Looking To Spring

I will be meeting with my grower January 20 about what he will grow for our 2011 season.  He grows lots of plants specifically for my work, but we carry them in the shop as well.  Detroit Garden Works is by no means an full service independent garden center.  We feature unusual and specimen plants.  Plants to loose your head over.  Plants with stature.  Plants I fancy.  As in a robust shrub of a 2 gallon size rosemary.  Plants that I find are worth all the work it takes to grow them.  Or plants that I cannot take my eyes off-as in this orange canna.  I did not design and plant this container-I only furnished the pots.  But this canna with a bloom that reminds me much of a clivia-I am so hoping we will have it available this coming season.   

I have a lot of opportunities to test plants, as I plant lots of them.  I plant them for committed gardeners, and the not so committed.  I am sure you could guess this collection of containers has a gardener at the helm.  We have wintered her red spikes for years.  She did not skip a beat when I planted a tibouchina, with the promise the leaves would be great until the flowers came late.  Her fuchsia standards are always healthy.  She can grow white begonias like a pro.   

This pot I planted for a brand new gardener. I coached, she handled it all with aplomb.  No tibouchina for her-not yet.  Petunias, trailing verbena, and bicolor angelonia are pretty easy to grow.  Providing you deadhead the verbena, and water when you need to, an annual container like this can provide lots of pleasure the summer long.  I like for new gardeners to be successful.  This means they will come back for more.  They will be encouraged to try new things, expand.  I do believe gardening is good for people.  It is good for me to think that people I have coached will garden after me.  This makes me willing to test and try new plants.  A fabulous pot gets to be really fabulous when it is home to something beautifully grown.   

This tapered acid washed steel pot is of my design and manufacture. So much work came before the moment that I photographed this planting.  I like that none of that shows.  A great pot holds a generous volume of soil, and provides an elegant forum for a visual discussion.         

This past season I bought 3 flats of double white petunias at market.  That whim of a decision rewarded me all season long.  Double white petunias are leggy and ungainly.  Planted in concert with euphorbia Diamond Frost-as I have done here-a lucky move. This euphorbia is by no means the star of any show-I learned that. But it does a great job as best supporting annual plant. In this case, those petunia legs are covered in a frothy white petticoat.  My advice-always plant it with a friend.  It will soften, energize, and provide airy company for a friend. 

Potunias-have you heard of them?  Petunias that thrive in pots-potunias.  I tested lots of them this past season.  I like what I see.  They are vigorous, easy to grow, and delightful.  Should you have small pots, consider potunias. Lots of plants simply grow too big for smaller pots.  This plant was happy in a small container all season long.  The trailing geranium-an old standby that blooms prolifically and reliably from start to finish.

This client has no land, but does have a second story terrace.  This giant steel box was home to a mix of flowers, including a morning glory, as well as a pair of cherry tomatoes, and some basil.  A steel trellis on the wall supported all of the vining plants. The box is 4 feet long, and 18 inches deep-big enough to grow lots of plants. 

The Lanai trailing verbena series is a favorite of mine.  This Lavender Star is a healthy grower and great performer. This is another small container that did well all season.  The chartreuse marjoram is one of my favorite green plants.  It is a compact grower, the color of which enlivens almost any other color combination. 

The first plants I ever grew from seeds were zinnias and beans.  The seeds are big enough to handle easily, and they germinate so fast in warm soil. My Mom’s scheme to turn me into a successful gardener-big seeds.  As the mature zinnias can easily fall prey to mildew, I plant them in large pots so they can spread out.  And I keep the pots as dry as possible.  When watering, I put the hose on top of the soil-I never get water on the plants themselves.  When the summer is relatively rain-free, good culture can help stave off mildew until late in the season.   


Yes indeed I miss my flowers. My grow meeting on the 20th, the first step towards spring.

