English Stoneware Garden Pots

English-stoneware-garden-pots.jpgAnywhere in the world where garden pots are made, there are stoneware pots being made. As noted in the post on Belgian stoneware, the stone like quality of the pots has to do with the mineral content of the clay, which when fired at very high temperatures, becomes very hard, and impervious to frost. The English made stoneware pots pictured above have a particularly beautiful color and surface, which comes from a process known as salt glazing. From Wikipedia:  “Salt glaze pottery is stoneware with a glaze of glossy, translucent and slightly orange-peel-like texture which was formed by throwing common salt into the kiln during the higher temperature part of the firing process. Sodium from the salt reacts with silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate.”  The glazed surfaces of these pots is definitely glassy. The color reminds me of freshly baked bread. Delicious.  That glossy brown color is beautiful, in contrast to a treasured group of plants.

English-pottery.jpgThe pottery has been in production since 1878. It has remained a family owned business throughout the past 237 years. Each pot is either hand thrown, molded, or cast. The people who make these pots are working people.  Just like the gardeners I know.  Rob toured the pottery last September, and placed a large order. Pictured above is his rental car in the pottery lot.  That order was delivered to our shipper several weeks ago, and will hopefully be on its way to us shortly.

English-coal-fired-kiln.jpgThe beehive kiln is very old, but works well enough to thoroughly cook these iconic British pots.  The heat from the kiln is recycled into the building where the pots are made, via that large pipe at the top. This ancient kiln is as beautiful as the pots.

coal-for-the-kiln.jpgThe kiln is coal fired, with a type of coal that is very hard and clean burning. Anthracite is very difficult to ignite, but once it is burning, it burns with a smokeless blue flame.

English-stoneware.jpgThe temperature inside the kiln at the height of the firing cycle is incredibly hot. Handfuls of salt are thrown inside, at the hottest moment. This results in a lot of variation in color – but every color variation is beautiful.   That heat keeps the adjacent studio warm. Though this kiln is ancient, the pots have a timeless quality to them. They are quiet and sturdy.  We so value stoneware garden pots, as when they are properly cared for, they can survive our winters. At one time or another I have left all manner of handmade garden pots outside over the winter.  The handmade pots have thick walls, and are fired at very high temperatures. This makes them a more durable pot all around. Stoneware pots are exceptionally durable.  If you love terra cotta pots in your garden, consider a stoneware pot. They will grace your garden year after year, without complaint. The design of these pots is all about their functionality.  The rims are thick, and resist chipping.  The drain holes are generous. Even the small sizes have generous planting area.

garden-pot-production.jpgThe real beauty of these pots is the beauty that comes from within. They are made one at a time, all by hand. They have a history that dates back centuries. They are not fancy.  They are handsome, and serviceable. The surface glows, and the colors are scrumptious. These pots do the work, of providing a quietly beautiful home for a collection of flowering plants, or a grouping of rosemaries. The first container load we purchased from them 2 years ago is gone now. It was time to restock. They are very different than the Belgian stoneware pots-but I would not hesitate to put them together. I would be confident to place them in a more contemporary setting as much as a more traditional garden.  Their clean lines and simple shapes would work just about anywhere.

Europe 2014 1017It took four months for our order to be made. One pot at a time. They are worth waiting for – of that I am sure.  I have held them in my hands, and felt glad to be a gardener. Rob’s pictures of his visit to the pottery tells that story. Early in March, we will be awash in these pots.  I can’t wait.

kiln-door.jpgkiln door

Europe 2014 1068stacks of salt glazed potssalt-glazed-pots.jpgEnglish salt glazed pots

salt-glazed-pots.jpgfired earth

salt-glazed-stoneware-pots.jpgsalt glazed stoneware pots

English-salt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgpot stacks

salt-glazed-strawberry-jar.jpgstrawberry jars

pot-stack.jpgEnglish stoneware garden pots

ssalt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgThese pots may be subtle, but their story is remarkable. I am so looking forward to having them again.

