The Engineering

engineering the flowers (14)Don’t ask me for the particulars, but I do recall seeing a spot on television recently featuring lots of young people studying engineering.  Engineering?  It never seemed to me that a career in engineering was anything but sleepy-just one short step up from accounting.  But these young people had solving the problems of the world on their mind. Their projects were as diverse as they were complicated.  An artificial limb powered by nerve impulses, salt water desalinated for drinking. Housing simple enough to put up in just a few hours. I was impressed-enough to rethink my casual disdain.  In fact, every project requires some engineering.  A landscape design may require a grading plan, a drainage plan, a footing or a wall.  It may require sleeves under a driveway, or lighting.  It may require a flat plane of ground, or a slope that descends on a certain angle.  Projects with the most modest of goals have than engineering phase.  Cut flowers for an event of a certain scale and feel proved to need some careful engineering.

engineering the flowers (15)Any cut flower arrangement 6 feet tall and as wide asks for some engineering in advance-yes. Add to this call the fact that the flowers in question were calla lilies.  Arranging callas in a small vase is a challenge.  Consider their requirements.  Their thick fleshy stems resent water that is too deep.  They are not a good choice for a long term arrangement.  The juicy stems split, give way and go down long before the flowers.  Heavy, long stemmed flowers have a mind of their own.  What was my idea to arrange armloads of callas in the top of a glass vase sitting 48 inches off the floor?  The opening of the vase was big – 18″ in diameter.

engineering the flowers (19)I have Sunne to thank for this engineering idea.  The long time manager and special events coordinator for Mary’s Enchanted Garden in downtown Detroit, she brought years of experience in the floral industry with her when she came our way.  A clear plastic saucer of just the right diameter was placed into the vase full of water, and wedged level and tight.  This sounds simple, but it took a number of tries before Rob got it right.  The calla lilies would have the shallow water they prefer.

engineering the flowers (21)What came next was more about construction than arranging.  Each stem was placed with the idea of creating a structure that would be stable and self supporting.  After all, this event was not to take place in my office.  This would need to be transported, and transported without a hitch.  Callas have a naturally curving stem.  The early stems were placed with the natural curve down, so the faces of the callas were turned up.  Calla stems can be straightened with repeated pulling all along the length of the stem, but that takes a very skilled pair of hands that exerts just the right amount of pressure.

engineering the flowers (16)Other arrangements included white phalaenopsis,  green cymbidiums and white dendrobiums.  All of these flowers are orchids.  The flowers of the white moth orchids are exceptionally delicate, and come packed in white shredded tissue. Each curving stem may have 6 or 8 flowers. These stems were supported by a series of birch twigs, placed inside and outside the vases.

engineering the flowers (1)The twigs provided structure and support to the orchid stems.  Their dark vertical shapes are in stark contrast to the curves of the flowers.  Bark covered twine and moss completed the look. Next up, engineering the transport.

engineering the flowers (3)A platform dolly is a huge amount of help, but in the end, there is no substitute for the human hand.  We had stuffed the box that held the calla vase with bubble wrap, but there would be a lot more to do before this arrangement would be road ready.  The weight of the water in the vase was considerable, but the weight of the callas made the entire affair extremely top heavy.  There were a lot of skilled hands on deck for this part.

engineering the flowers (5)As I expected, water sloshed out of the top of the vase getting it from my office to the lift gate of the truck, but it wasn’t much. Much to my relief, the callas looked serenely indifferent to all of the bumps getting through the shop to the truck. Phase 2 of the engineering was about to get started.

engineering the flowers (10)The time it took to remove the box from the vase, screw 2 by 4′s over the blanket-wrapped foot of the vase, wrap the upper portion of the vase in bubble wrap, and secure the arrangement to the walls of the truck with straps was a considerable amount of time.

engineering the flowers (11)The juncture of the vase to the foot was very small, and vulnerable.  Great care was taken to protect it. Fine textured bubble wrap insulated the flowers from the straps.  All the engineering here was geared towards making sure the arrangement would not move in the truck.

engineering the flowers (13)The big vase  was finally ready to transport. I was sure the vase would ride up and down in tandem with the truck.  That said, I was glad it would not be me driving.

engineering the flowers (8)All of the smaller arrangements would ride on a two tiered padded cart. Just before loading, every empty crevice was stuffed with bubble wrap.  The cart would be strapped to the wall of the truck. It should be clear that the engineering involved in this project was the most important element.

engineering the flowers (9)I am happy to report that all the flowers got to their destination safely.

engineering the flowers (18)The time and thought that goes into the engineering of any project is time well spent.

