32 Degrees At Night, And Holding

cold April day 2015 (2)I see a few signs of spring.  The crocus have come and gone.  The magnolia Stellata is in full bloom, weeks behind its usual appearance.  The grass is greening.  The trees are budding out. A few forsythia are blooming, halfheartedly. Their flower buds hated the intense cold of this past winter. There are daffodils and pushkinia here and there. We have had a smattering of spring. Our night temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark for weeks. Last week’s snow flurries on and off culminated in a brief but intense snow that actually stuck to the ground. Wow.

cold April day 2015 (4)Night before last was 30 all night long.  At 6 am the temperature dropped to 27.  At 6:45, when I loaded the corgis in the car, I realized that my windshield would need scraping. The grass was glittery with ice. All of my early spring flowering plants were frowning.  The chionodoxa were laying flat on the ground, stunned.  The flowers at the top of my magnolia stellata looked like wet blobs of kleenex.  The hellebore flowers were stooped over. The delphinium were caked with ice.The gravity of this late frost dragged everything down-including me.

cold April day 2015 (6)This April has been anything but hospitable. Snow in April means we had snow every month for the past 6 months. Not so unusual. Snow this late in April is a little unusual.  Years ago I kept a garden diary. It was not all that interesting-just a recording of what was blooming or happening when.  It must have been in the early 8o’s –  6 inches of snow on April 16. It made me laugh – I wrote that in the diary. This gratuitous winter dusting the other day was insulting. It made me scowl.

cold April day 2015 (7)Milo had an intuitive grasp of the situation.  We don’t go to the rose garden in the winter. Nonetheless, there he was, trying to get me to  venture out. As if I wouldn’t notice the winter weather.

cold April day 2015 (8)I most certainly am ready for that incarnation of spring that has night temperatures well above freezing.  Though I am perfectly comfortable outdoors on a afternoon that is 55 degrees, I would not be so happy spending the night outdoors at 30.  My trees, shrubs and perennials have been in a deep sleep all winter. A few obnoxiously cold nights won’t deter them from their scheduled appearance.

cold April day 2015 (11)Our tulips are well out of the ground. A 27 degree night did not faze them.  They grow actively in a very cold part of the year. All of those plants that emerge in the early spring are programmed to not only survive, but they thrive in cold weather. The netting of ice of the leaves of the tulips gone over in the cold did not please me, but I was not worried.  They are familiar with cold weather.

cold April day 2015 (12)I was sure they would recover. What doesn’t bounce back?  Any plants that you have bought recently that have been raised in a greenhouse need to put one toe in the water at a time in April. This is known as hardening off.  A perennial that has been wintered outdoors in an unheated space is ready for whatever insult April has a mind to deliver.  A perennial that has been heated, and brought on ahead of its normal time to emerge can be damaged by exposure to cold.  They need to be exposed to the real world-one step at a time.

DSC_9692Greenhouse grown plants need some time to adjust to the real world.  This process can be a bore to a gardener who is impatient for spring. Out in the day-but back in at night. We haul plants in and put them out dozens of times in the spring, before the season turns. Not interested in managing the transition?  Don’t acquire plants too early.  Plants already in the ground are very cagey about when they decide to make an appearance.  They respond to daylight length, and temperatures. Once they are in active growth, close to freezing temperatures can damage the new shoots or flowers. Extended below freezing weather can damage flower and leaf shoots-every gardener in Michigan got a PhD in that science a few years ago.  Your in ground plants are fine, given our very cold April.

DSC_9727These greenhouse pansies, even though they were covered, took a hit from the cold. They will recover. But they were not ready to be turned out into the cold.  Any plant not used to the cold needs protection when the night temperatures dip.  Or a lengthy hardening off. The daytime temperatures are not so critical.  Watch the night temps.  And the soil temps.  This will make you a better gardener.

purple violasThese violas were grown cold.  They shrugged of the dusting of snow, and the 27 degrees overnight. If you plant in early spring in our zone, remember that April is not always a spring month. The plants you have in your garden that lived through our winter-they will be fine. Thinking to plant new plants in a garden or a container? Look for spring annuals and perennials that are grown cold. If you can’t tell-ask. Any plant nudged along with heat under glass will be vulnerable to variations in temperature.  Baby them. That said, any cold friendly plants you put to the soil now will be spilling way over the edges of your spring in just a few weeks. I promise.

