At A Glance: Driving North

Lush Life in Atlanta

south of Berea, Kentucky

south of Cincinnati

heading into Cincinnati storm

Dayton, Ohio

icy Chevy

An average tire goes 6.28 feet per revolution.  Detroit to Atlanta and back, 1500 miles.  My tires-1,261,146.40 glued-to-the-road revolutions this trip. 

My Chevy is heavy. It features 4 wheel drive and traction control via computer.  Add that to a rocking set of tires, state of the art windshield wipers, and the orange windshield wiper fluid that Fred made me buy, I had a safe trip back in bad winter weather.  


Can you not see it written on their faces?  Just where exactly have you been the past eight days??  We are all ears.

Beyond The Holiday


I had casually suggested to a client in December that her need for a pair of topiaries that would fit in a small and tall l-shaped space between a doorway and a bookcase might be easily handled with magnolia. I could imagine that a topiary some 6 feet tall, and very thin would gracefully, but noticeably fill the spot. The Magnolia Company was glad to oblige; they sent me a case of branches. The first order of business-remove all of the leaves from the branches, and grade them by size.  Petite, small, medium and large.    

There are leaves in this world that do all sorts of good, beyond their life in a garden, or on the dinner table.  Eucalyptus comes immediately to mind, as does integrifolia. They do the heavy work of bringing a sense of the garden indoors in spaces or places that cannot support living plants.  Give me a topiary from dried or preserved leaves-never ever buy me a house plant.  I like to look in the winter, not look after. Once I cut the stem from a magnolia leaf, I can shape it, and glue it to a form.  Should I be graceful with my cutting, you would never spot that I had changed its shape.  As this client favors very formal and precise shapes, the core of these topiaries would be a stout bamboo pole.   

The petite leaves formed the top.  Most of the lower portion of the leaves were cut away.  Succeeding leaves were spread with hot melt glue, and applied in overlapping rounds.  This is a little hard to explain with words. but I glue some leaves flat-others I scrunch the bottom, as if I were ruching, or smocking them. This curves the leaves from side to side. The brown bruises you see in this picture-the heat from the glue.  These heat marks need to be covered by the next round of leaves. This initial glueing I did on the bench, but every so often I would stand the pole up.  The construction of any ornament so depends on the view.  Leaves at eye level read entirely differently than leaves overhead.   

My work bench is at a height convenient for me to work on a project at eye level. I may move sculptures such as these to the floor, or onto a stool, depending on what I need to see clearly.  My client’s antique iron pots had no trouble handling the weight of the pole, and the leaves.  This picture catches the sculptures at a juvenile, and therefore awkward time.  Magnolia leaves move, curl, and twist as they dry.  Only the bottom of the leaf is secured with glue.  The natural drying process I cannot exactly predict-that is a big fluid situation.   


Three days later, these magnolia columns are evening out.  Why is this?  The leaves are moving and changing shape as they dry. I did my best to plan for this phase.  Predicting the curl and the fan out-very difficult.  I do the best I can, given my experience with these leaves. The construction of these topiaries is not unlike the construction of a landscape.  Any move you make needs to take into account growing, and maturation.  There is no substitute in landscape design for a vision of what the future might bring.  A showroom in Atlanta carries faux magnolia leaves by the box. I could not bring myself to buy them, even though they would never crack or break.  The natural magnolia leaves in their dry state have a grace and beauty that makes taking care of them worth the trouble.   

The leaves are easily manipulated when fresh; the dry leaves have a mind of their own.  This topiary was constructed initially with fresh leaves, and then infilled with completely dry ones.  This makes it easy to control the finished overall shape.       

The stalk of this topiary, a wood stick covered with moss.  The stick is straight and stable, and sharpened at the top. 


Dark green reindeer moss is glued over the dry foam form that fills the pots.  Preserved with glycerine, it will retain its color and shape indefinitely. A pair of magnolia garlands left over from the holidays made three topiaries for the shop. All that’s needed now-the finishing touchup on those leaves.

