Stuck inside, that is.  The inside story-we are repainting parts of Detroit Garden Works for the spring. Every square inch is torn up, everything is stacked up, on hold, or in storage.  Then what we have has to be introduced to what is on the way for spring. The visit to the Atlanta Mart gave rise to plenty of ideas about display spaces.  I walked through my shop rooms this past week, and tried to imagine what new spaces might look like.  Not one idea surfaces.  A bad cold didn’t help things.  The January weather adds to the inertia that best describes winter; there is a sopping wet and partially frozen dingy grey wool blanket everywhere I look.  Every square foot of our 10,000 square feet will be home to our the spring gardening congress.  I know I need to be ready, but there needs to be a plan first.  All the possibilities and sheer the size of this place means I have less time that I think to get it thought out.  It is just hard to shake off that longing for another time and another place-like my garden in the spring or summer or fall- and get going.  This makes for a design headache. 

We have 2 containers coming from the Europe, the first of which is scheduled to make Montreal February 4.  What happens next is anyone’s guess. Should that part of Canada see a snow storm the likes of which invaded New York City a few days ago, the railway will be shut down, or keep traffic moving at a crawl.  A 2 day trip from Montreal might take 10 days.  We have a customs broker who attends to the process of our container being cleared for entrance into the US.  That process is a good deal more stringent and time consuming today than 10 years ago.  I have no earthly idea what day that semi will pull in with that container on board.  It could be days-it could be more time than I bargained for.


If you are a gardener, you get design headaches too, particular to the winter months.  The process of deciding what trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, annuals, tropicals, vegetables, herbs you are crazy for-easy.  What we all  have a mind to grow next season-easy. Every tomato under the sun looks good right about now.  What we plan to change, renovate, turn around and rethink-easy.  Putting all of this together in a coherent scheme-a design headache. Beautiful meadows-there are many that are nature driven and naturally maintained.  They tend to be really big spaces-much bigger than my yard.  When nature has an idea, she expresses it on a really big scale.    A mini meadow requires such thoughtful design-there’s simply no room for mucking about with obviously unresolved areas.  Full scheme ahead.

On my small property, in my small business, I do not have unlimited space and time.  I need to pick and choose which statements I wish to make, and then decide how to make them.  This means my gardening broadcasts need a lot of distillation, and fast.  The Mart in Atlanta-so many things in one place.  Making sense of it all-big work that is still going on.  One finite space, one small voice-looking to organize and energize a collection.  Seed catalogues, tools, nursery stock availability lists, annuals, pots and benches for spring-there is plenty to to see, read and absorb.  There is also the matter of the stack of site plans on my drafting table-projects which need design time before spring. 


   Customers straggle to my door-we are happy to let the garden-starved in, but we do not provide that much comfort. The shop is just about 55 degrees. The most lively thing going on is the dogs barking.  The January doldrums have set in.  The shop is in so many fragments, waiting for an organizing metaphor.  In spite of my headache,  I like these days when every room is taken down to its bare bones, and the thought of putting it all back together scares me.  It means I have work to do that I like.

  Sorry to say this, but we northern gardeners have the entire month of February, and perhaps into March to go before there is any hint of spring.  Not so good for you-not so great for me either.  I so miss my garden.  But for the shop, the deconstruction is good.  It means our spring will be a fresh.     If there ever was a time for a big idea, this is it.  I feel sure that if I look long enough, I’ll spot one.

Madame Nature, I’ll be ready when you are.

A Hot Spot For Cool Plants

I have a client with a vision that defies description.  Her vision well may be, is no doubt, visionary.  I have a history with her that spans quite a few years, but I am never ready for what might come next with her.  I have seen her collect the most amazing and esoteric objects-for both inside and out-and gone on to see her put it all together in a way that never crossed my mind.   A few years ago she had the idea to roof a rear terrace.  I was not prepared for a steel structure painted orange, and a dichroic glass roof.  As I have since learned, dichroic glass is layered with metal oxides.  Thus the sparkles that make for a little shade.  Dichroic glass-very reflective.  The roof, in no way symmetrical, in no way expected. 