 

Winter Protection For Boxwood

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgBoxwood is one of the most versatile and robust growing evergreens available for planting in my zone. There are a number of great cultivars.  Green Velvet matures at 3′ by 3′, and keeps its great color all winter. Green Mountain is virtually identical to Green Velvet, but grows to 4′ tall by 3′ wide. Buxus microphylla koreana, pictured above, is hardy in this full south sun location, and can grow to 5′ by 5′.  The winter color is a dull orangy bronze. Winter Gem boxwood is incredibly hardy, and grows slowly to about 4′ by 4′. The leaves are smaller, and narrower than Green Velvet.

DSC_4001There are lots of other hybrids available.  Vardar Valley is an outstanding hardy cultivar of buxus sempervirens. It matures at 1′ to 2′.  The leaves have a distinctive blue green color.  As it is a slow growing variety, it is not routinely offered for sale at local nurseries.  Most of the boxwood sold in my area is grown in regions where the season is long enough to permit 2 flushes of growth per season.  This means nursery can get a salable product faster.  Boxwood is graded by width-not by height.  A boxwood takes about 7 years to grow to an 18″-24″ size.  This makes them relatively expensive to buy, compared to other ornamental shrubs that grow quickly.

MG 2013 (29)Boxwood is indeed a versatile shrub. They make great hedges, as their growth is uniform, and they are very tolerant of pruning.  That tolerance makes them an ideal subject for living sculpture. Boxwood pruned into spheres, squares, cones and cylinders are striking and delightful.  The large boxwood in this landscape will be kept pruned in spheres.  The small boxwood will be allowed to grow together, and will be pruned flat. This garden will have a much different look in a few years. All of these boxwood are Winter Gem.  The fine textured foliage makes them ideal for pruning into a formal, strictly geometric shape.   DSC_1801Boxwood are quite friendly to other plants.  Provided care is taken in the selection of a cultivar for a specific site, they will stay in bounds. These boxwood rectangles are a beautiful foil for the clipped espaliered crab apples. If the face is pruned on a very slight angle out from top to the bottom, they will stay green all the way to the ground. A boxwood which is hard pruned into a specific shape will stay green on the interior.

boxwood-green-velvet.jpgBoxwood makes a fine tall ground cover under a tree.  They are quite shade tolerant. A small landscape such as this is all the more interesting for a change of level.  These boxwood are a welcome visual intermediary between the ground plane, and a linden which has grown to substantial size. That they are shade tolerant means they can be sited in lots of places.  Naturally grown boxwood make a lovely backdrop for ferns, hostas and shade tolerant perennials.  A boxwood provides a green backdrop for the earliest of perennials to appear in the spring.  The small textured foliage makes them a great companion for the bigger textured hellebores, and European ginger.

Aug 31 2013 (20)A boxwood would go so far to oblige a gardener who wishes to grow them in containers.  They do need large enough containers so there is room to grow.  The root ball of a decent sized and well grown boxwood might be larger in diameter that its leafy component.  Boxwood in containers need special attention to proper watering. They need to be well watered prior to freezing weather.  They will rely on water stored in the stems and leaves to survive they winter, as the water in the container cannot be absorbed when it is frozen.  Boxwood in ground has much more widespread moisture available to its roots, especially given how long it takes for the ground to freeze to any significant depth.  A boxwood confined to a pot needs regular water.

boxwood-hedge.jpgPruning boxwood takes more than a good eye.  A great job invariably involved the setting of level lines.  Relatively level boxwood has a forlorn and unfinished look.  This boxwood has been pruned level with the horizon, even though the driveway drops down to the street.  The boxwood at the bottom of this drive is quite a bit taller than those plants at the top.  Level boxwood has a serene and solid look to it.

August 12 2013 (11)Boxwood can help provide structure to a garden.  This densely growing shrub provides a simple and strong contrast to the garden elements.  This pruning is loosely formal, and softens the stone wall behind them.

