French Terra Cotta


I had notice from my customs broker today that the first of our two containers from France is in customs.  This is such great news.  This July 2010 photograph by Bertrand Kulik of the Eiffel Tower during a storm perfectly describes my anticipatory excitement.  French garden design, French garden pots-what is not to like?  Rob’s trip to France was in mid September of last year-some 4 months ago.  Why so long a wait for a pair of containers?  The bulk of our purchases were terra cotta pots, made to order. We bought many pots from the Poterie de la Madeleine over the past 15 years.  Rob had a long standing relationship with the owner Roland Zobel, and his assistant, Madame Pellier.  After his untimely death in 2004, the poterie de la Madeleine changed hands.   

 Rob shopped this past September in new places.  New to him, that is.  When he buys glazed French terra cotta pots, he does not buy from existing stock.  He special orders every pot to be custom made for us.  He specifies styles, sizes, and glazes that appeal to him, and contribute to a coherent collection.  It takes a lot of time for these small French poteries to fill a special order.       

Glazed French garden pots are indescribably beautiful.  There are those classic designs and classic colors dating back centuries.  There are new glazes and shapes that are enchanting. The small artisanal poteries produce very fine quality pots. They are very well schooled in the history, and small enough to take chances.  Of course we are interested in all of the above.    

These pictures from his trip to France are astonishing.  I have never seen terra cotta for the garden produced and displayed on this scale in the US.  I suspect the mild Mediterranean climates have much to do with the large space that is devoted to garden pots.  Gardening is a way of life in Europe.  This casual display is telling.  The pot yard has a dirt floor.  A garden pot has a job-it holds the soil, that enables the plants to grow-all in a beautiful way.       

Of course I want my garden pots to be beautiful-who doesn’t?  If they are steeped in history, I love that simmering stew.  Should they have beautiful proportions, sound and sturdy construction, and heft, I am interested.   Should their beauty enchant my eye and heart, the planting of that pot is as close to a perfect moment as I can imagine.     Rob dealt with every French poterie in that self effacing and attentive way that marks his relationships with all of our overseas suppliers.  This means we have a container in customs that is all about his respect for their craftsmanship, and his passion for the garden.  That intersection of fired earth, and his vision-inside that container.

He called me multiple times last September about a matte green glaze that caught his eye.  I completely trust his judgment. If he loves a matte green glaze, then I do too.  16 years of buying garden pots in France means he knows how to feel the clay.  What do I mean by this?     

I cannot explain this so well in words.  He introduces himself to the pot makers.  He looks at the thickness of the clay.  He tries on every glaze, every patine ancienne.  He considers the history.  He considers every new interpretation.  He takes the time to make thoughtful decisions.  He imagines a relationship between a pot and an agave, or a tomato, or a topiary.  He edits.  Making his thoughts come to life depends on the relationships he has nurtured for many years.  He asks if special glazes are available.  He devotes whatever it takes that might result in a garden pot of distinction. 

Garden pots made in France-why would you want one?  Why wouldn’t you? A beautiful pot makes the gardening all the more pleasurable.  The shapes and glazes please the eye.  

These are our pots, ready to load in the container.      

We try to completely fill the container top to bottom.  There is no sense in shipping air across the ocean.  It is extremely difficult to estimate what will fill a container.  That is why we have a second container due in Detroit over the weekend.

All of the poteries cooperated in delivering their pots to the poterie where we had our largest order.  This picture was taken on January 5.  Should the trip through customs go smoothly, we should have our pots in no time.    

 

Sunday Opinion: Apple-icious

I will admit to more than a little long standing prejudice against Apple.  Years ago, I tried diligently to get Rob interested in the computer.  How about a PC, I asked.  Unlike my project specific large slotted screwdriver, or my trowel, a computer enables a person to engage in a universe of activities only limited by one’s ability to ask questions or research.  I really felt he needed to make use of that technology.  Nonetheless, every effort at persuading him to learn to use a computer fell on deaf ears, until he visited the Apple store.  A conversion took place.  He let me know soon after that he would learn to use a computer, provided I would provide him with a Mac.  It is no mystery why the Mac appealed to him.  Every aspect of its physical design and built-in functionality is spare and simple-gorgeous. How like him to want a computer that not only worked beautifully, but whose visual story, history, and technical achievement engaged and enchanted him.  It exasperated me that my offer to set him up with a computer came with a highly qualified yes.  What could possibly be so wonderful about this particular computer, beyond its obvious good looks?  

I should preface any further remarks with my own story about coming to terms with the computer.  I barely knew Buck-he was the architect and project manager for a new house for which I did the landscape design in 2004.  He sent an email to the office over the holidays about an interest in an antique English fountain for the above mentioned project.  My assistant was off for the holidays.  Necessity pushed my invention. I opened a beer, and started tinkering with Monica’s computer. I was alarmed the entire time that I would break something.  After all, I barely knew how to turn the thing on.  I sent Buck an email with lots of information regarding that antique fountain.  The back story?  I typed his email address incorrectly, it was after the holidays that Monica scooped up my effort, and got it sent where it needed to go.  But that day, I was pleased with myself.  I had begun to learn something new.

