Sunday Opinion: Scale And Proportion

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Whenever Buck does a CAD drawing for a project, or an object, he includes a drawing of Man 01.  For those of you who do not do design drawings on a computer, CAD stands for computer assisted design.  This line drawing of a man who is 6′ tall is stored in his computer as a “block”.  Buck has thousands of blocks stored in his computer. Those blocks are stored drawings of shapes and forms he uses over and over again.  Pasting a block into a drawing means he does not have to draw that portion from scratch.  An entirely new shape will require a drawing from start to finish.  A complicated design for an object to be made can take many hours to draw.
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I have watched him translate an idea into a precisely rendered drawing. Who knows how long ago it was that he learned the language of this two-dimensional design program.  It must be a long time, as his fingers fly over the keyboard of his computer faster than my eyes can follow.  I see lines drawn to precise lengths that connect to other lines, which finally, and exactly, describe a form.  Down to the last 1/64th of an inch.  Given a specific engineering inquiry, he can design to 1000th of an inch. This level of precision isn’t an issue for you and I.   What purpose does the man01 block serve?  This 6′ tall idea of the height and volume occupied by a man is size that is easy to recognize.  6′ tall isn’t short, but it isn’t tall, either.  Man01 is a average size guy.  When man01 is standing next to a planter box we are thinking of building, I have more than the dimensions of that box.  I have  a size and height that is familiar to me.  I can compare the size of the man, to the size of the proposed box.

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Anything that Buck makes at Branch, requires a drawing.  He has the drawings for our stock products stored in his computer.  The company that laser cuts our steel, or the company that rolls our steel in multiple dimensions, require those drawings to program their computers to cut or roll to our exact specifications.  Building an object successfully that involves a number of different people and operations doesn’t happen via a breakfast meeting or a conference call.  What is drawn on the page is an exact template for what will be built.

people-in-the-garden.jpgBuck makes those drawings with the help of a computer program programmed to precisely, and mathematically describe a form.  He drives the bus. He tells the computer what he wants to see. The many years he spent as an architect required a working knowledge of how to translate a design into a drawing.  Not just any drawing.  A drawing that would spell out to a contractor exactly how to build a house,  a stadium, a heating system, a plumbing plan, or a fruit cellar.  A bell tower, or a topiary form, or a bench.  But rest assured, a mathematically precise rendering of an idea of an object does in no way indicate that an object will be beautiful.

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Man01 is a gesture in a beautiful direction.  The proportion of a planter box for the garden is a key element of its design.  How a person would relate to the dimension and proportion of that box, whether standing or sitting, will influence how a gardener eventually views, and reviews, that form.  Every person has an idea all their own about what is beautiful and of interest.  Each person likewise has an idea of what doesn’t move them.  This makes garden ornament very difficult to design.  One way we broaden our appeal is by offering different sizes.  Comparing a set of possible sizes to the mano1 block helps us to decide what to build and what not to build.  The computer is a tool that helps with the decision making process.

in-the-garden.jpgMan01 is a symbol on Buck’s drawings for scale and proportion.  Woman01 is a scale I sometimes ask for from Buck.  5.5 feet.  But no matter the gender,  human scale is an element that should inform landscape design.  A good feeling for the scale and proportion of a property, the plants, and the people can produce visually interesting relationships.

friends-in-the-garden.jpgFriends for dinner in the garden is great fun.  Friends comfortable in the garden is an important part of design.

Late In The Week: Nature

Thank heavens that the garden has gone to sleep.  What I have had to do this year to keep my perennials happy-lots of time and effort.  I have old maples with girdling roots, and Princeton Gold maples, arborvitae, and boxwood that need yearly pruning.  Big branches of my clematis succumbed to wilt.  The roses-I have not looked at them in weeks.  The fall anemones-so so.  The taxus has trouble.  My annual pots were the worst ever this summer.  I wholly blame my choices, but the rainy and cold summer weather did not much help me out.  The coming of the fall was welcome-who wants to spend more than five minutes looking at the results of a lost summer? Fall-I could not wait.  My  fall season was brief and unremarkable.  Do I need to redesign??     Fall came abruptly to an end-many weeks ago.

Our recent work in anticipation of winter involved chopping frozen soil out of lots of pots.  No matter how warmly I dressed, the bone chilling cold took my breath away.  None of the pictures of the work tell the story of the cold. What a relief that I have been at this winter work long enough to have engineered a method by which most of the work gets done indoors.  The ability to work indoors means the work gets done with dispatch.  But no matter what we do in the shop, the installation happens outdoors.  My crews are troupers to the last. They know how to break the ice, and warm up the winter gardening season.

