I have never done one lick of design work for this client-she and her husband do their own. They design, they plant, they mow and maintain-on their own. They shop my store, and I may advise about this object or that pot, but they have a point of view, and they act on that. Parts of their gardens are designed for the pure unadulterated pleasure of their three childen. They cleared this shady area behind the house, and set to making that spot condusive to play. The blue rectangle in the above picture-an in-ground trampoline- what a blast.
They like rustic and whimsical objects in their garden-this spot is no exception. The Adirondacks style bench with integral planter gives them a place to sit and watch the kids. The ground is thickly mulched with pine needles. This makes for soft landings.
This playhouse began as an actual stump, to which a second floor was added. What small child would not be delighted to have this as a clubhouse in the woods? I could not help but laugh when I first laid eyes on this. Though the architecture was aimed at their children, it is incredibly beautifully built. The child-size doors keeps adults out. My favorite part? That brand spanking new roof, sagging dramatically.
The staircase with its woven rope railings looks like a gangplank-I can imagine lots of childplay set on this stage. Nestled in close to an existing tree, and furnished with its own birdhouse and barrel of flowers, its a home away from home.
A stump sculpture depicts a bear, slumped over a tree stump, asleep. The wood is starting to acquire some moss with age. This kind of exposure to a woodland playground has to be good-don’t you think? This is as friendly, unassuming and undemanding an exposure to nature and natural forms aimed at kids as I have ever seen.
My clients situated their seating area close enough to the woodland to keep an eye on the kids, but this space was designed for grown ups. Oversized furniture and pillows upholstered in bright colored fabrics looks sumptuous and inviting. The pergola overhead makes outdoor entertaining in the rain a distinct possibility. There are gorgeous views to gardens on three sides.
The pool deck is loaded with big handmade Italian terra cotta pots, stuffed to overflowing with annual flowers in mixed colors. The old farm pump spilling into a vintage wood farm bucket is not only whimsical, but fun. My clients tell me their kids love splling the bucket on each other’s heads. This does sound like great fun.
The front yard is home to a wood house built from pallets, originally part of a Halloween haunted house vignette. In the summer, the house gets dressed up like a garden shed, complete with a tin rooster on the roof.�
It is obvious that beyond the time and daily effort they spend making their gardens beautiful, this is a very happy place for a family. This garden is jam-packed with joy.
I have a big love for Italian gardens, and Italian garden ornament-no wonder. Rob has taken countless pictures on his trips there over the years to buy. I own an embarassing number of books on Italian culture, gardens, villas, terra cotta, art, interiors, flora and fauna-and the history thereof. Italian gardens-those two words evoke for me all things good about great gardens. I go so far as to have picture books of this region or that; I am quite sure heaven looks very much like Tuscany. My own collection of pots is almost entirely handmade Italian terra cotta-and three large English-made concrete pots in the manner of Italian terra cotta.
I am particularly interested in the faces. Italian pots, perhaps more so than pots from other countries, feature faces. The faces of women, satyrs, dogs, lions, putti, gargoyles, goats, birds. The faces of Italian life, I call them. It is astonishing how emotionally evocative those faces are, though made of fired earth.
In much the same way as I imagine the face of a person I have only talked to on the phone, I imagine plenty about Italy, based on these faces. This face, part cat, part lion, part sun, part satyr-what is the meaning behind those wrinkled brows, and intense gaze? I have my own mythology which I have enjoyed imagining.
Some faces of the women can recall the Italian paintings of the Renaissance. The modelling of the features of this face is quite extraordinarily soft and fluid. The contrast of this face, with the heft and solidity of the clay is beautiful.
Even the faces without so much detail make an impression. This imposing face, with a shell helmet, is surely the face of the guardian of the pot. I have never felt the need to actually research the history of the design of these pots-I like my own impressions. But after years of looking at garden ornament, I have no problem knowing what country they come from, based on how the figure is represented.
I see some of the history of Italian garden making and culture. This I get, before I ever fill them with dirt, and plant something in them. It also makes me careful about how I plant-so that a mature planting does not obscure what is represented on the pot.
