Sunday Opinion: Garden Making

I know have I made more than passing reference to how a great garden makes beautiful music.  There are those natural notes volunteered from the birds, the water running, the bees, the kids, the thunder, the conversations with friends, footsteps crunching on the gravel, a shovel sinking deep into the soil.  There is rhythm and beat supplied by the repetition of plants, materials, or shapes. There are individual melodies created by a specimen tree or gorgeous pot that come into play.  There is movement- from the grasses, the dogs, from the seasons, from the weather.  The wind is an expressive instrument creating sounds not so unlike the music from a clarinet empowered by the breath of an individual musician. There is a gardener in charge who writes the score, and plays.   

I cannot remember the exact moment that I became a gardener, but I am sure it was not a particularly momentous occasion.  My Mom giving me a package of seeds?  A salesperson who persuaded me that I could in fact grow orchids?  A painting? A memory?  Who knows. I find those moments that really changed or influenced my life are barely worth mentioning-beyond the fact that I was ready to hear.

How I garden is my take on a constellation of events created from my exposure to nature.  My exposure to people, places and events matters much.  My relationship with the soil-basic, and visceral.  Musical.

Water from the hose-I love the sound; I like the taste.  My hose is a lifeline that stretches between me, and my plants, and makes for a gardening life. I cannot really explain this, but Linsey Pollak can.

I am afraid to try to grow vegetables.  The failure rate is high.  Vegetable gardens seem depressingly ugly and disease ridden.  Every bug on the planet would respond to the invitation to come to my yard.  But Linsey Pollak, he makes me want to try to grow carrots.  If for no other reason than to enable the music.  It is no mean accomplishment in this world-making something grow.  Linsey Pollack grows lots.  Put his info right next to your seed catalogues.  Be determined to make some music.

Still interested?


At A Glance: Planted French Glazed Pots

planted 2005

planted 2007


cassia in a French pot, 2007















You may feel exhausted after looking at this many pictures of plantings in French terra pots, but it would be tough to exhaust the possibilities for planting them.

First Container From France

Our first container from Rob’s orders in France this past September today arrived this morning around 9.  Though we have imported close to 50 containers (a container being a steel box 40 feet long, by 10 feet wide, by 10 feet tall) over the past 15 years, I have yet to get over the thrill of that big truck pulling up.  A container arriving is exciting.

It took this driver 6 passes to back down our narrow driveway-fewer than most. There was a little ceremony regarding the cutting of the bolt.  Only I can OK the opening (unless US Customs decides to get involved).  This is a perfect moment that I have had the good fortune to experience multiple times.  What I imagine about Rob’s order is about to become a reality.

Rob shopped artisanal poteries in France this past September, with special orders in mind.  We engaged a European agent this time, for the first time, to oversea the making and the packing of those orders; Rob has known her for years.  He waved off all of my objections.  He wanted someone knowledgeable to look after the manufacture and packing of our order.  This proved to be a good decision.   

Some of the very large pots we ordered exploded in the kiln. Some pots cracked.  CM  saw to getting certain pots remade.  She advised us of possible substitutes.  She had ideas about what might fill the small spaces in the container.  An order in progress in Europe needs a European representative.  The work of offloading and unpacking was an easy exercise, by comparison.  The pots were expertly packed.  Every single pot survived the trip without so much as a scratch or chip.   



Artisanal poteries-we have a significant interest in them. They have a point of view, a style, and a way of making all their own.  The quality of the pots is excellent.  The large pots are incredibly heavy.  The drain holes in the bottom of the large pots reveal the clay is close to 2 inches thick.  Our idea is to make handmade and individually designed pots available to gardeners with a passion much like ours.   

This handmade French pot is of a size that commands attention.  Most of the pots Rob ordered are of a size that is neighborhood friendly.  But we have a few that are show stoppers.   

The green glazed French pots are very handsome.  This color comprises the bulk of our order.  Though I was disappointed not to have any pale blue pots, I understand Rob’s idea.  He likes a collection that has considerable depth, rather than breadth.  This specific glaze specified by Rob is closer to an eggshell finish than the traditional high gloss.  We really needed that spot where Howard chose to settle in, but he likes being close to the action.   

The face pots-I requested 4 of these. The glaze is shockingly beautiful in person.  I had never seen a glazed French pot with a white, grey, and black surface such as this.  As for the cherubic faces and grape garlands-I am charmed by them.     

