At A Glance: The Saturday Fair

What a blast!  We had plenty of evidence today that our garden community is strong.  We had hundreds of visitors-wow!  Thanks to each and every one of you who came out today. A special thanks to you Kathe.  I am very pleased to have had the chance to meet you face to face. Today-a perfect moment.

The Spring Garden Fair

Our very first spring garden fair, in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Detroit Garden Works, is this weekend.  I do feel a little sheepish, making such a fuss about having become a teenager.  But the optimism that comes naturally to a gardener is a pretty big umbrella.  As much as I expect that the brown bulbs I planted last fall will eventually produce plants with gorgeous flowers, I expect to keep on providing the gardening community with a place that respects their interest. I am pleased with our teenage history.  We hung lime green dancing stars in the lindens today-recycled from a fundraiser we did for the Children’s Center in Detroit some years ago.  The mission of the Children’s Center is to help educate kids, and encourage them to work hard and do well.  Their efforts are aimed at helping kids to be properly equipped to have productive lives that make a contribution to their community.  This optimism I like.     I spent the day attending to all the last minute details.  Of course we have a few cut flower arrangements.  After all, this is a party. 

Most of my pots of bulbs planted last fall are still green; the spring has been very slow in coming.  But outside, there are signs of life.  My crocus patches at home are beautiful right now.  The weekend promises warm weather-the first we have had in many months. No gardener will fault me for my green foliaged bulb pots-they understand that nature is a big fluid situation. They will come back for the show-that date is yet to be announced.  

I will admit that many of the spring containers I planted up for this event have been in a greenhouse for some time.  Spring in Michigan can be so variable.  Last year, the spring was early, and moderate.  It might have been the most beautiful spring that has ever been my pleasure to witness.  This spring-where is it?  I think it might be arriving tomorrow. We have a great weather forecast for the weekend. 

I have planted lots of containers at the shop, and all of the window boxes- just for spring.  Though our spring has the potential to last only days, I prefer to focus on the potential part.  The only days part-I refuse to be bullied.   

I am not willing to give up planting pansies and violas over a worry about how many days they might last.  I am optimistic that everyone will benefit from a big dose of spring-I know I do.  What nature delivers to its winter weary population is welcome at my place.

Lettuce in flats-the promise of the good that is to come. Should you read this blog regularly, you know I plant lettuce in pots as it is beautiful.  I am not much of a vegetable gardener.  But I do eat lettuce most every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to make a salad, he’ll fix me a mess of greens, and dress them. Like most gardeners,  I need the greens.   

Vernissage is a French word referring most usually to the opening of an art exhibit.  It was the title of my first blog post April 1 of 2009.  Spring-it is the opening of an art exhibit that will go on and enchant for the next 7 months.  I hope to see you at the opening.  Should you live far away-we still have a community.  I will keep you posted.  I hope to hear from you.  Gardeners everywhere are about to celebrate spring.  Come round, should you have the chance.

A Cottage Garden

Mackinac Island, Michigan, is any perennial garden’s heaven on earth.  The drainage is perfect.  The breeze off the water and the cool nights keeps fungus at bay.  It is a lean life; there is not much soil.  But it is a good life.  The air and the water are clean.  The color of the flowers is brilliant.  Though the island is far north, the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Most anything hardy for me in the Detroit area is hardy there. Mackinac Island?  A really great place for a cottage garden.

A summer cottage on the island means there is no particular call for evergreen structure. There is no need for a winter landscape.  The summer perennial gardens can be the sum total of the landscape.This particular garden-every shrub was a rose.  The thriving Rosa Glauca at the top right of this picture was beautiful in bloom, and equally beautiful in leaf. The large stands of shasta daisies, beautiful.  

What exactly is a cottage garden?  My understanding is as follows. The origin of cottage gardens reside firmly on English turf; such is their history.  Big, easy, loose, breezy, informal, friendly, meadowy-a cottage garden gives space for every plant to be the best it can be.  No edging.  No roll call. Local-most assuredly. Situated in the village or neighborhood-of course.  Low key-by this I mean artless.  A hello garden.  Come round to see the columbines-they look rather good today.  Later, the delphiniums might be representing.  No need for a letter-just a friendly call.  The delphiniums look great-want to pop by for a glass of wine and a tour?      

Cottage gardens are welcoming. A stone walk leading to the house from a pair of garden gazebos asked for some planting, some softening.  Rock garden plants thrived here.  Armerias, thymes, sedums, heathers and heaths, saxifrage, iris setosa, flax-I could go on.  I planted this walk with the intent that the way to the front door would be a garden experience.  Walkways can be planted.  A walk can be a garden, should you plan for this.  Any tall plant in a walk can slow down the pace.  If you have a garden, you are in charge of the experience of that garden.  This garden says hello, welcome, how are you doing-so pleased to see you.  All of this exchange, easy and exuberant.      

Herbs played a big role in the plant material specified for this cottage garden.  This patch of dill-beautiful. Cottage gardens suggest utility as much as they suggest the beauty of nature.  The generous intersection of the beauty of nature, flowers, herbs, and optimitistic community.  This makes for a cottage garden.    

Hollyhocks-what could be better?  This stand, accompanied by the salvia hybrid May Night- this is a good look.  Old fashioned hollyhocks-most every cottage gardener would fall for them, as well they should.        