Sunday Opinion: $400.00

In 2007, John Maloof, a young Chicago street photographer/ real estate agent in the process of writing a book about Chicago, went to an auction of objects repossessed from a storage locker whose rental had gone long unpaid.  Among the items, a large plastic bin filled with black and white negatives.  A cursory inspection revealed some images he thought were from Chicago; he thought perhaps some of the images might be useful for his book.  A bin full of celluloid objet trouve-he paid 400.00. Since that day, he has learned the images were taken by a Chicago photographer who made her living as a nanny between 1950, and the 1990′s.  He has since collected other bins, suitcases with clothes, and cameras.  Vivian Maier was a street photographer whose prodigious body of work might have passed into oblivion, but for Mr. Maloof.  Though only a small portion of her work has been scanned and viewed by Mr. Maloof, and the noted art photography historians he has consulted, there is talk in the air that Vivian Maier may be one of the mid twentieth century’s most brilliant street photographers.  The entire story?  Go to www.wimp.com.  Watch the video: January 7: Vivian Maier, Street Photographer and Nanny.

I like everything about this story.  Vivian Maier, a nanny for familes on the north shore of Chicago, was a very private woman, off duty.  On her days off, she would leave, dressed for the weather, camera in tow.  Her destination, her thoughts, her work-entirely unknown.  Mr. Maloof was so taken with the images he saw, he bought more plastic bins, suitcases-whatever he could find relating to her.  Her hats.  Her cameras.  It took lots of time for him to to even discover her name.  One employer was forthcoming about her tenure with their family-as much as they knew. There is no doubt he has become obsessed with his objet trouve.  But his treasure has become his responsibility.  There are 100,000 negatives.  He worries about how long it will take to scan them all.  He has made a considerable effort to recreate a life, and a body of work, from so many strips of film.  A 400.00 plastic bin full of negatives has shaken him up but good.

Mr. Maloof (I am spelling his name only having watched the video) might stand to profit handsomely, should the work of Vivian Maier stand and deliver, as well he should.  But for him, her work might have been put out like so much garbage.  I am not much interested in this part.  I am really interested in what I saw on his face.  What he saw in her photographs moved him.  Beyond this, I believe his passion and committment for what he never saw coming is extraordinary.  Face to face with an objet trouve of this caliber, I would only hope I would have the courage, committment and foresight to respond fiercely and seriously-as he has done.

An objet trouve does not come with directions. The video clearly expresses his worry, and angst in this regard. The chance relationship between a maker and a finder can create some high voltage.  That moment when I consider a serviceable wood box that might move on and become a container, that incredible bracket fungus that organizes a sculpture, that tree whose trunk inspires a design for a garden, the raindrops that make me hang glass drops from a tree-powerful stuff.

The work I have seen of of Vivian Maier-astonishing, and compelling.  Many of the images I have seen are portraits.  People on the street.  People in cars.  People in transit.  People in motion. People in flux.  People whose eyes meet mine. People of all ages. I plan to go to Chicago this winter to see that exhibition of her work. 

Her work is making me think so much about portraits.  The work she left behind is creating a portrait of Mr. Maloof; he seems forever changed by them. My garden has no doubt changed me, as much as I have changed it.  It is a portrait, of a sort.  Gardens have much to say about the gardener- their interests, hopes, and dreams.  What few photographs of Vivian Maier I have seen-so beautiful.

Update:  Many thanks to www.fourdogfigfarm.blogspot.com for letting me know Mr. Maloof has a website devoted to his project: www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com.

At A Glance: Found Containers For The Garden

foundry vat


wood box


stainless steel chocolate processing vat


fiber pot liner

industrial parts bin


coir lined vintage vegetable crate

vintage French wine vat


galvanized water trough

industrial storage drums

vintage zinc bath tub


iron cauldrons

The Shell Tower

My collection of wood fragments, stones, mosses and bugs pale in visual comparison to my shells.  They are objet trouve of a special sort.  I am not a shell scholar; I am a shell finder. My first trip to Lake Michigan, my first trip to Atlantic ocean, a visit to Cape Hatteras-I have some shells that I collected.  I have 8 of these particular shells-they found me. Meaning, I wrote a check.  I had to look up the name-Cypraea aurantium.  I do not know what waters call it a native, but there is certainly nothing like it in the Great Lakes.  I know nothing of its habit, or habitat.  But I do know they are incredibly beautiful objects.  This photograph does not begin to do the shape, the surface, the color, or the texture any justice. It might be the most fabulous outfit for a living organism that I have ever seen.  I have had them in a bowl in my drafting studio for years.  To hold them in my hand, turn them over, and imagine the life they once protected-an experience of the miracle that is nature.   