 

A Snowy Interlude

February snow (16)As near as I can tell, we had 16 inches of snow fall yesterday.  Actually, it didn’t really fall-the wind blew it every which way. It started out slow, but it was steady.  At 5 pm yesterday, I had decided the weather forecast people had been outwitted by Mother Nature once again. We had some snow-but we always have snow. A winter in Michigan without snow is rare. The piddling daytime accumulation surely was not the volume of snow we had had by this time last year. I was yawning.  By 6pm the speed of descent had really picked up, along with the wind. Hmm. By 10 pm, I knew the snowfall would be considerable.

February snow (17)This was our first snow storm of the winter.  As much as I detest being shut out of my garden, the winter landscape can be quite beautiful.  If a landscape has been designed with a winter season in mind, there should be plenty to look at. I suppose I should be censured for still having my garland and wreath up in February, but it has a wintry look to me. I like having it to look at.  I feel the same way about my winter lighting. How the lights melt the snow-bravo, those lights.

February snow (15)The evergreens in my landscape are beautiful, given either a dusting, or a drubbing of weather. We had lots of wind; would that I were able to photograph it. It was fierce. The big Norway maple in the back left of this photograph was swaying, and creaking. The sound was as spectacular as the motion.

February snow (5)In the morning, the landscape was all about the depth of the snow, and the height of the drifts. Beautiful. Some storms can be utterly destructive and horrifying. This snow, everywhere, whipped into the most astonishing shapes, was breathtaking.

February snow (20)It took an hour for one of my landscape crew people to shovel the drive. They look after me in the winter.  I will admit that I backed the suburban blind down the driveway to the street to clean it off. There really isn’t any other place to put snow here.  The Suburban snow went in the street.

February snow (11)Once I cleaned off the bus, I backed it back up the driveway.  I would need to gun it out of the drive into the street.  Only the momentum established by this heavy vehicle would propel me 1/2 block to the next street over-which had been plowed. My city only plows the main arteries in a neighborhood. I would be on my own, getting to that plowed street.

February snow (6)Before I left for work, I had to take more pictures. We had a landscape/weather event, and I am a fan of such. I am trying not to think about another snow storm, as the snow piles are 6 feet tall from this one storm. But all the snow was beautiful.  I shoveled the upper deck myself.  The snow was dry and powdery-I just pushed it off the deck into the yard.

February snow (2)My winter pots had a look this morning not of my own creation.  Given a rock solid construction, they were unfazed by all of the snow.  Just so much better looking. So striking, the forms generated by the snow.

February snow (8)These plastic picks with rhinestone dots were unbowed, and still glittering this morning.

February snow (1)The fountain yard was sculptural beyond anything I had been able to achieve with this space.  It was corgi-proof.  Even Milo would not venture off the bottom stair. I love the peace and quiet of it.  How the landscape is muffled.

February snow (3)This thick blanket of snow illustrates how the garden is sleeping in the very strongest of graphic terms.

February snow (4)garden bench in winter

February snow (13)fencing, stone wall, and yews-interpreted by the snow.

February snow (7)The snow has transformed my winter landscape-all for the better.

Belgian Stoneware

stoneware 3Rob has been shopping in Belgium for at least 15 years. He has a considerable affection for the topography and natural landscape, as it reminds him of Michigan. The garden ornament has a solid and unaffected feeling about it. Many of the things he buys there have their roots in agriculture-cisterns, troughs, and the like. The pot pictured above comes from a pottery whose work he greatly admires. This will be the third year we have offered these Belgian stoneware garden pots. The come in three colors-taupe, gray, and black. The shapes are simple.  Though the shapes are smooth and graceful, the surface texture is gritty and rough, in a subtle sort of way.