This sculpture Rob brought back from Milan probably 14 years ago. The lion seems horrified by what he has had to do to eat, to live. This is a long way of saying-what a strong expression of angst. There are those who would make a distinction between art and craft-but that argument breaks down quickly for me. There is a story here, being eloquently and simply told. My Italian pots are beautiful sculptures in which I make things grow.
I like so much that the women have strong faces. She seems able and willing, her eyes wide open. Those who love the surfaces of their contemporary pots take just as much pleasure as I do from mine; everyone to their point of view.
This Bacchus with the goat horns and ropy beard is smiling; those smile wrinkles at the corners of his mischievious eyes make me smile. Italian garden figures, beautifully rendered faces, a story, a tale from a moment in the history of a culture, a myth-imagine getting so much from a terra cotta pot. I will confess I put them inside for the winter-I would not want to do without them.
The last two nights the temperatures have been in the high forties and low fifties. Great. I am on the deck last night- in my fleece-having a glass of wine, and contemplating the end of summer. My plants in my pots have gone from gorgeous to grumpy. What to do? The topiary sculptures I make from natural materials in the fall and winter help me face the 6 months we have coming up in Michigan when the garden is dormant. The sculptures are set in dry florist’s foam-I use the John Henry brand. This sculpture, made from a dyed and preserved grass, preserved reindeer moss, and paper dogwood flowers, helps me to bring the beauty of the garden indoors.
Glass can make great containers for sculptures. This vase by the Parisian artist Vanessa Mittrani is filled with white sand to give it weight. I seal the sand in the vase with a giant blob of hot melt glue, and wedge the foam in the top. Paper hydrangeas, mini-roses, and paper covered wire make for a sassy little something that reminds me of the garden. The purple paper hydrangeas bring out the purple/rust color of the wire in the glass.
I consider paper a natural material, since it comes from trees. This combination of paper hydrangea petals, and diminuitive paper daisies describe a classic topiary cone shape. The flowery pompom at the top is constructed from individual dried bleached seed pods.
Integrifolia is a plant native to Australia, and probably other places as well. The leaves hold tight to the stems for a long time; they also take dye beautifully. This topiary began with individual leaves glued to a spherical form in a pattern reminiscent of an artichoke. As I worked towards the bottom, I reversed the curve on the individual leaves for more volume. The very bottom of the sphere is stuck with short branches just a few inches in length. Preserved reeds bowing out from a twig trunck make for a stem; the base is covered in preserved green seedheads.
Paper roses on paper covered wires are a delicate contrast to the heft of dried okra pods.
This very large scale sculpture has twigs and short birch branches for a centerpiece; the collar was constructed of fresh southern magnolia leaves. Magnolia dries beautifully, and lasts a long time.
The science of preserving natural materials has become quite sophisticated. I for one would never have a house plant. I am happy for the season where I am not a plant caretaker. An object like this demands nothing from me; I just look. The reindeer moss in a color they call spring green is my idea of good color.
These steel leaves are by no means a natural material, but they describe one. The base was buttered with ceramic tile mastic, and embedded with tiny shells. The stainless steel wire is difficult to handle; I usually have to get help from a second pair of hands to glue it in.
This whimsical topairy makes use of two bird’s nests made of various natural materials, sandwiched together. I buy these long stems covered with hundreds of chocolate seeds. After taking the seeds from the stem, I glued the individual seeds onto this base.
I call this a presentation box. The box itself is a photo box meant to hold 8 x 10 photographs. Should the box never have anything in it, it will still be fun to look at.
My landscape superintendent gave me a book on crop circles. I am embarassed to say I had never heard of them. This sculpture I made was motivated by my excitement about those circles. I stuffed the pocket created by gluing two magnolia leaves together with all manner of dried snippets from the garden. I scratched my own version of a crop circle into the magnolia leaf around a hole in the leaf. Today I will cut some limelight hydrangeas pinking in the cool weather to dry. Okay, its September in Michigan.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80′s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.