A Bucket Shop

On my bucket list-a bucket shop all my own.  I have always wanted one.  The year I spent living in New York City in the mid eighties-my favorite part was the small markets, and beautiful bucket shops.  Every where you could find the and most breathtaking cut flowers, flowering stems and twigs imaginable, many of which were displayed on the street in buckets. My hands down favorite- oak branches studded with freshly set green acorns.  Those stems made the hair on the back of my neck stand up; I have never seen them available since.  What is available in cut flowers in New York City-the sky is the limit.  But I am happy with any bouquet of flowers; fresh flowers are irresistable.  Just about anything that grows is beautiful-can you think of a flower you just don’t like?  Living color-like no other color.  The idea of selecting and offering beautiful and striking cut flowers has been in the back of my mind for years.  I do flowers occasionally for parties and special events, but I am not a florist.  I am so sorry to say that Detroit Garden Works does not own a fresh flower cooler.     

I attended a national peony convention some 35 years ago.  I was very interested in how the exhibitors managed to bring so many cut stems of penies great distances to the show. Growers who exhibit their blooms in competition have this down pat.  A bud showing good color, and a marshmallow soft texture when squeezed, is good to cut.  Bag the buds in a baggie with the stems out, and store them dry, in the refrigerator. Bring them out 24 hours ahead of when you need them.  I was amazed that this works, but it does.  Years ago when I had hundreds of peonies, I would store stems in the fridge, just to extend my bloom season a little.  Some exhibitors brought hundreds and hundreds of buds packed in coolers-hoping that 1 or 3 or 7 would be perfect examples of a given cultivar, and win a ribbon.   

Fabulous cut flowers need not be from my zone.  Sweet peas-how I long to have them in my life.  It is doubtful I will ever grow a decent sweet pea, but they are available, at certain times of the year, as cut flowers.  Sweet they are.  And as if the color and shape wasn’t enough, the fragrance is divine.    

 A bucket shop-not so much in my future.  We are in a way out of the way location; the shop in its first life-a machine shop in an industrial location. My fresh cuts would languish, unclaimed.  I probably would have to take most of them home.  A bucket shop needs shoppers non stop.  The most successful florist in my town, and maybe nation wide-Kroger grocery store.  This makes perfect sense.  Everyone needs to shop for food regularly.  Weekly-maybe more often.  Selecting a bunch of fresh flowers for the grocery cart-easy.  The best part of the flowers at a very successful florist is that turnover means the flowers are more likely to be really fresh.  The downside?  It is less likely you will see the more unusual flowers.  Not that I hold one grudge against carnations and chrysanthemums- even the most ordinary species is still a fresh flower.  

My idea of a bucket shop took a different turn.  In Atlanta this winter, I made it my business to source beautifully made faux flowers.  Every picture you have seen thus far and will see-fake.  Including these daffodil stems.  Are they not the best looking plastic and polyester flowers?  The peonies are amazingly realistic.  Are they a substitute for a real peony-of course not.  But fake flowers have their place. 

Though I have devoted a lifetime to raising flowers of all sorts, I wrote a check for bucket loads of faux flowers.  Why wouldn’t I?  There are lots of people who love flowers and gardens who are not gardeners.  There are some who cannot garden; there are times when no one can garden.  The shop umbrella ought to be big enough for all. Some faux flowers are better than others; the strong simple shape of ranunculus is easy to recreate in a permanent form.  Silk iris I would stay away from.        

Pam made this small arrangement in a terra cotta pot painted white.  It is charming, cheery and spring like, to my eye.  It will be a month or 6 weeks before anything stirs in my garden, not to mention that the last leg of our winter is the toughest to take.  My faux flowers are primarily spring species.         

Would I take one of these home-absolutely.  I have plenty of dark places in my house that would be all the better for a little color.  I am a winter weary gardener who needs some reference to the garden.  Not to smell, or touch-just to look at.  For those days when I do not want to look at pictures of gardens, or books, or a documentary about the Chelsea flower show-just something bright to look at.  

 I do try to buy faux stems that can go outside.  Our spring season can be very short; many gardeners do not plant containers for spring for exactly this reason.  I do plant spring pots for clients; faux branches and grasses in the center of a container instantly creates some scale and presence.  A well done mix of faux and real flowers makes the fake elements very tough to spot. My observation?  People see what they believe as much as they believe what they see.           

These mini pots, furnished with white daffodils, and  finished in dark green reindeer moss-I like them.

Sunday Opinion: Imported From Detroit

I am a fan of my city; I have lived here all my life, and I still like it. I was born near the Jefferson plant in 1950.  I subsequently lived in Burns Park in Indian Village in Detroit until I was 6.  Though my family moved me to East Detroit in 1956, I routinely rode my bike downtown for a chocolate soda at Hudson’s, and took a tour around Belle Isle on my way home.  It is incredible to think that my parents never worried one bit about a 10 year old biking with friends miles away from home. But we did not think of Detroit as miles away then-it was our city. Detroit was and still is my city; I write this with pride. You may think of a car as a mechanism that allows you to get from one place to another, but my idea of the cars that have been expertly designed and engineered and efficiently produced- starting with Henry Ford-a product of infinite complexity that came on to move people and goods efficiently, reliably, and beautifully. The automobile- a game changer, ranking right up there with the light bulb, modern vaccines, and air travel.  My city, my gritty city, was instrumental in getting this country, and many other countries, on the road. That same city is also home to many thousands of talented, energetic and imaginative people doing all sorts of things-the same kinds of people that live in your city.

