6:56 AM

Rob’s plane headed for Paris took off from Detroit at 3:30 yesterday.  At 6:56 am our time, he was about to land in the south of France. This picture-via his iPhone. This view of the coastline-magnifique.  I am sure he has plans for the rest of the day that do not include sleep.  Shopping like this is not for the faint of heart.  His very first buying trip to France in 1993 he managed without a phone, or any help from a computer or a Garmin.  I think he was in France for 3 days before he found a phone he could use to call me.  The connection was so poor all I got from the conversation was that he was in France, and ok. 

The trip was loosely planned around what I read in books, and what I could glean from French design magazines.  There was so little information readily available pertaining to European sources of ornament for the garden, that these early trips were as much about exploration as they were about buying.  He had dinner with what he could find at a gas station, and hoped to find lodging when it got dark.  In his 3 weeks overseas, I may have talked to him two or three times.  I knew next to nothing about what he bought, until the container was delivered, and opened.  That first collection-stunning.

There would be pictures, once he got home, and his 35mm film could be developed.  Many of them related to his experience and exploration of the French landscape.  He travelled extensively, absorbing as much as he could of what he saw.  Garden ornament represents the culture, environment and landscape from which it comes.   

There are other stories from those early trips.  It was a month later that he told me he was lost in the Swiss Alps in the middle of the night, trying to drive from Italy to France.  There were almost no road signs, and the major road had a large tunnel that was permanently closed;  it had collapsed.  This he did not discover until he was 100 feet from the tunnel entrance.  He saw no one else travelling that night; somehow he managed to get to France. Like I said, he is an explorer of a very special sort.

As poor as our clues were, Rob took the situation in hand once he was there.  There were poteries producing garden pots the likes of which I had never seen, save in Cote Sud, the French magazine.  Once there were names and places put to the few pictures we had seen, he was ready to shop.  That he spoke not one word of French, he did fine.  Rob has a way of making friends first, and doing business later. 

Though the landscape and culture of France is very different than ours, the history of their gardens is very much part of the language of ours. Gardeners value that history.  A garden table of age and presence such as this one can organize an entire garden. If you are an afficianado of classical landscape, a table such as this would enchant your eye.   

There are many poteries in the south of France, each producing its pots with native clay, and distinctively regional designs.  Many of the poteries have been producing pots for hundreds of years.  Ancient gardens were very much about utility.  Olive trees and citrus were grown in pots, not to mention  herbs.  Olive jars were just that; containers for olive oil.  But the French have a way of endowing the every day business of living with great beauty and style.   

At this end of this first trip to France, Rob did manage to reach me by phone.  He was interested in a sculpture which had been exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1883.  The cast iron sculpture came with a stone pedestal that had been hand carved especially for the sculpture.  It was breathtaking in more than one way.  The purchase of this sculpture would take more than half of our entire budget.  When he told me that, I hung up on him.  Three days later he called back, did I wish to speak to the dealer about the provenance of the piece?  Needless to say, he persuaded me to buy the sculpture.  It took 3 years to find a buyer, but the three years it sat just inside the front door of the shop said everything about our point of view about the landscape.  It was a defining purchase in a lot of ways.  

Not everything he bought would be that costly, but shopping overseas, and shipping from Europe is complicated and expensive.  These French pots are handmade, not made by machine.  They had to be crated prior to shipping.  That became part of the price.  Lots of things enable Rob to shop more efficiently now.  Making beautiful things available to keen gardeners is a passion of Rob’s; visiting the shop makes that clear.  

I have no idea what Rob will speak for; this is what he does, and he does a beautiful job it. I have nothing to add to this, except my interest and support. I do not experience the shop how my clients do; I come here every day, and have done so for 15 years. I have worked with him for almost 20 years now.  But when he leaves on a European shopping trip, I look at what is already here with fresh appreciation, and great anticipation for what he will bring to the shop next.

Bon Voyage, Monsieur Rob

Rob flies to Paris today on the first leg of a three week shopping trip for Detroit Garden Works.  Having not shopped in France for a few years, he is very keen to make the trip; he has been planning it for weeks.  Once he made a list of the places he wished to visit,  Julie and Jenny pitched in, mapping and documenting his route in minute detail.  Incredibly minute detail, that is.  As detailed as his itinerary has been documented on paper, it will be but a broad guideline.  He will make his own way.  