It did not take long for her to have the idea to enclose the terrace with a roof space with glass walls. A conservatory, if you please. The upshot-a conservatory of the most un-conservatory sort you can imagine. New this winter-integral planter boxes made of marble.  A very visually active and sassy marble.  I went shopping for the plants.  Whenever anyone says home greenhouse to me, I cringe.  A working greenhouse is just that-lots and lots of work.  Professionals manage this with a steely dedication.  Most home greenhouses I have seen are neglected affairs.  The remains of holiday pointsettias stashed under the bench.  Struggling tropical plants.  I would not recommend them to a home enthusiast, unless they promise to live in that space.  Places you live in have a whole different feeling than places you visit.  My basement is a good example. This conservatory space-a space in which to live.  

The orange steel structure, and the marble floor-what plants would I choose? The dichroic glass makes for more shade than you would think.  A collection of black and silver alocasias-Black Velvet, Silver Arrow, and the very rare Alocasia Tigrina Superba seemed like a good idea.  They are a supporting cast to a particularly beautiful sanseveria-Bantel’s Sensation.  Sensational, indeed.  Grey, green and black-much like the marble, and the cast iron fireplace. 

A fabulous purple glazed sea urchin shaped pot from my client looks all the better for a planting of Selaginella “Ruby Red”.  Please note, It was not so easy to choose a plant for this partcular container. I have planted no end of green and lime selaginellas in pots-this variety is new to me.  I am falling for it-hard.  Little pots demand little growing plants.  Some horticultural relationships are about the idea of an equality of contributon.   As growing things never are at rest, a sensible start-little for little- makes for a reasonable approximation of equilibrium.  This is a fancy way of saying, match your plants to their environment, and watch what will come of it.       

My clients lives in the space-any chance they get. This entirely accounts for how compelling and lively a living space it is.  She has created an environment that is warm, provocative, and compelling.  I have been here to dinner on occasion-the room, the food, the music, and the conversation-magical.  Even with the winter light, there is a sense of life that makes for liftoff.  Some of the most interesting conversations I have ever had happened in this room.  Make of this what you will.  

A second, and larger glazed sea urchin pot-I planted it solid with Escheveria Shaviana. Is this not a a happy relationship?  The color relationships and similar textures-very happy.  How do gardeners shop for plants?  For the flowers?  For the habit of the plant?  For the hardiness?  The designer in me shops for the visual relationships.  My background in the science of horticulture saves me from foolish choices most of the time-but not all of the time.  

Tillandsia Xerographica is a plant I had never seen before. They are strikingly silver grey.   Before trying to plant this extraordinary space, I would not have given them a moment’s notice.  This space-they belong.  Tillandsias are bromeliads.  They are commonly referred to as air plants.  A plant you can lay on the table, which will thrive with a generous misting twice a week-astonishing.  

This space is incredibly beautiful-my pictures do it no justice.  It is unlike how I think.  It is unlike what I usually see.  My client- she is a visionary girl.


If you should be a card carrying gardener in my area, no doubt you have been to Telly’s.  If you have not, it is located on John R north of Big Beaver.  I have been shopping there for over 20 years.  I have never known anyone who had a better working knowledge of an incredible range of plants.  I have known few whose enthusiasm for plants matches his.  Wildflowers-he is a source.  Great roses, unusual hostas, specimen hostas, great grasses, the largest population of dianthus and other rock garden plants, the tried and true, and the cutting edge on perennials of all descriptions, great annuals-great tropicals.  His place is the physical incarnation of a first rate horticultural encyclopedia.  Plan to spend some time. It will be time well spent, no matter what time of year you go.   

I called George today-I have 3 large marble planters in a very contemporary conservatory to get planted.  My calls to George with a need for unusual plants, or plants in big numbers have invariably been answered.  The time and effort he has spent sourcing plant material over the past umpteen years-He deserves a seat with a brass plaque at the Library of Congress, department of plants.  I would vote for this.    I have great respect for George-as well I should. We send people to him all the time.  Detroit Garden Works features plants of size, plants I take a fancy to, some of this and a little more of that.  Telly’s is a plant nation.  Of course George says-I just got back from Florida with some very cool plants-when can you get here?  

