Creature Comfort

2000-2001 315
When Troy showed up at work with this eight week old Catahoulee leopard cur (yes that’s what Louisiana hunting people call these hunting dogs) he had named Annie, we were all oohs and ahhs.  Her eyes were raptor blue; her toenails looked like he had painted them a luscious shade of white pearl. Her coat that looks to me like gravel is formally known as blue Merle. Her eyelashes were white-wow. She gave no hint at this stage of the  hound she would become. 

DSC03581Troy is a gardener of exceptional ability, in addition to his gift as a sculptor. Growing up on a farm on the west side of Michigan, he grew a giant vegetable garden, ran a blueberry farm, did surveying, hunted, fished, and walked the woods. He came by his skills as a naturalist, naturally.  He sculpted for me in concrete; this two-headed fox bench is his work.  Annie went everywhere with him, including to the studio.  

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Troy would produce a body of work, and then show up at my office; “what do you want me to make now?”.  I was watching Annie run her self designated obstacle course around the pots and up on the wall, and back, down and over a iron cistern and so on; she is a miracle in motion. Naturally, I translated what my eyes were watching; “what about a pack of hounds?  Make me a pack of hounds”.  A week later I was looking at a pack of welded steel rebar and steel mesh frames.  A whole lot of dogs-working, at attention, sleeping, skulking, howling, moving; dogs doing what they do.   

Dogs in wireThese very gestural and simple structures provide strength for the concrete and mortar to come. He squishes and packs concrete around these frames; the strength that a garden sculpture needs first and foremost, comes first.  But I could tell from these frames I was going to like what came next.  The outside mortar layer he hand carves. 

Concrete Fox HoundsI was not prepared for how much I liked them. His sculptures of hounds are not about a biologically correct reproduction, they are about the heart and soul of his hound Annie. I was astonished by how much energy, motion and fluidity he managed to wring from a marriage of steel, and hundred pound sacks of concrete.  This explication aside, these hounds won me over.

DSC06590One hound was on his back, sunning and scratching, in the garden.  Another was howling at the moon as if he had ten minutes to live.   Yet another was tentatively down, those back legs were tucked under in such a position he could be cruising at a second’s notice.

Concrete Hound 1This sculpture makes clear the legs that make for balance, and the legs that carry the weight.  The position of the ears suggest this hound just shook his head, and looked up towards the moon.  Most garden sculpture leaves me cold; these hounds are right at home in a landscape.

statuary (7)There was some discussion with Troy regarding sculpture that relies on the environment to be complete.  He said, “don’t give me the history, just tell me what you need”.  So ok fine, I asked him for a hound barking up a tree-the tree would be supplied by whomever took this barking dog home.  She does have a good tree, and this hound has a good home.   

E05Troy’s sculptures of hounds could be in or out, up or down, on a sidewalk, in a bed, on a wall. I have placed 16 of them; they all moved away from me. When the garden wanes, I think about how much I value the sculpture that enchants me, all year long.  His sculpture-creature comfort.

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MCat moved in some years ago; we heard him mewing under a stack of Italian terra cotta pots.  He could not have been much more than four weeks old.   When the hounds first came to the shop, he moved in with them.  He slept on this table every night for six weeks straight. Enough said, about the hounds.

A Little Rouge

Lobsinger (8)I do have a memory of getting into my Mom’s rouge pot in an idle moment. Those bright red perfectly circular spots of red I applied to my face made her laugh. I was terribly offended, as I thought I looked beautifully dolled up.  All these years later I still like how a little rouge can doll things up; this is never more the case than in a garden gone wintry.  Red twig dogwood and preserved and dyed eucalyptus can enliven a winter garden like nothing else does. I am not a fan of red tulips, or red dahlias; the red flowers and the green foliage is a little too much excitement for me. But the excitement generated by rouge red, in a garden gone grey, brown and black ,warms me up.  

Lobsinger (1)Dark red eucalyptus and red twig paired with the blue needled noble fir is a dramatic color combination. Very dark colors are best in small spaces viewed up close, or places backed up by a lighter color.   The lighter orange/brown brick of this entrance makes that dark red read loud and clear. The big round leaves of the eucalyptus are a great foil to any needled evergreen branches.