I have a big love for the miracle that is nature.  I have a room-a repurposed back porch- devoted to my objet trouve.  My beaver skulls-to look at those teeth, I have no problem imagining them felling trees for their dams.  Bugs, butterflies and rocks.  Old letters.  Sculptures, prints and plates of birds, fish, and flowers.  I call this room the reliquary-a place for various relics.  A friend gave me her Mom’s collection of Susan B Anthony dollars-a sign of the importance of our friendship.  Painted plaster saints.  Quirky sculptures made in grade school, a hydrangea ball from Espace Buffon in Paris.  It is a collection of objects of interest, beauty, or meaning.  Souvenirs, if you will.   


The shell grottoes in Italy and England-how I envy those gardeners their shelled fountains and follies. Would I ever get there to see them in person?  My climate would not permit any such expression of my own outdoors.  This room was looking like a home for the shells, but it was already stuffed with this and that. I went up. I had Don Taylor take the ceiling out, and build me a six foot square tower some 14 feet off the floor-in exterior grade plywood.  Each side of the tower had a half round window-I wanted the tower to be flooded with light.  My shell collection was no doubt inadequate for the job.  I went shopping.   


How does one design a shelled tower?  I didn’t.  I decided arbitrarily that all of the shells would be peach, orange, and white-and any combination thereof.  I bought lots of everything, as I had no idea how I would proceed once I was face to face with the project.  I loved this approach.  I cannot treat a landscape project like this.  I was completely at ease that it would just evolve.  My shopping for shells taught me much about rarity.  Rare shells, like my cypraea, are priced by the shell.  Abundant shells are priced by the hundreds, or in the case of small shells, by the gallon.  This Irish Flat pictured above-the bounty of the sea.  They are large, and inexpensive.  I bought lots. 

The ceiling scared me.  I rented scaffolding; I needed an 8 foot ladder just to get to the scaffolding surface.  The thought of climbing another tall ladder based on the scaffolding, and gluing shells in a pattern up over head-whoa.  Who knows where I got the idea to glass the ceiling.  But one material and one material only up there seemed like a good idea.  Beach glass-that adjunct to shelling-perfect.  Perfect, but not that easy.  Where does one get lots of tumbled recycled bottle glass?  I did not have enough time left in my life to collect it.  I found it; an objet trouve available in quantity.  25 pound boxes, sent from California.  The cost of the glass-next to nothing.  The shipping-astonishing.  I was even more scared now-which felt good.  I spent the better part of a half day all winter long, the music blasting, on a ladder.  750 pounds of beach glass went on that ceiling to start.  I glued multiple layers of glass.  I wanted the tower to look rounded-not flat-sided.   I had help with the adhesive part.  Ceramic tile mastic-I liberally buttered each piece of glass with it, and pressed up.  It took no time to stick, but a week to cure. I would glue as much as I could stand to before my fear of the height would overtake me.  Not one piece of glass has ever come loose. 

I planned ahead a little bit-electricity which would power a light fixture was in place before I started with the ceiling.  Once the glass was on the ceiling-now what?  I took my cue from the shape of the windows.  I cannot explain the design any other way.  I made one move, on all fours sides, and regrouped.  These pictures do not show the put up and rip down days. It was my winter; I had time to make mistakes or changes, and start over.    

Out the tower window to the west-my chimney.  Around the window, I glued an embarrassment of riches in egg cowries. Then I shelled the wood molding that came with the window.  Then a window molding fashioned of a double row of Irish flats.  Each shell I sorted by size.  No one would notice a gap from the floor, but I was on the scaffolding ladder, face to face with the chimney. The design had everything to do with the view from the floor-I am sure I went up and down that pair of ladders plenty.  The tower itself was built amazingly true and square, but shells of a given species vary considerably in shape and size.  A lot of tinkering went on.     

None of the shells I used were rare.  The smallest of the shells-the white calpurnus that I glued up by the hundreds-are barely an inch long. Each and every one of the other species of shells has a distinctive shape, pattern, and color I like. Better yet, I have my own folly.  

This project took a little over 2 months of my winter.  The good part- I cannot remember one thing about the weather, the snow, the cold or the gray that year.