The Music In The Background


I have devoted several posts to Branch in the past week.  Over the winter, we designed and made a catalog detailing all of the products we made.  I had the idea to introduce our made in America ornament for the garden to a broader audience.  I felt we were ready.  The past 10 years has had its successes, and most certainly setbacks and failures.  Bringing a hand made object to market takes a lot of time.  There are mistakes made every step of the way.  Solving problems creatively is not about minutes.  It is about months, and years.  As Seth Godin said, “all boats leak”.  No matter the best of intentions, it takes time and effort to hone a design and a manufacturing process such that your product stays afloat, the majority of the time.


We were a new company that needed time to get our house in order.  Given that we are just about at 10 years sorting out who we are, and who we hope to be, I think we are ready to introduce ourselves to other people, in other places, who love the garden.  Most of that introduction via our print catalogue is visual.  But we printed a few paragraphs about who we are, and where we come from.  Much of that commentary had to do with where we are from-the rust belt.


Our work in steel is grounded our history and experience.  I grew up in Detroit. I rode my bike to JL Hudson’s downtown, now and again, for a chocolate soda, when I was 12. And again when I was 14, 15, and 17. The gritty city-everything about that bustling urban downtown enchanted me.  I biked it.  This means I was on the ground floor whizzing by every factory and shop for 22 miles from my home. Those experiences made a big impression.  There are many many things I cannot remember, but I do remember the city. So much to see.  So much energy. The growing I could see every place I turned-loved that.


I so admire and appreciate the sculpture produced by the automobile industry.  There was a time when Detroit made the issue of transportation an art.  I am not such a fan of horsepower and speed as Buck is.  I like the shapes.  I love that the design is beautiful, functional, and made to last.   Manufacturing is an idea that not only interests me, it is part of that music that plays in the background no matter what I am doing.   Buck grew up in Texas.  His grandfather was a carpenter.  His father was a riveter at General Dynamics in Texas, in his earlier years.  He became head of production some years later, until his retirement. If you are not familiar with General Dynamics, they were and are a huge defense contractor. They built the F-111, and the F-16 fighter jets.  His Dad supervised the building of jets.  Buck comes from a long line of makers, whose work involved steel and wood, and whose work involved great precision and exacting standards of construction.


The music in one’s background-what is that?  Simply stated, every person comes with an attitude, instincts, a history, a point of view, a skill set, a mind set, an aura that that makes for a particular music that plays in the background while they work.  The fabrication of the Branch boxes, Italian style vases, pergolas, and fountains are infused with the music playing in Buck’s background.

pergola-under-construction.jpgThis pergola involved making very thick steel tubing conform to a round shape.  The accumulation of a lifetime of fabricating skills, and a love of both geometry and industry is evident in all of the work he produces.  His spheres are riveted.  His pergolas are bolted together, so they can be broken down and shipped.  They also have that industrial aura about them that recalls the history of structural steel buildings and bridges.

Shinola-runwell-watch.jpgThe moment I became aware of the Runwell watch, being manufactured in Detroit, by Shinola, I knew I had found the perfect birthday present for Buck.  Everything about their philosophy, mission, and devotion to quality I knew would really appeal to him.  But most of all, the watch is a very precisely and beautifully handcrafted instrument-made by a company in Detroit.


Precision made, by hand, in Detroit.  This is music to my ears.

At A Glance: Recent Work

raised-steel-planter-boxes.jpgThis has been a very busy summer season for Branch.  To follow, pictures of a few of our early summer projects.  How pleased we are to have clients in our area.  And clients afar- northern Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, New York City, Long Island, California, Virginia, Louisiana, and Oregon.  This project in Grosse Pointe Michigan-raised planter boxes to be planted with cutting flowers.

Branch-Hudson-tapers.jpgmedium Hudson tapers

custyom-fountain-in-progress.jpgcustom fountain cistern under construction

Hudson-boxes.jpgHudson boxes

Drost-Landscaping.jpgBob Drost from Drost Landscaping in Petoskey.  He personally picked up 10 special order contemporary Branch boxes for a job last Sunday.

white-oak-and-steel-orangerie-boxes.jpgOak and steel orangerie boxes

elliptical-fountains.jpgA pair of elliptical fountains designed and fabricated for a landscape for a new house .

plant-stand-for-herbs.jpgLarge Branch plant stand for pots of herbs

custom-Hudson-fountain-cistern.jpgCustom sized Hudson style fountain with pump housing ready to be galvanized for a client in California

hemispherical-fountain.jpgUp side down hemispherical fountain, just about ready to be shipped to California

Hudson-boxes.jpgSteel Branch boxes and plant climbers-planted for the summer

large-Hudson-tapers.jpgLarge steel Hudson tapers ready to plant at a long lakeside country driveway

custom-curved-Hudson-planters.jpgHudson boxes custom made to fit a curve in a terrace

reproduction-Belgian-planters.jpgThese reproduction Belgian boxes in white oak and lead-we sent them to Florida a week ago.  Branch is busy.  Love that.