My holiday and winter work is over, as are the holidays.  My buying trip to Atlanta-over. Coming down with a cold-a given.  I have time now to have a stinking cold, so why not.  A visit to Tellys today helped reduce my irritation level..  The idea of standing in a working greenhouse full of very interesting plants sounded good.  Steve and I got on the road first thing this morning. I am sure you can tell from these pictures that George likes succulents.  We are not talking hens and chicks.  We are talking echeverias.  OK, the sum total of my knowledge is out there, once I say the e word.  Want more info-go see George.  Though I have no name for this plant, I so like how it looks.  I like even better how these 15 e’s look in the case.    

Tray after tray of gorgeous succulents-I snapped this wavy edged turquoise rosette succulent flat up in a second.  George immediately rolled his eyes-do you need all of them?  Mais Oui, George-I need them all.  He gets over it quickly-he can reorder.  But I understand his reaction.  Gorgeous plants are so tough to let go of.  We gardeners are just ordinary people after all-but we have a true passion for plants and growing that can take us over the line.  Over the line-I am happy to be a member of that group.     

Drocera, commonly known as sundew, is the largest genus of carviverous plants on the planet-there are at least 194 species.  Plants that attract bugs, dissolve them, and ingest nutrients from them-creepy.  But George has them, should you be interested.  They are fascinating looking.  They also look like trouble, but I did not mind this case of trouble plants one bit.  January 24 I am happy to have a greenhouse to visit.  How a greenhouse smells in the winter, delicious. The air is heavy with water, and the smell of soil comforts me.  This winter promises to be a long one.  I will be back, regularly.  

Tropical plants are not my forte.  I am better when I am outside. But I have no problem spending time in a warm spot, with strangers. We have had overnight lows recently of 2 degrees, and 8 degrees.  My choices for gardening company-not so great.  Whatever gardening company I might find-fine.  Telly’s is looking really good right now.  

I bought box after box of tropical plants for my conservatory installation tomorrow.  Black, grey, and white leaved plants of a number of sizes and shapes.  Different than these green and red plants whose name I do not know.  No matter. I know the growing conditions for my client.  I know how it is heated.  I know how it is cared for.  This makes it possible for me to design and plant plants whose names do not know.  Margaret Dixon, who may have been the best gardener it has ever been my privilege to know, knew no names.  But she could grow anything and everything, beautifully.  Though she has been gone 15 years, I can still hear her saying.  Ask the name last.  Ask about what makes it happy first.  Should you be a new gardener, skip the name, and move on to the ideal conditions.  Should you be more that 100 feet away from good conditions, consider another plant. 

Phalaenopsis orchids mostly require what I cannot provide.  Though the flowers are lovely beyond belief, I do not attempt to grow them. I like looking at them at Telly’s, and at orchid shows, and at my local botanical garden greenhouse.  Shouild I ever decide to turn over my entire gardening life to the cultivation of orchids, I might consider them.  But in general, I welcome plants into my gardening life that like my gardening life to start with.     

OK, I might make an exception for this amaryllis.  Only as I might possibly provide the conditions they require to flourish.  And successfully summer them over for flowers next year.  This one flower alone was worth the trip today-yes, we had daytime ultra cold and snow.  I am sure there is a greenhouse near you.  My advice? Get out your gardening passport, and go somewhere.

Sunday Opinion: So Fun To Feel Free

I do not mind the 1.2 mile trip from my house to work.  I can stand just about  anything for 1.2 miles.  Right now, my neighborhood streets are a series of frozen tire tracks-for 5 blocks my ride to work is slippery slick and very bumpy.  Those neighbors with their cars parked on the street-they are tempting fate.  I can handle the rain, the sleet, the ice, the snowstorms-just about anything, for 1.2 miles.  You may gather from this that I am not a happy traveller; you are so right. Any trip over 1.2 miles is an ordeal. I dislike planes, airports, buses, taxis, metro cars, rest stops, gas station restrooms, giant trucks bearing down on me-traffic jams.  I really prefer to walk.  One hour into a road trip I am ready to ditch that road.  I can barely tolerate a sunny dry day driving on an interstate, much less a dark, rainy, snowy, icy or windy day. 

