The Holiday Dinner, 2014

M and M holiday 2014 (1)For the past several years, I have posted pictures from a holiday dinner hosted every year by 2 very good friends. They both have careers in the arts and are keenly interested in design.  They have a collection of ornaments amassed over a period of many years.  They have strong ties to French art and design.  All of this shows, whether the subject at hand is their collection of boxwood in pots, their perennial gardens, or their French style potager. Their holiday is ordinarily a very subtle and understated affair.  This year’s table is a significant departure.

M and M holiday 2014 (2)This holiday featured an unexpected turn of events. The French blue flocked tree around which they had planned their holiday was not available.  By the time they ordered their tree, the color was sold out. With equal parts pique and nerve, they ordered a flocked tree in turquoise.  M sent me a picture of the tree-I could not imagine what they would do with it.  The color was very strong. Intensely turquoise. As they felt it was either a turquoise flocked tree, or a tree with no flock, they jumped in.

M and M holiday 2014 (3)Once the initial shock of the color had worn off, I could see them both accepting, and later enjoying the challenge. They kept me updated, as the decorating process unfolded. My part in all of this?  Being available to tell them I was sure what they did would be great. The design process always has those moments.  A tree that dies, and leaves an attending shade garden exposed to full sun is a design challenge, as it is based on a circumstance that cannot be altered.  The one boxwood or lavender that dies out mid-hedge, or an exceptionally cold winter that kills the roses back to the ground can present significant design challenges.  Every gardener experiences moments like this.

M and M holiday 2014 (4)But the glory of their holiday is in what companion colors and materials they chose to make that turquoise look beautiful and deliberate.  They harvested lots of weed seed heads, and hydrangeas from their garden.  Those cream colored stems are intertwined, and float over that startling blue.

M and M holiday 2014 (5)They used lots of red, as in pomegranate, and red amaryllis. I am not sure why red and turquoise is such a striking color combination, but here it is-with gold and cream as an intermediary. Big splashes of gold, and some silver added to the festivities. It was clear this design process was not drawn on paper, or completely imagined in advance.  It was a process for which they both had patience. Do enjoy their pictures.

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M and M holiday 2014 (12)red for the holiday

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M and M holiday 2014 (14)the holiday table

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M and M holiday 2014 (16)Sophia

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M and M holiday 2014 (23)I thought their holiday was incredibly beautiful. Their willingness to take on an unexpected circumstance with energy and verve is equally as stunning. Taking chances with design-how I admire this.

The Engineering

engineering the flowers (14)Don’t ask me for the particulars, but I do recall seeing a spot on television recently featuring lots of young people studying engineering.  Engineering?  It never seemed to me that a career in engineering was anything but sleepy-just one short step up from accounting.  But these young people had solving the problems of the world on their mind. Their projects were as diverse as they were complicated.  An artificial limb powered by nerve impulses, salt water desalinated for drinking. Housing simple enough to put up in just a few hours. I was impressed-enough to rethink my casual disdain.  In fact, every project requires some engineering.  A landscape design may require a grading plan, a drainage plan, a footing or a wall.  It may require sleeves under a driveway, or lighting.  It may require a flat plane of ground, or a slope that descends on a certain angle.  Projects with the most modest of goals have than engineering phase.  Cut flowers for an event of a certain scale and feel proved to need some careful engineering.

engineering the flowers (15)Any cut flower arrangement 6 feet tall and as wide asks for some engineering in advance-yes. Add to this call the fact that the flowers in question were calla lilies.  Arranging callas in a small vase is a challenge.  Consider their requirements.  Their thick fleshy stems resent water that is too deep.  They are not a good choice for a long term arrangement.  The juicy stems split, give way and go down long before the flowers.  Heavy, long stemmed flowers have a mind of their own.  What was my idea to arrange armloads of callas in the top of a glass vase sitting 48 inches off the floor?  The opening of the vase was big – 18″ in diameter.

engineering the flowers (19)I have Sunne to thank for this engineering idea.  The long time manager and special events coordinator for Mary’s Enchanted Garden in downtown Detroit, she brought years of experience in the floral industry with her when she came our way.  A clear plastic saucer of just the right diameter was placed into the vase full of water, and wedged level and tight.  This sounds simple, but it took a number of tries before Rob got it right.  The calla lilies would have the shallow water they prefer.