Nodel Holiday 2005 (6)Bright red is all the more electric paired with a light green element. As no plant in the landscape has this form or color right now, I have no problem adding in artificial stems. Sometimes people ask how I could stand anything in a pot that wasn’t natural or real; it’s easy.  Gardens make people feel good; if an artificial stem helps make an arrangement a little better and the winter a little more tolerable, I am all for it. This contemporary arrangement is all the more contemporary given the obviously faux detail.

Packer (5)I am a fan of many shrubs and trees that sport berries in the fall and winter. However, they have a short lifespan, cut and in a container. The berries of Ilex Verticillata, or what we call Michigan holly, are spectacular but fragile.  The berries in these urns will look great all winter, and can be removed the beginning of March.  The boxwood might need a little floral dye sprayed on it by then, but I like keeping the pots intact until April sometime. 

Taubman_0006This wired and windswept winter display was entirely inspired by the floral arrangements of Jeff Leatham.  His floral arrangements for the Four Seasons Hotel Paris, the George V often feature flowers set in vases at startling angles. This out of vertical placement attracts attention instantly.  Each one of these dogwood stems were wired individually so the form would be kept intact whatever the weather.

DSC_0014Cardinal redtwig is a relatively new cultivar that shines.  It stands out so beautifully in front of the drab woodland background. We are sure to elevate the pot off the terrace surface, so water does not collect and freeze around the base. 

2008 Mondry WINTER 11-18-08 (4)I have good success using fresh silver dollar eucalyptus outdoors. As it dries, the color does become more subtly taupe-blue, but the big leaves are an invaluable texture.  The littleleaf euc tends to dry much faster and not to good end; I am not sure why.  Eucalyptus pods dry blue, and hold their color well. 

DSC_0022This pair of pots welcomes anyone who comes to visit.  They make a very strong reference to my client’s love for their garden, from a long ways away.

2007 Barrett Holiday (23)Likewise, this redtwig massed in copper pots, framing the view to a beautiful beech.  Placed at least 75 feet from the road, they make a clear statement to passers by. 

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It is good to have something in place and ready for this day.  This is exactly how I like my snow and ice.

Shopwrecked

Nov 5 011Though I shopped this past January for the holiday, and most everything was here this past August, I am never ready for what it really takes to change seasons.  Have you ever?  Even the corgis have that slightly appalled look on their faces.  I am certain that the 10,000 square feet I have to deal with is secretly multiplying in the dead of night. It seems that everything needs to get moved-at least twice. Spaces have to be cleared-and of course cleaned-before they can be re-imagined. Sometimes it seems like my imagination will never ignite.  When that everything involves stone, steel and lead, I have been known to daydream about being in the stamp-collecting business.

Nov 5 004Rob likes everything imaginable in front of him all at once. The disaster that is his desk-loaded with messages, invoices, catalogues, notes, and all manner of other bits, spreads to the floorspace like a slime mold on steroids. This week he has been working away on the last of my leftover Halloween candy; the combination of his blood sugar level and his natural propensity to disorder defies description.  Suffice it to say, I am living in a universe tending towards dissolution.    

Nov 5 005The greenhouse fernery, so gorgeous a week ago, is now bulging with all those things that have lost their homes, and have no place to go.  An impossibly delicate terra cotta pot with applied roses from Espace Buffon in Paris is one of a hundred fragile items crowding my office conference table.  What floor space is still available makes walking through any room, objects in tow, nervewracking.  Should anyone out there know of a small scale hovercraft rated for interior use, please let me know.  

Nov 5 013The rear portion of the shop is a cavernous garage-at least it seemed that way when I bought the building in 1995. Today every square foot has something going on, and not in any particular order.  The arrangement of boxes so neatly shelved and stored has become completely unglued.  The corgis treat this space like a formula one course, fraught with hairpin turns and unexpected obstructions.  Great fun for them-not so much for me.  This space needs to be shovelled out soon,  such that we have room for the crew and materials necessary to construct of all our winter and holiday decor. 

Nov 5 021Progress has been made; certain big gestures are in place. Every box I unpack, I hope I remember what I was thinking when I bought ,works out.  My idea of holiday has everything to do with materials and references to the garden.  This part is simple. It takes a great deal of concentration to shop materials from 30 or better vendors such that you end up with a cohesive collection; this is only the beginning. Remembering what I had in mind over 10 months ago-even my notes don’t ring any bells.  The materials pile up faster than I can do display; just this morning a semi truckload of twigs arrived.  At this moment, the driveway is impassable.    