Travelling this past week was so much different than 40 years ago.  The weather reports then were completely unreliable.  The roads were poorly marked.  A winter storm meant treacherous conditions for days. Salted roads-maybe.  If you were lucky. My first car-a Dodge Aspen circa 1971- was in no way equipped to handle winter weather challenged roads, but nonetheless I drove long distances in the winter.  I still remember harrowing trips from North Carolina to Detroit for Christmas.  No matter what route I took, I would arrive with every muscle aching, and shaken. I disliked the Christmas holiday, as it meant I would have to endure an arduous trip home.  Be advised, I took trips to the upper peninsula of Michigan before 1-75, and the Mackinac Bridge were built.  OK, I did not cross America in a covered wagon, but I grew up thinking travel was barely the next best thing after having a root canal.  My trips were an experience at the mercy of nature I have never really forgotten. 

My experience with sharing the road with truckers has not much changed in 40 years.  I realize they see to delivering no end of goods all over this country. They transport fruit and vegetables, vehicles, livestock, sweaters and shoes, tools-Rob did go on about this the minute I got grumpy about it on our way north.  They rule the interstates.  Back then, as now, they drive fast and fearlessly.  Why shouldn’t they?  They have gobs of tires in contact with the road, and they are eminently weighty.  No weather daunts them. They gun it, at every and any opportunity.  They drench my car with whatever weather they plow through.  They slow to a crawl on mountain roads going up, and bear down like a freight train on mountain roads going down.  Unnerving, this.  My only near death experience coming back from Atlanta-a truck passing me on a curve on an icy and snowy I-75 in Cincinnati drifted over into my lane.  The back of his truck came inches from slamming into me. I could see his blue back end looming close in my preipheral vision. I had no where to go, as I was driving under an overpass. I probably could have breaked hard-but my driver’s instinct tells me never to brake hard on ice. Physics and dumb luck prevented a collision.  Though Rob is unlikely to get overwrought under any circumstances, he noticed.  It was 15 miles before my heart rate slid back to normal.

In retrospect, I could have saved myself some trouble.  My Chevy Suburban is a pretty amazing vehicle.  As I intimated yesterday, it is heavy.  4 wheel drive and stabilo-track keeps those wheels on the ground in bad weather.  My knowledge of trucks-how they are designed, and how they work, is just about nothing.  I know stop, go, turn, back up and park.  But this does not even begin to tell the story.  I took the Chevy bus to my dealer for a checkup before the trip.  Most of the work they did had to do with making sure all the computer and electrical systems were working.  Driving to work the morning of the trip-I get a warning light.  The check engine light.  Don’t ask me what this means; I just waited 3 hours, and paid the bill.  Subsequently, Stan told me that my 2004 Suburban was in perfect running order, and would get me anywhere I wanted to go-safely.  This helped to make me feel better, confident. Little did I know.  Though I was driving through a snow/ice weather mix, my slowest speed was 50-55mph through Cincinnati.  I made most of the trip at close to the speed limit. Like a trowel or a spade or drafting tools and a camera, or a front end loader, my Chevy is a tool that enables me to work.  Let me go on-a 2004 Chevy Suburban is a sophisticated tool.   

All of this said, this travelling away from home was a relatively relaxing one.  It was clear I was not sliding around one bit-I finally let the Chevy do what it was designed to do.  I will confess I did strategize somewhat about the truck gluts-it gave me something to do, other than steer.  Rob is a Garmin enthusiast-it made his England trip in September so easy.  I was impressed how we were routed around a “severe traffic problem” and sent on our way in Cincinnati on the south leg of the trip.  My gardening life is so very different than it was years ago.  No small part of that has to do with the new tools I have at my disposal.  Both Helen at Toronto Gardens and Margaret at A Way to Garden were talking recently about amaryllis I am not familiar with.  Google images-wow.  My window on the gardening world is a big one, should I choose to look out.  All of a sudden, I am enchanted by amaryllis in a new way.   

Though I do not get out so much, this week out was a very good one.  I thoroughly enjoyed where I went, and what I saw.  You’ll see-come the 2011 spring.  And after that, the 2011 holiday and winter.  This trip was the first I have made in a good many years that involved stormy weather.  Though I had big worries in advance, generated from the past, my travel was remarkably easy.  Not at all like it once was.  So fun- to feel free from worry.  Worry takes a lot of time away from more interesting things.  Thank you, General Motors.  My Suburban has 75,000 miles on it.  We are probably much the same age.  The both of us-glued to the road.