Something In The Air

Given our warm weather last week, I foolishly expected to sense some sign of spring in the air. This foolishness on my part will happen at least 6 more times before nature finally decides to change the channel.  The weather report duly noted that we had already had our average quota of snow for a winter-I was feeling home free.      

What began as a few big flakes escalated into a driving rain of flakes in a matter of minutes.  I am looking out the window of my office this past Sunday afternoon-incredulous would accurately describe my reaction.  Who told me this was on the way?  I moved on to avoiding paying any mind to what was in the air-I had a bigger mission.  My beloved camera had disappeared.  How so?  Every winter, I close the shop except by chance or appointment, between January 15 and March 1.  How else could I clean, repaint, rework, and refresh?  That camera-no doubt I had laid it down somewhere in all the confusion-but where, exactly?     

On my fifth tour of the building, I find my camera.  I rush outside; it is snowing heavily, crazily-fast and furious.  I take lots pictures.  I have friends and colleagues who are professional photographers.  They would not dream of taking their camera out in the rain, or the snow.  I have a different take.  My camera is a tool whose images help me see, design, record.  More importantly, I am not a skier, bobsledder or figure skater.  Taking these pictures-winter recreation.  So far, so good.       

Strong winds blew over the outermost concrete pots in front of the shop-this is a first.  These pots weigh 600 pounds when they are filled with dirt.  Not long after that gust, heavy snow began to bury them.  No matter how patiently and efficiently I design, nature holds and is not shy about playing her trump cards.  Any exposure to nature-a sobering experience.  Anything that blowqs over in a storm stays put, until the wind moves on to some other city.   

Frozen water in the air-a natural experience should you garden in the snow belt.  Any landscape needs to have room for that big natural gesture that defines their zone.  Gardeners in northern climates know what I mean.  Early freezing.  January thaws. Chilly Mays-snow flurries early in June.  Unexpected winds.  You gardeners in Oregon, California and Georgia-you have your issues-different than mine.    

The entire landscape at the shop has gone to white, taupe, and black.  The red glass holiday balls are way past that holiday season, but they comfort me in February.  That color is a relief.  It was also interesting to find out that ornament meant for a tree indoors is perfectly happy outdoors in extremely cold and wintry weather.  Not that I needed to see any more snow, but heavy snow in the air is not only beautiful, it is entertaining.    

Red tulips dominate my spring neighborhood landscapes.  I am not there yet-spring is a long ways off.  But this dash of red keeps a certain fire burning.  I was relieved that above freezing temperatures had removed the snow load from the boxwood. Just in time for more snow.    

That relief was short lived.  After close to an hour outside, I realized I had locked myself out of the shop.   I walked many blocks to a friend with a phone; Buck picked me up, and took me back to the shop.  The corgis were glad to be rescued-but not nearly as glad as I.  Sorry to say-my winter persists.       


It does not really seem like news at all, but this is what we have going on-10 inches of unexpected snow.

At A Glance: The Rose

Watering Cans

The word icon has broad and diverse meanings. I will not be discussing most of them, as I would be instantly over my head.  But Rob’s collection of vintage watering cans which came off our container first up has me thinking about garden icons.  The transport of water, via a vessel, from a source to a plant in need, defines the first watering cans. Known as watering pots, documentation exists from the 17th century.     

All manner of designs shapes and sizes of watering cans came to be manufactured.  I imagine very early vessels were made of sewn and waterproofed skins-I have no knowledge of the history-this is just my imagination talking. But later versions involved a holding tank, a spout, a handle, and a rose-forged in metal.   

I have no love for watering with a watering cans.  Any metal can that holds and transports enough water to do some good weighs a goodly amount empty.  Should you not know, 2 gallons of water weighs 16.5 pounds.  So add to the weight of the can to the weight of the water.  Five gallons of water weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 41.5 pounds.  41.5 pounds-this is how much Howard weighs.  Would I want to carry him from the spigot across the deck and down the stairs to my planter box-no.  No. What watering with a can  involves in sheer weight-daunting.   I vastly prefer a great and long hose.  But the cans are a gardening icon-I would not think of doing without some.   

