Buck At Work

Buck has been plenty busy at Branch.  What exactly are you looking at here?  This is a fountain urn commissioned by a client in California for a project in Texas.  This fountain has a bowl assembly and a base, designed and specified by the landscape architect on the project.  Buck stacked the two pieces upside down, to check the level.  A level vessel is imperative with a fountain.  Water needs to fall over every edge equally.  Should your fountain bowl be out of level, the water falling unevenly will broadcast that your ornament is askew.  It pains me to see any garden ornament-whether it be a bench, an urn on a pedestal, sculpture, obelisk, pot centerpiece or terrace, out of level.     

Newly back in town, I wanted to see the fountain assembly right side up-Buck was glad to oblige.  The fountain bowl is 5 feet in diameter-largish.  He welded loops inside the bowl so he could pick it up with his bridge crane.  The base is all of a piece.  The bowl will need a rim welded to it.  At this moment, the fountain urn is in three pieces. 

The center of the hemispherical steel bowl is marked in white paint on the underside.  This helps to  rough center the bowl on the base.  This will be plenty good enough to look at.  When the time comes to weld the bowl to the base, many more specific measurements will be taken.   

Once the bowl was set on the base, we were ready for the fountain bowl rim. The rim is comprised of two rings of 1 inch thick steel, welded together.  This ring is much heavier than it looks.  The rim contains water in four symmetrical spots.  The corresponding four rim spots are scuppers that facilitate falling water. 

This picture of the rim detail tells the story better than words do. 

This large urn will take its place in the center of a much larger fountain pool. 

The fountain is not the only special order project under construction.  This pair of gates are part of an iron fence for a local client.  Informing the design-a discussion about coyotes, and how to keep them out of a dog run. 

The fence panels are composed of a series of four foot tall vertical iron members that will be hidden by a yew hedge on both sides of the fence.  The top 24 inches of fence is constructed of steel vineyard bar in the horizontal dimension.  Why steel bar that looks like tree bark?  The perimeter fencing is our Belgian branch fencing.  This visible top two feet of dog run fence will repeat that horizontal branch motif.

My favorite part of this fence? A 16 inch wide steel shelf welded to the top of the fence.  I can see pots placed on that shelf 6 feet off of the ground, planted with trailing plants.  I can see all manner of tall garden findings and short bits having a home on this shelf.  No coyote will like the idea of scaling this.  A dog run that reads visually as a prison does not interest me.  A coyote proof fence with visual possibilities is much more to my liking.  


The Branch Studio is a big place. Just a shade over 13,000 square feet.  Buck occupies, fabricates, and directs in every square foot with what I would call thoughtful.  Amazingly precise.  Beautifully finished.  Though I was just away the better part of a week, Buck at work really describes a certain kind of kind of energy, motion and energy  that I truly admire.  Buck makes it easy to come home.

The Finish

I wrote about Buck’s steel fruits and vegetables the end of September.  They have since been filed smooth, and had a finish applied that will keep them from rusting.  He spent the day today building plywood crates so they can be shipped to Orillia, Canada, for a library/market square that is under construction. They will be ready to go in short order. 

I think they look great.  I am curious to see how how they will be integrated into the landscape. I think there is plenty here to work with.

The Lattice Box

Lattice refers to overlapping strips of wood or metal joined on the diagonal.  That placement produces diamond shaped air, or empty spaces; the steel or wood forms a continuous series of X’s.  How hard it is to describe in words a shape any gardener would instantly recognize in the garden.  Lattice patterned fence panels, screens, and trellises have graced many a garden.  That diagonal construction is strong.  The large open spaces make it an ideal home for vines that benefit from having places from which to grow in and out.  A lattice screen lets air get to the air conditioner while shielding its bulky steel from view.  A lattice fence provides a kind of privacy that is casually airy.  Why box yourself in, if you don’t need to?  Of course I had a mind to design a lattice box.  My first try featured a button medallion set in a solid diamond.  Should you look carefully at this diamonds, they are perfectly scaled for the size of the panel, and perfectly constructed-all of that is Buck’s doing.  The liner is made of extira board-that water repellant rot proof composite material from which signs are made.              

I know, that first box has something of the look of a Brownie camera-a steel framework around that Brownie camera brown board.  The next boxes featured painted extira board.  We always use Porter paint for any ornament outdoors-their 100% acrylic paint is tough as nails.  The plain rectangular shape at the top did a good job of featuring the lattice pattern, without it becoming visually overwhelming.

This client changes the color of his liners every few years.  The ability to easily and entirely change the look of a container is appealing.  I have one client who had us paint the reverse surface of her liners cranberry red-for the holidays.  The liners are actually 4 separate pieces that drop in behind the lattice.  A finished frame at the top covers the raw edges of the board, and makes for a completely finished appearance.     

Years later, I have moved the plain rectangular planter to the bottom.  I cannot explain why I like this so much better, but I do. These tall boxes look grounded, not top heavy.  They have an elegant air, to my eye.  We make square lattice boxes, but some gardens ask for a little height.  This picture records the first four all steel lattice boxes Buck has made for the Branch Studio.  He just finished them 2 weeks ago.  There is a way in which these four boxes have been 7 years in the making.  I can only say thoughful design takes time; the design and construction of this container has evolved over time.    

