In Progress


It is great fun for me to outfit the front of the shop for the winter.  I can do the work in bits and pieces.  I can change my mind, or change direction. I do it up as little or as much as I want.  I spend lots of hours at work, so I have time to look at it and think.  It is still dark when I get to work, so I see what it looks like at night.  Though I hate like heck repeating myself, I did drape the windows with burlap again this year-that’s how much I liked the look. Those went up weeks ago, before the winter work rush. 

 Jenny and Pam wrapped the trunks of the linden trees.  Given the recent temperatures of 7 and 8 degrees, this not only looks plausible, it looks like a good idea.

Steve and his crew hung the drapes, and made the light garlands.  What started out as white orange green and gold lights are now white, gold and red.  I seem to be in the mood for red.  Part of that inclination comes from an unexpected source.  A client who purchased a new home was not so thrilled with the 17 trees jammed into a small urban lot. A number of them were Japanese maples, impossible to transplant.  Though I am not a big fan of Acer palmatum, it was hard enough to chop them down, much less pitch them out.  So those tall branches have a home in my 6 pots out front. Red-leaved Japanese maples branches-what can I do to honor them?

This picture should make obvious that any gesture in the landscape needs to be a substantial one.  This looks for all the world like I just barely got going-which is true.  I am thinking a little red would do this scene a world of good.  Red in the landscape tends to read in a very subtle way-so I am also thinking that whatever red I plan to put here needs to be a lot.       

Everything in sight has that bronzy brown hue; even my boxwood goes orangy brown with cold weather. It is beautiful, in a very austere way.  There are months ahead where austere will rule-I am not ready for that yet.    

The lighting adds a lot of color and sparkle, but I did not have a good idea about how to introduce daytime color until a few days ago.  Rob and I have had discussions on and off this season about the problem of berries.  Berries in a winter landscape sound great-but the choices are not so great.  Good looking artificial berries tend to be paper wrapped. This means they are intended for interior use.  All plastic berry stems are not so great looking-unless you are a considerable distance away.  Spraying the winterberry with a strong antidessicant has worked so far for me, but they make a modest red gesture-not a big one. So maybe some berries for all these branches.

These snow covered branches look great, illuminated by the lights on the drapes. I so wish I had gotten some berries on these branches before the snow, but I am sure there is snow to come.  I cannot remember the last time we had snow and very cold temperatures like this so early in December.  It was too cold to work outside yesterday-7 degrees, and very windy.  Temps in the 20′s today will seem like a heatwave.

Nature has done her part to frost all of the basic elements of the landscape with a beautiful and thick layer of snow.  Hopefully I will be able to finish this up today.  

This looked just fine early this morning; I am hoping for better later in the day.

Pattern and Texture

There is nothing like a snowfall to make patterns and textures in the landscape stand out.  Boxwood provides a small and fine texture and a uniform pattern; this picture makes that very clear.  The branching on trees stands out dramatically when those branches are coated with snow.  These brown concrete pots have very smooth surfaces; only the rims catch the snow.  The pots read as a homogeneous shape.  Given the somber colors of a winter landscape, the interest here is all about line, pattern, texture, and mass.  Winter greatly restricts the color palette in the landscape-that change is not all bad.  It makes the other elements of design easier to see.  

A dusting of snow has collected on the exposed surfaces of these bundles of copper willow.  The bunches provide quite a hairdo for this bench.  Individually, the sticks are quite linear.  The mass of sticks have a curved pattern.  The snow makes clear that anything in a mass reads quite diferently than it does as an individual.  A single plant might be distinguished in its flower or leaf, or stature; a mass of that plant is more about an overall shape, sweep, or drift. 

This cast iron grate has a distinctive pattern and a densely complex texture.  Snow makes all the more of that. How snow softens the outlines of hard structures and surfaces is one of the pleasures of the winter landscape.  A snowfall can make the most ordinary landscape look spectacularly beautiful.  It would be more accurate to say that most natural phenomena are spectacularly beautiful-even if I neglect to see it.  The snow turns on the lights.  

We are not buried in snow like other parts of the country, but we did get 6-8 inches.  The snow fell fast, and stuck to everything.  Why does it sometime snow when the temperature is above freezing?  It was 35 degrees here at one point yesterday and snowing like mad; it was 7 degrees when I got to work this morning.  All the wet snow is now frozen in place, so I have had plenty of time to look around.  The pruning pattern on the katsura espaliers can be readily seen; branches that were cut back hard responded by sprouting a number of stick straight branches from a single cut.  The pattern I see on these trees is a very clear explanation of how a branch responds to pruning. A pruning cut issues an invitation to grow.   

These vintage trench drains have a repetitive and very geometric pattern. They are most clearly a human-generated form.  The wildly curving branches of the pollarded willow are anything human. This idea shocks me some, and interests me a lot. The snow outlines the massive main trunks of the tree. I will loose this pollarded tree sooner rather than later. A high wind several years ago uprooted it.  My efforts to replant it were in vain; the bark is shedding in giant strips, and bracket fungus fruiting bodies have appeared.   