This vintage can sports a handle at the top.  If you have to carry a heavy load, the hnadle in this spot makes good sense.  The handle at the back-a necessity once the work evolved from the carrying phase, to the pouring phase.  This can needs a hand to carry, and a hand to defy gravity, and tip the spout down. Two hands on a tool brings a much greater level of precision to bear. When I try to handle a watering can with one hand, I either miss the mark entirely, or blast the plants out of the soil.  But as much as I hate to carry water, I would have this can.  It is a gardening icon.  What better symbol for a gardener exists, as an invention designed to fit  human hands that permits watering in a time of need.   

There are plenty and varied definitions of gardeners.  Some fancy, some laborious, some silly-some miss the mark entirely.  I cannot pass by a plant in need of water.  This makes me a gardener.  Do I water with a gardening can-not usually.  But I do indeed have one-it is a symbol of my committment.  I like my can, more for its iconography, more than its use.


In the nineteenth century, the Haws watering cans moved the handles from the top, to the back.  Thbis makes one-handed watering a distinct possibility, should you be really strong and able.  That swooping handle may be eminently functional-but take a look -it looks beautifully graceful.  A Haws can-this shape and volume implies moving a lot of water efficiently.

These English vintage cans-each one has the dings and dents and out of round detail that documents their history.  But they still hold water perfectly.  The handle is an invitation to take hold.  Put your hand confidently anywhere on this handle, and water away.     


Some cans-who knows what fluids they meant to disperse.  This very beautiful can holds plenty; the short spout without a rose implies a delivery which is a torrent.  Watering cans are usually outfitted with a rose.  That rose converts a torrent to a sprinkle.  No doubt, I would sprinkle my plants-not blast them out of the soil, given a choice.  I will admit I have a collection of watering cans, none of which I use to carry water.  If I fill one with water, the chances are good I will put cut flowers in it, and think about the garden.

The Last Drop

I did truly believe I was done painting this floor late last week.  I was ready to let go.  Much to my chagrin, both Rob and Steve indicated they thought it was fine-but that they were surprised I was happy with it.  I waved them both off, but when Saturday came, I took a good look.  It was fine, but maybe it needed more contrast.  Buck brought a new quart of very dark chocolate paint with lunch.  When I opened the paint after lunch, I knew I had been Tom Sawyer-ed.  Fine is fine, but this fine could definitely be better.

Over the weekend, lots of those very dark drops, along with a second round of dark olive green drops, went to establish a zone 3.  That would be the transition space between the green zone, and the brown border. Transition spaces in any design are important.  It takes time to leave a space and reflect, then anticipate and get ready, and be presented with the next.  The  transtion spaces in my garden are built in; staircases mark not only a change of level, but a transition from one “room” to the next.  Gradeners without the luxury of built-in transition spaces manage a change of venue with arbors, groups of trees, or pots.  A perennial border which is the same on both sides of a path creates the impression that the path was laid after the garden.  Tall perennials on either side give the impression of walls, or a corridor.      

The dark drops went all over the brown border (and everything else within range) but were most frequent in that third zone.  Creating a third color zone meant I had to redo the the swoops and swirls of green.  It needed to look as though the gravelly drops came first, and the unmowed grass laying over came second.  The border also got a drip coat lighter than the lightest color I had used.  Thiese light drops helped to heighten the contrast as much as the dark ones.

The darkest green and the lightest green was swirled over the edge.  The light green reads especially well over that dark drip zone.The green is a lot more active visually as a result.  Light colors seem to come forward in a composition, and dark colors seem to recede.  This isea can be very helpful in making decisions about color in a garden-whether it be leaf or flower color.  My white anemones and lime green hostas read to my eye from a great distance, and in the evening when the light is low.  Very dark colors can be better seen, if they have light colors behind them.  I would always put yellow behind red, to better see the red.  Tall yellow marigolds behind a slightly shorter red salvia makes that red glow.  Short yellow marigolds in front of that same red salvia steal all of your attention; that red will visually recede.    


I appreciate your patience, plowing through this story a second time. But I am glad I took up the paint stick after I thought I was done. Sometimes a willingness to reconsider beyond the last drop can make a difference.

Today we are moving on to the main order of business-getting the shop in order for spring.