Designing: The Inviting Landscape

 
Our spring is taking her own sweet time turning on the lights and opening the door.  Was it not amazing to be outside in the 77 degree weather on Sunday without so much as a bud showing green on any woody plant?  A hoticultural twilight zone is what we have going on now.  That day, my tulips at home breached the surface of the ground, and went on to grow up 4 inches.  They are ready to get going-just like every gardener I know.  If you have issues with your landscape, I am sure you are wringing your hands over which way to go.  What lane will you choose?   

The very first order of business is to think long and hard about what you want your landscape to do for you.  There are lots of choices.  It could provide refuge from a frenetic world or a stressful job.    It could provide an environment for your kids to play.  It could be a laboratory for your tinkering; growing this plant from seed or nurturing that 3″ hellebore seedling can be incredibly rewarding.  Teaching your kids how to grow beans and potatoes-this has to be equally rewarding.  It could provide your family with home grown food. It could satisfy your longing for roses, or your lust for geometry. It could enclose you, provoke you, challenge you, amuse you, or knock you over.  How do you know what you want, and what you need?  Make a list, and edit.  Throw out all the 3 rated wants, and focus on the 8, 9, and 10 rated wants. This essay intends to address only one want-an inviting landscape.  The soft, fluid, and colorful landscape pictured above-inviting.  

Landscapes that invite provide places to be, and places to sit.  Places to linger, places to talk.  Engaging places.  Inviting landscapes accomodate company.  Though this picture says much about structure-a table, a bench, the geometry implied in a series of espaliers in lead pots, what engages the eye the most are the flowers.  Flowers soften structures in friendly way. 

Pots at the back door say first up-here is the door.  Secondly, they say hello, and welcome.  This landscape without the pots would be fairly austere.  Though glass permits a view through, glass in the landscape is not transparent-it reads black from outside.  Should you wish your landscape to invite, soften the appearance of that black glass as best you can.    

A walkway asks for a landscape of interest on both sides.  Avoid a walk with a garden on one side, and lawn on the other.  This makes a walk a border, rather than an experience. Lawn has its place.  Lawn that is utilitarian, and has a beautiful shape is as muich a part of the landscape as the trees.  Treat your guests to a garden tour before they get to the door.   A welcoming landscape encourages guests to arrive at the front door, smiling. 

Terraces are a hard surface of a certain dimension  laid on the ground plane.  They make for a surface that is navigable.  Though stone, brick and gravel are hard surfaces, they are natural surfaces.  They make it easy for groups to congregate.  Your son’s softball team and all of the attending parents, a fundraiser attracting lots of guests, a neighborhood group coming for lunch, a graduation party with friends and family-a terrace gives every guest a firm footing.  Beyond that, a terrace can be landscaped such that people feel welcome.  When I sit down on a terrace, I want plants at eye level.  This makes me feel comfortable, and welcome. 

Some very contemporary landscapes make much of what I would call an immature and shallow call to the idea of alienation.   As if alienation were a goal a gardener should seek. Nature portrayed as alienated-oh please. Nature is involved up close in the lives of all of us.  Great geometry-I am on board with this idea.  Want to make your modern  landscape inviting-introduce a plant element that waves in the breeze.  Great modern landscapes can be as inviting as any cottage garden-just different. Clean, clear, and in motion; this modern terrace is inviting.   

This established landscape is all about providing a comfortable place for friends and family to congregate.       


This new landscape is just about ready for those softening elements that will make this space inviting.

Sunday Opinion: Making An Overture

I know, this Sunday Opinion post is better than 24 hours late-sorry!  My weekend was packed with the best sort of thing- lots of company. That would be people, convening, over the garden.  Our first spring event ever at the shop, in celebration of our 15th anniversary, was a success.  What makes me think this?  We had lots and lots of people come-maybe more people that had ever been in the shop before-all at one time. There wasn’t a parking space for blocks.  Old friends yes, but many new people as well.  We made an invitation, and people came. All the gardeners who came-this made for the best part of the weekend. My friends in the nursery business who brought plants to sell-Bogie Lake Greenhouse, Julie’s Floral, Bordine’s Nursery, and Wiegands Nursery-it was great to have the chance to go public with those relationships so important to me and my business.

Everyone with whom I spoke to especially liked that other garden businesses were welcome and represented at my place.  Why would I leave them out?  Gardeners are willing to drive great distances for great plants.  Gardeners shop everywhere they can.  They know what is out there.  They know who does what well.  This place has swell dwarf conifers, and this place grows stellar geraniums, and this place specializes in water plants, and that place grows great fruit trees, and yet another place specializes in rare perennials or wildflowers. Want a tree-go here.  Should you want to see an important collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, go here.  Other garden businesses are not my enemy, they are my community.

Detroit Garden Works specializes in certain things.  We go to great length to represent fine ornament for garden.  We stock container plants that we love.  We stock plant material for the garden and landscape of size and age.  We are by no means a full service nursery-we specialize in the process of how a garden and landscape gets put together; we specialize in design.  We are good at that service that I call coaching. We do not grow-we buy what is well grown.  You were invited to meet those growers and landscape professionals I treasure. Great landscape professionals-you came to check out my choices.  It made for a great weekend. Many many thanks.

