Sunday Opinion: Heart And Soul

I am reluctant to have plants at the shop too early in the spring.  As Rob has said, it takes mother nature a long time to make up her mind to commit to spring.  I hate to see plants damaged by frost.  We do have a green space of sorts where we can stash plants during inclement weather.  I cherish that glass roof. It makes reference to the living and the breathing that is the heart and soul of a garden.  Sun streams through the roof.  We sawcut and removed the concrete floor adjacent to 3 of the walls. We planting creeping fig at the base of 2 of those concrete block walls 10 years ago.  These green walls are lush and thick year round, and provide a green backdrop for the plants we house there year round.

Plants and water-we felt these two elements were an essential element of any garden shop.  We tore the midsection of the roof off the building in this room.  It sat exposed to the weather for 3 months, until we found an old used Lord and Burnham greenhouse for sale.  I remember watching rain falling inside that room.  The floor was greasy and slick from years of cutting oil that lubricated the machines bolted in place. The rain puddled on the floor, until we shotblasted that surface clean.  A steel storage tank that held waste oil was pumped out, and filled with sand.  A built-in concrete wall fountain designed after a French original sits on top of that old tank.  Eventually we set the peaked roof and hip of that greenhouse on top of the existing flat roof.  The room was flooded with light.  The exposed steel H-beam is a strong visual reminder of the industrial history of the building.  The glass roof still has the original old chains that open the vents.  I would not call this a conservatory-that would be laughably overblown, and altogether missing the point.  It is an old factory room repurposed such that we can shelter plants.

I am sure I have talked before about the purchase and reclamation of this building.  A good portion of it was built in the 1920’s-the rest in the 1940’s.  But that protected green space is much on my mind now, given the weather.  I have been uneasy about the unusually early warm weather-uneasy enough to be sure I had a giant roll of floating frost cover on hand.  A frost warming last night, and a freeze warning for tonight makes me glad I have it.   Yesterday afternoon we brought almost all of our plants indoors in anticipation of a threat of frost last night.  The glass house is stuffed with plants-hellebores, primulas, rosemary, ivy, myrtle topiaries and so on.  Ordering in plants in the spring can be dicey; that room has my back right now.  Most of our pansies are still outside, under steel plant tables covered in several layers of row cover. All of the espaliers are under cover, in the garage.

None of the plants in that space are rare but for our Wollemi Pine.  It is a small start of the rarest of all trees.  Only one stand of about 50 trees in some undisclosed location in Australia is known to exist. I bought a seedling propagated from an original tree from the Brooklyn Botanic garden 8 years ago.  The sale of these seedling trees goes towards protecting the habitat of the original trees. I like that it lives and thrives in our glass house.  The other plants we have you might well expect to see for spring, or perhaps they are unusual in commerce.  But what really makes them different is that they are very well grown, or in large sizes as in a 25 tear old lemon tree. Or that we created a space so we could properly look after them in stormy weather.  We will haul our usual standard spring plants in and out as often as we have to, until the night temperatures are reliably friendly. 

In the same vein, there is nothing about this standard issue old concrete and steel factory that is of any particular architectural interest.  The renovation and repurposing of an old building-our own showstring version of urban renewal-isn’t particularly newsworthy either.  Lots of people do this.  But standing in that glass house this very cold March morning, I felt such relief that we were at least able to protect some of our plants.  I cannot do a thing about my Galaxy magnolia in full bloom which will possibly be subjected to 25 degrees tonight.  If every flower freezes and falls tonight, there will be the ordinary heartbreak that is part and parcel of a gardening life.  But I could hardly sleep last night, worrying that gardeners in the northeast are facing much more seriously damaging low temperatures overnight tonight than I.  Godspeed, all of you.                      


At A Glance: Thought We’d All Drop By Early

The European ginger sprouting in mid March is a bit of a shock.  I would say this is definitely 3 weeks earlier than usual-maybe 4 weeks early. 

Clematis sprouting in mid March?  Unexpected.  Unusual. Ok, no kidding-astonishingly early.

Roses leafed out in March

Delphiniums making an appearance in March

Very dry winter.  Cracked earth in March.  Who waters their garden in March in my zone?  All of us serious gardeners in southeatern Michigan-that’s who.  Mother Nature-any water coming our way from the sky soon? 

