The Greening Of Detroit


I sit on the board of the Greening of Detroit, although I never attend the commissioner’s meetings.  Meetings are not my long suit. I am much better in some other capacity.  My main contribution-I sponsor a garden tour every July to benefit the Greening.  Every dollar we take in from the sale of tickets goes to benefit their programs.  Sometimes I teach classes at the Eastern market. I help however I can. 

But back to the Greening-they have been planting trees, sponsoring urban farms, and teaching people how to grow in Detroit for the past 21 years.  They have been committed to the improvement of my city for a very long time.  Each and every one of them-friendly, engaging and focused.  I admire, and stand behind their misson, and their record.   Last week-a fund raiser dinner.  Every year Monica manages to persuade me to do the flowers-in early May, for Pete’s sake.  I protest, and then I do what I should do-help them.    This year- 26 fiber pots stuffed with pansies-each with their own banner.  Plant it, Detroit.

Dark And Dramatic

What makes dark leaved plants so irresistable?  Their relative rarity attracts the eye in an instant.  Of all of the thousands of green leaved plants in my garden, I have no plants with “other than green” leaves.  Were I to plant a red-leaved plant there, it would attract attention.  A red-leaved Japanese maple stands out from the crowd by virtue of its color alone-never mind that it is a tree with many virtues.  Red leaves can create excitement in a visually sleepy place; the color is unexpected.  Though I would not be inclined to indroduce red leaved plants into my landscape, I like them in containers.  These old red leaved spikes provide a dramatic accent to this grouping of pots.  The choice of lime licorice as an underplanting reflects my general rule-if I use dark leaved plants in a container, I stay away from green leaved companion plants.      

Once I make the decision to feature a plant with dark foliage, the supporting cast plants need be friendly to that color.  Lime licorice verges on yellow; inky fingers coleus has a deep purple ground, with just a hint of bright green on the edges.  Medium green and medium red make mud together.  I like sharp, crisp, delicate and dramtic color-no mud.  Big black foliage needs more black foliage to make a dramatic color statement.  The rim of bright green on this Inky Fingers coleus describes its small texture-it brings all of the color to life.  Medium green foliage in this container-thud.    

This red/black foliaged hibiscus is a very strong grower.  It can easily attain 6 feet in a single season.  The red and lime bicolor coleus and lime licorice light up that dark color from below.  I have thought on occasion to pair it with the big ruffly leaved farfugium; the contrast in texture would be great.  The red and green color combination I am reluctant to try.  Want an other than green foliaged scheme?  Follow through with every move you make.

I did make an exception in this case.  The strap leaved New Zealand flax, or phormium, is black leaved; perhaps there is a hint of brown.  The large, bright flower heads of the peach geraniums attract the eye; its great leaves fade away into the distance.  The violet petunias are so covered with blooms that the green foliage is scarcely visible.  This planting is dark and dramatic.

This large and black leaved canna is a boldly sensational plant.  It has great stature, texture, and mass-there is no missing it.  The red violet and lime yellow coleus Arizona Sunset repeats that dark foliage color in a different hue, and leavens it with lime.  The delicate and pale lavender petunias are a sharp contrast-all of that lavender brings out the purple in the canna leaves.  The flowers have all but obliterated any view of its green foliage.  

This centers of these canna leaves appear green when the sun shines through them. This made it fine for me to plant an olive green coleus with a red violet obverse next to it.  The red thread leaved alternanthera appears to darken as it matures-a large mass of red leaves traps light, rather than reflecting it.  The pink petunias and creeping jenny define the lower edge of the alternanthera mass.  Very dark foliage benefits from some lighter company-any other color than medium green, please.

Malabar spinach has very dark green leaves which are red violet on the reverse side.  The stems and knobby flowers are also dark red violet.  Though I love how it climbs to great heights in just one season, I also value that dark foliage.  Persian Shield and black sweet potato vine mirror that color quite well.  This pot was dark up 12 feet into the sky, and just as dark, down to the ground.  This made me think a big button of green-foliaged Red Sun zinnias would work.  

