Staging A Display

Oct 10a 001Whether I am drawing a plan, arranging some flowers, building a topiary sculpture, or staging a display, my first move is to determine the order of events. The big gesture comes first.  In a landscape plan, I determine the center of interest, or organizing element, and place it.  If it is a pool, that pool is assigned a size and a location; any other design is keyed to and in support of that initial decision.  If the pool is centered in a space, I work from the middle to the edges of my paper.  If that pool is located on a wall at the far end of my space, I would work from back to front, in tandem with establishing the views.  As the topiaries that had spent the summer in these pots needed the shelter of a greenhouse, I had four empty pots in search of a reason to be. The idea of these pots overflowing with pumpkins squashes and gourds in some sculptural way had appeal.  As these pots are large, a center of interest at a height pleasingly proportional to their width needed to be set first. I used a trio of medium sized pumpkins to get my big pumpkin with its giant stem at the right finished height.   

Oct 10a 003When working with rounded forms, it rarely works to use a filler material for height. Someplace your filler will show, and give the impression your slip is showing.  Trying to cover up a not for viewing interior structure invariably looks like a cover up. Whatever portion of these support pumpkins might show in the finished piece, that portion will look like part of the arrangement.  I would not have the faintest idea about how to turn pie pumpkins into pie, but I do know how to use them to provide crooks and crannies to set my prized specimen gourds. I set these beginning pumpkins at an angle which makes their swooping stems part of the action of the sculpture. This helps to make the sculpture look graceful.  Every stem set straight up risks that soldierly, grocery store display look. 

Oct 10a 005As I am interested in placing the largest gourds next, and then, arranging with color in mind, I need to look at averything I have available all at once.  This can be quite a nuisance when building a stone wall, but I would not know how to construct it otherwise.  In designing a landscape, a lot of shapes, textures and volumes need to be available to your mind’s eye, all at once.  I am only good for a random thought that might be pertinent when I am tired; it takes energy to concentrate enough to turn off the daily noise and design. This is easy-get the gourds out, and spread them around.

Oct 10a 004My big beautiful squashes get placed next.  When I look at the four pots from the drive, I see that the pots furthest from my eye will need more emphasis than the pots close to my eye; bigger material is a good way to get what is far away to read better.  A small pie pumpkin enables me to tilt the squash out over the edge of the pot, and feature the stem.   

Oct 10a 007I finish placing all the large gourds, and stand back for a look. Though not so readily apparent in this picture, I have placed more of the pale or light colored gourds in the rear pots, and the darker colored gourds in the front pots.  Dark colors do not read well at a distance, so placing them up front makes the detail of their shape and color read better.  Pale colors read fine at a distance, and highlight dark colors placed in front of them.  The pots are ready for the little bits-the smallest gourds finish and refine the shape of the overall arrangement. In a landscape, I might be planting roses at this stage, or groundcover as part of the finishing touches.

Oct 11a 016The idea is suggest a casual and not too fussy an arrangement.  In fact, ordering the placement of sizes permits an arrangement where all the pieces are built sensibly from a large base supporting the fine detail-both visually, and physically.  In a large flower arrangement, the interlocking big stems under water provide a framework that will hold the smaller stems where you want them.  In a landscape, a long walk indicates how a garden is meant to be experienced-but it also provides weight and organization to the smaller elements you otherwise might not notice. All the elements of any composition need to interlock for a strong presentation of the whole.  This front pot features dark and intense colors, with dashes of pale colors here and there.

Oct 11a 028This rear pot set in a much darker environment relies on the interaction of pale colored shapes for good visibility. The varying shapes and colors of all the little noisy gourds emphasize the mass and grace of the shape of my starring pumpkin.

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Pots without much in the way of plants is a welcome change from the summer season.  There is a celebration of permutations which have occurred as a result of cross-pollination going on here. The visual explanation – a little feast for the eye.

Serious Moonlight

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I have been a supporter of the Cranbrook Academy of Art for some years.  They produce several events a year to raise money to support their programs.  It is a unique institution among graduate art schools in the US, and a considerable asset to our community. I like being involved.  We planted the annual garden surrounding the Orpheus fountain in May, in anticipation of their event to come in July. I took my cue for design and decor from the title of the event.

Cranbrook 05  1 (23)A large tent would be a temporary home to a collection of art destined for auction that evening.   Each work was donated by a previous graduate of the academy; this part of the event generated considerable interest and participation.  Tables reserved for groups representing the major benefactors for this event were placed in the fountain garden.