The copper curly willow is very curly. This branching is obscured in the summer by leaves.  I have to admit that this tree looks better in the winter than the summer, and that the pattern is outstanding in the snow.  The most difficult thing about choosing plants for their winter interest is that when that idea strikes home, as in today, nothing can be done about it.  I keep files of photographs of my own garden organized by the month.  I photograph certain key spots from the same angle 12 times a year.  I wish I had started doing this 14 years ago, instead of four.    Nonetheless, these pictures tell me a lot about whether the design and planting is working as well as it could.   

I did not clean out the boxes on the roof this year-the first time ever for that.  The fall and very late fall was a beautiful season for the boxes.  I am not surprised that the elegant feather persisted in its skeletal state, but I am surprised to see so much of the dichondra and plectranthus still holding on.  The pattern and texture provides something moody and textural to see.  The empty box alternative seems much less interesting. 

This pile of cut burning bush branches is dramatic covered with snow.  They are all the more dramatic for their accidental placement in front of a concrete wall, covered in the dark stems of boston ivy.  This wall faces the west; I have no idea why there is not one bit of snow on it anywhere-unless the snow was born on wind out of the west. So much pattern and texture-all ruled by a study in light and dark. 

A pair of espaliered crabapples need to come into the garage for the winter.  As soon as the bulk of our winter containers are done, space will open up for them. This is the only plant with color on the entire shop property.  The pattern of the snow on the berries-I am glad I got a chance to see this.

Sunday Opinion: Shopping

I will be the first to admit that I shop for holiday gifts via the internet.  It is an amazing convenience for a working person like me.  Not that I take the easy way out.  I do try to make the effort to research for those things that are out of the ordinary. I read most every day the Canadian blog Poppytalk-I so love how they provide a market for independent and small business people who create distinctively individual and enormously creative objects. Check out  Is her work not astonishingly inventive and beautiful?  I found her via Poppytalk.       

I can explain further why shopping on line is a big help to me.  Anyone involved as I am in a retail store is incredibly busy this time of year. The shop gets outfitted for the holidays between October 15 and November 15-this takes every bit of 30 days.  My landscape company does an astonishing number of winter and holiday projects between November 15 and December 20th. Most of those projects I have not photographed yet-no time yet. I design,  run a crew, and fabricate.  I make things for the store in my spare time.  It seems like I am working in the spaces between the days too. The shop grounds need dressing  for the winter-I plan to finish that up tomorrow. I am late on the finish-I didn’t have an idea I liked until 3 days ago.  My Sundays are a mix of planning the week ahead in the morning, and working the shop in the afternoon. The Sunday opinion post-over a slow weekend, I write it Sunday morning.  Over a fast paced Sunday, I do it Sunday night or Monday morning-as in now.  Even the weekly/daily posts get behind, though I try my best to keep up.  This leaves me not so much time to shop.  I have a brother I adore, and a sister in law I adore even more- in Colorado.  Shopping for them, and Buck, and my close friends is a serious business.  I fret and fume over locating the perfect thing for each of them.  Not that I mind this.  All of them are worth every minute I spend.  Should Christmas get too close without a clear sign, I err on the side of being on time with something.  They never seem to mind if a special holiday gift arrives just after New Year’s, but a gift on time counts for much.  I never shop my own shop for for the people I love-I doubt I need to explain this.

Shopping for Deborah Silver and Company, or for Detroit Garden Works is a much different kind of shopping.  Were I able to make internet inquiries and purchases for materials for my landscape company and store in the time it takes to click, I still would not do it.  In fact, sourcing great materials involves much more than an email enquiry.  But more importantly, we are known for a collection you will not find elsewhere.  A collection based on the eye and experience and aesthetic point of view of our group.  Rob travels overseas and all over this country to auctions, antiques markets and shows. He shops local markets.  He drives places he has not been, with the express purpose of maybe meeting people who make or collect interesting objects and plants. Over the past 18 years he has met no end of small independent business owners who have very special products to sell.  On occasion, he will be able to convince them to produce their glazed terra cotta pots in a color they do not ordinarily do.  Or in a sized they have not done before.  Their willingness to accomodate his special requests has a lot to do with the fact that he made time to go and meet them in person, and cultivate a relationship.  We may reorder from a vendor once we have established a relationship with them, but in the beginning, all of our buying is done in person. 

My landscape superintendent Steve Bernard travels extensively over the winter, sourcing plant materials, tools, new techniques, and landscape materials.  This means he visits nurseries and growers all over this country. He reviews their material, and their growing practices.  When he buys, he buys specific plants. Viewing in person-there is no substitute. Some of my relationships with growers date back to the 1980′s.  When I worked for Al Goldner, he insisted that everyone travel to meet growers and hybridizers.  He taught me to do this, and I have done so ever since.  Shopping like this takes lots of time, effort and committment.  Plane tickets.  Meals and lodging.  Car rentals, phone charges.  Days away from home.  Some trips prove fruitless, but no matter; we keep looking.  Our interests evolve. One thing can lead to an intriguing another, should the effort be made.  I do this so my clients get the benefit of our collective eyes.  I do this so both the shop and my landscape company stay fresh and vital.  I also really enjoy it; it’s satisfying to find something new and beautiful.  There are lots of beautiful things out there-it just takes some effort to find them. 

I cannot buy ribbon for the holidays via the internet, or a catalogue.  I need to see it in person-I need to put my hand and my eye to the spool, and decide if it represents our idea of useful, interesting, and beautiful.

At A Glance: The Workroom