The very dark purple oxalis triangularis is one of my favorite plants.  That rich dark red violet leaf-so beautiful.  I especially like it with Solenia orange begonia.  Very little of the green leaves of the begonia are visible-this is a study in orange and dark red violet.  The varigated licorice is not your garden variety green-it looks as fresh as the description mint green suggests. The big idea here-should you choose to include dark foliaged plants in your landscape, garden, or containers, pay even more attention to the color you put with them.

In The Mood For Moss

One wall of my shop is completely covered in moss.  Dried and preserved moss, that is. Mood moss is sold by the case; the rounded clumps come with a wiry and fibrous backing which are the individual stems and roots.  I cut the brown backs flat, and fit and hot melt glue the pieces on sheets of foamcore board. I leave a two inch border unmossed all around the 4 edges of the board.  After I stapled all of the sheets to the wall, I covered the seams with solid pieces of moss that cover where one board meets another.  This makes the moss field look continuous.  This moss makes for a highly textural surface.  When the color of the moss fades, as it always does with exposure to light, I spray it with moss dye, which is most likely a glorified food coloring.Mossing a container involves a wholly different process. Moss can be used to line a wire container, as its fibrous stems and roots are densely interwoven.  It permitts the passage of water while it contains soil.  It is a very attractive material-what gardener does not have a soft spot for moss?  I once caught Buck in the nick of time, just as he was set to broom all the moss off of a low retaining wall in the drive.  It did take a little time to explain the beauty of this plant, but now he treasures our living colonies of moss as much as I do.  Florist’s moss comes in flat sheets-or hides” as Rob calls them.  They lay obligingly flat against the surface being lined.  These moss baskets show nothing of the wire liner; this particular moss is fitted tightly to the outside surface of the basket, rather than the inside surface.  More on that later.   

Mossing a very large object, such as this wirework pedestal, involves a filler material.  To stuff this entire volume with moss would involve many many cases at great expense.  Instead, we turn the pedestal up side down, and place a sturdy plastic trash bag filed with bark that fills the center of the space.  The florist’s moss is soaked until is is pliable and can be easily shaped.  It is then stuffed into a small space between the bag of bark, and the outside wire shell.  The moss is pushed down, and into that wire.  This insures that when the pedestal is turned right side up, gravity will cause the moss to fall back onto each individual wire, securing it in place.  Gravity plays a big part in any sucessful mossing project. 

Once the thick outside layer of moss is wedged into place by the bagged bark, and gravity, the bag is sealed with duct tape.  Wood 1 by 2 inch lumber is wedged under the angle iron comprising the bottom of the pedestal.  This is an anti-gravity measure.  Ideally, all of the airspace inside is either moss or bark.  Gravity will act on any open pockets, producing that dreaded condition known as “topiary erosion”.  This is why I rarely use moss in a horizontal spot in a container.  The weight of wet soil, and the action of gravity will tend to perforate the moss-it is only a short time thereafter when the soil breaks through.     

The process of mossing an urn or container is a two step process.  4 or 5 inches of densely packed and overlapping pieces of moss are pressed into the wall of the container.  Then the drainage material, and 4 inches of soil are added-this keeps the moss in place.  We work our way to the top of the urn-some moss, and then some soil to hold it in place.  There is little pressure on the moss in the sides of a container, as the weight of the soil and the action of gravity is always in the vertical dimension.

The bottoms of these urns are packed solid with moss, as the space is too small to handle both soil and moss.  The bagged bark in the pedestal helps make the pedestal heavy.  A large wire pedestal and urn has to be sited in a place where winds are less likely to blow them over.

Always, there is new technology.  One of my favorite new products-rolls of florist’s moss with a plastic netted backing.  I suspect the moss is ground up, mixed with a binder, and sprayed onto the netting.  This is a very civilized and easy to handle mossing material.  I moss baskets and containers in much the same way as I might wallpaper a wall.  There is very little waste.  The netting makes the moss very strong, and unlikely to rupture.  Smooth and symmentrical containers can be mossed in minutes with this material. 

