Branch? Buck?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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