage you to do so.  We have 7 really beautiful landscapes and gardens for you to see.  If you are too far away to be here – I will post pictures of all of the gardens next week. So looking forward to the tour tomorrow-this is my news.


A New Landscape For An Old Property

a new landscape (2)Last August I had the opportunity to consult on a landscape renovation for a lovely house and property dating back to the 1920’s. The current owners added a sizable addition to the back of the house, solved many of the problems that old houses are heir to, and had redone the interior to suit them. They were ready to tackle the landscape. A mixed planting of privet, viburnum and Annabelle hydrangea on the sidewalk was healthy, but disorderly.  The bark path was not centered on the front door of the house.

August 23 2014 (1)The landscape at the front door looked congested.  A pair of kousa dogwoods were placed in front of the windows.  The boxwood had been planted right next to the walk to the front door. This placement all but obscured the front porch.  Planted behind the boxwood, a run of All Summer Beauty hydrangea, and a longer run of privet. There was a lot going on here, none of it especially friendly to the architecture of the house. Shrubs and trees growing up and over the windows of a house-not a good look. A landscape that overpowers a house looks like neglect, even when a property is being very well looked after. Funny, that.

a new landscape (1)A large block of Annabelle hydrangeas facing down the sun porch were planted in a little bit too much shade.  The bloom was spotty, and green. Carpet roses that had been planted in front of them were in altogether too much shade. In the left background of this picture, an old concolor fir that was just about gone.

a new landscape (3)An old blue stone terrace in the back was becoming overwhelmed by the plantings. All of the plants were robust and healthy.  The relationship of the plants to the terrace-uneasy. My clients wanted a terrace large enough to be comfortable both visually, and physically.

a new landscape (4)As in the front yard, there were a number of big old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan.  Some had been severely damaged by lightening, and disease. Others had suffered considerable storm damage. Some were just at the end of their lifespan.

a new landscape (5)An informal perennial garden with a rock border had too many dirt spaces created from plants that had been lost. The garden did not have enough presence to be seen from the terrace.  The weeds were beginning to run wild. This is a very large property-where to begin?

DSC_8098We began with a plan. The landscape plan for the back was simple. The original terrace would be taken up, and relaid level. A border of old reclaimed brick would add a good deal of space to the terrace, and repeat the brick on the walls of the original house. the ground adjacent to the terrace would be regraded to slope away from the house, and would culminate in  long low brick seat wall, punctuated by wide steps that would lead to an upper level lawn.  The terrace garden would be planted with Nova yews, and boxwood. The trees that could not be saved would be taken down, and that upper level spot regraded to produce a large flat area suitable for touch football and the like. Flanking the lawn, a pair of triangular shaped meadow-like beds with multi trunked Himalayan white barked birch. If my clients liked the look of those shapes of long grass, we might at a later date formally plant it as such. The shape of these beds had everything to do with the unusual shape of the lot.  At the back of the property, the boulder wall would be redone in a curved shape.  Soil would be added above the wall to create 2 levels of plantings.  Above the wall, a mass of Annabelle hydrangeas that would cascade over the wall, backed up by a hedge of limelight hydrangeas. Hydrangeas would be in bloom from June through September.  On the lower level, an improved perennial garden.  Anchoring that garden at either end, a pair of the same birch. Last fall’s project-tree removal.

DSC_9551In April, we moved every shrub from the terrace garden out of harms way, and heeled them in. Given the cool rainy conditions, we also moved all of the Annabelle hydrangeas, privet and viburnum from the garden at the street, and behind the boxwood in front. The viburnums and privets would be relocated along the driveway to provide more privacy from the neighboring house. The Annabelles would go to the new garden in the back. By this time, the installation of the new terrace was underway. We were fortunate that the weather was perfect for transplanting. We got everything moved before it leafed out.  We moved well over 100 shrubs, and did not loose a single one.

May 11  2015 023The finished wall is 90 feet long, and features a staircase to the upper level.  This is the mid ground feature of the landscape.

DSC_0604We only had to add one pallet of rock to complete the new wall.  Better than 20 yards of soil were added behind that wall, and feathered into the existing grade going up to the rear lot line.  Loads of soil were used to level the lawn area.

IMG_0282Teddy and Beau got right in to the project. There was no keeping them out of the dirt.

DSC_0065In May, the landscape of the rear terrace was installed, and the ground leveled in preparation for sod.

DSC_0070A pair of fan shaped apple espaliers will eventually cover this large wall.

DSC_0661A pair of Palabin lilacs on standard that had been on the terrace were relocated out away from the house, where they would have all the room they needed to grow to a substantial size. Old Palabin lilacs on standard are impressive.  Once the irrigation was installed, we were able to work on the finish grade.

DSC_0657Shrubs that had been relocated to various spots on the lot lines were outfitted with their own irrigation rings.  A property this large cannot be watered by hand.

DSC_0672The final step was to have the upper rear yard hydroseeded.  The grass seed is mixed into a slurry of recycled paper.  This acts as a mulch for the seed, and helps to make sure that the seed has the access to moisture that it needs.

DSC_0680We protected the trunks of the birch, and some newly planted spruce from any over spray of hydroseed with landscape fabric, although this turned out to be unnecessary.  The seed was very precisely applied to the ground.

DSC_0679A snow fence kept Teddy and Beau out of that upper level.  It would be a few weeks before the seed would germinate, and a while after that before the new grass could tolerate foot traffic.