engineering the flowers (21)What came next was more about construction than arranging.  Each stem was placed with the idea of creating a structure that would be stable and self supporting.  After all, this event was not to take place in my office.  This would need to be transported, and transported without a hitch.  Callas have a naturally curving stem.  The early stems were placed with the natural curve down, so the faces of the callas were turned up.  Calla stems can be straightened with repeated pulling all along the length of the stem, but that takes a very skilled pair of hands that exerts just the right amount of pressure.

engineering the flowers (16)Other arrangements included white phalaenopsis,  green cymbidiums and white dendrobiums.  All of these flowers are orchids.  The flowers of the white moth orchids are exceptionally delicate, and come packed in white shredded tissue. Each curving stem may have 6 or 8 flowers. These stems were supported by a series of birch twigs, placed inside and outside the vases.

engineering the flowers (1)The twigs provided structure and support to the orchid stems.  Their dark vertical shapes are in stark contrast to the curves of the flowers.  Bark covered twine and moss completed the look. Next up, engineering the transport.

engineering the flowers (3)A platform dolly is a huge amount of help, but in the end, there is no substitute for the human hand.  We had stuffed the box that held the calla vase with bubble wrap, but there would be a lot more to do before this arrangement would be road ready.  The weight of the water in the vase was considerable, but the weight of the callas made the entire affair extremely top heavy.  There were a lot of skilled hands on deck for this part.

engineering the flowers (5)As I expected, water sloshed out of the top of the vase getting it from my office to the lift gate of the truck, but it wasn’t much. Much to my relief, the callas looked serenely indifferent to all of the bumps getting through the shop to the truck. Phase 2 of the engineering was about to get started.

engineering the flowers (10)The time it took to remove the box from the vase, screw 2 by 4’s over the blanket-wrapped foot of the vase, wrap the upper portion of the vase in bubble wrap, and secure the arrangement to the walls of the truck with straps was a considerable amount of time.

engineering the flowers (11)The juncture of the vase to the foot was very small, and vulnerable.  Great care was taken to protect it. Fine textured bubble wrap insulated the flowers from the straps.  All the engineering here was geared towards making sure the arrangement would not move in the truck.

engineering the flowers (13)The big vase  was finally ready to transport. I was sure the vase would ride up and down in tandem with the truck.  That said, I was glad it would not be me driving.

engineering the flowers (8)All of the smaller arrangements would ride on a two tiered padded cart. Just before loading, every empty crevice was stuffed with bubble wrap.  The cart would be strapped to the wall of the truck. It should be clear that the engineering involved in this project was the most important element.

engineering the flowers (9)I am happy to report that all the flowers got to their destination safely.

engineering the flowers (18)The time and thought that goes into the engineering of any project is time well spent.

 

The 2014 Garden Cruise

summer landscape 3Since 2008, Detroit Garden Works has sponsored a garden tour the third Sunday in the July to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit.   They have been planting trees, holding classes, and sponsoring urban farms in our city for going on 25 years. In the past 6 years, we have raised over 70,000.00 for them.  All of us at the Works are proud of this.  Our 7th tour, coming up next Sunday July 20th, promises very comfortable temperatures, and 6 great gardens to view.  There promises to be something for everyone.  Three large landscapes,  and three city-sized landscapes are all in close proximity to one another.  If you are a gardener in my area, it is a great way to spend a Sunday.  The entire proceeds of your ticket will go to the Greening. The last spot on the tour is a cocktail/light dinner reception at Detroit Garden Works.  Rob takes great pains to offer a selection of refreshing summer cocktails, including his signature gin and tonic.  This means we hope you can join us for this our seventh tour.  To follow are some pictures from previous tours that I hope will whet your appetite.  Interested in more information, and the profiles for this year’s gardens? Check out our Cruise website:   The Garden Cruise

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firepitMany thanks to each and every person who has supported this fundraiser for the Greening in the past with their ticket purchase. And thanks to all of the 44 gardeners who have graciously agreed to put their gardens on tour to date.  Interested? Won’t know until that day?  Detroit Garden Works will open at 8am next Sunday-just saying.

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/