Planting Pots For Spring

spring pots April 2015 (20)I have been planting spring containers for over a week now.  Of course the earliest pots had the biggest restrictions as to what plant material will tolerate the chill. No one wants to haul their pots into the garage every night that the temperatures threaten to be below freezing.  But every gardener is ready and willing to risk being out early.  We have been stuck indoors too long.  The pansies are incredibly cold tolerant, as are the kale and cabbages.  Lettuce is fairly cold tolerant-but the leaves are very thin.  They can suffer over a cold night.  Parsley has thicker leaves-they shrug off the cold.  Ranunculus do quite well outdoors in early spring, but their time is short.  Love them while you can.

spring pots April 2015 (18)Trailing pansies are new to me.  The Cool Wave series. I love the colors, and the lax habit of growth.  They are great and graceful in urns.  By mid June, these pansies will put on a lot of horizontal weight.  This wispy look is fine for now, at a time when the garden is just beginning to wake up.

spring pots April 2015 (14)I will confess that I have a few trick up my sleeve for height in spring pots.  I could plant 1 gallon pots of forsythia in spring pots, but a 1 gallon shrub takes up an enormous amount of space.  Container space is at a premium.  These pots got a spring look via some spiralled dry palm leaf stems and dry palm leaf flowers.  Do I mind that these stems come from natural materials that are dry-no. The greater good is an expression of spring that delights the eye, and the heart.

spring pots April 2015 (6)Cut pussy willow stems are beautiful in spring pots. Though we get in loads of straight stems from our grower every spring, I value the home grown branched stems that have volume. This pot had alyssum and phlox intensia which is barely showing color. Another few weeks of warmer weather will mean growth. The plants we use in spring pots are cold tolerant, but it will take some warmth for them to grow.

spring pots April 2015 (21)Spring flowering bulbs are actively growing, despite the cold. We do pot up lots of bulbs in the fall, as they are programmed to thrive in the early part of our gardening year.  The small flowering bulbs are blooming in the garden right now.  Having a pot full at the front door is all the more fun.  From the time the tulips break ground, until the flowers open is an experience of spring not to be missed.  This tulip, Jaap Groot, is a pale  yellow, with dark yellow feathers.  The cream colored edges on the leaves are beautiful, are they not? This pot looks good already. The joy and pleasure of growing any plant is much more than the story of the flowers.

spring pots April 2015 (4)I like mixing cut pussy willow stems, the early starts of romaine lettuce, and the pansies. This is a gesture that will only get better as the spring progresses.  spring pots April 2015 (9)

These centerpieces graced the winter pots for this client.  I did not see a need to replace them for spring.  They just needed a spring hug. I like when materials can be reused from one season to another.

spring pots April 2015 (11)This spring pot features a pair of German ivy baskets whose long trailers were tied up into the birch branches that filled this pot for the winter.  It will take a few days for the leaves of the ivy to turn back towards the light.

spring pots April 2015 (10)Twigs, whether they be fresh cut or dry, add some welcome volume to a pot that is freshly planted for spring. There is no need for any pot to sit empty in early spring. Though our greenhouses are filling up with summer flowering annuals, I like to take the time to enjoy the season at hand.

spring pots April 2015 (17)There are plenty of plants to choose from-cold tolerant annuals, spring perennials, cold tolerant herbs and vegetables, and spring flowering shrubs. Just about anything green looks good.

spring pots April 2015 (3)Putting ones hands in the soil of a container again feels great.  It’s the first place I garden in the spring. I like to wait until the in-ground garden shows itself before I wade in. There are plenty of good reasons to plant for spring.

spring pots April 2015 (5)spring pots

spring pots April 2015 (23)potted pink grape hyacinths

spring pots April 2015 (2)yellow twig dogwood and cool wave pansies

spring pots April 2015 (7)the face of spring

 

 

 

