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.

 

Sunday Opinion: A Life Span

Everything in the garden has a lifespan.  This is a polite way of saying that every living thing lives their life, and eventually dies.  The redwood trees in California, and the old yews in England, among other ancient plants, are prized by many not only for their size and shape, but their astonishing longevity.  The Wollemi pine trees-of which there are 40 trees in some unknown location in Australia-date back thousands of years.  The National Geographic has made a big issue of protecting first, and secondarily propagating these trees.  Their sales of new starts of Wollemi Pines helps to cover the cost of their protection. They grow no where else on this planet, but for a remote valley in Australia.  Yes, I did buy small starts some 8 years ago-why wouldn’t I?  Both of my Wollemi pines belong to my landscape superintendent-Steve Bernard.  They were a gift.  They are at this moment, thriving.  As is our relationship.  We work together.  But not every plant thrives.  Plants which have lustily grown for years eventually die.  Some plants die just days after they are planted.  Do I have an explanation for this-not really.  The life and death in a landscape is an issue both Steve and I deal with every day.

Landscape clients want me to guarantee that the plant material I put in the ground will live-for at least the warranty period.  For one year, I am asked to stave off death.  I oblige, in spite of the fact that the life of a landscape and garden depends more on nature than me.  I do what I can, but I am rarely in charge. Some plants thrive in spite of my skepticism.  Other robust plants inexplicably die, leaving me with lots of questions and not so much comfort.  Anyone who gardens knows that every plant has a lifespan.  Every gorgeous moment in a garden is just that-a moment.  And that which is treasured is ephemeral.

I have a few plants that are original to my garden from the day I moved in.  A magnolia, some dogwoods, a pair of picea mucrunulatum, some rhododendron, a norway spruce some 40 feet tall,  some azaleas, and some challenged maples in the tree lawn.  But these plants are not centuries old. They are at best 90 years old.  Ninety years old is a blip that one blink will miss, in the history of our planet.  Every gardener needs to realize that their influence is short.  And not necessarily what nature values.  Peonies and asparagus are very long lived.  Trees that have a good siting and thoughtful planting live a long time.  As in my lifetime.  Perennials live but a very short time.  Foxgloves are beautiful, and short lived.

The lifetime of the planet-vastly more years than mine.  I understand that eventually, and sooner rather than later, I will wear out and die.  The numbers of perennials and annuals in my garden that will wear out and die before me-considerable.  Lots.  The trees that will mature and finally die-they will be much older than me on the day of their demise. My gardening is but a brief moment in a scheme that is long, substantial, and just about impossible to predict.

Does the prospect of a limited lifespan to my landscape worry me?  Not really.  A beginning and an end to anything significant in the landscape is beyond my grasp to orchestrate.  I spend an extraordinary amount of time in an effort to keep every plant in my landscape happy and healthy.   Every gardener, just like me, learns, and leans into the natural demands of a life span.  Leaning in-what every gardener knows how to do.

Monday Opinion: Sharing

Gardener/readers write me on and off, astonished about the degree to which I am willing to share my knowledge and process.  Why wouldn’t I?  I was raised to believe that sharing with others was good.  If you are like me, you grew up with a Mom who encouraged sharing.  Share a toy.  Share you seat on the bus.  Loan your sister your prized sweater. Share the letter your teacher sent home with you with your Mom – this would be a Mom talking.  Share your questions, hopes, fears, and aspirations.  That call to share had another call attached to it.  Share, with the idea that you might help.  If you are able to share such that you can help others, help them.  I arrived on this earth endowed with plenty of infantile selfishness-it took a Mom to temper that.  Did I really want to share my prized baloney and mustard sandwich on white bread with a classmate who had no lunch?  Not until I was instructed that sharing was a very special kind of giving.  A kind of giving that was part and parcel of being a decent human being.  My Mom assured me I would feel good about it.  And that what I got out of the giving was in the end,  irrelevant. This also from my Mom.   I may have had no relationship whatsoever with that kid who had no lunch.  I may not even have known her name.  But if I could get by with a half a sandwich, which of course I could, it was incumbent upon me to share the half I could do without with another.  It was the right thing to do.  And it did, incidentally,  feel good.  Now, the sharing seems effortless.  I am by no means the exception.  I believe that people come by the instinct to give and share, naturally-don’t you?

The right thing to do-what is that?  Every gardener, and landscape designer, comes face to face with this question over the course of a project.   I like to share the design process with a client, just like nature reveals herself to me.  In a genuine design relationship, lots of things are shared.  Needs, dreams, concerns, budgets-there are lots of topics to cover.  The client’s issues are invariably more important than mine.  A beautiful design that does not work for a client is not necessarily a beautiful design.  It is a design the heart of which fails to engage a client.  This is a polite way of describing a dust bin.  Just my opinion, this.