Aug 31 2013 (18)I have written about boxwood plenty of times before – I do like them.  It was painful to see how many boxwood in my area were severely damaged or killed outright by our last winter.  Some were crushed by the huge snow loads.  Others in more exposed locations were damaged by the extreme cold.  That cold, in conjunction with sun and wind burned the leaves. Leaves that were completely dessicated, died. It took the coming of the spring weather to see how terrible the damage truly was.  Some of the boxwood at the shop died outright.  The damaged portions will take years to recover.

July 5, 2012 035If you have ever hung a boxwood wreath on a shaded door for the winter, or used cut boxwood in winter pots, you know those stems will dry out, but stay green until the temperatures moderate.  Like many evergreens, by the time a boxwood shows signs of stress, it is too late to remedy the problem.  Now that fall is approaching, I would urge anyone with boxwood in my zone to spray them with an antidessicant.  An antidessicant is a waxy coating with will slow the evaporation of water from the leaves in the winter.

boxwood-spheres.jpgI have heard talk that this winter looks like it may be a very cold winter.  Something like last winter.  Though boxwood is hardy in this zone, extreme cold, sun, and drying winds can damage them.  Though a boxwood may grow out of winter burn, that look is unsightly come spring.  If your boxwood are 15 years old, it will be very expensive to replace dead plants with new plants of the size you already own.  Last winter was dramatic evidence that winter protection for boxwood is a good idea.  photo (43)I recommend Vapor Gard.  It is widely used as an agricultural antidessicant. The main ingredient is pinolene, a natural polymer made from pine pitch.  It can significantly reduce winter burn.  You can buy it, dilute it 1 part to 20 parts of water, and spray it on your boxwood. If you have lots of boxwood, your tree care company can spray this for you.  It is best done on a dry day, before the weather drops regularly into the low forties.  The polymer coating will protect those leaves over the winter, and help them retain moisture.  Vapor Gard is a natural and non toxic spray widely used on crops, including cherries.  It is an easy way to protect your investment. Do read the label-it is not appropriate for every and any plant. I plan to spray all of my boxwood with it soon; one application will protect them the entire winter. The boxwood pictured above from this past spring-heartbreaking.   Interested further?   http://www.cdms.net/LDat/ld06L002.pdf

The Weather

corgi-weather-vane.jpgWhat’s your weather like today?  Mine is cool and rainy, punctuated by torrential downpours of short duration.  Two days ago the temperature was above 80 degrees by late afternoon.  The forecast calls for 48 degrees tomorrow, and 39 degrees tomorrow night. The transition between summer and fall is marked by moody weather. There will be frequent swings in temperature, wind, rain, and fog.  Gardeners follow the weather with great interest.  Some plant by the phases of the moon. The weather forecast lets me know how to dress for a day in the garden.  A dry hot and sunny summer day asks for different gear than a cold rainy fall day. An early winter day hanging holiday garland might as for warm clothes from side to side, and top to bottom.

helleborus-orientalis.jpgWeather forecasts the change of the seasons.  Longer days, and warmer temperatures in late March signal the hellebores and crocus to come out of the ground.  Plants do have a mechanism by which they recognize that the cold and dormant season is over.  A biological clock. They know when it is too dicey to show themselves, and when it is time.  In much the same way, they know when the winter is approaching.  Their growth slows, and deciduous shrubs and trees prepare to shed their leaves in anticipation of the dormant winter season.  I understand next to nothing of the biology and chemistry of this, but it seems like plants keep very good track of the weather.

clouds.jpg

As long as I have been gardening, I routinely see weather conditions I have never seen before.  I cannot remember a winter like our past one-not that I should.  It was the coldest and snowiest winter we had had in over 100 years-why would I? A morning sky that is so pink that it changes the color of everything in the garden like a piece of colored acetate over my camera lens-we has such weather early this morning.  Clouds of some fantastic shape and arrangement-there they are, though they never looked like that before or since.