Big weeds in the isotoma-not to mention the grass growing like crazy

Magnolia Stellata-blooming March 14.  Dropping petals, March 16

Hellebores blooming

Magnolia Soulangiana, the third week of March

March spring -down the street

The neighborhood, March 2012.  Today was distinctly chilly.  What’s ahead?  I have no idea-I am just a girl with a passion for the garden. The passionate part means that I will stand tall and be stubborn.  Most importantly, I will roll with the program. I like playing a small part in a bigger picture.  What could be better?

Easy Does It

helleborus hybrids

If you are experiencing a spring astonishingly fast forwarded as I am, you have a garden usually sleepy in mid March that is marching dramatically on to a drummer you have never met before. I am struggling to keep up. I have 2 areas in my garden devoted to the cultivation of hellebores-why wouldn’t I?  Their leaves are evergreen until late winter.  Their flowers are intricate; the sepals are astonishingly colored.  Once established, they make big gorgeous clumps, even in fairly shady locations. It is the first perennial to break ground and bloom for me in the spring. This is one of my most favorite moments of the gardening year. 

helleborus orientalis

The leaves are stubbornly stalwart-they do not go brown until late in the winter.  The bare flower stalks emerge early in the spring; the new leaves will come later.  Just when gardeners are about to go mad from the endless grey and cold of the winter, they deliver.  The flowering stalks of helleborus orientalis emerge early in the spring-this usually means early April.  The sustained 80 degree temperatures had thrown my hellebores into full bloom in mid March.  My magnolias, PJM rhodendrons and maple trees were not far behind.  I have flowers everywhere, at a time I usually associate with the last of the winter.  

No matter how much I might write about the natural order of things, the real news is that I have hellebores blooming way ahead of my usual spring cleanup.  The late winter tattered leaves in concert with new bloom stalks-not my idea of a good look.  The early spring has caught me by surprise.  To say I was not ready for the hellebores to represent is putting it mildly. 

 My impulse was to clip and clean up-fast.  But how could I?  I am used to cutting off all of the dead foliage on a plant with one swipe, as I usually do this before the bloom stalks stir.  This year I had to proceed with caution, for fear I would mistake a bloom stalk for a leaf.  I did cut off two flowering stalks-how irritating.  One of my greatest spring pleasures has become a marathon I had no chance of winning.      

A fast cleanup given the very early and unseasonably warm weather might rake away a moment you do not want to miss. This clump of crocus was buried undeneath last years hellebore foliage.  Any carelessness on my part would have been disastrous. I am happy to say this little crosus clump was beautiful for 2 days, until the heat made it collapse in a heap.  But 2 days was better than no days.  I knew enough to take a picture, that this flowering would be ephemeral.  Beyond my shears, the only tool I put to this cleanup was my fingers.  Any garden accumulates leaves and sticks and other garden memorabilia over the winter.  Each bit came out of this garden one cautious handful at a time. 

 The new and tender shoots of your hellebores might benefit from those gentle fingers-they are so easy to break. New growth is as extraordinarily tender as it is beautiful.  Easy does it is the only way to do it.  So for 2 nights after work, and two weeks late to the game, I cleaned up my hellebore patches. 

My old hellebores are sprouting from seed like crazy this spring.  How pleased I am about this!  A gentle spring cleanup does not dislodge the babies.  My hellebores are grown with sweet woodriff, and crocus.  I interfere as little as possible with what goes on here.  I do not worry them about anything.  I water when they need it-that’s all.     


Rob’s Ivory Prince hellebores are planted in myrtle.  This taller vining groundcover can make the spring cleanup all the more time consuming.  He tells me the hellebore cleanup is finished-and on to the next part of his garden that needed cleanup a week ago.  Both of us have held off on any pruning-sure enough, night temperatures in the mid 30’s are forecast for next week.  The ride could get bumpier.  We’ve have snow and freezing temperatures in April plenty of times. 

