At A Glance: No Snow


It has snowed twice this winter.  One furiously windy and brief snow the end of January.  And four inches, a couple of days ago.  Do I miss this?  The lack of snow, and the warm weather has been great-but unnerving.  If I ever experienced a winter like this, it was too long ago to remember. 

The snow does a great job of insulating garden plants.  A thick blanket of white keeps the ground evenly frozen, and all the plants in place.  Last week the buds on the espaliers we are wintering in the garage were showing green.  This alarms me.  It is not time yet to wake up.


We have been able to work outdoors this winter-that is unprecedented. The ability to install 2 pergolas, 2 fences, and 3 gates last week means we have a jump on finishing a project that did not get done last fall.  In a way, I felt deserving of the mild January.  Much of September and almost all of October was so wet we could hardly work.   

The new USDA hardiness zone map makes my garden out to be a zone 6a. I can remember staying away from perennials and roses that were not at least a zone 4, and I have subsequently felt like I was cheating planting zone 5 plants. And that sooner or later ,y cheating would be discovered, and the plants would die.  I guess all of that worry was misplaced.  But I am still uneasy about the lack of snow cover.  At least the very cold temperatures we have had lately were accompanied by 4 inches of snow. 

Snow on a garden can be beautiful.  If the design is sound, any weather in a landscape makes it look all the better. Gardens in northern climates ask for some structure, though a perennial bed awash in snow can be visually haunting.  

Snow means I have an idea about who comes to visit in the night on little cat feet. 

Containers can be quite beautiful with snow on them, especially if some provision for lighting them is in place.

But do I miss this?  Hauling my tripod and camera out to the bottom of these steps was a nuisance.  Most of the garden was buried in snow throughout January and February of last year. 

Winter does have its beautiful moments.  I hate to miss even one of them.

Spring Thaw

My March issue of Better Homes and Gardens arrived yesterday-as did the most bitter cold, windy, and snowy weather that we have had all winter.  Things even out, don’t they?  In early May of last year, the magazine send a crew out to Detroit Garden Works to shoot pictures of our spring container plantings-for this March 2012 issue.   

Rob and I both took plenty of time to get ready for their visit.  Who knew what would strike their fancy.  We did we do, and hoped for the best. 

The spring season-that season when the garden wakes up-is rightly and greatly prized by gardeners everywhere.  Though we will never agree on the best slicing tomato variety, or the best tree planting technique, or the best way to prune roses, or the must have perennials, we all agree that the coming of the spring is a perfect moment. 

The Better Homes and Gardens film crew was very easy to work with.  An art director, a photographer, and a photographers assistant were focused and professional-all three of them. They also happened to be very personal-this means they took the time to introduce themselves, shoot the breeze, play with the dogs, ask questions, tour-it took them all of an hour to fit in, and dial down our worry about a visit from a publication with a huge history, and an equally huge readership.   


We plant pots for spring as we can’t help ourselves.  What gardener doesn’t anticipate that first spring moment when they can put their hands in the soil?  We are no different than most. 

It may be we plant more pots in the spring than the summer.  The winter months can be very long.  The grey is endless.  This means the spring is just cause for celebration.  A big celebration. 

We did plant pots specifically for this photo shoot.  But they took to what interested them.  I was pleased we had lots from which to choose.  The subject of gardening is a big one; that umbrella is big enough to accomodate all different points of view.  

These simple plantings proved to be among their favorites-check out the article.  What I learned?  A very simple and modest container planting represents the garden as well as the most elaborate landscape design and installation.        

We spent two days moving pots and and all else associated with them around.  Yesterday’s issue was their take on what they saw-this I respect. They gravitated towards small and simple spring plants.  They liked a wide range of materials.  It was an education, watching them see, select, and work.  What they gravitated towards is of interest to me.  When I plant for clients, it is always with the idea that what they see might better encourage them to garden. And garden more.   


 I do so enjoy planting those first pots of the season.  I routinely plant them too early-hoping that spring will somehow come sooner than usually scheduled. These containers I planted, and moved to the south side of the building-hoping for some extra sun, and some extra heat.    

In retrospect, I am pleased with all of the color. The green months are but half of my year; no wonder I treasure them.    I can hardly wait for that day to come that looks like this one.

 We are every bit of 6 weeks, maybe 12 weeks in advance of the day this picture was taken.  This is longer than I would like.  But the March issue of Better Homes and Gardens is a sure sign that spring is on the way.

A Particular Planting

A friend much more tuned into the 21st century than I let me know that this container planting of mine from 2005 was getting considerable interest via Pinterest.  Pinterest?  I was curious.  Based on my recent research, Pinterest is an on line venue by which anyone, any invited anyone, can post images they fancy, in personal albums organized by subject matter of their own choosing.  As for who posted this collection of photographs from my blog that had been pinned by lots of different people, I have no idea-it was not me.   This picture of a container planting I did in 2005 has gotten a lot of interest.  Though the Wedding White zinnias from Burpee, the petunias and the lime licorice are easy to identify, I am embarassed to say I have no idea what the center plant is.  I am almost certain it came from Landcraft Nursery.  For several years we bought unusual and exotic tropical plants from them.  A quick scan of their plant list did not ring a bell.  If you can identify this plant, will you please write me?    