Branch? Buck?

The Branch Studio-in business for ten years now.  The first year, we made faux bois garden ornament and furniture-in the garage at Detroit Garden Works. Our first year in business-pretty quiet.  We had the winter season to design, experiment, and build.  None of us had any idea where our passion for ornament for the garden might go.    Several years later, we were looking for our own building.  A 7 acre property with 30,000 square feet between two buildings seemed like a good idea.  That good idea ran along the lines of producing finished steel garden ornament and containers for the garden.

Branch.jpgBranch Manufacturing had grown considerably.  As has the landscape company-Deborah Silver and Co Inc.  There was no room to house the landscape vehicles, plants and tools any more at our retail location-Detroit Garden Works.   Deborah Silver and Company needed a new home.  As for Branch-a company newly emerging-what they needed were bridge cranes.  I can explain.  When you work in concrete and steel, you need tools that enable people to move very heavy objects from one place to another.  A pair of 5 ton capacity bridge cranes sealed the deal for my purchase of the Sanford Street property.  We bought a big property, with close to 30,000 square feet of buildings.

the-Branch-Studio.comWe have 7 acres there.  This means plenty of space to house plant material for a landscape installation.  It means plenty of space to store compost, and decomposed granite.  Plenty of space to store tools, box trucks, and loaders.  Room to store brick, stone, mulch, and plants.  The 7 acres at Sanford Street is shared between the landscape company, and our manufacturing subsidiary- Branch.  Branch has 13,500 square feet of studio space.  Though this space seemed really large when I bought the property, today I am happy for the room.


I bought the property. Some ten years later, Branch is humming- producing garden ornament, boxes, pots and fountains in steel.  Our finish is the closest thing to rust proof and maintenance free of any finish I have ever seen on steel.  Painted and powder coated steel eventually succumbs to rust.  Our signature finish looks a lot like that classic garden ornament material-lead.  Our finish is not perfect.  Perfect only applies to moments and diamonds.  If a rust rust spot develops, it can be fixed.  Given that the price of lead has tripled in just 5 years, we feel our steel ornament is a lead substitute of merit. And a vast improvement on painted or powder coated ornament.  I would go further to suggest that our products are lighter, more versatile, and more reliable than lead.

Branch-boxes.jpgBuck and his crew of four spent the better part of last winter churning out boxes, pots, pergolas, and fountains that would be available for the spring season.  Though Branch does a considerable amount of custom fabrication with a lead time of many weeks, we were ready with our stock styles and sizes for the spring.  We manufacture planter boxes, fountains and pergolas in three styles.  Branch features 4 planter boxes in each style.  A small cube.  A large cube.  A tall cube-and a rectangle.

lattice-boxes.jpgTen years ago, we were a very small group with a very big idea in mind.  That said, we were a bunch of kids with a more passion than expertise.  It has taken every bit of ten years to grow up.   Get better. The garden ornament that Branch produces now is level, square, and true.  Heavy-as in heavy duty.  Frost proof. Maintenance free.  We had the idea that every garden deserved pots, fountains, and pergolas that would not require much work.  Every true gardener understands that a garden needs a serious committment.  The garden ornament and planters from Branch-an investment in the lifetime of a garden, and beyond.

Branch-cistern-fountain.jpgThis cast iron fountain face-the face was a purchase Rob made in Kent, England, in the fall of 2012.  Branch designed and built a fountain around this mask-in the spring of 2013.  I am happy to say this fountain found a home, early this spring.

Branch-3-spout-cistern-fountain.jpgAnother Branch introduction for the 2013 gardening season-this 3-spout fountain.  The spouts were machined from solid blocks of steel.  The pump-we researched what fountain pumps were the most quiet.  A fountain cistern needs to display the splash and sound of the water.  No humming from the pump, thank you very much.  A fountain cistern that you can take home and plug  in?  The Branch fountains- including this 3 spout fountain- are road ready.


Though Buck and his crew fabricated stock boxes, pots, pergolas and fountains over the course of the winter, Branch Studio is swarmed right now with custom work.  We are not complaining!  We are happy for all of the interest in what Branch might create for a garden.

Branch-Hudson-boxes.jpgThe Branch Studio, a subsidiary of Deborah Silver and Co, is a manufacturing company devoted to the making of fine pots and ornament for the garden.  The Detroit Garden Works website details everything Branch produces.  Should you have an interest in something we make,  or an idea you’d like to explore, contact us.