Planting spring flowering bulbs was a challenge this fall.  Nature saw fit to go to the cold very early. Planting bulbs involved chopping into fearsomely cold soil. I am not sorry that all of the bulbs are safely entrenched below ground.  What is usually an easy exercise was this year a study in persistence.  The fall color this year-not so swell.  I only have one word to explain this phenomena-nature.  Every year there is some unanticipated phenomena.  That would be best described as nature, naturally. We have had 6 inches of snow today.  Not that it wasn’t beautiful.  But 6 inches in mid December?

I regularly read a blog from Kansas-oh yes.  He doesn’t post so much, but what he does post is of great value.   http://myeducationofagardener.wordpress.com/  I read every word, sometimes twice.  He once said that nature bats last.  No kidding.  I am within 3 projects of being done for this season.  Once we have closed out the landscape work for the season, I will decorate at home, for the holiday, and the winter.  Today, I was too weary to do much of anything.  But tomorrow I am sure I will be better rested.  Nature is an ally, a foe, a mystery, a phenomena, a wonder, a treasure, a challenge, a friend, an exasperation, a respite – but above all, a way of life.  More tomorrow,  Deborah

 

Sunday Opinion 24 Hours Late: Fall Back

When I opened my eyes this morning, my first thought was that today was the day I needed to fall back.   Fall back, as in daylight savings time.  I think the big idea is to save, preserve, or otherwise ensure more daylight by changing the time.  So when I woke up at 5am old time, it was really 4am new time.  4am is really too early to get up-even for me.  So I laid in bed, eyes wide open, until 5 am, the new time-which would have been 6 am yesterday. In bed at 6 am-the thought horrifies me.  How will I ever be ready to face the day with so little time?  I fed the dogs at 6am-they were fussing, as they usually have breakfast by 7am.  I left for work shortly after the new 7am, which was now shortly after the old 6am.  It was indeed very dark.

Angie was scheduled to come in today-we have a lot of work to do before our holiday open house this coming Thursday.  The old 9am is now 10am-it felt like she got to work in the middle of the day.  By 4pm the new time, the dogs were overdue for their 3pm afternoon dinner.  They both came to my desk, staring and glaring as if I had violated their routine.  It is very hard to explain daylight savings time to a pair of corgis.  By the 4pm Sunday close of the shop, which would have been 5pm yesterday, I was tired.

If you are having trouble following this train of thought, you have company. The one hour change in the time will dog me for several weeks, before I adjust.  Don’t hold me to anything I have said in the past few paragraphs.  I have a hard time adjusting to even a small change of pace when I am busy.

Why would I make such a fuss about this?  The beginning of our gardening season is not solely about temperature.  Day length is a trigger for many plants.  Growers schedule their work around that biologically driven clock.  A biological clock?  A biological clock is set to record metabolic changes, sleep cycles, or photosynthesis.  The aforementioned-from the dictionary.  I have an internal clock set in tandem with the time.  When the time changes arbitrarily, I am thrown off course.  The loss of that hour in the fall-an adjustment that is a rude imposition.

Rob travels all over the globe to shop for Detroit Garden Works.  He does not buy on line.  He shops in person.  Whether it is Los Angeles, or London, or Impruneta, Italy, or Brazil or Belgium,  he routinely flies back and forth across multiple time zones.  He spares me the gory details of the personal cost of giving a few hours up here, and the consequences of adding a few hours there. He manages to make the travel look manageable.  I know better.  Traveling across multiple time zones takes courage and time to resolve.  He is unwilling to give in to the disruption of his internal clock.

Today I have abandoned the fall, and anticipate the the beginning of winter. By this I mean the coming of the dark time.  The winter season in Michigan is notable for its gray days, its early nights and its late mornings.  I have a few weeks ahead of waking up at 4am instead of 5am.  I will be tired at 5pm, as my biological clock will insist it is 6pm.  What a shocking difference an hour makes.  The little details-they matter much.

