The Tulipiere

the tulipiere (14)Last fall, a friend who had business in Amsterdam wrote me that he had gone to a shop specializing in handmade Delft china.  They made vases in sections, which when assembled, would provide a striking display for tulips.  From Wikipedia:  “A tulipiere or tulip-holder is an ornate vessel in which to grow tulips, and is usually made of hand-crafted pottery, classically delftware. They are typically constructed to accommodate one single bulb per spout with a larger common water reservoir base. They were not designed as vases for a cut bloom, as is sometimes supposed. While fairly uncommon in modernity, during the 17th century tulipieres were used to grow tulip bulbs indoors and were common pieces of decorative art. After the advent of large-scale global trade in the 17th century, numerous flower bulbs from Asia such as the tulip, crocus, and hyacinth became luxury items in Europe and these bulbs remained an exotic novelty until the end of the 17th century. Large floor-standing pyramid-shaped tulipieres were particularly ornate, and dedicated to the love of a tulip.”  My friend and I-we both love tulips.  In the ground, and inside in a vase. Both tulipieres were shipped to me-one for me, and one for him.

the tulipiere (15)My delft tulipiere arrived last December.  It is a tower devoted to the display of the tulip. I loved the shape, stature, and the history surrounding this structure. Many tulipieres dating back to the 17th century were very elaborate, and hand painted. Modern tulipieres are more streamlined, and simple in shape and color.  But the idea is the same.  A vase that would provide a forum for the tulip would delight gardeners of all persuasions. Though the tulipiere was originally designed to hold tulip bulbs, which would root in the water, grow and bloom, I knew I would only use my tulipiere for cut tulips.

the Tulipiere (6)Jody Costello, whose company is known as J Costello Designs, does an amazing job of providing cut flowers for homes and events in our area. She was a participant in our spring fair 2 weeks ago. I can count on her to bring the most amazing array of spring cut flowers.  Her buckets of ranunculus, sweet peas, hyacinth, clematis, garden roses and tulips took my breath away.  Bunches of cut flowers wrapped in kraft paper and string were flying out of her booth on that Saturday.

the Tulipiere (4)On my mind was my tulipiere.  As she brought a great collection of cut parrot tulips, I asked her to arrange flowers in that Delft tower with an expression of spring all her own.

the tulipiere (11)How she arranged spring flowers in this vase was of interest to everyone who came by. This about tulips: the tulips are the mainstay of the spring bulb garden. The cultivars available to plant are just about endless.  The very early species tulips are quite persistent.  The Darwin hybrids feature giant flower heads in the midseason.  The Triumph tulips combine great flowers size with shorter, and more weather resistant stems.  There are double flowering early and late tulips.  The bunch flowering tulips are a bouquet springing from the ground.  The fringed tulips are all about an unusual texture on the edge of the petals.  The lily flowering tulips are late,  and vase shaped.  The viridiflora tulips feature green streaks in the petals. The late flowering tulips extend the season with their tall stems and large flowers.

the Tulipiere (5)Our tulips in the front of the shop are better than a foot tall right now. The big leaves are a sure sign of spring onm the way.  Some say the time between the emergence of the leaves and the bloom is a month.  I have never tested this theory, but I can say that once the tulips come up, I am tuned in to their story.  Those papery brown orbs that we planted last fall are growing every day now.  Our spring has been steady, but slow.  My hellebores are just beginning to bloom.  The crocus I usually see in March peaked a few days ago.  My magnolia stellata is in full bloom today-weeks behind their usual bloom date.  Only yesterday did I see forsythia beginning to bloom, and the grass growing greener.

the Tulipiere (8)Every gardener in my zone anticipates the spring with great excitement.  I am no exception.  Our winter has some snow, not record breaking snow, but long and lingering cold. The break in the cold was so welcome.  We have had cold mornings, and moderate afternoons.  Many layers of clothes in the morning gives way to a tee shirt in the afternoon. Winter is making some gestures towards spring.  The willows are leafing out.  My chionodoxa are in full bloom.

