Naming Names


The very best part of the beginning of March?  It is 12 months until it will be the end of February again.  This I like.  Though I have been cooped up inside like lots of other gardeners, I have an interior landscape project of my own invention to occupy some of my jail time.  I truly do enjoy dismantling the entire shop, and putting it back together in some completely different form.  There are many givens, and few variables in my landscape at home.  The shop landscape has lots of new and some old elements.  I can rearrange everything.  The first order of business?  Clean, and repaint.  A change of color in any room can fuel a fresh start.    

Of course this means moving everything you own out of the way.  This picture is ample evidence of what happens when an organizing idea is not in place.  A random collection of objects is visually disquieting.  Clash was a great band, but clash is not such a great concept for a space.  How do I pick and choose, move, add and rebuild?  First up,  I name my spaces.  In much the same way as the garden of my dreams will have a nuttery, a pond, a wildflower garden, a kitchen garden, a knot garden, the meadow walk, a corgi run, hellebore heaven, and a dining terrace-I name names.  In my house, I have a reliquary (for my cherished relics) a corgi lounge (featuring a giant couch that holds the four of us) and a dressing room.  The names fuel the arrangements.    

Our greenhouse space has had lots of names over the years.  But this spring season, bootcamp for gardeners.  Back to basics simple handmade Italian terra cotta.  Good tools.  Materials as in moss, pot feet, vintage trugs and galvanized steel sinks.  Plainly functional objects and vintage materials have a beauty all their own-how can I arrange them to make this naming  visual?  Once a space gets a name, it is easier to see what belongs-and what needs to be moved somewhere else.      

Our front room got a newly painted floor-decidedly more modern than traditional.  A pair of light fixtures-one vintage industrial, and one mid century modern.  The ceiling, painted steel,  is much like the carport my parents had in the fifties;  this part of the building was built in 1947.   What name for the space comes to mind?  The modern garden?  Whatever words I might choose, the naming is a decision that can energize a design. 

This room was easy to furnish.  Every object I looked at either seemed right for the space, or seemed wrong.  I paid no attention to the provenance, or history of an object.  I pay attention to their visual aura.  The three vintage dock bumpers hung in the airspace at the rear of this room-no one would ever characterize them as modern, or contemporary.  But their simple shape and texture, their relationship to the steel sphere in the foreground makes them appropriate for this space. 

A stump based table with a plank top captured in galvanized metal-I could see this in a modern garden.  A stainless steel watering can-harmonic.  A tray of welded metal  circles echoes and repeats the bronzy glaze and rounded form of a simple pot.  This arrangement of objects makes a cohesive visual statement.   

What could be more traditional, or more historic than the footprint of a fern? These contemporary English garden pots are of a shape and detail that describes a fern in a decidedly contemporary language.  The shape and the top edges of these pots-edgy.  How would I plant these?  I need more time with them.  Though they would seem out of place in my garden, I greatly admire them.  They will find a name and a place, I have no doubt.  A spot in the all things modern room-perfect. 

I have a new pack of dogs on the way. Troy, who sculpts these for me, is an old school grower and naturalist.  But his vision of the energy and beauty of a dog is so simple and spare, his sculptures warrant a place in this room. 

Her name is Annie.  Give names to places, spaces, and gardens.  You will know what to do next.

Dreaming About the Baskets

I had to have woken up 5 times last night.  Every time I came to, I tuned into a streaming stream of consciousness.  All of this unconscious activity-about hanging baskets, for heavens sakes.   Given my Sunday Opinion post, I have a personal pop quiz coming up in just a few days.  I am waking up at night, studying.  Oh yes, I dream about everything and anything related to gardening.  Regularly.

This morning a sheet of ice on a Birmingham sidewalk that put me flat on my back proved to be my Monday undoing.  A trucker parked at the curb who answered my cry for help dialed 911.  The violent shock of my landing made it impossible for me to move my arms.  This scared me plenty; I thought I had broken my neck.  This was my first 911 experience.  The ensuing 6 EMS paramedics summoned via 911 scooped me up, checked me out, and sent me home with this advice.  Take 3 Advil every four hours.  If the pain persists, see your internist.  The Birmingham  EMS-wow.  They were incredible.   My embarrassment about calling 911 was worse than the pain, but every one of them made me feel like I had made the right decision to call them.  I actually did not make the decision-a truck driver who saw me took charge as if he called 911 every day.  I do not know his name, but he got on his phone, and stayed with me until the paramedics arrived.   

I have used the term 911 on occasion.  A deadline, an event for a client, a landscape in need.  I see now that this is foolishness. There are troubles and problems yes-but an emergency is an entirely different landscape.  The EMS people checked me out thoroughly.  Oh yes, my blood pressure was stratospheric.  But no broken bones, no head trauma-they sent me on, with clear instructions.         