 Better than 15 years ago, a landscape client greatly respected in the product branding business (she named the Saturn) was kind enough to take me through a process by which I was able to give a name to the shop.  Giving a name to something which does not yet exist-not so easy.  But she organized the process.  Make a list of all the words that in your mind describes what you want this shop to be.  My list was long.  Of course garden was the first on that list.  It’s what we do.  Eventually the word “works” appeared on the list.  As in the works, this works for me, a work in progress, work the problems out, working well, not working; work is an apt synonym for gardening, is it not?  The word work is a favorite.  Also on my list, Detroit.  I had by that time done landscape and events outside of Michigan.  Though I live some 30 miles north of downtown Detroit, Detroit is where I live.  My geography has plenty to do with my attitudes and practices as a gardener. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe all great work, all great art, all great landscape is local.  I do not for one second believe that all the most creative people people in the world live in Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, or New York City.  What captures the attention of the media is a very small version of what is out there to see.  Incredibly talented and capable people live all over this globe-and lots of them in my town.  Some live in the Netherlands, or England, or Sweden, or Australia, Belgium, Canada or Wisconsin. In every city, town and township in every country there are people doing work that is breathtaking.  Really beautiful.  The internet has made it possible to appreciate this in a way that staggers the imagination.  I learned about the hellebores of Judith Knott Tyler from the internet; I have since bought her plants, and her books.  Small business people and artists lived and worked in remote places long before there was an efficient way to find out about them. 

The three words I chose that would become the name of the shop needed an arrangement. It seemed only natural that the word Detroit would come first.  The climate and community in which I work influences everything I do.  I practice horticulture in the midwest.  This means I design American gardens from a midwesterner’s point of view.  I would not want this any other way.  I believe authenticity of place is a critically important factor in landscape design.  There are lots of landscapes, both historic and contemporary that I admire from other places.  But what I have is this place.  And I have the conviction that what can be designed and grown in this place is equally as beautiful as what might be designed somewhere else.  There may be certain things about Michigan gardens that have no equal or parallel anywhere else.  This belief keeps me warm and working.

Why am I talking about Detroit?  The ad for the Chrysler 200M which aired this past Sunday, of course.  Chrysler bought 2 minutes of time during the Superbowl to talk about the genius of this place.  The genius of the people who work and live here.  I admire the gritty talk, the gritty music and photography.  All of that was perfectly authentic as to place.  But most of all I admire the clear conviction from start to finish that Detroit has produced something fabulously engineered, paintakingly built and beautifully sculptural- that cannot be found anywhere else. It is a very impassioned statement about taking ownership of what had melted down, reinventing with what was left standing, and forging something stronger and better. The ad closes with a simple but very powerful evocation of the idea of genius loci-the pervading spirit and atmosphere of place- Imported From Detroit.  Detroit has problems-terrible problems that all but defy solving.  But we have many people here with the guts, foresight, talent and imagination to take on the work of creating a local landscape where people can live and thrive.  The two minutes worth that Chrysler managed to bring to the discussion-have you seen it?

At A Glance: Still Snow Struck

The Painted Border


Repainting this concrete floor has gone on for over a week now.  I am hoping to finish up quick.  A container from England is sitting in customs; we need to be ready for that delivery. The four color green ground of this painted rug needed a border.  The base color is a dark chocolate.  Though I knew where I wanted to go color wise, I needed a texture that was unlike the texture of the ground.  Contrast is not strictly confined to color.  Though I had the best time signing the floor with loops of paint in a steady stream from my stir stick, I wanted a different texture for the border.  A clear definition of the edge.

The border is entirely painted with drips.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know dirt follows me around.  It is always under my fingernails, and in my sock tops.  As a painter, I know anything I wear will sooner or later show evidence of the painting process.  I am likely to have paint on my shoes, my hands my face, and my hair.  It is a life condition-I have no other explanation.  Paint drips usually land on me.  My plan-the paint would drip on the floor, and not so much on me.   

I was after a gravelly texture.  It seems like it ought to be the simplest thing in the world to get paint to drip-it happens unbidden all the time.  But regular drips, not too fast drips, not too big drips-this involves paint at a perfect consistency.  Thick enough to permit multiple drops, but thin enough to deposit small and civilized gravel-like shapes.  This part was work.  It will be a good thing when this floor is covered with the great things we have coming for spring.  My globs, lines and blips tell the tale.  3/8 inch and down decomposed granite is remarkably uniform.  My painting is anything but.    

But a paint card laid is a paint card played-there is no mopping up.  I could work another two weeks to erase any evidence of my hand, but why would I want to?  My approach to landscape design is formal-whether the result is traditional or contemporary.  I favor landscape design that emphasizes structure and utility.  Distilled design that makes a clear statement.  But I do understand that the most formal design on paper is subject to wind, weather, grade, hardiness, and all manner of unforseen caprice.     

It may be what I like the best about this painting are those capricious places. A loop of green paint might find its way out there, should the muscles fueling my hand unexpectedly flex.  An inadvertent flex might end up being my favorite part.  My advice?  If you want to paint a floor, make a plan, lay it out, prepare for any eventuality, and then go for broke. The same applies to a garden.  Plan your heart out.  Then go for broke. 

Those irrepressible blips are a personal signature.  When I sign a check, or a document, or a letter; when I design a landscape, I sign my name on the dotted line. My signature on the dotted line is not a guarantee of perfection-it is a vote of my confidence in my work.  What I do confidently is anything but perfect.  But it might be interesting.