This coming Thursday night is the opening of our winter/holiday open house weekend. This is the only evening event we host all year.  The following Friday, Saturday and Sunday we will have lots of guests start to finish.  We serve treats and coffee.  I love that lots of clients bring their kids-they are the gardeners of the future.  Gardeners for the future-I support this.  What began 10 years ago as a modest campaign to get Michigan gardeners to fill their containers for the winter season , rather than leaving them empty and forlorn for our winter six months in length, has grown.  Our winter season is every bit as big as our spring season.  What I love the best-the camaraderie generated by the coming of the cold, the waning of the garden, and the prospect of the holidays.  This is the most good natured season of the gardening year.  Everyone knows the stakes are high, and the winter time will be tough and long.  All of us gardeners share that.

We have scheduled our open house a week early this year, as Thanksgiving falls as late as it can possibly be.  There are boxes everywhere-waiting for someone to unpack them.  We have gardens to clean up, the terra cotta at the shop to put into storage, and company coming in 3 days.  The 20 of us will do the best we can to bring a good end to the garden, and be ready to embrace the coming season.  Exciting times, yes.  As for daylight savings time-we are chasing the clock.  Gardening-the best venue for drama that I can imagine.

Sunday Opinion: Keeping America Beautiful

 

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Keep America Beautiful is an organization which has been devoted to promoting the idea that a clean environment is a beautiful and healthy environment since 1953.  The original group of business people and public figures had the idea to link the private and public sector in a campaign to stamp out littering.  If you are any where near me in age, you will remember the public service announcements in the 1970′s featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline “People start pollution.  People can stop it”.  The Ad Council of America considers it one of the most successful public service campaigns ever mounted. It had to have been fairly successful-I still remember it vividly, some 40 years after the fact.  I would sooner stuff my lunch trash in my own coat pocket than throw it on the ground.  Their role in recent years has been to focus on the merits of recycling.  Both technology and human ingenuity have helped to create ways to transform trash into products that can be reused.

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Why am I talking about litter?  We were downtown last week, decorating 50 planter boxes on Woodward Avenue that feature trees at the center.  As the aluminum fencing around each box is about 18 inches tall, I suggested decorating each tree truck with corn shocks, and other decor that suggested fall.  The result is a celebration of fall that can be seen from a car, or on foot.  So what does this have to do with litter?  The boxes themselves were littered.  Lots of litter.  I would guess that it takes an incredible amount of time and money to regularly clean them.  Though there’s no need to litter, it happens.

Woodweard-Avenue-Detroit.jpg While we were installing this fall display, a Detroit police officer pulled over to the curb near us, set off his siren, and turned on his lights. Yes, we were startled, and yes we watched.  The officer called out to a man on the side walk who had just thoughtlessly dumped his lunch trash and plastic bottle on the sidewalk to pick up his mess, and put it in the trash barrel not 10 feet away.  There was much discussion and lots of resistance, but the man finally picked up his mess and put it in the garbage can.  I admire that officer who treated littering and polluting as a crime against the environment.

Woodward-Avenue-planters.jpgThat officer let it be known loud and clear that he expects his city to be orderly, safe, friendly, busy, crime free-and clean. Pollution free-one trashy moment at a time. The incident made a big impression on me.  Obviously clean cities happen via groups of concerned people who bring their influence to bear.  Clean cities perhaps rely even more on those individuals who take the time and effort to protect the environment.  It also occurs to me that a clean and litter free city has much to do with a collective sense of ownership, and stewardship.  How can that pride of  ownership and stewardship be fostered?  One litter free block at a time.  One clean day at a time.  One proud person at a time.

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We were hired to make a statement about fall in the downtown Detroit area.  My thoughts regarding the design were as follows.  I wanted to celebrate those trees on Woodward Avenue that managed to grow in a thoroughly urbanized city.  I wanted to draw attention to the trees, and the planter boxes.  I wanted to make anyone who rode or walked down Woodward to be engaged by what we did.  I wanted to, for a brief moment, to draw attention to nature.  My hope was that attention would foster respect.

city-tree.jpgI may not get my wish-this go round. If you are a gardener, you understand that it can take a lot of time to develop a garden, or a landscape.  It can take more than a lifetime.  As for a litter free America, it may take many generations.  But I am happy to report that more people than not are informed and supportive of a clean, beautiful, and healthy America.  Gardeners have for generations been interested in a clean and beautiful environment.     Woodward-Avenue.jpg

Gardeners have homes that they choose to keep beautiful and clean.  Gardeners who move to another property have been stewards.  My idea?  I would encourage anyone and everyone to garden.  Once you garden, you understand the treasure inviolate that is nature. Would that everyone would be a gardener.