I am home now. All I would ever want for my life is to be home at the end of the day.  My home, my garden, my family (this means Buck) -this is what I need.  I have a new and unusually clear understanding of certain priorities.  Today I feel worse, but lucky.    

Nature-I do not fault her for the ice.  Why would I?  Winter weather implies ice, does it not?  I walked onto the ice, and went down.  The most trying upshot of my unexpected fall-very sore hands.  The biggest insult, thumbs that are too sore to use.  Every pair of hands, working the soil, growing vegetables, typing essays, planting starts -hands are essential.  I am sure mine will be fine in no time, but I am especially aware of what an important tool they are today.

Sunday Opinion: Plants In The Air

I have never been a fan of plants in the air.  By this I mean hanging baskets of plants.  God knows plenty of people like them- the glass airspace of all of my local nurseries are awash in them come spring.  Some baskets go home and get transplanted into a container, or in the ground.  Fine.  But not all get a thoughful or beautiful placement.  In my own neighborhood, I see the occasional 10″ diameter hanging basket plopped without further ado into 8″ diameter pots.  Picture this-a pot, with a glaringly white plastic hat and purple petunias on top.  Some of the baskets are not set level-picture a white plastic hat, askew, atop a container. Some white plastic baskets are hung from their hangers so close to a porch overhang I cannot imagine how they will get light, much less be watered.  In my opinion, none of these options are a good look.

I understand the economics of a 10″ white plastic basket.  They do not occupy precious greenhouse floor space.   Small trailing plants have the luxury to grow vigorously in a generous airborne soil space-a bigger plant fetches a better price.  People anxious to get a leg up on a short northern season will pay more for a plant with a growing history; pregrown, as it were. Greenhouse growers, they like the plastic, and the white color-as well they should.  Plastic is lightweight, and readily handled.  By this I mean filled with soil, planted, and hung up.  Any growing operation involves lots of steps, lots of care, lots of time and lots of hands.  As efficiently as a growing operation can be handled matters much to the bottom line.  My line of work has put me in contact with countless growers and nurseries.  It matters little whether you are growing 1 gallon perennials, 5 gallon shrubs, hanging baskets of annuals, vegetables or trees-growing professionally is a staggeringly labor intensive and risky vocation.  What if the weather does not cooperate?  What if the drought kills your rhododendron seedlings?  What if the buying public passes by every basket of million bells you have grown?  That white plastic hanging basket of annuals in the spring greenhouse airspace is engineered to provide a grower with optimum conditions to grow a large crop. White plastic reflects light.  This means any given basket will need water on a manageable schedule.  The basket can be easily gotten down for a customer.  The plants get the best light available.  Every greenhouse grower deals with all of the issues of any restaurant chef, times 10.  A chef gets to pitch what is out of date.  A grower furthermore spends lots of time dealing with aging material.  I only regret the baskets do not come with an explanatory note.  The container in which this plant has been grown was selected in the interest of efficient growing only.

  The hundred of white plastic planted bowls that we know as hanging baskets are held aloft via an adaptation of the coathanger; this utilitarian part pains me.  A coathanger belongs in a closet, does it not?  This is just the beginning of my discontent.  Plants root in the earth, and the earth is at grade-right?  Containers have a point of connection to the ground plane. Hanging baskets-what is the good idea behind plants in the air?  I have a tough time answering this question reasonably-but that is based on many years of instinctive prejudice against them.  Plants in airborn dirt-something seems wrong about this to me. 

Any instinctive prejudice-I have time in late February to reflect.  The snow is still piled miles high in Michigan; I have time to review my assumptions about gardening. Those weather people are predicting our two days of thaw will be followed by 2 inches of snow.  This prediction makes me want to weep.  It is almost the 1st of March-can the winter not make a move to let go?   In a calmer moment, I would suggest there are those activities that can make the winter prison time go faster.  In a perfect world, every gardener would examine their prejudices, and move off of them.  In the interest of bringing a little fresh thought to some of my own cold and stale toast, and in the interest of amusing myself, I am rethinking my ideas about hanging baskets.  Why so, this February 26th?

My grower has called my hand.  He is planting his hanging baskets for spring this week.  He has invited me to come over, and get my hands dirty.  He has made it clear.  “So Deborah, if the hanging baskets available in my greenhouse in the spring are not to your taste, what would you plant?  What is your idea?  If you had to have some hanging baskets in your garden this year, what would be planted in them?  Consider this a formal invitation.”  It would be very unsporting of me to refuse, would it not?   

This coming Friday I will be designing and planting hanging baskets.  I am rather looking forward to it.

At A Glance: Sweating It Out