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As for my tulipiere, Jody did an incredible job of arranging flowers in it.  Cream parrot tulips, white hyacinths and white sweet peas.

the Tulipiere (3)Spring comes in a lot of different forms.  Every gardener in a northern zone is waking up. My tulipiere, full of tulips, sweet peas and hyacinths-a breath of spring. Fresh and sweet.  I can smell the spring coming. Thanks, Jody.

 

A New Relationship

The Branch Studio

In July of 2004, I bought 7 acres of land which was home to a pair of buildings totaling 30,000 square feet.  The buildings, used in the past to service trolley cars and tricked out vans, had been unoccupied for years. My favorite part was the meadow-7 acres of weeds rippling in the breeze that had been untouched for years.  My more than favorite part was that one building had 2 operational 5 ton bridge cranes. Who taught me how to love bridge cranes?  Buck of course.  Why would I buy another building? I wanted to make ornament for the garden-from concrete, and steel.  Garden ornament that was not just beautifully designed, but of heirloom quality. Those bridge cranes would provide me with a very basic tool I would need-the ability to lift and maneuver very heavy things. The steel on my mind would need lifting gear. I had been fabricating concrete faux bois furniture, pots and garden ornament in the garage at Detroit Garden Works in the winter for a few years previous. I couldn’t help but get my feet wet. In the meantime, Detroit Garden Works had grown, and it needed the space that the landscape trucks and equipment were occupying.  We had gotten too big to house 2 companies in the same 3/4 acre. And we had an idea to make things for the garden. It was time to make a move.

Branch StudioI bought the building and land, not realizing what was to come-to make the property liveable and workable.  We needed a fire hydrant, and a parking lot for starters.  We needed a new furnace, and an electrical upgrade, and service on the overhead doors and bridge cranes. All of this work was accomplished as the landscape company was able to generate the income to fund them. Of course I had to pile it on. I  wanted to make terra cotta pots. Anything we made from concrete, steel, or terra cotta needed to be beautifully designed, and fabricated to an exacting standard. My attitude towards the garden ornament was no different than my attitude towards the landscape.  One at a time, thoughtfully designed, and beautifully executed.

DSC_1235By 2008, the US economy was in free fall. No one needs landscape design and installation to live. People were afraid to commit, as well they should have been.  My business contracted.  I am happy to say that my landscape practice was steady-but it was not growing one bit. There was no income left over to fund the Branch Studio enterprise.  Like many other businesses, all of the managerial people took substantial pay cuts.  Buck would spend the next 18 months handling everything at the Branch Studio on his own. He bought battery heated gloves, as we could not afford to heat the building much past 45 degrees in the winter. But he never thought to give in, or give up. My accountant-I waved him off when he suggested that I close the business. It was simple- I had an idea that I believed in, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take to make that idea viable.

Branch 3 2013We were busy sorting out and distilling who we were, and who we hoped to be. We made things that needed revision in size and proportion. All the right details are not always so obvious on the first or fifth go around. We were after a garden box that would turn heads.  Buck had already worked for 30 years as an architect, with a specialty in technical design. He and I both were after ornament that came from our history in Detroit.  The order of events was not so easy or predictable. We spent years in development, both on the design and the manufacturing side.

DSC_9098Tough times made it easier to decide what medium was our medium of choice. The head and guiding hand of the Branch Studio is Buck Moffat.  If you read this blog regularly, you know about him.  But for those of you who are not familiar with him, he was a Saarinen scholar in the department of architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1970’s. Though he is from Texas, he is all about a love for the history of Detroit style great industrial design and fabrication. The Branch Studio red book of creating precisely fabricated objects for the garden is of his invention, and I have him to thank for the fact that we now ship our garden boxes, fountains, pergolas and custom made ornament all over the country. The entire studio is confident that they will look great, and measure up to those people with a big love for the garden.