Vernissage 2015

Six years ago today, April 1, 2009, I published my very first post. How pleased I was to have a  a forum for my gardening journal!  I  revisited and revised this post in 2010,  2012, and 2014.  To follow is this year’s version of the essay Vernissage.

snowdrops in spring

Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years. Our conversation over the years speaks a lot to the value of nurturing long term commitments.  I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park.  Needless to say, the years flew by, from one project to the next.  I have favorite projects.  An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant.  A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later.  Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new.  I learned how to operate a bulldozer,  I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on part of the sculpting of the ground.  There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm.  Deterring deer was nearly a full time job.  Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new.

snowdropsIn a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening. I would prefer to associate spring with that idea described by vernissage. This has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does.  But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Last year’s spring was notable for its icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground. The snow that was still very much a part of the landscape in mid April.  This year, a different kind of drama altogether. A cold none of us could shake. My first sign of spring was the birds singing, early in the morning-just a few days ago. I still see snow on the north side of every place. It was a bit of a shock, realizing how long it had been since I had heard the birds.  Why the break of my winter this year is about hearing the singing-who knows.  Maybe I am listening for the first time, or maybe I am hearing for the first time. Or maybe the birds are singing ahead of the spring.  Every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently.  To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature.  This past winter was the most miserably cold I ever remember.  It just about reduced my spirit to a puddle on the ground.  Spring is not so close to being here yet, even though it is April 1.  But I see the signs.

hellebores.jpg
Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea.  I put it to paper.  I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back. This is the most important part of my work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in. The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill.   The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure.  The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature.  I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery.  I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution seems to have a clearly defined beginnings, and no end.

hellebore.jpgThis spring will see more than anyone’s fair share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs.  The winter cold was that bad. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, I get my spring.  I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my membership.  The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock.  And get started.

Hyacinths bloomingI can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can coax or stake what the heavy snow crushed.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden.  Later, I will have time to celebrate the shade.  I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder. Rob’s pot full of hyacinths that he put on a table outdoors was instantly full of bees.

spring containers
Today also marks 23 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden.  No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir.  The beginning of the gardening season we short list as vernissage.

spring containersWe have begun to plant up spring pots.  Our pots feature hellebores, primrose, and spring flowering bulbs. What a relief to put our hands back in the dirt.

spring containersA sunny and warm day brings every gardener outside.  Being outside today without a winter parka- divine.

pansiesVernissage? By this I mean spring.

 

 