We unpacked many pots today-all of them architectural, some just plain gorgeous, some with rustic and highly textural finishes.  Hidden in one of the pots, a thank you in the form of two bottles of French wine.   

I have a foursome of white glazed vases in the classic Anduze style in my possession.  These vases are better than 4 feet tall. The possibilities for planting them?  Just about limitless.  Not to mention that these pots would look equally great unplanted.  The best reason I can think of for investing in beautiful garden pots is how they persuade me to plant them, year after year.              

We had a substantial lot of pots delivered today.  The garage that was empty yesterday is stuffed with garden pots-handmade French garden pots today.  My 10,000 square foot building is bulging at the seams, and we still have another container, and all of our domestic spring orders to go.  Thia is as it should be-trying to find places for everything. 

These cream and yellow pots are elegant and graceful. 

The glaze on these pots-very rustic and markedly textured-is quite subtle.  The peach colored clay of the inside contrasts warmly with that muted grey finish.

At the end of this day, I was really tired.  It took the entire day to unpack.  I barely had time to admire them. 

Luckily I will have a little time to get to know them before the shop gets busy again.

Northwest Flower And Garden Show

 I had a call last week from Bruce Bailey, the owner of Heavy Petal Nursery in Washington.  He is one of a group of featured speakers at the seminars which will be offered at this year’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show.  This is a very well respected and well attended event.  Their seminars will be given by a group of people greatly esteemed in the field of horticulture.  The exhibits, and market sound great-I wish I were close enough to go and participate in all of it.  He called to ask if he might use some pictures of my container plantings in his presentation.  I told him that I was inordinately pleased that he would ask and of course it is ok.  Many thanks for your interest, Bruce.       

Bruce Bailey – Owner, Heavy Petal Nursery, Moses Lake, WA
Bruce Bailey is the owner of Heavy Petal Nursery, in Moses Lake, Washington, “Where plants rock.” He is a passionate horticulturist with a background in art history and design, and an accomplished interior designer. Heavy Petal Nursery provides an unconventional selection of gardening products for a unique shopping experience, with new varieties and surprising introductions of garden worthy plants, as well as old fashioned and unjustly forgotten favorites. They specialize in bringing hardy plants to Eastern Washington, expanding the plant palette for inter-mountain and high desert gardeners. The nursery offers a wide variety of inspiring plants hardy in the USDA zone 5a, as well as pushing zones up to USDA zone 7a.

A Container Named Desire
Making a Personal Statement with Bold Containers
Wed, Feb 8 at 5:45 pm / Hood Room

 Of course I am curious about what pictures he will choose.  In the close to 3 years of writing this blog, I have published lots of pictures.  For sure I know that what appeals to one will leave the next person cold.  This is the best part of planting the pots.  Every gardener has a distinctively individual idea about what constitutes beautiful. 

 This is why I plant the annual gardens in the front of the shop different every year.  This is why I planted every one of the 33 pots for the city of Birmingham differently.  Everyone has their own individual idea about what strikes a chord with them.  Diversity-I like this. 

 The containers in a garden can be planted differently every year.  I like that I can explore a certain interest or point of view over the course of a season, jump ship, and change directions the next.    

The possible combinations for container plantings are infinite.  Once I commit to a design, I make very sure the maintenance of that container is consistent.  I want the opportunity to see a container all grown out. 

I am fortunate to have clients that look after their containers diligently.  I know what it is to be too tired to water, but water I do anyway.  Water, they do.  That which is a garden chore is just as much a joy.  A beautiful container planting pleases to the bone.   

I can plant raucous-I can plant cool and collected.  Every style of planting I am asked to do has common ground.  The color relationships, the mature shape, the textures and mass apply to every container design.  

A green scheme for containers is a favorite of mine.  An old client and I share this.  Sourcing unusual and specimen green plant material for her all green pots is one of my most favorite moments of the spring season. 

Chocolate leaves interest me.  This canna, the chocolate Mint coleus, and the brown sweet potato vine makes for a brown medley-sweet. 

 One year I planted an old agave in the pot in my rose garden.  It was undeniably beautiful.  It was Buck’s most favorite container planting ever.  That said, I knew it was too visually rigorous for me.  I do love flowers.  The past 2 years, this pot has been home to a collection of summer flowering plants.  This is not to say I might revisit an entirely architectural planting in this pot some day.  Who klnows what will strike my fancy in the May to come.  As for what speaks to Bruce about my work-I have no idea.  He promised he would let me know. 

Should you be interested: