No Resolution


As much the week between Christmas and New Year’s seems mostly about the pause button, it has gone by quickly.  The shop has been very busy.  I also try to use this time to plan and construct for the holiday to come.  My holiday shopping for 2011 comes up mid month.  Am I weary of the holidays?  Au contraire, I am just getting warmed up.  Having spent the better part of 2 months working with holiday materials, I have only just now hitting my stride.  Working steadily endows the hand with a certain confidence some call rhythm.

Some materials we still have are being put to use in sculptures we are making now-for 2011.  The raw materials that made for a beautiful 2010 holiday season can now be turned over or inside out.  They can be cut up, moved over, or rotated in space-reconfigured.  I like nothing better than a project with a list of must haves, a list of cannot do’s, and the feeling that I am about to be cornered.  That kind of challenge sounds good to me. This is much about what I really enjoy about landscape design.  Rob redid the front door to the shop.  Two left over evergreen wreaths sit perfectly on the rim of a pair of iron pots.  What is left of our yellow twig fills those pots.  A few bales of douglas fir boughs carpet the ground.

Some of that yellow twig got woven into wreaths.  Willow twigs are incredibly flexible.  There is no form inside, just layer after layer of branches wound round each other and tucked in.  The greens carpeting ground-why not?  I’ve seen them swagged over doorways and banisters, in pots and wreaths-but I like this carpet idea.  They were left over materials in search of a reason to be.  Lots of ideas come to mind if you deal with a material long enough.  Flooring from greens-new to me.

Years and years ago I made wreaths from the rosa multiflora rose canes that grew wild on my property. The new canes made gorgeous wreaths-but steering clear of those thorns was not so easy.  I do not own that property now; that material is no longer available. An old idea in a new material; the dogwood is easy to work with with.   Every holiday season is a new season.  No need to trot out the old moves.  Natural materials are just waiting for a new idea to emerge.  I hate to throw away any material for lack of an interesting idea-I have been looking at the twig remains.   

No matter how many times the yearly twig truck arrives, I always feel a sense of anticipation.  I have another chance to interpret them.  The same applies to my garden.  Though it is a relatively small space, there will always be room for a big idea.  My plans for the new year?  More roses.  Less grass.  The corgi grass-inviolate.  I know when to leave well enough alone.   But I have other grass that could instead be a home for really cool plants.  Planning-the winter is perfect for this.  Not one creature, not one plant stirs when the ground is frozen solid.  I have time to think, look at the existing materials, and plan.

These ideas are not really resolutions for the New Year. Expecting a garden to provide rersolution seems like a contradiction in terms.  Resolving to tackle this project or that spot that isn’t working, adding something that will improve the overall look-a good idea.  Resolving is a verb, suggesting some thought, and definitely implying some action.  It is a paradox-how all of the resolving of a gardening lifetime won’t result in a resolution.  A garden is a living thing-always moving in one direction or another.    

Some leftovers need to be taken out to the trash. Some obsolete ideas need to be trashed.  But I cannot help but think there might be a future in store for these materials. I so like making something of what is left to the last.

Already these round forms are suggesting other forms.  Maybe a twig mix could be interesting.  The yellow and copper colors look very companionable here-where can I go with this idea?

A year, a gardening season, every season comes to an end, like it or not.  I do much better facing the winter with resolve.  If all goes well, I’ll be cleaning out, and cooking up.

 In simple terms, I would so resolve to try new things.  New plants.  Unfamiliar arrangements.  The toughest part of design is to look at any given arrangement, and realize that it can be different.  It just takes a willingness to entertain new ideas-no matter from whence they come.  This almost makes the idea of winter sound good.

Happy New Year-that’s what we plan to call it.

Once A Year. This Is It!

We have been slammed at the shop since this past Monday.  Detroit Garden Works conducts one sale a year.  From the day after Christmas until January the 8th, we put every holiday item on sale for 50% off-and everything and anything else in the shop at 20% off.  Should you be a gardener interested in a bit of a bargain-once a year, we oblige.  This is it.  Jenny has plenty of pictures posted;  After the 8th, we are open by chance or by appointment until March 1.  This gives us some time to travel, shop, repaint, clean, and plan.  So should you have a mind to drop by after January 8, email us, call ahead, or knock on my front door.        

Gardening might be best defined as a “this is it” pursuit. Should I neglect to plant crocus in the fall, I will have plenty of time regret it, come spring.  Should I not take the time to see and enjoy my March crocus, I might miss them. A two day span of exceptionally cold weather-those flowers will vanish-until next year.  There are times when I might turn back the clock, or ask for an extension-but time waits for no garden. Tune in to the crocus, or wait until next year.   

The hellebore flowers are not nearly so fragile.  They stay with me for a while in late March and April.  I make it my spring business to look at them every day.  Planting them on the driveway was no accident; I have two chances every day to enjoy them.   How the flowers emerge from the ground, mature, and dry right on the stalk is a process that takes weeks.  But once those weeks pass, hellebore heaven will have to wait until next year.  I leave the flowers be, hoping some seed will mature, drop and grow.        