I am very pleased to see an annual container planting generate some interest.  Gardeners are happy to share-I am no different.  This was a new house, with a landscape design and installation imagined by my clients and I from start to finish.  Once I was close to that finish, there was the matter of selecting and planting containers.  The pool terrace was an obvious choice for containers.  My clients planned to spend a lot of time there.  The pool deck of concrete aggregate with bluestone detail was part of the original landscape plan.  My client chose the furniture all on her own-and did a great job of it.  The French flavor of the landscape asked for simple and spare choices in plant material, lots of pleasingly simple geometry, and a largely green palette for the plants in the pots.   

This pair of tall Belgian zinc planters in contrasting heights are kept company by one low simple English lead square.  The star of the show in the tallest pot-datura metel “Belle Blanche”.  In the shorter, melianthus.  The low lead box features a fistful of white geraniums.  I like green plants.  Datura, melianthus and geranium are eminently attractive in leaf.  The flowers are welcome, when they come.  

In keeping with what I would call a landscape with a French flavor, the plant choices are simple, and edited.  Lavender, white and shades of green.  Simple, elegant, spare. 

Dahlias do not come into their own much until September and October.  But during the summer, the dahlia plant has significant stature, great texture, and presence.  A little in the way of Verbena bonariensis and scaevola, and tufts of a grass whose name I cannot remember makes for a container planting that is much about form and mass-stature-, and not so much about flowers. 

Simple and serene, this.  The containers stand proud, but not too proud.   

My favorite part?  A border of Panicum Virgatum, faced down with a tall salvia and verbena bonariensis.  A rhythmic and subtle planting that spills over the edge of the pool terrace. 

A good landscape does a lot of things.  Trees get planted, where there were none.  Spaces get created that are friendly to people.  Plants of visual interest to people and of vital interest to butterflies and birds get added.  Everywhere you look, there is green.   

 In April I will have been been posting essays about gardens, landscape, and the design thereof for three years.  As a matter of course, I post lots of my own pictures in support of what I write.  Generating those images takes every bit as much time as the writing.  An image can no doubt be very powerful, and compelling.   This is what is interesting me so much about Pinterest.  What we see matters much.  An image speaks in a way all its own.

Rural France: The Gates And The Doors

rural French road

This week is all about the garden-French style.  Our first container stuffed full of glazed French terra cotta has been unloaded.  Our second container sailed through customs, and will be delivered Friday morning.  Though we represent the garden as expressed in many countries and periods, our spring will equally celebrate French garden style. Our first container of artisanal French glazed garden pots makes a big move in that direction.  The second container is chock full of French garden ornament both antique and vintage, most of which Rob sourced from small local antique markets.  When I say local, I mean to invoke the rural French two-track pictured above.  To describe Rob as a buyer is a bit of a disservice.  He is an afficianado of garden culture wherever that might take him.        

Dealers in French garden antiques and vintage ornament appreciate this.  His respect is sincere, and his efforts to be educated about another place-considerable.  He is incredibly observant and tuned into what he sees.  All of these pictures are from his trip to France last September, most of them from rural areas.  The garden is very much a part of French culture.  Like many other places, the roots of the garden are agricultural.  The production of olives and olive oil, lavender, cheese and bread have very much influenced the landscapes.  But the French manage to go on to represent the most utilitarian garden features with great style.   

French garden gate

Much has been written and photographed about the grand and formal gardens in France.  The photographs of Michael Kenna are especially extraordinary. But rural France-the buildings, the roads, the landscapes, the gardens, the farms-there is much to be learned about how French people celebrate their relationship with nature. 

Every picture he takes is a visual representation of his impression and interest.  I am quite sure he was enchanted by this carriage house entry, the white entry doors, the stone walls, the shingles, the lattice iron work on one side only, the robust and unpruned yews, the gravel surface.  This is well designed, but not overly precious.

gated garden

 Many of the walled gardens featured ivy of one type or another.  This garden gate features massive walls and gate piers with elaborate stone caps.  The shallow shingle roof and tall wood gates make for a friendly statement about privacy.  The vines on the walls are asymmetrical-they have been left to their own devices. 

This crimped wire gate based on diamonds is quite tall and narrow.  How the wire emerges from the top of the gate, is charmingly unfinished.

The boston ivy swept over one side of these pair of gates is lovely.  I am sure the ornament on the right gate is an iron door knocker.  On the left? The iron work on the doors is strikingly organic in design.

Many of the places he visited, the garden outbuildings and walls were utilitarian. The low and massive wood gate is more about invitation, than closure.  They are working buildings.  The color of these barn doors is a variation on what I call French blue. I find it very hard to make blue work in a landscape, but here the color seems so the color seems so perfectly right.   

I was so struck by the proximity of the road, to the buildings. In our country, we have very wide roads, turn lanes, and curbs.  Our buildings by zoning law are only allowed to be built far off the road.  This photograph-all about intimacy.  The traffic bollards-useful, and beautiful.  The road and the building-close.         

It would take some discipline for me to live with this front door landscape, but I am very sure I would be the better for the experience.  Knowing what needs editing, and what doesn’t may be more of a gift than a skill.

Rob visited places in rural France I am unlikely to ever visit.  How he travels the backroads and the small French villages means I have a better understanding of French garden culture.  And a better idea of how to cultivate a garden.

This French door with an iron grille drenched in sunlight-beautiful.  The vine swagging over the door isn’t bad either.

This simple weathered wood front door, and its attending boston ivy-just as beautiful.

 A blue front door, casually attended by a climbing rose on the right side-this is as much about living and breathing as it is about gardening.