Cranbrook 05  1 (22)The remnants of puddles you see on the ground in the above picture bring back memories for me; it rained fiercely the afternoon of the event. What I had thought I would have the entire day to accomplish would have to be done in less time.   The threat of bad weather makes any garden party all the more exciting to plan and produce-in this case, it was more excitement than I really wanted. 

Branch Cranbrook & Serious Moonlight CD (38)A cocktail reception would be held in a grassy area immediately adjacent to the showpiece of the Cranbrook landscape-the Triton pools.  We fashioned simple tents for the hordoerves tables from double layers of white fabric attached to bamboo poles.  Steel shoes for the poles were sunk in the ground at an outward angle, stretching the fabric tight and smooth.  Nature had another idea in store; the intense downpour changed that flat profile to a graceful swoop.  This unexpected contribution from the sky was a good one; I liked the swooping fabric against the curving path. We had painted a rambling path for guests arriving at the Lone Pine entrance to the garden to the reception area, with athletic paint. 

Cranbrook 05  1  (1)The big gesture?  I had the idea to affix paper lanterns to slender steel rods anchored with bricks which would sit on the on the pool bottom. Advance measurements of the water depth  enabled us to create the impression that the lanterns were floating on the surface of the water.  What fun it was to get in these fountains; I never expected this opportunity to come along.  A crew of four of us spent the better part of the afternoon wading in the water.

Cranbrook 7 (20)We set up hundred of lanterns of different diameters.  Each steel rod had a platform at the top holding a votive candle.  As we set the lanterns, we lit the votives rated to burn for ten hours, and hoped no more rain or wind would come our way. I was equally concerned that no water from the pools wick its way onto the paper.  I was interested in creating a little moonlight magic, not a wet paper mess.

Cranbrook 05  1 (11)It seemed the rain had cleared off, and we did finish with an hour to spare before guests were due to arrive. The reception would begin at the very far end of the pools, and guests would wind their way uphill.   

Cranbrook 05  1 (12)I was happy to have finished my part as the catering staff was setting up. I was on my way home to get dressed; I did not want to miss how all of this would look at night. 

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (20)Attending an event gives you the chance to experience it as other people do.  There is plenty to be learned from this-what proves awkward, what is not visually strong enough when a space is full of people, what proves to be good that you never gave a moment’s  thought to.  Any party in a garden will surprise you.

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I made it back just in time to see the garden begin to fill with people.  Little did I realize what the night would add to this party-more on that tomorrow.

Lamenting September

dsc06554The 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.

dsc06886Glass 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.

dsc03690I 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.

dsc03673Integrifolia 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.

dsc08518Paper roses on paper covered wires are a delicate contrast to the heft of dried okra pods.

2008-lobsinger-pot-3This 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.

dsc03678The 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.

october-25-pictures-0341These 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. 

dsc03675This 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.

dsc_0006I 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. 

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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.

Garden Party

200720fisher2015Come August in Michigan, the garden ought to be the perfect place for a party. This garden was spectacularly ready.  The occasion of this party-a very special once in a lifetime event.  My client was determined to pull out all the stops for her husband/gardener .

200720fisher2023The maintenance of this garden is a regular thing, but everyone knew in advance we have a date to work towards.  I did the cut flowers; my client orchestrated all the rest.

200720fisher2022Every gardener knows what non-stop work a garden demands, but there are rewards from that work.  It was breathtaking that afternoon. I delivered the flowers, and while setting them in place I had a chance to take the time to look, and enjoy.  The grass cutting crew, the maintenance crew, the landscape projects started and completed over the years-the list of people involved in getting this landscape to this particular night is a long one.

200720fisher2028Add to the top of that list,  my client, and how she graciously dressed the garden for this party, and went on to entertain a number of guests.  Though this is a very formal garden to begin with, it was even more so for this event. Every corner of the garden, dressed up, and awaiting company.

200720fisher2018The roses and Oriental lilies were arranged in florist’s oasis on top of the vases, so as not to interfere with conversation at the table.  They seemed to float above the tables; it was a very romantic look.

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I was pleased to see that the pots at the pool readily made the transition from their day time job to a formal evening. The furniture looked like so many tuxedos in the garden.

200720fisher2040I doubt I will ever entertain like this in my garden, but that does not mean I do not entertain.  I have more dinner guests the month of August than any other month of the year. I take a lot of pleasure in sharing my garden. Thank heavens, Buck handles the menu, and the cooking.  I do the garden.

200720fisher2037I think I am especially fond of this garden as I know how much my clients love and respect it.  They are stewards of their property, in the most serious way.  But this night was about the fun and the pleasure of having a garden; they more than deserved it.