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.

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.