March 29, 1996

Detroit Garden Works opening 1996
It was nineteen years ago tonight since Rob and I were hosting an opening party for Deborah Silver and Company’s new venture-Detroit Garden Works. My landscape design/build firm, Deborah Silver and Company, was founded in 1986- 10 years before this special moment.  Though the vast majority of my landscape design works since 1986 revolved around the sculpture of the ground and the horticulture involved in designing landscapes and gardens, I felt like a certain element was missing.  An interest in art and sculpture meant I had an interest in ornament in the garden. What do I mean by ornament for the garden?  Any object which represents an important memory, a point of view about what is beautiful or emotionally important, which can imbue a landscape, or a portion a landscape with atmosphere.  A landscape with atmosphere is all I would ever hope to create.   Though I was keen to include this layer in my landscape design, precious little was available.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 Rob joined the landscape company in 1992, after completing his degree in landscape architecture at Michigan State University. It became clear early on that his landscape design work was austere, low key, and unpretentious.  Years later, he knows how to mix up and make believable a certain deliberately casual and subtle look better than anyone else I have ever known. He is a champion of a sparse look that always hovers just over and on the right side of weedy. That early mix of modernism and mess confounded me, and drove me crazy. No design project of his ever came to a definitive close. Clients wanting direction that had parameters in mind got his tinkering with no boundaries. How did we resolve those early years, co-designing ?  He had a romance going on with the garden like no other person I had ever met. I reserved judgment. This is one of the better decisions I have ever made. I truly admired his point of view. That commitment took me a long way. The idea that we would open a shop devoted to fine quality ornament for the garden was an idea we shared.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionIn the fall of 1992, Rob had a winter trip planned to Czechoslovakia to ski.  I financed a side trip, a very casual and weedy trip, to scout European ornament for the garden.  I should say that I am an advocate of art in the garden, and I was trying to push that idea along.  And that my definition of art in the garden is very broad. Skillfully placed garden ornament can imbue, even organize a landscape with meaning. An antique garden ornament saturates the immediate environment with a sense of another time and place –  history.  Vintage farm troughs recall that time when agriculture was so much a part of life.  Vintage ornament of an agricultural history satisfies that longing for connection.  Contemporary sculpture in the garden can evoke an appreciation of form, mass, and texture in a very direct and abstracted way. I wanted the perfect bench, the most striking container, and topiary forms that would work while they were being beautiful-for my landscapes. I knew that Rob would take this on.  Now, Rob buys for Detroit Garden Works.  He attends the flea markets, fairs and factories. He has relationships with garden antique dealers, both in the US and abroad. He makes it a point to meet the people who make things for gardens.  He gives them the time and space to speak to their craft. What eventually makes its way to Detroit Garden Works in the spring of each year is a very carefully but subtly curated collection that is painted with a very broad  and soft brush.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionA few clients from the first supported my interest in beautiful ornament for the garden.  One client bought a pair of hand made Italian terra cotta pots from Mital for his front porch. They came from Italy on a pallet, and got delivered to a commercial address down the road. Another bought a collection of hand made French glazed pots-on my say so.  That faith was all about a serious and mutual romance for the landscape.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionThis past September, Rob made his 22nd trip to Europe on my watch- to shop for the Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection.  In that smallest of European countries, England, he managed to put 4000 miles in just about 30 days on his rental car.  He showed up for one antique show after another. He shopped antique dealers specializing in vintage and antique ornament for the garden.  He visited small artisanal companies manufacturing this or that for the garden. He haunted flea markets. His 2015 collection for Detroit Garden Works is broad and deep.  He can be moved-by the old, the vintage, and the new. He can also be moved on a lark -these ornaments come with humor and charm shot through them.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionHis shopping is always about the stories of the people.  The antiques dealers with a long history of collecting.  The people whose pottery who is still making pots going on two hundred years later. The artisan who is creating their own special brand of ornament. The dealer who has taken the time to make very fine quality reproductions of classic garden ornament.  The armillary maker whose attention to the science, physics, and fabrication warrants a closer look.  I greatly admire how he takes the buying to heart.  His big heart has made Detroit Garden Works  a destination for gardeners of every persuasion.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection Detroit Garden Works is in the business of offering beautiful ornament for the garden.  It could be antique.  It could be vintage, and funky vintage.  It could be of a French, English, or American persuasion. It could be of English origin, through and through. It could be new, with a particular point of view.  It could be contemporary.  It could be arts and crafts inspired, or mid century modern. It could be Belgian in origin-old, vintage, and new. It could be none of the above, just waiting for a particular gardening client to be interested in a particular piece.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Our opening party for Detroit Garden Works 19 years ago was largely attended by our landscape clients, and friends.  Our 10,000 square foot building that night dwarfed what ornament we had available that first night. We had a big idea. And not so much in way of delivery. This was and is how it should be. It takes years to bring an idea to fruition. 19 years ago the two of us had an idea. The intervening 19 years have meant lots of changes. Today I am looking at this building and what it holds, and thinking a romance for the garden has taken us a very long way, in a lot of different directions.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Our two containers from England have been very slow to get on the rail from the port in Virginia to us.  But I suspect by the time the spring really comes, we will be ready. If your relationship with your garden is a long standing romance, we welcome that.  We would invite you to review our spring 2015 collection.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015zinc topped tables

Detroit Garden Works 2015country fair and market

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015riveted copper tubs

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection
antique stone planters

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Any pot, urn, bench, trellis, or sculpture that you place in your garden has a narrative attached. Detroit Garden Works was predicated on this idea. This post is a weedy  narrative about our history.  Thank you to each and every one you who have shopped at Detroit Garden Works over the past 19 years. Many thanks.  Deborah