The Carefree Beauty rose hedge across the front of this cottage provided structure, and stature.  Shrub roses are so easy to love. They are equally easy to make happy. Why would you not have them?  A Mackinac garden is different than most-the spring and the summer run together.  The dianthus blooms with the roses.  There is but one big blooming each season.  This garden is particular to a place.  Your garden is equally as particular.  Take notes.       

Plants thrive, given a judicious placement.  This stand of lamb’s ears-really happy.  Should you have and love a cottage garden, place every plant in the spot you deem the best.  Plan, and plan again.  Plant.  Once you have planted. watch what happens.  Interfere as little as you can.  Expect to hear music.    

Certain plants speak to the cottage garden idea.  Shrub and species roses, monardas, salvias, hollyhocks.  Boltonia, shasta daisies, astilbe, hyssop, dill, fennel, species delphiniums, columbines, echinacea, asters, Japanese Anemones-and so on.   There are lots of perennial plants out there.  A version of spring arrived today in my zone; it is about time.       

The roses, the herbs, the tomato plants, the rock garden plants, the perennials, the meadow, this and the structure that-write a recipe, and cook.  It is spring.

The Grand Hotel Topiary Sculptures

I do not remember what year it was, nor do I remember why, but Rob and I took a trip to New York-it may have been to see the Lucien Freud exhibit at the Met, and eat hot dogs after in Central Park.  On the way, we visited every place in Pennsylvania that we thought might have garden ornament or pots.  We visited Campania in Quakertown; I was unable to convince them to part with a single piece of their vintage Italian terra cotta.  Can you hear me sighing?  Meadowbrook Farm, just north of Philadelphia, was a delight to visit.  J. Liddon Pennock, noted garden designer and plantsman, willed his 25 acre estate and gardens to the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society in 2004.  He kept a small nursery and shop there; I made my first garden ornament purchase ever there.  Eventually we ended up at Longwood Gardens-wow.  I could write for days about that place, but what enchanted me the most were the topiary ivy sculptures.  I bought the book.   

The topiary were not rooted in the ground.  The plants were rooted in every surface of the sculptures. The New Topiary: Imaginative Techniques From Longwood  was a do it yourself topiary stylist’s dream book come true.  Patricia detailed exactly how they were constructed.  The steel frames had been made at the Longwood Manufacturing Corporation (no relation to the gardens) and stuffed with plants at the gardens.  I could not get these sculptures out of my mind.  On the strength of what I saw at Longwood, and what I read in the book, I managed to persuade Grand Hotel to invest in 3 topiary sculptures.  A pair of Hackneys, drawing a carriage, as depicted in their logo.  They agreed.  Some months later, the three steel and wire topiary frames were delivered to me-it was my turn. 

This glimpse of the interior of one of the horses helps tell the story of the construction.  The topiaries were built in horizontal layers, from the hoofs on up. A layer of the frame was covered in a netting of fishing line.  Florists moss was pressed into the fish line.  3 inches of soil came next; individual ivy plants were planted sideways in the breaks between the moss.  The body of the horse-much too large a volume to load up with soil.  The belly of each horse, a collection of styrofoam peanuts packed loosely into individual plastic baggies.  The worst enemy of any topiary built in this way-topiary erosion. The styrofoam interior had to perfectly conform to the available space without any air pockets.  We packed and stuffed, and packed again.  This photograph was taken when I had to repair a horse that had suffered a too rough a ride back to Mackinac Island in the spring.  A large topiary such as this requires a lot of patient work.   

It is easy to see in this picture how the plants were layered horizontally.  Finishing the forms took 400 hours-I remember this-and the countless miles of fishline and boxes of moss.  Truth be told, it was much more than I bargained for.  What it took to make these sculptures road ready-I had no clue; frankly, I grew up with these sculptures. I soaked the sculptures thoroughly before they got packed in their crates.  I would get them back in the fall, and winter them in a makeshift greenhouse I had put up for exactly this purpose.

I kept the original crates that the frames came in; Mackinac Island is 340 miles north of where I live. I knew the sculptures would need to travel.  A forklift loaded them on a boat, and offloaded them onto a horse drawn wagon for their trip up the hill.

I planted Stella D’Oro daylilies in the manes and tails.  I found glass eyes for the horses from a taxidermy shop.  They were finally ready to be placed in the garden. 

They made quite a statement.  This garden had a focus.  No matter when I visited, someone was taking a picture.  This part felt great.  They made the garden so much more friendly, and personal.  They invited people to interact with the grounds and gardens.

Back then, they were the star attraction in the Triangle garden.  Today they reside in a giant lawn space in the tea gardens.   This particular year, the tea garden was all white, pale yellow, and dilly.  So many dill plants and white nicotiana alata. 

Dorothy Farmer, noted gardener and supervisor of the Cranbrook Gardens auxiliary for so many years took my favorite picture of these sculptures.  She framed a copy of her picture, and gave it to me.  My photograph of her picture is terrible, but perhaps you can discern a little of what felt like magic to me.  The one red canna at the lower right-the odd man out.  She asked me about that.  Every garden I design has one plant that does not fit.  Most times I do it, in acknowledgement of nature.  In this garden this particular year, 1996,  I planted it for the owners of Grand Hotel.  Their interest and committment made a special moment in a garden possible.