There is no need to fit, soak, or overlap this material, nor do you need to build up each layer a few inches at a time.  It molds easily to the surface you are mossing.  It can be cut, and the corners easily folded inward.  We cut the strips for this plant stand a few inches long, so the top edge could be rolled, and form fitted to the rolled edge at the top of each tier.

Small, geometrically shaped galvanized wire containers can be mossed and planted very quickly.  The smaller the container, the more difficult it is to handle and fit natural sheet moss.  I find this netted composite moss retains its mossy color really well.

The bottom of this container has a layer of natural coir, cut to snuggly the fit the bottom. The coir is very dense and strong, and will keep the soil where it belongs.  

This pair of mossed galvanized buckets look very handsome-even before they have plants.  The structure of the wire is cleanly and clearly visible.

This moss cow was a birthday gift from Rob a number of years ago.   This spring, I took it apart, and re-mossed some sections, and repaired others.  It is the only sculpture in my garden.  Lady Miss Bunny-is she not beautiful?

Sunday Opinion: Making Friends

This past week was loaded on the front and the back end with work-spring is like that.  I have a number of landscape projects under construction, and a big backlog of design work.  I had three appointments with clients today-Sunday.  The Better Homes and Gardens crew got a big chunk of my time this past week-as well they should. I am updating a front yard landscape of several old clients, landscaping from the ground up a new home for an old client,  advising another client about terrace furniture and pots, re-mossing 8 wire planters and pedestals for the new season, ordering in fine topiary plants and taking delivery of specimen rosemary plants, taking delivery of annual plants at the shop-planning the container planting season.  I have three clients with early June weddings at home, and another three clients with important events taking place in the garden in early June. 

Relentless rain and cold over the past 3 days-I am getting no help from the weather. For 6 weeks, the weather has been wet. Water was gushing into the shop through the wall today-no kidding.  Weeks ago, I hired Rebecca Gill from Web Savvy Marketing to completely redo the Detroit Garden Works website.  I disliked that I could not update it, nor could I copy pictures from it.  I disliked how the website was search unfriendly.  I took a leap-as I understand next to nothing about internet communication.  I gave Rebecca the go ahead.  Frankly, I would spend an hour with Rebecca, undestand next to nothing of what she was saying, and feel tired.  But one thing I did get.  The new website would be on a wordpress platform-the same as my blog.  The idea that I could write and post pictures and writing to my own website sounded like a swell idea.

This I know-when you truly believe that someone knows what they are talking about, the best thing you can do is get out of their way, and let them do what they know how to do. This I did, and consequently Detroit Garden Works has a new website.  We also have a facebook page.  Oh boy.  Tomorrow, I have an appointment with Rebecca-she has plans to school Jenny about Facebook and Twitter.  As Jenny is barely 30, I have a suspicion she already knows where this is going.  I have every intention of sitting in on the session, to see what I might learn.  

 I like writing this blog for two reasons.  It is very hard to write about a topic until you have your thoughts all sorted out.  The composing and editing process that accompanies the writing  has helped me to understand my process, and spot what needs doing better.  But by far and away the best part is the sharing that goes on.  People from all over write in-I sometimes get comments from posts I wrote a year ago or better.  What people have to say is a way of meeting and talking about a topic we both hold dear.   I have contact now with all kinds of gardeners who share and sympathasize with my problems and failures, and enjoy my efforts.  I have never belonged to a garden club.  Years ago I would have told you that I had no interest in talking about gardening-I just liked to do it. This is not exactly true.  I talk to my clients all the time about gardening.  If I am proposing that they make a change or addition of a landscape, I have to articulate what that change will accomplish, and  why I think that addition is important.  

Rebecca sent me an outline for the meeting.  The first topic of discussion?  How facebook is a vehicle for Detroit Garden Works to make friends. I am sure you can tell just from how I have phrased this that I am in uncharted territory.  A new way to make gardening friends?  OK, we will give that a whirl.