At A Glance: Almost Ready For Spring

New Faces

 What’s new-we are on the verge of a change of seasons.  Is that new?  No, not really.  The change of the seasons, the full moon, the length of the days, the natural changing of the guard – not new, cyclical. My crocus are poking out of the ground right now like they do every year at this time.  It is their time to emerge, no matter the weather.  It could be a good year, or a wash for the crocus. Right now, I am watching a blizzard bury those buds out the window; I hope they survive the insult.  The forecast for tonight-a shudderingly chilly 11 degrees.  However there’s plenty going on inside that is new. Though I have had this Italian terra cotta frog for 15 years, he looks new, having had a much needed soak and scrub down.  

Though I can appreciate abstract sculpture in the landscape, figures and faces appeal to me more. Putti, cherubs and angels have a long history of representation in the garden.  Though I have always thought cherubs and angels had a religious connotation, the putti are usually mischievious and romantic figures. This antique limestone sculpture of putti is charmingly typical. The embrace is all the more charming for a garland of flowers.   Putti were a very popular subject matter in Italian art, especially during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Garden sculpture in the Italian style can be found in many western European countries.  My collection of terra cotta pots-classical Italian in style and make. This sculpture greatly predates the cast limestone works of contemporary ornament makers, such as Haddenstone, or Chilstone, who produce their version of these kissing putti.  

Should kissing putti not be your idea of a great subject for a garden sculpture, we have the companion piece.  These putti appear to be having a serious disagreement about something.  With representational sculpture, there is a story being told-a narrative.  The one is so enraged with the other, he is tugging at his own face.  One cannot help but smile at the level of frustration depicted here.  Both of these sculptures have been reproduced many times by different companies. The age of these sculptures imparts a patina to the surface which is as important as the subject matter.      

The face on this antique English garden sculpture is quietly and typically English in character.  The young boy is holding a rabbit.  Not seen in this picture-he is wearing nothing but a cape!  I am sure there is a story here; the English garden antiques dealer from whom he came called him “Rabbit Boy”; no other information was forthcoming.  His expression is serene; he will be easy to place in a special spot in a garden. 

This carved concrete dog is old enough to have acquired a great patina.  The dog has that stoic serious look that I love so much about my corgi Howard.  There are those dogs that have jobs, and take their job to heart like this retriever-and then there are clown dogs like my Milo.   

More than likely, this is an antique architectural casting that might have been a medallion on a wall or pillar.  I am guessing here.  The origin of this cherubic face-I have no idea. Lots of garden and architectural ornament was produced with no stamp or identifying marks.  We can often date an iron piece based on the level of corrosion, the composition or appearance of the paint, or lichens growing on the surface.  Some blackened limestone pieces can be dated to the Industrial Revolution.  But often the story needs to come from the imagination.  

 This vertical spouting lead fountain of a boy holding a fish is easier to trace.  Made by H. Crowther Ltd. in London, it is after the original by Verrochio, sculpted between 1435 and 1488.  The orginal is still on display at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.  It is another example of a figurative representation so popular with gardeners it is still made to the present day.   

A local sculptor is in the process of hand carving his third pack of hounds for me.  A steel and concrete core is finished with a hand carved mortar layer.  This hound barking up a tree is a perfect garden ornament, as it clearly interacts with the landscape.  The sculpture is very contemporary and pared down interpretation of the spirit of a hound.  


A bust is a sculpture representing the head, shoulders and upper chest of a person.  This particular carved stone bust is English.  Who is portrayed here, I have no idea.  A bust can be a powerful focal point in a garden, especially if set at eye level.  Making eye contact is one of those complicated things that living creatures do.  Any of these sculptures new to the shop, I would place in the garden at eye level, so the conversation could begin.

Susanne’s Roses

 

My post earlier today featured the best that there is going on outside here-that best is not so great.  It is still winter where I live.   So I went back into that stack of old pictures and projects looking for something a little less chilly and off-putting.  This landscape and garden I worked on intensively between 1986 and 1994.  A client with a beautiful house on a small piece of land-I cannot remember how we met.  But I do remember that she decided that a garden, and a great garden at that, was just what she wanted.  Though she was always clear about what she liked, she had not so much knowledge.  I not only designed and planted for her-I taught.  She wanted to know everything I knew about wildflowers, perennials, meadows-and most of all, roses.  I had a history with roses, fostered by Al Goldner.  A highly regarded landscape designer with a degree in floriculture-he put up with a young employee (that would be me) who insisted to him in 1985 that tea roses were overbred, disease prone, and marginally hardy prima donnas.  He had the confidence to allow me to order roses of my own choosing for Goldner-Walsh.  I knew he was giving me just enough rope to hang myself.