I may photograph the tulips outside my office every day.  Like the hellebores, observing their manner of emerging from the ground and growing is a yearly treat.  The flowers are glorious.  They come in an extraordinary range of sizes, colors and forms.  For my pots in the garage, I bought smaller numbers and as great a variety as I could.  Why not try as many as possible?  I was caight flat footed by the early cold this fall; the pots were outdoors a little too long. Every time I look at these pots filled with dirt, I search for signs of a bulb-fest to come.  Nothing doing.  I’ll have my this is it moment, for better or for worse, months from now.     

With the exception of double bloodroot, no flower is more fleeting than the magnolia.  Really cold spring weather can shut down the show before it even opens.  No matter than you have a valid ticket. Should I be so fortunate to have a good show from my Galaxy magnolia, I can be assured it will not be a long one.  I have 2 chairs and a table on my upper deck.  They are placed to take advantage of the aerial view pictured above.   I may need a coat and hat, but I am out there. The ephemeral beauty of everything that blooms in my garden has much to do with why 2011 will be my 33rd gardening season.   

I cannot remember another year when the roses were this prolific. 2010 provided spectacularly great growing weather from early spring through June.  This John Davis rose of Janet’s was smothered in flowers for weeks. Wherever I saw roses, they were glorious.  Janet, who devotes her summer gardening life to her roses insisted that I come and spend some time with hers.  I am so glad I did.  On both of our minds-is this it?  Is this the best the roses will ever be?    

Even the Queen Anne’s Lace in the field was lush.  Regular rain early, and a very hot and dry July made the meadow next door look dreamy.  This was nature at its weediest best.      

The sunflower season is one of my favorites.  I buy them at market as often as I can.  There is not a form shape or color I do not like-although the orangy brown varieties seem a little silly.  I like my sunflowers to remind me of the sun, and sunny summer days.  I like to have bouquets of them throughout the season.  These stems I stuck into a large brick of oasis taped into a clear floral dish.  Sunflowers are big, heavy and unwieldy.  Worst of all, the water fouls quickly, and needs frequent changing.  I set this dish on top of a glas vase full of water which I tinted yellow with food coloring.  Amazingly, sunflowers last for days out of water altogether. 

By the time my Honorine Jobert anemones start blooming, I know the end of the season is not long off. The cooler nights make this once a year display go on for quite some time.  But once the nights turn very cold, the flowers vanish-until next year.   

The fall color on the Boston Ivy was short lived this year.  Some leaves dropped from cold before they turned. The color-not so great as it was in 2009.  But I had no complaints.  Once a year, I have my chance to enjoy it.

In Case You Missed It

My heart goes out to all of those people on the east coast who are up their proverbial armpits in snow.  I have never experienced 20 plus inches of snow at one time; this I cannot imagine.  I remember a storm in the late seventies while I was living in Ann Arbor.  I was young, unprepared, and had few options except to go home.  It took a week for me to be able to get there.  I still remember the 6 inch thick ice patches on I-94; the trip home was very, very slow, and very bumpy.  Not so many years ago we got a foot of snow in one fell swoop.  I stayed at the shop, ordered in pizza, and worked on a project during the five days it took for the neighborhood to get shovelled out.      

The snow that just buried New York and New Jersey goes far beyond imposing an enforced time out on the people who live there. They have serious trouble out there.   I am only lucky that weather that threatens lives comes my way only once in a blue moon.  Most of the time, should I be forced to change my schedule to accommodate the weather, I have enjoyed the show.  The winter holiday of 2005 was one of my favorites.  This is not to say that I did not work hard on my end.  The giant grapevine spheres and hickory bark strips Rob brought back from Europe needed a home.  He has this idea that I will figure out what to do with materials he likes.  I can be challenged by this, but I am not shy about taking on trouble.  Four thick 10 foot long bamboo poles buried in the concrete pots captured those spheres.  I cannot remember now how we managed it, but each grapevine sphere had a starlight embedded within. The hickory bark strips were stiff and ornery-they had to be wired on with concrete wire. They may look graceful, but the installation was anything but.  A finishing and thick nest of white pine at the bottom; we had a winter holiday going on.   

Rob had lit all the trunks of the lindens with garland lights. Light strings that have the bulbs spaced close-we like these.  More light, less wire-this makes for a very good winter look.  He always hangs something in the trees.  Who doesn’t have a tree in their yard that could use a winter outfit?  Simple flat gold stars, and red plastic sputnik ornaments-jazzy. 

We looked good at night-which means we looked good at 4:30 in the afternoon.  All the winter blue sky and snow and black trunks were just asking for a little electricity.  Among other things, Rob is incredibly good at designing with light and dark.  2005 was no exception.   

