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.

Sunday Opinion: Starting Over

Needing to start over is one of my least favorite states of being.  I would do just about anything to avoid it.  It is a tough go to face down a chunk of  time, a lot of effort and materials that got paid for- invested in a plan that comes to no good.  A discouraging turn of events doesn’t indicate a need to start over.  I have had plants take a turn for the worse, that I managed to turn around. Plenty of times I have been faced with a poorly placed tree that I managed to make work with a new bed that made the placement of that tree seem intentional.  Replacing plants that die is not starting over.  Plants die all the time, for any number of reasons, many of which are beyond my control.  Replacing plants dead plants is part of a good maintenance program.  Spots that need a new start usually have to do with a poor choice of plant material, or poor placement.  The 7 years I spent trying to get a large patch of Helleborus Argutifolius to thrive is a testament to my dread of starting over.  The blackened stems and leaves, the distorted flower buds that very first spring was all the proof I needed that my climate is just too cold for this plant.  It took another 6 springs just like the first one before I finally tore them all out, and started over.  What was I thinking, living with that bad choice so many years?  I did not want to start over. 

I am not the only gardener with this problem.  I have a neighbor with a hedge of burning bush planted between the garage wall, and the walk to the back door.  I would say the space might be 3 feet wide.  They were probably 18″ tall when they they were planted.  They want to be 8′ tall and 8′ wide now.  This is their natural mature size.   She spends hours in the spring hacking them back to bare branches, and more hours all summer long further heading them back.  She’s got to know she should tear them out, and start over.  They are so large, it would take four men and a front end loader to properly dig and move them.  I would chop them down, save the branches for my winter pots, and dig out the stumps-and start over.  How the euonymus are pruned to fit the space has produced a look less than pretty.  The interior of each plant is sticks; the layer of leaves on the top and sides is very thin.  There are no leaves at the bottom.  They look terrible, not through any fault of their own.  A hedge of burning bush with plenty of room to grow wide and tall is robustly branchy in the winter, and fiery red in the fall.  Big growing shrubs need a lot of space to grow into what they do best.  What’s wrong here is a gardener who does not want to start over.

 I had a meeting with a client yesterday.  She tells me it is very difficult for her to pitch any plant.  Gardeners are devoted to keeping plants alive, right?  If you grow daylilies or bearded iris, you divide when the clumps are no longer producing well.  Some gardeners leave the divisions they cannot replant at the curb, with a please help yourself sign.  This is a good way to distribute the plants you have no room for.  I have a friend whose driveway is packed every summer with perennials, shrubs and trees in pots.  She and her husband are devoted plant collectors.  She has a large property; when the summer weather cools off, she plants.  When the perennials outgrow their space, she divides, or transplants.  Half the fun of a garden is moving things around, doing better by the plants. This is not starting over-this is fine tuning. 

This scheme does not work so well with large growing suckering shrubs.  It can be a monumental task to dig one with a sufficient rootball that it could survive the transplant process.  Moving it to a new location is another issue all together.  Setting it at the proper height for planting is yet another job.  My crews move plants all the time.  Watching the incredible effort and care that this takes, I think three times before I plant one in the ground.  Moving an established shrub is a major undertaking-both for you, and the plant.  I would suggest that the planning part of planting is a step you don’t want to skip. Have I ever skipped the planning part?  Sure, plenty of times.  Have I made mistakes?   Many more than you have, I promise.  From all the experience I have had with failure, I can assure you that once you overcome the “gravity” of your situation, a better garden is within your grasp.

At A Glance: A Saturday In September

Yard Dog

If you garden, I am sure you understand what it means to be a yard dog.  You dig the dirt, turn and spread the compost, wheel the mulch, prune the shrubs, drag the hose to the thirsty tree, plant new plants, divide old plants, pull the weeds, rake the leaves, and then start all over again.  All of the aforementioned jobs take place in the spring when it’s cold, in the summer when it’s 90, in the fall when it’s raining and very cold.     

Every landscape is threatened by trouble.  No rain, too much rain.  Weather that is too hot, or too cold, or too humid.  Woodchucks, deer, chipmunks, the neighbor’s children, Japanese beetles, anthracnose, fungus, white fly, spider mites, slugs, nematodes-even dogs.  There is ample evidence in my yard that I have two male dogs.  Can you hear me shrug??  I am always on patrol for trouble.  It makes much more sense to stay ahead of trouble, than be left in its wake. 

Some trouble pops right out in front of your face.  A shrub with leaves so green on the outside may be hiding trouble on the inside.  Scale-have you ever had it?  This revolting insect attaches itself to to the stems of magnolias, and euonymus.  A severely infected plant has stems covered in white; scale is very difficult to eradicate, once it has taken hold.  Be a great yard dog-inspect your plants regularly.  From top to bottom.   I like to hand water.  The time it takes to water deeply gives me time to see what is going on behind the scenes. I see Milo running in and out of the boxwood hedges-they do not seem to mind the intrusion.  I see the hummingbirds on the nicotiana.  I have lots of them right now-they must be on their way south.  I see the hydrangea flowers pinking up-who knew pink could be a verb? I can process a lot of trouble, and my plan to combat said trouble, while holding the hose.   

I see the hawks riding the updrafts. I see the clouds-are they not beautiful in the fall?  I see those giant messy structures I know to be squirrel’s nests in my big Norway maple.  The black tar fungus has decimated the foliage on this tree-this is trouble over which I have no control.  Whether on not I have control, I stand watch. 

Milo has a squirrel friend.  This squirrel chatters at him, leaps and runs through the trees ringing the property.  Milo never takes his eyes off that squirrel.  His focus is an astonishing thing to behold.  They have quite the relationship.  My very low to the ground corgi, and that tree hopping bushy tailed rodent have a mutually satisfying relationship.   The same could be said for me and my garden.    

Milo works very hard, keeping up his end.  He may patrol the perimeter of the garden 10 times in any given evening.  His nemesis, that squirrel friend, is bound to show up sooner or later.  At some point, he will take a break, and get a drink.  I understand perfectly the responsibility involved.  Nature dishes out all kinds of  trouble.  Weather is to be watched, and cleaned up after.  There is no intervening in this.  I don’t intervene with bugs-I live through them.  I will treat a bacterial infection, and I will treat a fungus.  But no matter how little control I have, I have the yard dog gene. No doubt, there are those moments when I need a drink of water.  

The pleasure of a garden is considerable.  What it takes to have one, more than well worth the effort.  No matter what job needs doing once I get home, there are rewards.  Every dog has his day.  

Gardening is a dirty business. The dirt may be the best part of it.  Given 15 years of compost and ground bark turned into and returned to my soil, my plants thrive.  What could be more thrilling?  That dirt-in my socks and under my nails-part and parcel of being a yard dog.       

It’s a dirty job, but some of us have to do it.