The Fourth Of July

Campus-Martius-Detroit.jpgMy fourth of July was a holiday of an unusual sort.  We installed and planted 9 steel Branch planters at two commercial locations in downtown Detroit.  The decision to install on the holiday made sense to us.  This is a hopping busy place during the week.  There are thousands of people who work in this area.  Parking is always at a premium, and parking for 4 trucks right off Campus Martius is just about impossible to find.  The planters were located just outside the buildings.  But at 8am on the Fourth of July, we were able to park close by.  No Detroit police officer gave us a second glance, even though we were parked in no parking zones.  Tents were being set up for Fourth of July festivities, but by and large we had the locations to ourselves.

planting-annual-containers.jpgHaving a favorable set up means the work goes fast. We were able to spread out and stage the work on the sidewalk, without bothering any pedestrians.  The First National Building, a 25 story limestone building, was completed in 1930. The stately old building is undergoing an extensive renovation, courtesy of Bedrock Real Estate Services.  The planting of these large steel Branch planters are part of that renovation.

annual-planting.jpgFrom what little I could see from my scouting and planting visit, it appeared that ground floor spaces were being renovated for retail use.  Who knows what is going on upstairs.  What a pleasure to see a historic building such as this one in loving hands. It reminded me of my trips downtown better than 45 years ago.  There is an energy, a sense of purpose, and a determination to endow a downtown business district down in the heels with new life.  Impressive, this effort.

watering.jpgGiven some time, these plantings should grow up into these very large pots.  They are 36″ in diameter, and 36″ tall.  The pink mandevillea Alice Dupont is the most floriferous, vigorous, and brightly colored of all the pink mandevilleas.  Though I love the glossy leaves of the Sun Parasol Giant pink mandevillea,  I opted for the size and heavy blooming characteristics of Alice DuPont.  This cultivar will endure the hot conditions of a downtown location.  The Persian Queen geraniums feature bright chartreuse leaves. Alternating with the Persian Queens, a brilliant orange sunpatiens  that have already outgrown their 6″ pots.  The giant pink petunias, lime licorice, and small plugs of red mandevillea will make for lots of color and volume around the rims of the pots.

Bedrock (26)The Bedrock staff turned on the street level spigot, so we could soak all four pots.  A good watering settles in all of the plants, and eliminates any air pockets.  We wanted to drench the plantings with water; this is our idea of good bon voyage.  Being July, we planted 3 gallon size mandevilleas,  and 6″ and 8″ pots of the other materials.  All of these annuals love hot weather. Given that our summer weather has only recently warmed up, I think these flowers will settle in and start to grow quickly.  They have made a great start, protected by the greenhouses in which they were grown.

First-National-Building-Detroit.jpgEveryone we have had contact with over this project has been enthusiastic, hard working, and willing to get things done.  Young people, of course.  So much good energy in one place-it was a treat to be involved.  I will admit I was a little bowled over.  So much discussion and sharing.  My design charette with them-on the streets.

wired.jpgOwen and Lucio wrapped the tops of the bamboo poles for the mandevillea in purple aluminum anodized wire.  It seemed to be an appropriate gesture.

variegated-willow-on-standard.jpgOur second location-the Chrysler House.  The neoclassical building was completed in 1912, and has already undergone extensive renovation.  The facade outside had some “improvements” made in the past.  By this time, I was absolutely certain that Bedrock would restore the outside of this building with the same spirit and care that fueled an extensive renovation of the interior spaces.  Each of our 5 steel Jackie boxes-4 rectangles, and 1 27″ cube, features a variegated willow on standard in the center.  Salix integra “Hakuro Nishiki” is a dwarf cultivar with white variegated leaves. The willows grow fast, and can be left as a starburst, or trimmed for a more formal shape.

palnted-Jackie-box-rectangle.jpgThe exposure is from the east.  All of these flowers and coleus will thrive in this setting.  The building across the street features a glass facade.  I am thinking the reflected afternoon light off the glass will provide enough sun to make the petunias thrive.

cleaning-up.jpgWe had no access to water from this building given the holiday.  We brought our own, in 3  40 gallon plastic garbage cans.  I wanted to be sure the new plants were soaking wet, just in case they had to go without water over the weekend.  There are advantages to choosing to large planters for commercial settings.  The big size seems in better proportion to a building that is many stories high. The not so obvious advantage – a large soil mass is slow to dry out.  Big pots buy you some time.

Chrysler-house.jpgI don’t have serious concerns with the care to come for this planting.  The other plantings and site furnishings in buildings on streets radiating from Campus Martius were well looked after.

planted-Jackie-box.jpgThis single box sits next to the door of a ground level restaurant.  Yes it belongs to the Chrysler House, but this ground floor restaurant space needs its own special sign.

Chrysler-House-Detroit.jpgThis was a great way to spend the beginning of my Fourth of July holiday.  Lingering on my mind was one very independently minded business who feels a substantial investment in the renovation of our city is well worth the effort.  There is every evidence of a fearless pioneering spirit that marks the best of what our country can be.  Brave American fought for our freedom.  Other brave Americans go on to forge a path.  They take risks.  They invest.  They go for broke.  Buck calls them the captains of industry-how apt.  I so respect the investment that Bedrock Real Estate Services has made with the core idea that the city of Detroit is a city well worth preserving.  A city well worth energizing.  They are lending a huge hand to the future of downtown Detroit.  Bravo, Bedrock.