DSC_0675The lawn in front was spot hydro seeded in those areas where the grass was thin. The boxwood from the rear terrace was replanted across the front of the house, for a simple and continuous look. Only four new boxwood were needed to complete the hedge.

DSC_0676The sun porch garden was planted with shade tolerant hostas, brunnera, and forget me nots, set in pachysandra. There is nothing here that is unduly tricky or fussy to maintain.  Both of my clients are busy professional people.

DSC_0684The shrub bed at the street was redone in lawn.  The kousa dogwoods had long since been moved to the back yard, where they would get a little afternoon shade, and have the room to grow large. The architecture of the house can be seen from top to bottom, and side to side. I like to think the austerity of it is in keeping with the period and style of the house.  The boxwood were backed off of the front walk, so the entire porch is visible. In celebration of that porch, a pair of vintage wood champagne crates were placed there, and planted with pansies. We managed to finish June first. They have a whole summer and fall ahead of them, to enjoy the change. I like leaving a landscape renovation at this point. Once my clients live with it, they may decide what they have now is enough. Or they may decide to take the landscape a step further. But for now, there are some good bones in place.


The Landscape at 3 Years

June 11, 2015 (2)The very best part of doing containers for clients at the last of a landscape installation for a new house is the chance I might be able to to come back the following year. The opportunity to come back means I can watch, and be part of how that landscape settles in and prospers. The summer container planting comes around once a year, every year. In the best of all possible worlds, the process of the landscape design and installation results in a relationship that is on going.  Planting seasonal containers is ongoing.  I was happy to be invited back.  The John Davis roses, which were part of the original landscape installation, are just about to the roof of the pergola, this June of year 3.

June 11, 2015 (1)Any new landscape comes with troubles.  What you thought would be perfectly happy in this spot refuses to perform. What seemed like a reach takes hold like you never imagined.  Anyone who gardens knows trouble-and how that trouble can be difficult to foresee. This property fronts on a lake. The very heavy clay soil refuses to dry out. We had no end of troubles, getting this landscape to take hold. It is difficult, and takes time, to establish plants on a clay based soil. In the middle of year 2, a daunting year 2, we were making progress.  Year two was not my favorite.  It just had to be lived through. But once the plants take hold, they go for broke. Year 3 is looking good. Along this path to the side yard, each Rozanne geranium is the size of a small shrub.  The astilbes are loaded with flower spikes. The yews have settled in, and are lush and dark green.  And the roses-well, you can see for yourself.

June 11, 2015 (9)John Davis is a climbing rose which is incredibly vigorous and long lived. If pink flowers are to your liking, this rose will reward you with steady growth and lots of roses. I have a client withe John Davis roses that are better than 20 years old.  It is undeniably hardy-bear in mind these roses on planted on the lake side, and subject to terrific winds and cold in the winter. Our last two winters were fiercely cold.  I see damage to plants everywhere from those vicious winters.  These roses never skipped a beat. Planting this summer annual container next to this John Davis in glorious bloom-what a treat.

June 11, 2015 (3)This landscape has begun to come into its own. I did not know this, until the moment I got there with a truckload of flowers for the pots. The best part of spending the day here planting the containers here was the pure pleasure of experiencing a landscape and garden that has rooted in and has settled down.  Everything is breathing, regularly.  There is new growth on every plant, from the yews, to the Venus dogwoods, to the Himalayan white barked birch, to the hydrangeas-to the columnar red maples. The landscape is thriving. The heart of it is beating regularly, and strongly.

June 11, 2015 (5)The boxwood dots in the lawn have put on a lot of weight. That dark green I see everywhere is a healthy green. How is my client managing a landscape on soil that does not drain?  She manages, as she tends to the landscape. Her thoughtful work is obvious. The views from the second story deck was beautiful. That beauty is not of my doing, some three years after the original installation.  It is hers. All a garden needs is for someone to take ownership, like she has.

June 11, 2015 (4)I did plant lots of containers for her today.  She wanted orange geraniums, and nasturtiums.  I planted them wherever I could.  Next week I will plant her cutting flower boxes. We have had incredibly cold and rainy weather. I have postponed planting the zinnias and the sunflowers until next week.

June 11, 2015 (10)The wet meadow is loaded with amsonia Blue Ice-it is in bloom now. The shadier portions are planted with species monarda, and northern sea oats-Chasmanthium latifolium.  The fact that it seeds is all to the good. That wet meadow will dry sometime soon. Cleome and sonata cosmos will provide color in this garden all the summer season long.

June 11, 2015 (8)Though my trip here was to plant containers, how the landscape has taken hold has my attention. Plants in the right place is all the work of a garden-and all of the pleasure.

June 11, 2015 (7)Willy’s garden is presided over by a big group of columnar red maples.  Their foliage is lush this year – finally.  The hostas are fanning out. In the front of the house, the peonies were full of blooms. The birch are growing. The katsura espaliers leafed out beyond all belief.

June 11, 2015 (11)All of the containers featured orange in one form or another.  I was pleased that this urn was stuffed with annual plants in a relaxed fashion.  My crews do an amazing job of arranging all the plants that are scheduled to go into a container in a lively, lovely, and unpretentious way. From the start.

June 11, 2015 (14)I cannot really convey with words what it meant to walk on to a property with a landscape wrought by a relationship with a very special client that seems happy in most every regard. I ws so pleased with everything I saw. My working life right now is busy-jammed packed and intense.  Most days I am up at 4:30 am, and drifting home at 6pm. This seasonal planting settled me right down. Thanks, Harriet. This landscape is growing  just as you would want it to.  I am sure I heard that growing going on.