Travelling overseas is enough to tax the patience of the most patient of people.  The mechanics of shopping overseas has become exasperatingly complicated.  Rob lets none of this get in his way.  He has a great passion for beautiful ornament for the garden-no matter the period or style.  He may be rooted in the American midwest, but he has an unerring gift and instinct for beauty wherever he may find it.  Whatever it takes to get his gift to our doorstep-we will oblige.  The shop is what it is, in large part due to Rob.

Detroit Garden Works has always had a strong representation in antique, vintage, and contemporary objects for gardens from a number of countries; this is by choice.  8 years ago he spent an entire trip shopping in Belgium, on the strength of his idea that their landscape and climate was very similar to ours.  He spent an equal amount of time talking to clients about that point of view.  He spent even more time educating me.  Years later,  no one needs educating.  Belgian design is influential in this country, and popularly respected in a number of ways.  He is a buyer with an eye that is consistently ahead of his time.  We will see what this trip to France brings. 

Western European gardens were incredibly influential in the design of American gardens.  He has an interest in representing that history.  He also has an interest in distinctly American gardens-those landscaped places that draw and build on that history, and go on to represent an entirely unique and singular point of view.  He may pass by untold numbers of objects before he commits.  The containers that will come from France later this year as a result of this trip will speak to his greatly edited committment. 

I have no worries whatsoever about him travelling overseas for weeks.  He has made many friends abroad, in the past fifteen years.  His friendships in Europe have endured, and helped him make other friends.  This pottery will custom make pots for him.  That broker will engineer a container from several places.  A old European dealer will send him to something somewhere off the map.  He will make new friends, find new places.  His hotel in Montmartre in Paris-an arrangement spanning fifteen years. He is in good hands, notwithstanding his own good hands.

The spring of 2012 at Detroit Garden Works will have a French flavor.  That buying trip to France will be integrated into all the other voices we hear.  My most favorite moment of the Detroit Garden Works year-breaking open the locks on our containers.  Who knows what will be.  That unknown collection yet to come from Rob-I am quite certain it will challenge and enchant me. 

Bon Voyage, Monsieur Rob.

Fencing For Privacy

I would say relatively few of my clients fence for privacy.  Most gardeners would choose plant material to screen untoward views. if they had the chance.  But very small urban properties-mine included-do not have the luxury of space.  This client designed and had built a fence which would afford him some privacy from neighbors very close by.  Painted that shade of disappearing green, it would screen the garden at the ground level from a neighboring house.  The lindens would provide screening in the airspace, an important consideration in neighborhoods with two story homes in close proximity.

Though the landscape has the appearance of a sunken garden, the lindens were actually planted in raised beds.  This did a great job of making the ground plane of the yard even more private. The trees create the illusion of a much bigger space than what actually exists.  Only the trunks occupy any space in the yard.  The tree tops are shared with the neighbors, creating more privacy for all.  A wood pergola with a gridded roof and gravel floor would provide space for seating and dining.   

10 years later, the lindens had grown considerably, and grown unchecked.  I will specify lindens for screening in a small yard, as they respond really well to pruning.  Left unpruned, they grow to enormous size.  The privacy fence appeared black in the increasing shade.  The hydrangeas were getting that leggy light starved look. A wisteria vine planted on the pergola had run rampant, and had almost completely covered the roof. 

Arborvitae that had been planted in the raised beds around the pergola; there was insufficient room for any more lindens.  The privacy they afforded from yet another neighboring house had further limited the available light under the pergola.  An update was in order, the first of which involved the fence.The arborvitae were removed altogether, in favor of a new fence.  Though these Belgian woven hazelwood panels provide a lot of privacy, light still comes through.  The wood for these panels is farmed using a method known as coppicing.  The shrubby trees are periodically cut back to the ground.  This hard pruning result in long straight branches, suitable for weaving into the panels  The coppice wood from which the fencing is constructed still has its bark.  This gives the fencing a much longer life.  Importing wood from another country that still has its bark is a laborious and expensive procedure.  Both US customs and the USDA have to be absolutely sure there are no pests hiding under that bark. The peeled cedar fence poles come from the upper peninsula of Michigan; 4 feet is set below ground to insure the fence will stay straight.

