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/

Dinner In The Granary

To follow is a photo album from friends who hosted a formal dinner party last weekend in their granary.  A granary is an outbuilding, a small barn if you will, ordinarily used to store grain.  In England, granaries are commonly set on stone piers known as staddle stones.  These elevating piers make it next to impossible for rodents and other wildlife to get into the store of grain.  This particular 19th century American granary is above ground on concrete blocks.  Utilitarian, yes. My friends do not grow grain, but they certainly has a very broad view of utility-and a big love for the landscape.  You’ll see.

Sat_Apr20 Sat_Apr202 Sat_Apr203 Sat_Apr204 Sat_Apr205 Sat_Apr206 Sat_Apr207 Sat_Apr208The weather last weekend-blustery and cold.  That problem was solved renting a portable heater which kept the room comfortable.  A power outage the morning of the dinner-daunting.  But they had a vision to entertain that was 1 part theater, 10 parts a love of beauty, and 100 parts a love of anything and everything in the landscape.  The spring sprouting and blooming branches with ranunculus gracing the table-exquisite.

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For dessert, rose flavored macarons with raspberries and lychees.  Each macaron was presented with a single red rose petal, and a dewdrop of clear candied sugar.1  Their party was so clearly representative of who they are-gardeners with wit, fabulous style and imagination.  It is with great pleasure that I share their pictures.

At A Glance: A Winter Party

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I so welcome a chance to do cut flower arrangements for a party in the winter.  Flowers-who would elect to do without them!  At the moment,  I am a gardener without a garden.  This means I am wringing my hands over the dormant season.  I welcome any chance to step out of the gray.  This occasion-a 70th birthday.  The clients-their viewpoint is decidedly contemporary.  This rubber vase of theirs-astonishing in scale, material, and color.

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My interpretation speaks to the vase, as it should.  Lots and lots of dianthus Green Trick, and 100 stems of copper willow make something of this extraordinary vase.

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The honoree of this particular birthday is a man.  He stands every inch of 6′ 6″, and has a heart many times this size.  What would I do for him?

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The choice of flowers had everything to do with what might delight him.  The color choices-entirely about the environment in which they live.

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My part in this is but a very small part of the celebration.  Many friends and family would attend.  The occasion, the environment, the food-the community-all of these elements would provide atmosphere for a very special and important occasion.

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As for me, it was a shock and a delight to have an occasion to have flowers in sight.  Flowers in hand.  Flowers to arrange.  How I miss the flowers!  The long standing relationship with my clients-memories accompanied this work.  Garden oriented work in February-I treasure this, given this desolate part of the year.  Arranging flowers for this party, these particular people, did me a world of good.

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Gardeners, florists, and farmers-none of us are so far apart.  This is my read,  on this February day.

A Vase Full Of Flowers

I would imagine that there are lots of gifts, in the form of cut flower arrangements, exchanging hands today.  Though a vase full of flowers is a traditional Mother’s Day gift, it is a thoughtful and appropriate choice.  In the interest of keeping those fresh cuts fresh as long as possible, I take the time to condition them.  These Matsumoto asters have very long, tough, and woody stems.  I cut them down to the approximate length I well need, and then strip off any foliage that might be below the water line.    

I do like cut flower arrangements that are more about the flowers than the foliage, but there are other good reasons to remove most of it.  any leaves below water will immediately begine to deteriorate.  Bacteria proliferate under such circumstances.  Eventually it will interfere with the stem’s ability to take up water.  That uptake is essential to a vase of flowers that lasts. A flower flush with water will stay fresh longer.

The cut flowers I buy from a wholesale flower house may be local, or they may come from a long ways away.  Though modern transportation means that a cut flower spends as little time as possible in a box, there is an immediate need to get them a drink of water.  After stripping the low foliage, I recut every stem on a slant.  This maximizes the stem surface that can absorb water.  The asters, ranunculus, and grape hyacinths in these arrangements have a naturally good shelf life.  The purple campanula, white phlox, and orlaya (this is the Queen Anne’s lace like flower)  need 24 hours of conditioning-meaning immersion deep lukewarm water in a cool spot- before they are arranged.  

Dutch iris are fleeting in a vase under the best of circumstances, so I buy them in tight bud.  Making sure the flowers you buy are fresh to begin with is important.  If you are buying flowers from a grocery store, find out what day their fresh flowers come in.  Check for any browning.  Whether you are picking tomatoes or fresh flowers, the same rules apply.  Even if those buds of iris are not showing color, once the stems absorb water they will pop overnight.  Roses in tight bud, showing no color, may never open. 

Ranunculus have an amazing long vase life.  They are readily available in the spring season.  Buying cut flowers that are in season means they are readily available at a reasonable price.  Long stemmed red roses available at Valentine’s Day in February are hot house grown, or shipped into my area from California, or South America-an out of season luxury. 

The giant long stemmed Pacific hybrid blue delphiniums are indeed a sight to behold, but they are difficult and awkward to arrange.  The shorter growing belladonna delphinium is every bit as beautiful a blue, and much more graceful in a vase. The delphiniums were arranged in this vase first.  The larger flowered tulips and iris came next.  The dashes of white sweet peas-last.  Trumpet shaped vases help give a cut flower arrangement a graceful overall appearance.  Cylinders can be tough.  Every flower wants to be upright. 

 Tulips are long lasting in a vase too.  But as their stems tend to be wobbly, they like a little existing structure to lean up against.  I try to condition tulips with plenty of natural light.  They look to the light.  I like them to be upright while they are taking up water that first day out of the box.  The flower heads are heavy, and the stems slight- inevitably the stems will swoop.  Conditioning will make them much easier to arrange. 

The Dutch iris are very stiff and set, once they open.  I like to pair them with other flowers that have a more relaxed habit in the vase.  Multiflowered double yellow tulips and sweet peas loosen things up a little.  This arrangement went to a Mom with great grandchildren.  Pastel flowers are easier to see that dark colored ones.  A bouquet of fragrant flowers adds a whole other dimension to the enjoyment of those flowers.

A mix of all white flowers is always a beautiful choice.  Veronica, lisianthis, phlox, campanula and orlaya in a vase suggests the profusion of the garden.  For a thoroughly modern Mom, a vase full of one kind of flower may be more appealing. 

I like mixed flowers in a vase for one practical reason.  If the campanula wilts and fades, it can be removed.  Clean water, and a little fluffing means the arrangement it there to enjoy for a few more days. 

There are those circumstances when arranging flowers in oasis, or floral foam is a necessity.  But flowers arranged in water that is kept fresh will last.  All of those green stems in clean water is a pretty look.

A smaller scale arrangement will be easier to handle.  Recutting the stems every other day, and clean water will help with their longevity.  If you buy cut flowers that routinely come with buds-such as lisianthus and ranunculus, making those buds part of the arrangement becomes part of the charm. 

The lavender and purple veined freesia in this vase-wonderfully fragrant.  The feverfew-very garden like.  The ranunculus-like little peonies. 

 

Cut flowers from the garden make lovely arrangements, but I have little in bloom right now.  What’s available in my yard and maybe yours right now-lily of the valley. Given that they are usually in bloom on Mother’s Day might be just enough of a good reason to grow them.