pots 4That gritty texture and surface is typical of stoneware.  The name stoneware comes from the dense and hard quality of the clay body. This clay body, or type of clay from which a pot is made, has natural characteristics that result in pots more like stone than fired earth, or terracotta.  Stoneware pots are fired at a high temperature, and do not absorb water much after the firing. This inclination to repel water after firing makes this type of clay, and this type of pot, perfect for our climate.  Water that is absorbed by a pot which is them subjected to freezing can result in breakage.  Water expands as it freezes. This freezing action can shatter or break a clay pot. Anyone who has ever inadvertently left a machine made Italian terra cotta pot outdoors over the Michigan winter knows from whence I speak.  This stoneware is frost proof- this is great news for anyone who likes terracotta. Clay pots are made the world over. Clay dug from the ground in Philadelphia is very different than the native clay of southern France, or Italy. Not all clay is of a natural stoneware type. Pots made from stoneware clay bodies are of interest to us, and gardeners in our zone.

stoneware 2Some potters mix their own clay, or choose a clay body/mix that has been made available commercially, that suits their interest and intended use.  Porcelain is the material of choice for an artisan interested in a very fine and formal clay that can be thrown very precisely, and very thin. These large thick walled Belgian pots are made to hold many hundreds of pounds of wet soil without complaint. The natural clay is a friendly visual companion to plants that go in that soil. The texture is just enough, and no more. The gritty surface of this stoneware is a result of adding grog to the stoneware clay body. Grog refers to clay which has been fired, and then ground into hard particles of various sizes. Those particles are then mixed into the fresh wedged wet clay body before the pots are thrown.  As wet clay is incredibly heavy, there is a limit to how large and tall a pot can be thrown, before the clay starts to collapse from its own weight. In addition to providing great texture, both visual and tactile, grog helps provide the construction of a big pot with a little structure. The grog particles have been fired.  They will not absorb water, and melt.  Grog stiffens the wet clay, so larger forms can be thrown at one sitting.

Belgian stoneware 8Even so, very large stoneware pots may need to be thrown in stages. The lower portion may need to rest, and begin to harden, as in leather hard, before the pot can be made any taller. This accounts for one reason why large handmade pots are much more expensive than smaller pots that can be made in one sitting or throwing session. Another reason-the volume of clay consumed.  Very large French terra cotta pots are incredibly thick. Thin walled, large pots would not likely survive the heat of the firing. There may be many hundreds of pounds of wet clay in one pot. I would bet that clay bodies are sold by weight, and that weight can make it expensive to ship them. Of course as the water evaporates out of the pot, the weight is much less.  How a pot is dried, and how it reacts to the firing is a topic of much study.  Pots that have taken days to throw that break or explode in the kiln is a big loss in materials and time.  The cost of breakage becomes part of the cost of those pots that survive the firing.  stoneware rock collectionThese stoneware “rocks” are forms that can be used as a sculpture or seat in the garden.  The shapes are all beautiful, and different.  They have an aura about them, as they have gone beyond function to another level.  I am sure every gardener would perceive and use them differently. Nor would they appeal to every gardener.

stoneware 14These pots seemed quite contemporary in form and color when I first saw them, but I have since learned that what they do best is take on the quality and character of their environment.   I have seen them used successfully in modern, and even quite traditional architectural settings. One client with a classic 1920’s English tudor style house has a pair of these pots at the front door.  They look great.  They do not impose, or attract undue attention. They are simply and beautifully made. They look great, planted up. The statement they make when they are empty-sober and strong. I am not surprised that Rob would have them, a third time around. To follow are some of his pictures of the two containers that came in last week.  You can tell from his pictures, how much he likes them.

stoneware rocks

stoneware collection

stoneware 11

Belgian stoneware 6My discussion of the clay is cursory. I am not a scientist, or a potter.  I just love these pots.  If you have a further interest, you can read more about clay at  Hammill & Gillespie

Complicated

stone-walkway.jpgThis past fall I had a call from a great client from years ago. They bought a new house- recently built, and close to finished on the inside. The outside revealed a large piece of property  with dirt as far as the eye could see. The contractor on the house recommended a landscape architect-a landscape professional I happen to greatly admire.  My first visit to the site was during the installation of his complex and beautifully imagined walk from the driveway to the front door. A curved set of steps lead to a generously scaled landing, centered on the dining room window, and not the front door.  Had the walk been centered on the front door, the landscape would forever have looked off balance and lopsided. A bump out halfway to the front door would prove to be a perfect spot for a bench. The curved walkway falls within the center space, defined by the front porch and dining room window taken as a whole.  That walkway would be the dominant element of the front landscape.