My hellebore patch looks much better now.  Now on to the roses which are completely leafed out, and still sporting dead blooms from last fall.  And then there are the 6″ tall weeds in the isotoma and herniaria.  And the emerging leaves of Jack Frost brunnera encircled by their winter remains.  Have I mentioned that my holiday wreath and magnolia garland are both still in place?  And that the greens in my winter pots have gone brown with the heat?  My delphiniums are a foot tall.  My Magnolia Stellata started dropping petals after one 88 degree day in bloom.  My Yellow Butterflies magnolias are showing color.  My maples are blooming.  I have talked of nothing else to Buck for 2 days.  In celebration of my out of season garden and my attending hand wringing for the last 2 days,  he drummed up some of his favorite Christmas music for me last night.  What else could he possibly do for me?  Funny, that guy.  Not so funny, this weather. 


Permanent Structures

Most landscapes have basic structures, as in driveways and walkways.  This under construction landscape project features site specific architectural elements that address certain needs. The lower portion of this steel fence will soon be hidden by a row of yews matching the lakeside planting.  This fence and gates enclose a dog run, and were specifically designed to keep a local population of coyotes out. The horizontal vineyard bar in the top portion of the fence repeats the branch motif of the privacy fencing on the lot line.  The plan for the garden includes drifts of shade tolerant perennials, and lots of groundcover.  A single pot that splits up the gravel path through the garden is tall enough to keep the dog from rummaging through it.  A tall planting will be visible from outside the the run.    

cane bolt handle

Though the fence has a specific purpose, that does not mean it can’t be designed for some visual interest.  A cane bolt is a long piece of steel that goes down into the ground.  This keep one of the two gates in a fixed position.  The bolt needs to be lifted up to release the gate.  The handle on this bolt is not only easy to grasp, but it is friendly to the eye. The curves echo the circular staircase which connects the lower level terrace to a second story terrace. There are lots of structural elements in this one area of the garden-not the least of which is a covered porch with stone-clad columns.  I like iron and steel as a material in the landscape, as it can be very light and airy looking, as well as strong and stury.   

steel fence

The top of the fence culminates in an iron shelf.  I have never designed a fence with this feature before, but I have never designed with coyotes in mind either.  The shelf will hold rectangular wire baskets, with summer plantings.  Apparently coyotes do not grip and climb-they leap over fences.  The hedge of flowers 6 feet in the air will be much tougher to leap over that a fence.  The double hedge of yews is 6 feet wide.  Any coyote hoping to get in here will have to get up a full head of steam, and leap 8 feet in the air, and sail a considerable distance before they land.  I am by no means sure this will work, but it’s my best effort and securing the space.  Not to mention that I think flowers on top of the fence will look great.

garden pergola
Landscaping a lakefront property poses challenges relating to the view of the water.  Most people who live on lakes prize their views of the water-that seems only natural.  The placement of trees are restricted in some communities, so no neigfhboring views are compromised.  This pergola will be planted with roses and clematis, and perennials in the gravel.  The steel structure will not only be softened by the plantings, but it will eventually provide shade underneath from a source alternate to a tree.  Even when the plantings mature, they will never obstruct the upstairs views of the water.   They will frame specific views from the terrace and library.  Between the pergola, and the neighbors iron fence, a hedge of small growing trees will screen the lot line.   

wood arbor

Hard structures in the landscape can take many different forms, and are built for all kinds of reasons.  Some structures are built whose primary utility is a personal expression about beauty.  I enjoy this part of gardening as much as I do the plants, as I value seeing the evidence of the human hand, and the hand of nature, in concert.   

cast iron fountain

English cast iron fountain

garden dining

decomposed granite terrace

antique French iron gloriette

garden gates

steel garden gatesfaux bois arbor

concrete faux bois birch log arbor

alfresco dining

garden dining table and chairs

fountain pot

fountain and antique Doulton face pot overlooking the lake

antique faux bois

antique faux bois bird cage

stucco wall

stucco wall with integral shelves

stained concrete pots

acid stained concrete pots

garden furniture

garden furniture

bluestone terrace

dining terrace

stone walls, pergolas, fountain and terraces under construction

antique faux bois

antique French faux bois garden bench

wood pergola

wood pergola

Valders stone

This fountain is one of my favorite things about my own garden.  I built it with money my Mom left me 10 years ago.  It reminds me of her, as she was an avid gardener who also encouraged me to take some time off now and then-you know, maybe go to the beach.   It provides me with a place to unwind, and take a little time off.  In addition to the history behind it, I like the look and the sound.  I like to get in it when it’s hot.  This is a big structure in my small garden that gives me a lot of pleasure.