Sunday Opinion: So Fun To Feel Free

I do not mind the 1.2 mile trip from my house to work.  I can stand just about  anything for 1.2 miles.  Right now, my neighborhood streets are a series of frozen tire tracks-for 5 blocks my ride to work is slippery slick and very bumpy.  Those neighbors with their cars parked on the street-they are tempting fate.  I can handle the rain, the sleet, the ice, the snowstorms-just about anything, for 1.2 miles.  You may gather from this that I am not a happy traveller; you are so right. Any trip over 1.2 miles is an ordeal. I dislike planes, airports, buses, taxis, metro cars, rest stops, gas station restrooms, giant trucks bearing down on me-traffic jams.  I really prefer to walk.  One hour into a road trip I am ready to ditch that road.  I can barely tolerate a sunny dry day driving on an interstate, much less a dark, rainy, snowy, icy or windy day. 

Travelling this past week was so much different than 40 years ago.  The weather reports then were completely unreliable.  The roads were poorly marked.  A winter storm meant treacherous conditions for days. Salted roads-maybe.  If you were lucky. My first car-a Dodge Aspen circa 1971- was in no way equipped to handle winter weather challenged roads, but nonetheless I drove long distances in the winter.  I still remember harrowing trips from North Carolina to Detroit for Christmas.  No matter what route I took, I would arrive with every muscle aching, and shaken. I disliked the Christmas holiday, as it meant I would have to endure an arduous trip home.  Be advised, I took trips to the upper peninsula of Michigan before 1-75, and the Mackinac Bridge were built.  OK, I did not cross America in a covered wagon, but I grew up thinking travel was barely the next best thing after having a root canal.  My trips were an experience at the mercy of nature I have never really forgotten. 

My experience with sharing the road with truckers has not much changed in 40 years.  I realize they see to delivering no end of goods all over this country. They transport fruit and vegetables, vehicles, livestock, sweaters and shoes, tools-Rob did go on about this the minute I got grumpy about it on our way north.  They rule the interstates.  Back then, as now, they drive fast and fearlessly.  Why shouldn’t they?  They have gobs of tires in contact with the road, and they are eminently weighty.  No weather daunts them. They gun it, at every and any opportunity.  They drench my car with whatever weather they plow through.  They slow to a crawl on mountain roads going up, and bear down like a freight train on mountain roads going down.  Unnerving, this.  My only near death experience coming back from Atlanta-a truck passing me on a curve on an icy and snowy I-75 in Cincinnati drifted over into my lane.  The back of his truck came inches from slamming into me. I could see his blue back end looming close in my preipheral vision. I had no where to go, as I was driving under an overpass. I probably could have breaked hard-but my driver’s instinct tells me never to brake hard on ice. Physics and dumb luck prevented a collision.  Though Rob is unlikely to get overwrought under any circumstances, he noticed.  It was 15 miles before my heart rate slid back to normal.

In retrospect, I could have saved myself some trouble.  My Chevy Suburban is a pretty amazing vehicle.  As I intimated yesterday, it is heavy.  4 wheel drive and stabilo-track keeps those wheels on the ground in bad weather.  My knowledge of trucks-how they are designed, and how they work, is just about nothing.  I know stop, go, turn, back up and park.  But this does not even begin to tell the story.  I took the Chevy bus to my dealer for a checkup before the trip.  Most of the work they did had to do with making sure all the computer and electrical systems were working.  Driving to work the morning of the trip-I get a warning light.  The check engine light.  Don’t ask me what this means; I just waited 3 hours, and paid the bill.  Subsequently, Stan told me that my 2004 Suburban was in perfect running order, and would get me anywhere I wanted to go-safely.  This helped to make me feel better, confident. Little did I know.  Though I was driving through a snow/ice weather mix, my slowest speed was 50-55mph through Cincinnati.  I made most of the trip at close to the speed limit. Like a trowel or a spade or drafting tools and a camera, or a front end loader, my Chevy is a tool that enables me to work.  Let me go on-a 2004 Chevy Suburban is a sophisticated tool.   

All of this said, this travelling away from home was a relatively relaxing one.  It was clear I was not sliding around one bit-I finally let the Chevy do what it was designed to do.  I will confess I did strategize somewhat about the truck gluts-it gave me something to do, other than steer.  Rob is a Garmin enthusiast-it made his England trip in September so easy.  I was impressed how we were routed around a “severe traffic problem” and sent on our way in Cincinnati on the south leg of the trip.  My gardening life is so very different than it was years ago.  No small part of that has to do with the new tools I have at my disposal.  Both Helen at Toronto Gardens and Margaret at A Way to Garden were talking recently about amaryllis I am not familiar with.  Google images-wow.  My window on the gardening world is a big one, should I choose to look out.  All of a sudden, I am enchanted by amaryllis in a new way.   

Though I do not get out so much, this week out was a very good one.  I thoroughly enjoyed where I went, and what I saw.  You’ll see-come the 2011 spring.  And after that, the 2011 holiday and winter.  This trip was the first I have made in a good many years that involved stormy weather.  Though I had big worries in advance, generated from the past, my travel was remarkably easy.  Not at all like it once was.  So fun- to feel free from worry.  Worry takes a lot of time away from more interesting things.  Thank you, General Motors.  My Suburban has 75,000 miles on it.  We are probably much the same age.  The both of us-glued to the road.

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.