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The Branch Studio hums along now, some 11 years after that beginning. We make contact with all kinds of people who value the landscape such that they would commit to very fine ornament for their gardens. We do a lot of custom work for garden designers and landscape architects. This is who we have always hoped to be. Purveyors of ornament for the garden that does indeed provide a lifetime of beauty and service.

DSC_9095This past fall I had a call from Restoration Hardware. They were interested in pursuing a relationship with Branch. If you have seen their 2015 outdoor catalog – or any of their catalogs for that matter – you’ll see that they have a very big idea about design and home, and are pursuing that idea with great focus and energy.  After much discussion, it was agreed that we would design and fabricate an all steel garden box exclusively for them. We shared the design of one of our fountain cisterns with them, and will fabricate it in 2 sizes exclusive to them. The experience of dealing with them has been extraordinary. They were very thorough about wanting to understand everything they could about our work, and our products. They were very generous with their time. They were determined to represent our work.

DSC_9103Based on my experience over the past six months, they are a very large company that takes great pains not to be or act like one. What shines through is their excitement, passion, and commitment to great design. And a mission to make that design available to a very wide audience. Their customer service is very personal, thoughtful, and all around awesome-that part of them is a mission they take very seriously.  If you are not familiar with them, I would encourage you to seek them out. Their new catalog for 2015 for interior furnishings for small spaces-brilliant.  Restoration Hardware

We are but a very small part of their group, but by invitation, we are a part of their vision. Thank you, Restoration Hardware.

So very happy to be here:  Deborah Silver for Restoration Hardware

The Penny W. Stamps Lecture Series: Louis Benech

Are you familiar with the Penny W. Stamps Lecture series which take place at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor?  If you are not familiar with the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, their mission is simply as follows.

Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

On September 20th, 2012, our School officially became the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. It’s a significant landmark in our history — not merely for the way that a name shapes identity, but in the symbolic gesture that the naming represents. It is a gesture of thanks to a long-standing member of the A&D community whose generous financial support has helped make us who we are today and whose continuing support of programs and scholarships will shape who we will become, as an institution and as a community.

Penny Stamps graduated from this school in 1966 as Penny Witt. She’s an award-winning designer, a community leader and, along with her husband Roe, a dedicated philanthropist. The Stamps give to many causes — animal welfare, environmental organizations, homeless shelters — but higher education is something they are especially passionate about.

Penny Stamps has been involved with this school philanthropically, since 1998, providing initial funding for a then-fledgling lecture series. Later, when Dean Bryan Rogers came on board, she became involved with the school strategically, as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council, providing key support as the school sought to re-envision art/design education in the 21st century.

During the last ten years, this school has been rebuilt from the ground up. It has been an ongoing effort to rethink and restructure what we do as an educational institution; to ensure that the work of creative makers is positioned not outside of but within the intellectual fabric of university life; and to create an art/design education that is responsive and relevant within a national and global context.

Over the last decade, Penny and Roe Stamps, among others, have provided the School with the financial resources needed to undertake such a task. By supporting such programs as the wildly popular Penny W. Stamps Speakers Series, WORK • Ann Arbor, a downtown exhibition space for undergraduate work, the Roman W. Witt Residency and Visitors programs, the Stamps Creative Work Scholarships, and a pledge that ensures the continuation of all these programs, the Stamps have provided a foundation from which we can continue to build a world-class art/design program here at the University of Michigan.

Impressive, this. The lecture series features people who have made a mark in their career in art and design.  I am so pleased to see that a landscape design comes under this umbrella. I am very pleased to announce that the Penny Stamps lecture slated for April 9 at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor will be given by the renowned French landscape designer, Louis Benech.  This is an event that we wholeheartedly support, and sponsor.

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Classic French design is crisply and dispassionately edited.  But the work of Louis Benech is not only clearly of French origin, it goes beyond to be work uniquely of his own invention. I admire how he reads the lay of the land so gently, and designs in concert with nature.  His love of plants equals his love for great design. His design is always thoughtful, and never imposing.