Eva Gordon

I am just back from a week’s buying trip for the shop and the landscape company that took me to Georgia and Tennessee.  I shop in Atlanta first and foremost for holiday 2011.  What better time?  The holiday and winter work is fresh in my mind.  My holiday season goes way well into January-I am not complaining.  I rather like it.  Whatever work I do usually has a sidecar attached.  What could be different?  What could be better?  Where do we go now?   Shopping the Atlanta Mart for holiday is not for the faint of heart.  Three buildings in the heart of downtown Atlanta, each in excess of 20 stories, is home to manufacturers of every description.  Holiday.  Gift.  Garden.  Museum.  Children.  This list is long.  Atlanta hosts business owners from all over the country; this is the Mart’s main event of the year.  The showrooms are packed.  It takes every bit of 5 days to see everything, put an idea for a collection together, and place orders.  This usually means 5 days that start at 8am and are still going on at 8pm.  Some showrooms are permanent, but open only on specific days or specific shows.  Some showrooms are temporary; Eva Gordon shows on the temp floors.     

Eva is a Canadian ceramicist; I would guess she is in her mid seventies now.  She comes to Atlanta every January.  Though her work is well known, she comes to Atlanta herself.  She wants to talk to people like me, who own shops, about her work.   I greatly admire her work-I admire her more for this.  The Atlanta Mart is a forum, a place to show, for no end of talented people who have the idea to convince people like me that their work deserves attention. The Mart is much about people meeting over beautiful work.      

This is a shopping trip of a different sort.  It could not be more different than my Monday afternoon Christmas trip to a store in town to browse and buy a gift for a friend, or for Tine.  This is a working shopping trip.   The Atlanta show-any hundreds of showrooms, each and every one stuffed with objects that I may or may not have a love for-this is work to focus, and really see what is there. The work is to make a plan, sort out what you like, and buy. What am I thinking will drive the 2011 holiday season, and what else is out there that will make my idea clear?  I may visit the better part of the showrooms we like spread out over 60 floors 2 or 3 times.  I walk until I cannot take one more step.  Part of the fun of this shopping trip-I am not alone.  Atlanta is alive with shop owners from all over the country- much like me.  I meet some of them at Eva Gordon’s booth.  All of us like her work.   

Atlanta in January is my idea of a working vacation in a warm climate-but for this year.  They were slammed with 7 inches of unexpected snow, and incredibly low temperatures just before I got on the road.  Ice, and more ice.  This city has no store of salt for bad weather, nor do they have a plan for bad weather.  No plows.  I delayed my trip there for two days, hoping  they would sort it all out.  The downtown area looked a little like the beach-tons of sand had been spread over the ice.  The Atlanta police direct traffic at the intersection of the 3 buildings all day and every day- so everyone can cross safely.       


The winter beach streets amused me-I am from a northern climate that handles wintry weather routinely. Meaning, we melt the snow.  As there is no postponing the show, Atlanta did what they could to welcome their guests.  It is a lively, energetic and friendly city.  Who knows how Eva Gordon got here, but I am happy she did.        


Any fruit or vegetable, any garden idea, any holiday reference to the garden-no matter the medium-I am in Atlanta searching.  I searched for the better part of 5 days.  Did I mention that Eva Gordon’s plates make my heart pound?  My pictures are from a wall in my kitchen; I think they look great.

On The Road

This week I am traveling-shopping for Detroit Garden Works for 2011. First up, the holiday season.  Who knows what I was thinking.  Accessing my blog from the road has proved to be beyond my grasp.  I have not fallen off the planet, just the techno planet.  Perhaps some help will come within the next few days, but should it not, I promise to be back to writing regularly within the week.   I am in Atlanta at this moment-dealing with the last of their spectacularly rare snow and ice storm.  All of the streets are so coated with sand, I feel like I am at the beach.  It was 50 degrees today-balmy, compared to Michigan.  The shopping-a busman’s holiday.  All the news, coming soon.