The Spheres For Thomas Hobbs

Southlands NurseryThomas Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie own and operate a nursery in Vancouver British Columbia called Southlands.  I first became aware of their nursery via an article in Gardens Illustrated magazine years ago.  As this publication only rarely features gardening places and people outside of England, I knew this place had to be extraordinary.  It is.  Rob made a point of visiting Southlands a few years, as I was so keen to know more about their vision of beauty, their love of the garden, and their love of the gardening trade.  Thomas has written several great books.  Both “Shocking Beauty” and “The Jewel Box Garden” are well worth reading.  His chapter about “bell’occhio”,  literally translated as “beautiful eye”, was an influential read for me.  We struck up a friendship after my first blog essay about him some years ago.

June 24 2013 (5)What has Buck been up to?  Making his steel garden spheres, among a lot other things. If you are not familiar with them, they are a classic style garden lattice re-imagined and constructed in the round.  Buck knew exactly how to make them, but could not draw them.  After much discussion, I finally told him to just make one.  The CAD drawings could come later. The first strap steel sphere-not welded, but riveted together-was big, light, and gorgeous.  Never mind the drawings.  We now make them in both strap and rod steel,  for clients both local and distant.

delivery of the spheresIt was a good thing that we had some spheres on hand, as Thomas decided he wanted 6.  3 strap steel spheres.  5.5 foot in diameter, 4.5 feet in diameter, and 3 feet in diameter.  He wanted the same number and sizes in the rod steel-sent to Vancouver in time for an event.  Buck crated each sphere with the same care he exercises when he makes them.  They had a big journey ahead of them.   Exportation to Canada involves a lot of paperwork, and a customs broker.  The spheres are manufactured in the US, and are made from steel that comes from Canada.  We verified that to satisfy the requirements of our trade agreement with Canada.  The truck that picked up all six spheres was a dedicated truck, meaning no other freight on board.  From Pontiac Michigan, to  Vancouver, British Columbia took two days.

deliveryThe  spheres arrived in time for the hardy plant study group that was to visit his garden in June.  He told me he felt like the the spheres had been crated by the Louvre.  Buck did crate like the Louvre.  We wanted those sculptures to travel from our hands to his-without a hitch.  Happily,  they arrived without so much as a scratch.

uncrating the spheres
Thomas and I have never met.  We may never meet.  But we have a strong relationship over the garden.  I am thrilled that 6 of our spheres are part of his new meadow garden.

Thomas Hobbs 12He has been sending me pictures. This new garden of his is young, but he has a vision for this space that is timeless.  I can see that as this garden grows, those spheres will be a sculptural element  that will keep pace with the passing years.

Thomas Hobbs 6I imagine that he has been moving them around since the day he uncrated them.  He is testing them in this spot, or that spot.  From the pictures, I can see that he is interacting and responding to them.  Sculpture that graces a garden is much about the gardener in charge.  As a designer,  I rarely presume to suggest a sculpture for a garden.  I can never predict what a gardener, an individual, will find appealing.

Thomas Hobbs' spheresBut given the pictures I am getting every day from Thomas, I think these spheres touch and reach him in a very personal and serious way.  My advice?  Only commit to art that truly moves you.  Any sculpture you place in your garden should enchant you every time you pass by.

Thomas Hobbs 3Judging from the pictures, I would suggest that Thomas Hobbs is perfectly in touch with what enchants him.

Thomas Hobbs 4
Hobbs spheres

Thomas Hobbs 2
days end

Thomas Hobbs 5The visual news from Thomas Hobbs.

 

Buck’s Charisse Box

I am so very pleased that one of our Branch boxes is featured in an article written by Marian McEvoy in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  Even though I have already written about it on the Detroit Garden Works facebook page, there is a story behind the design, development and fabrication of a container for a garden that might be of interest.      

First off you need a building-a studio.  That studio needs tools both big and little.  A few five ton bridge cranes have turned out to be very helpful.  But most of all you need people who can turn an idea into an object. I have always wanted to design and fabricate beautiful containers and ornament for the garden.  A container that can withstand any climate or season, from the salt air in Florida to the heat in Texas and the cold in Minnesota, is a container that can provide many years of service.  Given that lead, that classic material for garden ornament, sculptures and containers has become incredibly costly, steel with a finish that brings the color of lead to mind seemed like a good idea.  The Charisse box is not so easy to fabricate.  The frame and handles are made of both tubular and solid round lengths of steel.  Welding one section to another requires a lot of cutting and precise fitting.  Sal, Dan and Buck fabricate for Branch, but these were Buck’s to make.    

Each box is assembled from a lot of pieces that need to be cut fairly close to perfect.  Mistakes in the length and angles of a piece, times many pieces, can add up to a box that bears no resemblance to square. The only square stock in the frame is a diamond, welded from curved lengths of steel.  Buck’s other boxes have a simple and solid design.  I was interested in making one box that was a more graceful.  Making steel look graceful is not so easy. 

It took quite some time just to get the frame together, square and true.  Since the original Charisse boxes were made in 2005, changes have been made.  Though Buck does multiple CAD drawings for everything he builds, the finished box tells the tale.  Certain dimensions have been altered.  It takes more time than I ever thought it would to get the size and proportion of a box just where it should be     

The scrolled steel handles and diamonds came next.  The tops of the tubular steel has small steel shperes welding to them as a finishing touch.  Steel straps are welded to the bottom of the frame, to hold the steel box that would slip inside the frame.

