The Edge

French-glazed-pots.jpgWe are on the edge of the end of a year.  The furthest edge.  In just a few hours, that year will be part of the past.  There will be discussion-a retrospective.  Some memories will be sentimental.  It is easy to remember the roses, and gloss over the beetles. We are likewise on the edge of a new year.  In a few hours, we will cross over the leading edge of a new year-to an unknown but greatly anticipated future.  It is an interesting place to be-on the edge.  Great design, no matter the discipline, tends to hover, and thrive there.  Edgy may not describe my shining hour. I suspect I am just too old. But as a designer I am very interested in composition.  Composition, in my opinion, is much ado about edges. These French glazed pots have beautiful edges.  The top edge is compound.  The sides are sleek and precisely contoured.  The edge that meets the ground is generous and hefty.  What I would plant in them has everything to do with the shape, size, color and decoration of the pot.

concrete-pot-and-hound.jpgComposing seasonal plantings in pots is all about creating a world unique, complete, and believable, in a space notable for its sharply defined edges.  A pot has a distinct shape.  A top, a bottom, and 2 sides.  The four sides frame an expression.  Much like a frame contains a painting.  Much like the composition of a painting has four edges.  No matter whether you choose to respect or breach the edges, the treatment of the edges will dominate a certain part of the discussion.  How I design a planting begins with the space in question.  I have always wondered how the person who purchased this concrete pot with its companion dog chose to plant it.  The top edge is abrupt, and unadorned.  This pot could have plants draping over and down the sides-or not.  Were the paws of the dog still visible?  Did the dog appear to be enchanted by the fragrance of the flowers, or was he staring down a bug at eye level?

English-made-concrete-pots.jpgContainers with ornament and detail at the top edge may suffer from a mature planting that obscures that detail.  Some pots demand visual respect of the edges.  Were I to plant these containers, I would concentrate on plants that lift off.  The visual relationship between the planting and the pot is a relationship worth exploring.  These pots would look equally fine in a garden, unplanted.   I did not plant any containers when I was young.  I could barely afford to buy plants-much less containers.  Everything I planted went in the ground.  But even then, I was concerned about my composition.  My gardens had edges.  My grass had edges.  I would frame some views, and disguise others.

antique-French-Biot-pot.jpgI will confess I have always edged my beds.  I would strike a flat shovel deep down on an edge, and toss the soil up into the bed. I liked making a clear decision about shape and direction – for better, or for worse.  Any composition that was sloppy was unsatisfying.  Every gardener has their own point of view, and I have mine.  No matter how exuberant and wild the planting, the container holds it all together.  This late 19th century French pot from Biot is a container of breathtaking beauty.  If I were to plant it, I would go up.  The rim is too beautiful to obscure.  As strong as the rim edge is the slight foot at the bottom.  I would place this pot on a plinth, no matter how slight,  so that detail would not be lost.

classical-stone-campagna-shaped-garden-urn.jpgThis vintage stone campagna shaped urn is beautifully simple.  Much is made of the top edge.  The compound curvy shape and foot is hefty, yet graceful.  Any pot is an expression of the garden ready to be more.

Chicago-glazed-stoneware-pots.jpgThis pair of glazed stoneware pots made in Chicago in the 1930′s have generous rims.  The body of the pots-low and wide.  The square foot is large enough to visually support that width.  Would I plant them low and very wide-yes.  I respect the edges established by the maker.  However I might compose plantings for these pots would be as much about the architecture of the pots as the horticulture.

faux-bois-squares.jpgOver the past 18 years, I have had the pleasure of an exposure to pots, containers, boxes, buckets, troughs, and urns of every description.  I feel quite certain that part what the future holds involves containers the likes of which I have never seen before.  I like that promise inherent to the future.  Those people who made it their business to fashion a vehicle by which a small collection of plants can grow and prosper-I appreciate them.  The range of shapes, styles and colors is astonishing. The containers I have chosen for my own garden are friendly to the period and architecture of my house.  I favor bigger pots over small ones-I like having a lot of room to plant.  A pot whose top is 30 inches across represents an embarrassment of riches in container planting space. That size space in my garden is a trifle.  Given that my property is very small, I like gardening opportunities that seem large.

French-enamelled-pot-circa-1890.jpgThis giant enameled pot of French origin circa the 19th century-astonishing in its size.  Buck did a great job of repairing it.  Every year it is my pleasure to plant it for the summer, and the winter.  Its edges are of a scale and shape that challenge me.  In my favor?  A container planting rules for but one season.  You have another shot-next year.

cast-stone-urns-and pedestals.jpgThese English cast stone urns are an invitation to a seasonal party.  They are also large enough to comfortably contain the rootball of a good sized boxwood.

Francesca-del-re.jpgThe pots hand made by Francesca del Re are of the toughest frostproof stoneware it has ever been my pleasure to meet.  The design of the pots-surprisingly soft.  The edges are forgiving.  Plant away.  This pot can take whatever dream you have the mind to dish out.  A traditional container planting will be just as successful as a contemporary scheme.  The edges of these pots are friendly, and forgiving.  The planting will make the pot.