Venus dogwoods were planted in lieu of a large growing evergreen; their airy habit of growth will provide privacy without blocking so much light.  The wisteria got a much needed haircut and thinning.  The boxwood will will provide some green during the winter months, and will never grow so large as to obstruct a view of the fence.    

The lindens were given their first haircut.  Pruning trees that have never been pruned involves small steps over a period of time.  In a few years, they will read as a deciduous hedge above ground.  All of the other plant material in the yard will grow better, given the extra light. 

The original back yard fence found a new home in the front yard.  A neighboring white wood fence with a lattice border was not particularly appealing to my client, nor did it do any justice to the trunks of a hedgerow of Ivory Chalice magnolias. Along the driveway in front of the garage is a pass through-not a spot to linger.  The solid wood fence provides complete enclosure close to the ground.  The magnolias do the work up high.  

The dark solid wood fence handsomely compliments those tree trunks.  Most importantly, this fence clearly represents the aesthetic of sense of my client.  It is important to drive up to a landscape that pleases your eye.

The Garden Gate

Every landscaped space has an entrance.  That entrance may be physical, as in a path or stairs that lead the eye, and inspire the feet.  Some entrances are strictly visual.  A large open space without a visual cue about how to enter and where to go may seem muddled.    A landscaped space running the depth of a property might have screening, or fencing on the long side, but there should be clues about where to enter, and where to exit. Some gardens have a gate at the entrance.  Garden gates are beautiful, and functional. This gate spanning a driveway is one of a pair that when closed, says private.  When they are open, they say welcome.   

This decomposed granite walkway to the rear landscape is bisected by a pair of gates. The gate is a visual cue about a change of venue.  In the time it takes to open the gate, and pass through, a visitor has paused, and is ready to move on.  This gate does not particularly keep anyone or anything in or out.  It is a beautiful opportunity to rest both visually and physically, before going on.  

Some gates are part of a wall.  The brick wall enclosing this garden permits a visit to the rear of the landscape; take your pick, which gate you wish to open.  The pair of gates finishes each end of the long mirrored section of wall.  A landscape beyond is clearly visible above the wall; the gates are an invitation to visit that space.  The gates are wood, painted in a subtle color that does not detract in any way from the beauty of the walls.    

Vegetable gardens in my zone need to be fenced.  We have woodchucks, rabbits, and deer for starters.  The gate here-an exact replica of my client’s father’s vegetable garden in Italy.  A simple pine frame with a crossbar and an X covered in galvanized chicken wire seems completely appropriate to the feel and the function of the space.  The simple hand forged gate hardware-beautiful.  This garden gate is designed to make good on its promise to keep out furry trouble. 

Gating an arched space can be handled in a number of ways.  This gateway has a fixed panel of ornamental iron at the top.  The gates are tall rectangles that cleanly meet that pediment.  These gates separate the rear yard from the pool yard.  These gates are beautifully forged, yet easy to see through.  A gate left open is inviting.   

Some walls ask for a gate that is barely visible.  Why is this? This gate goes to a place not nearly so dramatic a place to be as this pool deck.  Some gates are about utility, and function.  Subtle gates make passage possible, without disturbing any of the visual experience of the space.     

This solid wood gate has the look of an interior door.  That solid surface screens the space beyond, and provides a beautiful backdrop for a small antique sundial. Once the arborvitae grow in, the tall chain link utility fence will no longer be visible.  The gravelled space in the foreground functions much like a foyer in a home. 

Some gates have a specific purpose.  This gate may not be gorgeous, but it is child proof.  Some gates are more about safety, than beauty.  Clients with small children need to restrict certain spaces-in this case, a swimming pool.  Once the children are old enough, the gate can be removed.  

My gates and fence keep kids out of my yard.  I have no objection to kids in my yard, but my fountain could be a hazard.  Both gates into the yard are kept locked. They also keep my corgis on the property, and out of the street.  The open ironwork preserves the view out, and the view in from the sidewalk; there is no need to block the view, just the passage.  These gates replicate a pair of iron panels outside the front porch.  They do a graceful  job of making a space both private and safe.