Buck welds what are called squashed ball feet to the bottoms of these boxes.  The squashed balls give the visual impression that the box is very solid and very heavy. Those ball feet gone flat are one of my most favorite features of this box.  They are what they appear to be-in the business of beautifully and strongly supporting the life of citrus trees, topiaries, or flowers.     

Once the box gets its final finish, I am pleased to be thinking about how they will outlast me.  They will last my lifetime, and others beyond me.  The fabrication of this box gives me the same pleasure that I get from planting a tree.       

Buck did fabricate a number of steel lattice boxes with copper liners.  All I can think about looking at this picture is a copper lattice box with a steel liner.  How would that look?  The very best part of gardening is how a garden evolves.  The best part of the creative process is that the process is never finished.   

Buck made this steel pergola for the Branch Studio years ago.  I am sure it looks much the same today as it did then.  Sturdy and enduring objects for the landscape enchant me.  I like any garden ornament draped in some kind of story, or history.  My respect for the history of gardens and their ornaments fuels my design.  I am always wondering where I might go from there.   

Buck went there,  all on his own.  He had a mind to construct a series of lattice spheres.  They are amazing and beautiful structures.  How he imagined and fabricated a lattice structure in the round-way beyond my ability.       

Since the fifteenth century, fruit trees have been grown in a two-dimensional lattice known as a Belgian fence.  I sold and planted this group of five latticed pear trees two years ago.  One cannot see the lattice structure at this moment-every tree is studded with pears.  My gardening life-equally studded with pears.

Buck’s Fruits And Vegetables

A Canadian city north of Toronto is in the process of updating its library and landscape.  They have devoted some of their property to the development of a space suitable for a farmer’s market.  I suspect they are interested in the library being a community center of sorts, which will attract lots of visitors-for lots of reasons.  I like this idea.  I do think libraries are very important.  Books tell stories, and teach.  Libraries give anyone, everyone, access to books.  What is written or pictured in books is priceless-they are in a way the sum total of our knowledge and our art.  Farmer’s markets are another community icon-over the growing of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Much of the fabric of a family is woven over shared meals.  This is the sum total of our community.  I place as much value on this as I do the works of Shakespeare.  The landscape architect commissioned four steel sculptures which will be placed in the new market area landscape.  He was intrigued by Buck’s strap steel spheres, and wanted sculptures in that manner to represent fruits and vegetables.        

I think Buck must have more clamps than any other artisan on the planet.  When he is welding steel straps to one another, every piece must be clamped into place before he fires up that torch.  Before the clamps came out, he did a series of drawing based on the architect’s specifications.  Once the drawings were approved, he printed the vertical steel ribs on a plotter exactly the size they would be in the finished sculpture.  These drawings were 20 times the size of what comes out of my printer.  The steel could be laid to the paper, and bent in the proper arc.        

The vertical ribs were bent in a 3-axis vertical roller.  The steel may appear slight in these pictures, but steel is very strong.  It cannot be bent evenly in a prescribed curve without a mechanical slip roller.  Each vertical rib was welded to a 24″ diameter steel base.  The sculptures will be installed over a light fixture which will illuminate the sculptures at night; this base will accomodate that light.    

The vertical ribs were bent to exactly match the curves indicated on the drawings.  The hroizontal ribs-now the fabrication gets very difficult.  The horizontal ribs needs to be rolled in circular shapes to start.  But in order for those ribs to lay flat on the vertical ribs, they needed a second rolling. A rolling that expresses the cant. You see how this lowest rib lays flat against the vertical rib-there were multiple steps getting the steel to perfectly mimic this shape.

This strap steel pumpkin is a low oval shape, without many clues as to its identity.  Strap steel does not lend itself to delicate gestures.  The curved stem is a signature. 

The raw steel shows all of the welds, and the streaks that come from high heat.  The stem is constructed from vineyard bar-steel embossed with the pattern of grape vines. All of the construction marks will disappear, once the piece gets its finish.  Sculpting in steel is exhausting work.  Buck came home plenty of nights to tell that this sculpture was just about to get the best of him.    Every moment is consumed with handled the weight and changing its shape with high heat and electricity.  This stem will make the identity of this sculpture easy.  

The apple is tall and gracefully curved.  I will confess it reminded me of a hot air balloon-until he attached the stem and leaf.  Poof-apple here. 

It interests me that these very abstract shapes got a representational identity boost with something so simple as a stem and a leaf.  This part of the sculptures was more about sculpting than recreating a paper based drawing in steel.   

This squash is almost 6 feet tall. Imposing, this.  No stem was called out.  I think it will hold its own just fine.   

The pear was the bear.  The shape is not in the least bit symmetrical.  At some point, I saw Buck and Dan throw their drawings away, and fabricate by instinct. Drawing this shape may be easy-making it takes a world of time and trouble. I am sympathetic.  There are times that I need to leave the landcape plan in the car, and just dance.   

Tomorrow these raw steel sculptures will enter the first phase of finishing.  I promise to post pictures of the final finish, before they are crated and shipped. This is a quick visual on the way to a finished sculpture.  Buck and his group turn out some very fine pieces-yes.