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Fog so dense that everywhere I looked was blinding white-that weather was on a boat bound for Mackinac Island many years ago.  I have never experienced that again.  Rain so hard that it bounced back skyward-memorable.

cafe-au-lait-dahlia.jpgOur summer has been cool and rainy, overall.  It was perfect weather to work, and have dinner outdoors.  All of the plants in the landscape have that lush well watered look.  So many evenings were perfectly comfortable-not too hot, nor too cold.  That bland temperate weather was memorable.  All of September was quite warm and sunny-the dahlias loved it as much as I did.  The weather is a daily companion to a garden, which brings me to the real point of this post.

Aug1 a 2014 (14)The longer I design landscapes and gardens, the more I believe that weather is one of the most critical design issues.  I am not talking about plant hardiness, or light and shade conditions, or soil that never gets rain, or is always flooded.  I think good design features the many faces of the weather.  For many of my clients, my design is first and foremost concerned with establishing some structure- some good bones.  Good bones can be built upon, or stand on their own.  Structure in the landscape in my zone has to take the winter season into account.  Our fall and winter is every bit of 6 months long.  Once the perennial garden fades, and the leaves of the shrubs and trees fall, all that is left is the structure – the bare bones.

perennial-garden.jpgI only have one very small perennial garden.  But for the trunks and branches of the dogwoods and magnolia, and the green of the yew hedge, that garden has little in the way of visual interest.  The horseradish collapses in a heap of rotten leaves, as do the lady’s mantle, the bear’s britches, and the Rozanne geraniums.  The phlox and hibiscus stand resolute for months after, but the snowy soon obliterates their shapes.

fall-leaves.jpgMy evergreens respond to the weather in a very different way.  The leaves that cover the tops of the boxwood underneath the magnolias celebrates the fall landscape.  The wet weather makes every boxwood leaf shine and glitter.  A dusting of snow illustrates the shapes described by that box.  A thick layer of snow is like a winter hat.  These rectangles of boxwood underneath the magnolias are very simple.  Though they have been there for many years, my eye does not skip over them.  Every day, the weather transforms them.  The landscape is designed to change with the seasons, and change even more often with the weather.

magnolia-petals.jpgOne can readily design a spring garden. Designing in celebration of spring weather is another issue altogether. The weather in Michigan is always a big fluid situation. The simpler the landscape, the more striking it will be, whatever the weather.

August 2013late day in summer

fall-leaves.jpgfall leaves

winter.jpgsnowy day

winter-landscape.jpga winter landscape

At A Glance: A Collection Of Fall Containers

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (39)bok choy, violas and pansies

October container 2eucalyptus, broom corn, cabbage, and kale

fall containers 019bleached sticks, eucalyptus, green and white pumpkins and gourds

Oct 11 2013 (3)chrysanthemums and pansies

burlap-sack-pot.jpgstriped gourds

white-pumpkin.jpgwhite pumpkin with white cabbage in a bushel basket

flame-willow.jpgflame willow

fall window boxa mix of fall materials

Oct 11 2013 (17)striped pumpkins and squash on grapevine

Oct 11a 021fall pots with big pumpkins and gourds

Oct 14 2011 023burdock seed heads, bleached plastic grass and peacock kale

October 19a 2013 (10)Rob’s grow-sphere with yellow pumpkins and pansies

fall-container.jpgrosemary and alyssum

variegated-basil.jpgpair of fall pots with variegated basil

planters-for-fall.jpgfall containers

fall-container-with-broomcorn.jpgfall container with broom corn, black eucalyptus, and ornamental kale

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (15)The fall season provides an embarrassment of riches in materials great for fall containers. In a pinch, faux materials can provide just what a container needs in form or color. That material may be fake, but I am a real person putting the whole thing together.  As for you-plant for fall in a way that expresses your take on the season.  I try to exercise a little good sense.  If I put the stems of weeds in containers, I try to put every last seed in the trash, first.  Dry thistle stems are gorgeous in fall pots, but those seeds will spread a terrible weed that is tough to eradicate. That said, I use the intact seed pods of butterfly weed everywhere I can, in hopes it will seed with abandon. If weed seeds must be part of the display, I will encase them on the stem with floral sealer.  I wait until the weather gets good and cool to pile pumpkins and gourds in pots.  Set in place too early in the fall, they will rot.  Outside of that, I’ll stuff pots with anything that looks good.  It makes no sense to exercise restraint at the time of the harvest, does it?