Upon reflection, I think these three dimensional lighted north stars had plastic arms that could be unscrewed. Once the light knob was inside the sphere, we could reattach the arms.  Any material that I can break down is a material that gets my attention.  I may only need half of it, or a wisp of it.  When in doubt about any material, cut it up, and put it back together in your own way. 

The front of the shop was subtly lit; the lights on either side of the front door did the lion’s share of the work.  The warm yellow of the spotlights on the pots-the resulting blue and yellow-we were pleased. 

 I was not much prepared for what nature thought to deliver- a substantial snowstorm.  The snow fall was fast and steady.  I went to bed in one world, and woke up in another, ala JB Priestly.  I think we had 10 inches in all of a wet snow that stuck fast to every surface it touched.

What I thought was a fine holiday display was transformed overnight in a way that took my breath away.  I had no hand in this whatsoever.  I was nonetheless thrilled it came my way, for me to see.   

My shop has never looked like it did this day-not before.  Not since. Very few photographs do justice to an experience, but this is the best record I have for that night.  Moments like this account entirely for my belief that nature rules my roost.  

Don’t be fooled by this picture-it took hours to dig out the front door to the shop. This branchy linden roof of snow-the finest it has ever been my privilege to witness.  My advice?  Be convinced by what you witness.  Once you have done that,  enjoy.

Keep The Lights On, Please

The only thing warm about my garden this late December afternoon are the lights. Some years I think to skip putting them up; I am invariably glad that I don’t give in to that idea.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like, seeing a city street or home lit with electric lights for the first time. Though in 1882 the first commercial power station ever built supplied light and electric power to 59 customers on Pearl St. in lower Manhattan, the widespread availability of electricity is a 20th century phenomenon. The landscape lighting permits me some interaction with my garden, at a time when there are more dark hours than light.   The magnolia garland does a good job of concealing the substantial light cords.  My glassed in front porch is a winter home to a pair of Italian terra cotta urns on plinths.  Just having them where I can see them , and lighting them, helps drive away the winter blues.  Though hand made terra cotta is vastly stronger than machine made, I would not leave these pots out over the winter.  Our winter weather is predictably vicious.  Luckily, this pot is beautiful in its empty state.   Though these pots appear to be terra cotta, they are actually fiber reinforced concrete.  I like the look; I like even better that I can leave them out all winter.  I left a double ball taxus topiary in the pot; I am hoping it will successfully survive the winter.  The volume of soil in this pot is huge, compared to the rootball in question.  I think that gives me better than decent odds of survival.  I watered right up until the ground froze.  Adequate water both late into the fall, and early in the spring, helps improve your chances of wintering evergreens in pots.  I wound lighted mixed evergreen garland on top of the soil. 

The yellow twig in the pots is a pale color, but it does not read well at night.  The lights in the evergreens helps light them considerably.  But once it is completely dark, a well placed andscape spotlight does a better job of rescuing them from the gloom.  The yellow twig does stand out against the dominant blue grey of the winter. 

The view into my side yard from the street would be bleak indeed without my lit evergreen tree. This large Italian style square concrete pot looks good planted for the winter.  A short statured cut Christmas tree is vastly less expensive than a live dwarf or topiary evergreen.  I really don’t mind being free of the responsibility to keep plants alive for a few months.  I have no plants inside my house-for exactly this reason.  Having 2 live topiaries in pots to worry through the winter was enough. Though I think my untrimmed Limelight flower heads look great over the winter, they are not much to look at in the dark.  

From inside the garden, the side yard gets to be tough to navigate, unless you are a corgi.  My lit tree not only lights up the entire side yard, it provides me with something bright to look at out of all of the south side windows.  I have no thought to pull the plug after New Years.  It is my plan to let the light shine until March first.  Though March is a winter month, but it is vastly better than January and February.  By that time, the days will be much longer than they are now; I will be ready to do without the lights.

I only have landscape lighting in the front of my house.  In the summer, it is light so late, I do not feel the need.  I am thinking it might be a good idea to plan for some lighting here for next winter, but in any event,  I do not have any plans to give up this lighted tree. 

Rob put these pots together for me.  I see them first thing when I come home at night, and when I leave for work in the morning.  He cut a disk of floral foam that fit each urn, and frosted them with strings of C-7 white lights.  Then he stuck umpteen dozen stems of dried rose hips, and several bunches of copper curly willow into each disk, taking care not to puncture a cord.  This pair of pots are giant night lights; they glow.  This construction would be great for those places in the garden that could stand to have the lights switched on. 

This cheers me as much as a fire in the fireplace-maybe more. I like that this winter pot uses no evergreens whatsoever-just sticks, and lights.  The rose hips dried and are stuck fast on the stems, making them an ideal material for a winter pot.  All you need is the patience to collect lots of sticks, and stick them.  I like the big old fashioned C-7 lights.    

A neighbor behind and several doors down from me stuffed a giant yew in his front yard with lights for the holiday.  This is one of the better parts of living in an urban community; the good lighting works of others make my winter better.