 

stone-walk.jpgMy clients were a little uncertain about the complicated landscape that was additionally proposed.  I understand that uncertainty. Any landscape involves lots of time and commitment. They were concerned that the landscape proposed was too involved, meaning it would be in need of frequent and ongoing maintenance. I  understand this point of view. I reserve complicated gardens for clients who latch onto the idea of a complicated garden as if it were all they ever wanted from their life. Other clients, who love the landscape, may have kids and demanding jobs that drain time away from maintaining an intricate landscape.

096Consideration of the maintenance was a key part of the design for my own landscape at home.  I would make regular time to take care of my containers, and dead head a few roses. But I also wanted to relax in and enjoy my garden when I got home from work. These clients were of similar mind.  They both are busy working people, and they are raising a family. A very simple landscape that would look put together and elegant every season of the year would respect  the lives of my clients.  By way of contrast, a simple landscape would visually reinforce that stone walkway as the dominant element of the landscape.

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Of great importance was the fact that the house was built on rather steeply sloping ground from side to side.  A stone retaining wall encloses that space, and isolates the remainder of the property from the front yard. The landscape would have a clearly defined space in which to be. As evident in the drawing in the first picture, the landscape beds are rectilinear and opposite in direction from the walk. The visual read is as though the landscape came first, and was overlaid by the walk.
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Laying out all of the spaces in advance is the last step of a design. What is drawn on paper only rarely translates to the actual space perfectly. My drawings are not perfect, as I draw by hand.  I have also had more than a few surveys with inaccurate dimensions.  Trying the landscape on for size before you plant is a good idea. Once the plants are purchased, they may not be so easy to return.
099No decision was made immediately as to what would go on either side of the walk leading up to the porch.  There was no need.  Those spots could be handled in a number of different ways, each of which could be good.  I had a plan to suggest different pots for the porch, and move these urns to the side.  I would bring the new pots out, so they could try them on.

DSC_6022We did cover the new limestone walk with plywood and tarps. There was no reason to put put any more dirt on that walk than necessary. As we did this job fairly late in the fall, the temperatures were chilly, and we had had a lot of rain. We had a need for a considerable amount of soil to bring the grade up to the grade set by the walk. The pipes for the irrigation had already been set.  The irrigation contractor would finish the job just before we were ready to mulch the planting. We use ground hardwood bark fines, which deteriorates fairly quickly, and adds much needed compost to the soil.  The mulching will need to be done every year.

DSC_6023We did plant three Venus dogwoods-small trees.  The geometry of the ever green planting was strong enough from the start that larger trees really weren’t necessary.  I like planting smaller trees.  They take hold quickly and put on weight fast. The center rectangle would be grass.  As the grass would go right up to the trunk of the tree, it would have to be clipped by hand around the trunk.

DSC_6256A tree set in the lawn without a ring of mulch is a maintenance headache, but given that the rest of the landscape would take very little work to maintain, I splurged on the look.

DSC_6250My clients did decide on four Jackie boxes from Branch-2 rectangles, and two squares. The area between the box and the front wall was planted with white tulips, and will have annuals in the summer. The area underneath the window was planted with white variegated hosta.

DSC_6028The look coming up the walk-simple, but lush. The house has particularly beautiful architectural details.  The landscape will never obscure any of those.

beautiful-stonework.jpgThe area in front of the wall will be planted in the spring.  Either a low sun tolerant ground cover, or perennial-or mix of perennials.  A low wall is a challenge to work with.  While the base of it needs softening, a beautiful wall should be visible.  I have a few months to think that through.

LH winter 2014 (24)We did have time to squeeze in some winter pots. It is a little tough to see in the photograph, but the rectangular bvoxes sit on decomposed granite, for ease of maintenance.  I would not object however, to alyssum growing in the gravel.

DSC_6262Part 2 is set to come next year. But for now, the front of the house is entirely presentable.