I intended to make that point about community at our spring fair-not one person missed that.  A business has that opportunity-to speak up about what they believe in; I took it.  To that end, a great garden takes a lot of work.  A great garden asks for some shopping around-and a lot of travel.  Should you be interested in doing that great thing on your own, shop at the farmer’s market before I get there.  Go lots of places, trust your eye.  Figure out what matters to you.  Read my essays-I am open about how I design, what I look at, what influences me, where I go-what stymies me. I have not one secret up my sleeve.  I only have my point of view. I promise to never make you work too hard to find out what my point of view is.  Take it, or leave it-no harm, no foul.  Absorb what you have a mind to, and move on.  I might help you-your choice.  It is your garden to own. We are all in this gardening thing together-are we not? Should you catch me in the shop, I am happy to tell you that point of view, face to face, as best I can. 

 A person interested in design on a more comprehensive basis-I do that too.  I can take a new house just finished sitting on a mound of dirt to another level.  Whatever problem I might see that I cannot handle, there is someone in my community I can direct you to.  My idea is about better landscapes.  Gorgeous gardens.  Better communities.   I want to be a part of that.  We are not the be all or end all-we are part of a group that helps people to have a landscape or garden or both-better than they thought they could have it. 

I am keenly interested in landscape and garden design.  However that happens, whether I am involved or not-enchants me.  Great landscapes are much more about thoughtful and enduring relationships than they are about lindens, or classical Italian terra pots.  About saying hello, and happy to meet you.  And then, about listening.  Later-planning.  Later yet, about older and solid relationships.  The lesson of the spring fair?  Any relationship is all about making an overture.  My design clients-I need to be sure I am inviting them to share in that process.  I need to be available.  In the shop-we need to be sure to issue regular invitations.  If you are a gardener, we intend to scoop you up, and invite you over.

I could not be more pleased about the response to my invitation to stop by and celebrate.  Thanks so very much.

At A Glance: The Saturday Fair


What a blast!  We had plenty of evidence today that our garden community is strong.  We had hundreds of visitors-wow!  Thanks to each and every one of you who came out today. A special thanks to you Kathe.  I am very pleased to have had the chance to meet you face to face. Today-a perfect moment.

The Spring Garden Fair

Our very first spring garden fair, in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Detroit Garden Works, is this weekend.  I do feel a little sheepish, making such a fuss about having become a teenager.  But the optimism that comes naturally to a gardener is a pretty big umbrella.  As much as I expect that the brown bulbs I planted last fall will eventually produce plants with gorgeous flowers, I expect to keep on providing the gardening community with a place that respects their interest. I am pleased with our teenage history.  We hung lime green dancing stars in the lindens today-recycled from a fundraiser we did for the Children’s Center in Detroit some years ago.  The mission of the Children’s Center is to help educate kids, and encourage them to work hard and do well.  Their efforts are aimed at helping kids to be properly equipped to have productive lives that make a contribution to their community.  This optimism I like.     I spent the day attending to all the last minute details.  Of course we have a few cut flower arrangements.  After all, this is a party. 

Most of my pots of bulbs planted last fall are still green; the spring has been very slow in coming.  But outside, there are signs of life.  My crocus patches at home are beautiful right now.  The weekend promises warm weather-the first we have had in many months. No gardener will fault me for my green foliaged bulb pots-they understand that nature is a big fluid situation. They will come back for the show-that date is yet to be announced.  

I will admit that many of the spring containers I planted up for this event have been in a greenhouse for some time.  Spring in Michigan can be so variable.  Last year, the spring was early, and moderate.  It might have been the most beautiful spring that has ever been my pleasure to witness.  This spring-where is it?  I think it might be arriving tomorrow. We have a great weather forecast for the weekend. 

I have planted lots of containers at the shop, and all of the window boxes- just for spring.  Though our spring has the potential to last only days, I prefer to focus on the potential part.  The only days part-I refuse to be bullied.   


I am not willing to give up planting pansies and violas over a worry about how many days they might last.  I am optimistic that everyone will benefit from a big dose of spring-I know I do.  What nature delivers to its winter weary population is welcome at my place.

Lettuce in flats-the promise of the good that is to come. Should you read this blog regularly, you know I plant lettuce in pots as it is beautiful.  I am not much of a vegetable gardener.  But I do eat lettuce most every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to make a salad, he’ll fix me a mess of greens, and dress them. Like most gardeners,  I need the greens.   


Vernissage is a French word referring most usually to the opening of an art exhibit.  It was the title of my first blog post April 1 of 2009.  Spring-it is the opening of an art exhibit that will go on and enchant for the next 7 months.  I hope to see you at the opening.  Should you live far away-we still have a community.  I will keep you posted.  I hope to hear from you.  Gardeners everywhere are about to celebrate spring.  Come round, should you have the chance.