Nov 5 015
Though this scene smacks of a storage facility whose loading in has never been accompanied by any loading out, my clients seem to like this phase.  They amiably poke through everything, and have no problem asking to have a promising box opened for them-thank heavens. They even go so far as to say how beautiful everything looks-I think they feel sorry for me. This process takes a month anyway, start to finish.  I learned a long time ago, if you do not set a deadline, you will never be done. 

Nov 5 010Next week Thursday November 12th is our deadline.  We host an evening holiday preview and shopping soiree for our clients.  Our 4pm to 9pm event ran until 11:30 last year.  We serve a little something to eat and drink; lots of people come, and we have a great time.  We aim for picture perfect,  we are 6 days out and counting. I don’t see how we will be ready this minute, but somehow we will get there. Stop in, should you have a chance.

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Now, where was I?

October Light

Oct 25 012The fall is the perfect time to talk about light as an element of design in the landscape. How, when and where the sun shines, dramatically influences the visual impact of any landscape or garden.  October light in Michigan is cold and low in the sky. Uneven or carved surfaces are cast in sharp relief. Any shadows cast will be dramatically elongated.  A client choosing a smooth surfaced ornament for their garden should be happy for a subtle light rendering; if not, choosing ornament with some more graphic surface variation might be in order.

Oct 25 029I could write on into the next decade about how light is the engine that gets  any outdoor space moving.  One of my favorite parts of my Michigan gardening life is how the light can make the appearance of everything change, from hour to hour, and day to day, and season to season. The contrast of light and dark in a garden is its heartbeat.  In October, the trees coloring up are all the more dramatic for  the ignition supplied by that intensely pale light.  Its worth thinking about the degree of shade a tree or shrub will cast in a landscape.  A densely shady area is all the more dramatic with a pocket pool of light behind it. Plan for dark spaces close to your view, with light spaces in the distance.   

Oct 26 010The spring leaves emerging on my Princeton gold maples cannot hold a candle to their yellow fall fire. I am a photographer whose lack of  understanding about the mechanics of photography is considerable.  So I watch the light.  When it suffuses every element in a garden such that the color in my pictures, or the feeling of my pictures,  will be saturated-that is the time I photograph. I record; I do not have the skills to generate. It is hard to believe this collection of  these maple yellow leaves produces such dense shade underneath; the grey cedar fence appears black by way of contrast, and almost disappears.

Oct 25 025Our thin rod steel spheres permit the view of your choice through to the landscape. How they interact with a garden is the best part about them.  Imagine this view in the winter, the early spring, the early summer, the high summer, the fall; you get the idea. Add light to the mix, and your possible visual combinations increase considerably.  Garden ornament interests me greatly, given how it offers me a sense of solidity, and steadfast longevity, against the ever changing landscape. 

Oct 25 037The bright flat October sun sets all it touches on fire.  The greens are all that much more electrically green; the reds glow red. If you are looking to see the rhythm established by the masses of light and dark in your landscape, look quick now before the leaves fall. There is instruction coming from the natural world every day, should you care to tune in.

Oct 25 043The color of these pansies speaks softly in the spring.  The fall light intensifies and electrifies the appearance of their color.   On my best days, I think about how the light will fall on a landscape in every season, as this should  influence how I place every plant or object.

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No annual or perennial in my garden has color quite like this.  It interests me that at the moment the color of the leaves of this Boston ivy flares brightly, the leaves are also beginning to decompose.  Life and death inextricably intertwined. Though my idea of hell places me in a history of philosophy classroom, I have no problem walking outside, and observing what is going on. Oct 27a 004

Those brightly cold moments in October forecast the dormant season on the way. The light is bluish; it throws everything silhouetted against it black. The soft grey of the bark of my lindens reads flat black in the fall.  It’s the quality of the light transforming a landscape you thought you knew,  into something you have not seen before.

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This cabbage leaf shed from its plant is plastered on the concrete in a fall rain.  The cool light records the dropping of the leaves; it takes you and I to wake up and see it.  The smooth green stem gone a grief stricken  pale grey reads graphically against the wet dark pavement.  This is a different version of October light.

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This last stage of the flowers of my hydrangeas, bathed in October light-so beautiful. Maybe more beautiful than the height of their bloom.  They look so dignified, as they gracefully dry, quietly accepting the closing of the season. The October light makes an operatic production of this process, does it not? I would encourage you-see the light.