I ordered a computer for myself straight away.  A Dell PC.  I am sure for some time I was a poster child for how to hit the back button, or start over.  It was years before I learned to cut and paste, or produce a word document.  I am still learning.  In 2000, I bought a computer for my Mom.  She had worked with the first computer at Wayne State University in the 1950′s.  That computer was the size of a grocery store.  She had a big black phone reciever at home that sat face down into a black box.  That was her line to that giant computer.  None of us dared touch it.  Years later, I knew she would love to have one of her own.  She was a scientist-surely she could master it.  Neither one of us knew enough to go on, and hook that computer up to the internet.  She used it to play solitare, and edit her photographs.  Though I thoroughly regret that she did not live to see me use a computer, I know my ability to learn to use one came from her.

So back to Rob, and his request for a Mac.  Though the price shocked the daylights out of me, I bought one for him.  Somewhere I have a photograph of a special Apple IT tech installing that Mac, and Rob standing by with that deer in the headlights look on his face. Much has changed since that day.  That Mac has renabled him to keep up with dozens of suppliers in multiple countries.  He plans trips  to other places via his computer, and downloads driving maps of those countries onto his Garmin.  He takes maps of his routes from Google earth with him.  He wastes little time travelling.  This gives him more time to shop efficiently.  The pictures he takes with his iPhone are astonishly good and sharp.  He communicates with clients, via those pictures.  That is the bare beginning of what that phone can do, given an expert operator.  I could swear he pointed his phone at a color, and read on his screen a name and formula.  Is this possible?   This year, I bought him a state of the art Mac with a screen the size of Texas. He searches, maps, coordinates,  studies, inquires.  Should you like the music in the shop, credit Rob and his Mac.  His computer skills have left me in his dust. 

Upon returning from a trip to California, Rob gave me with a coffee mug from Apple – he wanted to visit the company in person.  I was dubious-he was the one with the love for Apple technology, not me.  But a seed had been tossed on the dirt.  All it would need was some water.  My road trip the first 2 weeks of January made me think an iPad might be just the thing for me.  How so?  The Apple technology is portably planet wide.  I like the possibilities this implies.  An iPad is a very small object densely packed with opportunity. It would have been at home in the car, in hotel rooms, at market.  How genial.  It is an infinitely large shopping bag in which to store all kinds of ideas, notes, pictures, intellectual paraphenalia and bits of this or that.  An iPhone-all of a sudden I had to have one.  For the camera of course.  My camera is not always moment-ready.  It is a heavy and bulky thing to haul around, waiting for a moment to make itself known.  I also do not mind having the weather, and the compass instantly available on a small screen.  I am sure there is much more to come that I cannot begin to anticipate.  It has a serviceable phone.  I had no problem with the purchase part.  Meg spent 5 hours helping me get everything set up and teaching me the rudimentary moves.  Many thanks, Meg.  The very best part?  You do not need a fork, or a trowel, or a shovel to dig into it.  A finger will do.  How perfectly splendid is this?

I am fairly sure I am preaching to the choir about how great an Apple can be.  They have been around a long time-I see lots of them.  They don’t make much, but what they do make is extraordinary.  I will admit I was intimidated.  Rob’s Mac has that inscrutable quality about it.  Do I cling to my religion?  Oh yes.  I was sure I would have trouble.  However, the basics of both of my new tools have actually been fairly easy to master.  The finer points-they will no doubt take time.  What this will all come to, I have no idea.  Anyone who has seen a deleted email on an iPhone sucked into the garbage can-lid up, lid down, or heard the airplane whoosh of an email being sent understands that a mechanical device that appeals to and functions via the senses is an experience of technology like no other.  

 

 

At A Glance: More Normal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob On The Road

I have no complaints about the weather here.  The temperatures are steady right around 32 degrees.  Today we have had light wet snow, party sunny skies, heavier snow and firece winds, and sun-depending on when you are looking out the window.  But I am a little envious of the picture Rob took outside a flower shop in Amsterdam.   He is back on the road again-this time on his way to Italy. 

Spring flowers-how great they look. 

 Waxflower stems come from a shrub indigeneous to Australia.  15 euros a bunch-ouch.

A basket of hyacinths mulched with florist’s moss-very good looking.

These yellow tulips still have their bulbs attached.  Were these mine, I would most certainly wash all of the soil off of the bulbs, and put them in a vase of water, as is.

a 25 count bunch of roses.

This flower shop is in Bologna. 

So is this market.  So far, so beautiful.