In the shop, we try to share the best advice we have available.  A client with whom we do not share our knowledge is a client who has not gotten from us what they should.  No matter my willingness to share, there are those times where we fail. I take that failure personally.  We should be able to give timely and sound advice.  That given, there are those times when what gets said doesn’t get heard-or what was heard bears no resemblance to what was said.  This happens all the time.  Communication is the art of life, is it not?  Some things that go wrong in the garden can be squarely attributed to the nature of the season.  Other things that go wrong might be attributed to a casual share, without any depth, or an insincere communication.

I have this communication problem on occasion with my garden.  I may plant what I want, without listening to what has been shared with me by nature-about my weather, my zone, my seasons, my soil-you get the drift.  I am eminently capable of being insincere with nature, as I don’t really want to answer to her.  What I do not hear can come back to haunt me.  Yes, usual sharing implies another who is engaged, and listening.  Nature does neither.  Nature has no need for a relationship with me. I am a small part of a much bigger scheme.  She has no time for me.  The entire burden of a successful relationship with nature depends on me.  How tiresome is this?  A gardener of the true sort establishes a fluid truce with nature-this is a kind of sharing.  Sharing, with the primary responsibility clear from the start.   Sharing as I usually experience it as a designer is a person to person pursuit.  That sharing works some times-other times, not.   Most people have shared something at one time or another that has not been heard.  Operas have been written and performed for centuries about this.  It is tougher than it appears, sharing in a real and thoughtful way.

The most difficult moment in the landscape design process comes at the beginning.  You have a design to present.  You have a conceptual plan to share.  Taking enough time with this part is essential. The design is a collaboration-there is the sharing of information that goes back and forth across the table.  That sharing may take a lot of time to transform into a final plan.  Once there is agreement on the big issues, there are lots of details to share.  Secondary but so essential to sharing-patience.  Patience is not my long suit, but I try.  Patience can also be overrated.  Knowing how to bring an unfounded worry to a close is a way of sharing that is caring.

The second most difficult moment is that moment when a project is done.  You will no longer be there every day, working on this part, but watering and tending that other part that is finished.  Some clients can see instantly that moment when an installation becomes their garden-they say thank you much, and push off on their own.  Bye Bye.  Other clients are less confident.  You may need to drive by, regularly.  Sometimes it’s important to keep on sharing until there is no more need.  Am I good at this?  Sometimes.  Other times, I call the memories of my Mom in- to give me a hand.

I would share anything I know about horticulture or design with anyone.  What I know is just my experience-nothing more, and nothing less.  Is my knowledge special?  Not particularly.  What works for me is different than what works for lots of other gardeners.  As much as things in the garden fail, lots of things work.  Designers would do well to keep that in mind.  There is no one way.  There are lots of ways.  Do I worry that someone else might duplicate my work from something I shared with them?  No.  My eye is my eye-this part of me is not transferable, nor can it be replicated in every detail.  Lucky, this-for everyone involved.  Anyone who might try to replicate my work will eventually be frustrated and unsatisfied.  Hungry.  Every person with a sincere interest in the landscape needs to rely on their own vision to finish a garden, or a landscape, or a moment.  Every landscape I design and install needs a client to eventually sweep the scene with what is all their own.  Having had good advice and design help, eventually being left on one’s own is a very good place to be.    There is so much satisfaction to be had from one’s own invention.  Some create gardens on their own.  Some create landscapes via a relationship with a designer. All sincere paths to good design are good paths.

Whether you are a landscape designer, or landscape architect, or a passionate gardener,  I will respect you enough to assume that you are a creative person whose job it is to imagine a project, and research anything you need to bring that project to fruition.  I assume you are able. There are no shortcuts.  Take the time, and do the work you need to do.  The work you put to any project will, in the end, reward you.  What someone has shared with you is not necessarily the gardening gospel.  It is a point of view.  And not necessarily your point of view.  Trust your eye.  If you cannot trust your eye,  look outward.  Most importantly, look inward.

I have a big interest in good gardening outcomes.  World wide, there are so many beautiful landscapes and gardens that support that idea.  Your computer is a means by which you can learn.  What is out there being shared?  Garden Design by Carolyn Mullet-I read her facebook page every day.  The time she takes to share-extraordinary.  Her editing, and choices of a topic to share-equally extraordinary.

What comes of your exposure to the work of others is that germ of an idea that might inform your own garden.  Respond honestly and passionately to the work the work of your designer.  In the interest of a better outcome-share what you can.  Listen when you have a mind to.  The aura created by that sharing all around – beautiful.