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His work contrasts his love of geometry with his big love for the natural world.  The images of his work are readily accessible on line, but the chance to hear him speak to his history, outlook, and profession is a rare opportunity for anyone with a big love for the landscape to experience in person a lecture from a giant in 20th century landscape design.

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To Follow is from The Penny Stamps Lecture series website.

Watch and Work

April 9, 2015

Louis Benech

Renowned landscape designer Louis Benech has carried out some 300 park and garden projects around the world including at the Tuileries, the Elysée Gardens and the Quai d’Orsay, Pavlovsk’s Rose Pavilion (St Petersburg), and the Gardens of the Achilleion (Corfu). He has also worked for organizations such as Hermes, Axa and Suez.  With each of his projects, Benech combines a desire to create long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing gardens with respect for a site’s history and ecosystem, while also considering its future upkeep. At the heart of his work is one simple idea — a garden is an artificial construction with elements of nature. It has to bring pleasure to those who experience it and a break in their life. A recipient of the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Benech is now working at the Palace of Versailles on a contemporary garden for the Water Theatre Grove.

With support from Matthei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, Deborah Silver and Company / Detroit Garden Works, and the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Unless otherwise noted, all programs take place on Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the historic Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and are free of charge and open to the public.

Should you be within driving distance of Ann Arbor in Michigan, I would encourage you to attend the lecture coming up April 9 by Louis Benech. I am sure it will be more thank interesting to hear him discuss his work. The photographs in the book  Louis Benech: Twelve French Gardens are lovely. But to hear a designer of this caliber speak about those photographs and that work is an experience not to be missed.  April 9, at 5:10.  The Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Vernissage 2015

Six years ago today, April 1, 2009, I published my very first post. How pleased I was to have a  a forum for my gardening journal!  I  revisited and revised this post in 2010,  2012, and 2014.  To follow is this year’s version of the essay Vernissage.

snowdrops in spring

Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years. Our conversation over the years speaks a lot to the value of nurturing long term commitments.  I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park.  Needless to say, the years flew by, from one project to the next.  I have favorite projects.  An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant.  A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later.  Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new.  I learned how to operate a bulldozer,  I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on part of the sculpting of the ground.  There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm.  Deterring deer was nearly a full time job.  Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new.

snowdropsIn a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening. I would prefer to associate spring with that idea described by vernissage. This has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does.  But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Last year’s spring was notable for its icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground. The snow that was still very much a part of the landscape in mid April.  This year, a different kind of drama altogether. A cold none of us could shake. My first sign of spring was the birds singing, early in the morning-just a few days ago. I still see snow on the north side of every place. It was a bit of a shock, realizing how long it had been since I had heard the birds.  Why the break of my winter this year is about hearing the singing-who knows.  Maybe I am listening for the first time, or maybe I am hearing for the first time. Or maybe the birds are singing ahead of the spring.  Every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently.  To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature.  This past winter was the most miserably cold I ever remember.  It just about reduced my spirit to a puddle on the ground.  Spring is not so close to being here yet, even though it is April 1.  But I see the signs.

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Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea.  I put it to paper.  I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back. This is the most important part of my work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in. The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill.   The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure.  The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature.  I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery.  I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution seems to have a clearly defined beginnings, and no end.

hellebore.jpgThis spring will see more than anyone’s fair share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs.  The winter cold was that bad. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, I get my spring.  I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my membership.  The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock.  And get started.

Hyacinths bloomingI can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can coax or stake what the heavy snow crushed.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden.  Later, I will have time to celebrate the shade.  I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder. Rob’s pot full of hyacinths that he put on a table outdoors was instantly full of bees.

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Today also marks 23 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden.  No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir.  The beginning of the gardening season we short list as vernissage.

spring containersWe have begun to plant up spring pots.  Our pots feature hellebores, primrose, and spring flowering bulbs. What a relief to put our hands back in the dirt.

spring containersA sunny and warm day brings every gardener outside.  Being outside today without a winter parka- divine.

pansiesVernissage? By this I mean spring.