Doulton-four-handled-pot.jpgThis antique English glazed pot manufactured by Doulton – who knows how a gardener might interpret this pot.  A placement where the shape and decoration could be easily seen would be the first move worth making.  It would be lovely on a plinth, or on a wall. The shape and decoration is bold.  An oakleaf hydrangea might be just the plant for this pot.

Frank-Lloyd-Wright-style-urns.jpgBy way of contrast, these massive and benign cast stone urns manufactured from a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, would handle almost any idea for planting you had in mind.

Italian-terra-cotta.jpgThis is a picture of my most favorite seasonal container, ever.  Italian terracotta is a personal favorite.  The relationship of the container to the plants-as edgy as I am ever likely to get.  This coming year, I will have another chance to compose and plant.  How good does this sound?    Happy New Year!

Late In The Week: Nature

Thank heavens that the garden has gone to sleep.  What I have had to do this year to keep my perennials happy-lots of time and effort.  I have old maples with girdling roots, and Princeton Gold maples, arborvitae, and boxwood that need yearly pruning.  Big branches of my clematis succumbed to wilt.  The roses-I have not looked at them in weeks.  The fall anemones-so so.  The taxus has trouble.  My annual pots were the worst ever this summer.  I wholly blame my choices, but the rainy and cold summer weather did not much help me out.  The coming of the fall was welcome-who wants to spend more than five minutes looking at the results of a lost summer? Fall-I could not wait.  My  fall season was brief and unremarkable.  Do I need to redesign??     Fall came abruptly to an end-many weeks ago.

Our recent work in anticipation of winter involved chopping frozen soil out of lots of pots.  No matter how warmly I dressed, the bone chilling cold took my breath away.  None of the pictures of the work tell the story of the cold. What a relief that I have been at this winter work long enough to have engineered a method by which most of the work gets done indoors.  The ability to work indoors means the work gets done with dispatch.  But no matter what we do in the shop, the installation happens outdoors.  My crews are troupers to the last. They know how to break the ice, and warm up the winter gardening season.

Planting spring flowering bulbs was a challenge this fall.  Nature saw fit to go to the cold very early. Planting bulbs involved chopping into fearsomely cold soil. I am not sorry that all of the bulbs are safely entrenched below ground.  What is usually an easy exercise was this year a study in persistence.  The fall color this year-not so swell.  I only have one word to explain this phenomena-nature.  Every year there is some unanticipated phenomena.  That would be best described as nature, naturally. We have had 6 inches of snow today.  Not that it wasn’t beautiful.  But 6 inches in mid December?

I regularly read a blog from Kansas-oh yes.  He doesn’t post so much, but what he does post is of great value.   http://myeducationofagardener.wordpress.com/  I read every word, sometimes twice.  He once said that nature bats last.  No kidding.  I am within 3 projects of being done for this season.  Once we have closed out the landscape work for the season, I will decorate at home, for the holiday, and the winter.  Today, I was too weary to do much of anything.  But tomorrow I am sure I will be better rested.  Nature is an ally, a foe, a mystery, a phenomena, a wonder, a treasure, a challenge, a friend, an exasperation, a respite – but above all, a way of life.  More tomorrow,  Deborah

 

At A Glance: The Wreath Details

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It does not matter whether you are stitching a quilt, designing a garden, composing a song, painting a picture, or writing a book-the creative process is a very special state of mind.  I don’t know that I could describe it very well, except to say that the moment when all of ones every day cares and obligations drop away, and all that is left is a collection of thoughts, a vocabulary, some tools, and a willing hand is a precious moment indeed.

wreath-detail.jpgWreath making is a personal description of the natural world, on a small scale.  One can easily hang the work on the front door.  It could be complex and rich.  It could be simple and spare.  It could be Williamsburg like in feeling.  It could be funny, or operatic.  It could be anything.  Imagining the possibilities is work well worth the time it takes to imagine.

wreath-detail.jpgThis 18 wreath project is a project I treasure, as it gives me the time and the space to focus, express, interpret, try out,  fiddle and fuss.  It would never occur to me to judge the importance or lack thereof regarding a holiday wreath.  What is important is the making.  Making is very important to my life-just like it is to so many other people.  Making it to work on time, making a sculpture, making a solution, making dinner-people make things.  There is an art to a life, but there is also a craft.

wreath-detail.jpgWe are pretty busy right now.  The holiday pots, the holiday decorating, the lighting, the clients interested in our take on how to dress their front porch winter, or how they should set a holiday dinner party table. We are in the thick of it.  I rather like all the commotion.  But I also like those moments when the work is not really work.  Those moments spent crafting a story.  There is a story about the relationship of one material to another, the scale, the texture, the color-the line and direction.  The story I interpret for a client.  The season, the materials.

wreath-detail.jpgIf you are keen to design and make, you know exactly what this moment feels like.  These 18 wreaths will be shipped out tomorrow.  I hope that each and every person scheduled for a holiday wreath from my client will enjoy them. I know I thoroughly enjoyed making them.

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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.