The legs have an inverted flower detail.  Each leg has several of them welded together, for strength.

The bottom of the leg has a sleeve of thicker and larger steel, for stability.  This is a very heavy box, supported by very slender legs. 

There are plenty of details, and lots of curves. 

handle detail

snail scroll handles

the Branch Studio tag

The article is a very interesting and well written discussion of containers in the garden, and garden containers that will withstand fall and winter weather.  Containers filled with plants in the landscape in all of the seasons sounds appealing.  Something in the landscape to look at besides snow on the ground and gray skies is a good plan.  That Buck’s Charisse box would be on her list of beautiful and weather-worthy containers -all of us are really thrilled about that.  

WSJ.com – Hot Pots For the Chilly Lot

 

 

 

Delivering The Fountain

steel fountain

A client who had looked a long time for a fountain  fell hard for Buck’s contemporary steel creation.  I ws more than a little surprised, considering her more traditional taste in garden ornament.  But she was certain that this fountain was the perfect choice for her garden.  The job of transporting and setting it in place fell to Steve.  As you can see,  he was planning the move.      

Once he drained the fountain, he wrapped the fountain stem with heavy woven landscape straps.  As the fountain weighed in at about 400 pounds, and the site was not particularly friendly to the use of a front end loader, we would have to move the piece by hand.  12 hands, to be exact.  Each of three straps had a person at each end.  The straps would be a lot simpler to grasp that the smooth side of the bowl.  My crew can lift a lot, provided they are able to get a good grasp.

We excavates the soil from the spot where the fountain was to be placed, and filled it with coarse gravel.  A square concrete tile was placed over top.  This made it much easier to check to be sure the spot was level.  It is also much easier to adjust this tile to get it level, as opposed to the fountain.  It seemed like the fountain would be a good fit in this circle of boxwood-but we wouldn’t know for sure until we got it there.

The fountains we have manufactured at Branch of late come race ready.  The jet inside this fountain is attached to a steel plate, and comes with a valve that regulates the height of the jet.  Having a special event?  Open up the valve.  A tee fitting off the jet pipe is attached to the pump.  The cord for the pump comes through a hole in the base of the fountain.  The jet and pump assembly sits in the bottom of the fountain, making it easy to level the jet.  All the customer needs to supply is a source of electricity.

Getting the fountain through the gate was a challenge.  Luckily the gate itself was easy to lift off its hinges. Once the fountain base was resting on the second step up, the fountain would be flipped over on its side. The fountain has 4 eye hooks inside should the fountain ever have to be lifted.  It proved handy for tying the jet in place for the move.

There were but a few inches of room to spare, but that proved to be enough.  Luckily, any circular or hemispherical shape is not only very stable, but it is very strong.  This steel is relatively thin, considering how large an object it is, but there was no worry that the edge would be damaged.  At this point, we were rolling the fountain on its edge, rather than carrying it. I roll pots around the shop that I could never lift off the ground.

The last stage of the journey did involve lifting the fountain over a boxwood hedge.  My crew made it look like no big deal. 

They left me to fill the fountain-my pleasure, and my worry.  If the level were the least bit off, the water would tell that tale.  Water is always level-it’s people that get things crooked.  As I cannot abide a statue or pot that isn’t sitting level, I was willing to wait.   

I needn’t have worried.  It read perfectly level to my eye.  The wide rim of the fountain finishes the shape in a beautiful way, but it also masks any little bit it might be out of level.  The fountain was filled with water to just under that rim.  My client did very well with this-the fountain looks remarkably good in her garden. She had had an electrical box installed a long time ago, so an hour after our arrival, the fountain was running. 

The entire garden made more visual sense given a centerpiece.  The peach trees have a much more opulent and exotic look. I am standing on her porch, looking out.  The water seems to be at just the right height.  After trying the jet at a number of levels, she decided on this.  Just enough height to make for a great sound.

My client thinks it looks like I designed this fountain especially for her garden.  Since I would have never considered it for her, I realize that giving clients the chance to look without prejudice can result in an interesting outcome.   

 

More From Buck, At Branch

steel orangery boxes

tall lattice boxes

branch studio

tall lattice box

steel topiary forms

oil derrick topiary towers

steel tuteurs

oil derrick topiary towers, finished

steel containers

steel planter boxes

planter boxes

steel planter box, planted

planter boxes

planted steel planter box

steel pergola

steel pergola and planted tall Jackie box

steel fountain cistern

steel fountain cistern.  The steel grid positioned near the top of the water level is a safeguard- given very small, and very curious children. 

orangery boxes

Steel planter boxes

steel planter boxes

rectangular steel Hudson box, and associated steel Hudson planters

 

planter boxes

planted steel Hudson boxes

tomato cages

steel tomato cages in the form of classical obelisks

 auricula theatre

steel herb table, after the classic English auricula theatre. Buck has been very busy, churning out one fabulous garden ornament after another.  This plant table is proportioned exactly according to the golden mean.  No wonder it looks so solid, so satisfying, and so good.