I placed an order for roses with Hortico in Canada.  I bought antique roses. Climbers.  Rugosas.  Species roses.  And a line of English roses-the David Austin roses. Everything and anything that was not a tea rose.  I vividly remember the day I pulled a company pickup truck full of bareroot roses up to the Canadian/American customs booth-of course they pulled me over.  Who knew I needed a phytosanitary certificate?  I spent hours on a bench next to a man in handcuffs-it was terrifying.  Eventually they let me go.  This was some years before Wayside Gardens began offering David Austin roses.  I potted up just short of a thousand roses, and brought them on.  I learned plenty about them, just taking care of them.  Though I was by no means a rosarian, I had a client who wanted any and all of them.  Susanne.    

There are those people you meet.  In the course of business.  In the neighborhood.  In the grocery check out line.  They encourage you to be better than you ever thought you could be.  This perfectly describes Susanne.  She lit a fire under me the likes of which happens only rarely.  Some days I would come to plant, armed with hellebore species I had stood on my head to obtain-and she would still be in bed.  I would march right upstairs (I had the run of the house by then) and roust her out.  Years later, her front porch was dwarfed by mature David Austin roses-Mary Rose to the left here, and Heritage, on the right. 

Her rear yard had about 15 feet of flat ground, before the earth dropped precipitously to the Rouge River.  That 15 feet of space-stuffed with roses.  They were lush.  She was lush.  My gardening life had an operatic quality to it, thanks to her.  Her entire property smelled of roses.  We grew roses with perennials.  We grew roses with asparagus, and grasses. We grew roses wherever we could. The we part was important there-the two of us gardened as if we only had 10 minutes to live.

Every walkway, every staircase-redolent with the blossoms, the smell, and the habit of roses.  Not one of them was a tea rose.  I could go over the names and the classifications, but that is not my idea here.  Though we also planted no end of unusual perennials, wildflowers, grasses, trees, espaliers and shrubs, the organizing metaphor of this landscape-for the love of the rose.    

The driveway garden-a mix of Rosa Rugosa Scabrosa, rosa glauca (formerly rosa rubrifolia) miscanthus gracillimus, and artemesia.  Petals on the drive-how I loved this. 

It has been so long ago that I designed and planted this garden, I cannot perfectly recall specific varieties from these old 35mm pictures.  But I do know my knowledge of roses burgeoned.  Susanne wanted to know everything she could about them-from me.  We both learned.

Her architect in Chicago built this rose arbor for her-I planted it.  This picture does little justice to that day some years later when I took this photograph.  Her passion-that’s what I see here.  I forget everything routinely-but I remember this day as if it were yesterday.   


Her home sat on a very small piece of level ground.  The back yard dropped off precipitously to the Rouge River.  I gardened this entire steep slope-species and wild roses, grasses.  Perennials.  Weeds.  The anchoring trees-yellow woods-Cledrastis. This garden on a steep slope about did me in-but it was wildly beautiful.  


All over that slope-Rosa Complicata. How lucky I was to have met Susanne.  This garden changed my my life.

Bare Branches


March in Michigan is as much about bare branches as November in Michigan.  This makes me sympathetic to any local gardener who thinks that bare branches are a synonym for dead branches.  No wonder people in my zone so value evergreens.  I am really tired of looking at them; this is March 25th for pete’s sake.  Every day, it is still winter.  This is part of why I am so interested in espaliers as landscape plants-they look great in that leafless stage.  The past few rainy days have been accompanied by temperatures near freezing.  Every branch is glazed with ice. 

This morning it was very sunny and cold; the bare branches were glittering.  Rain drops froze before they dripped off the branches-what I would not give for this look at the holidays.  Weather has a way to drawing attention to the color, structure and overall shape of those bare branches. In addition to their leaves, flowers and possibly fruit, woody plants have beautiful bones. Actually, most woody plants in their leafless stage are still beautiful.   

I do not grow forsythia in my garden.  I have only planted it on very large properties with room to spare.  The only truly beautiful planting of forsythia I have ever seen is the Forsythia Dell at Dunbarton Oaks.  Should you be there at the right time, it is spectacular.  But the forsythia across the street from me were very good looking today.  You can tell they are about to burst into bloom; the cinnamon color of the stems is glowing.  Covered in ice, it looked good enough to eat. 


Lindens have a robust overall shape, but the branches are weepy, drapy, and languid. Interesting this, for a tree that has a round overall shape. The bare branches have a jewel like appearance today. Not that I wouldn’t prefer to be smelling the flowers right now, but this is all I have available.  

Crabapple branches are hunky and gnarly; the color is a bright red brown. The sun and ice brought all of that to life.  It is incredible to think that in a few short weeks this branch will be floating in a pale pink tutu.   


I moved all of the potted bulbs inside yesterday-the frosting of ice and all.  It was 19 degrees last night-17 is forecast for tonight.  24 hours these pots have been in the garage-they are still icy. How is your spring coming along?