The Edge

French-glazed-pots.jpgWe are on the edge of the end of a year.  The furthest edge.  In just a few hours, that year will be part of the past.  There will be discussion-a retrospective.  Some memories will be sentimental.  It is easy to remember the roses, and gloss over the beetles. We are likewise on the edge of a new year.  In a few hours, we will cross over the leading edge of a new year-to an unknown but greatly anticipated future.  It is an interesting place to be-on the edge.  Great design, no matter the discipline, tends to hover, and thrive there.  Edgy may not describe my shining hour. I suspect I am just too old. But as a designer I am very interested in composition.  Composition, in my opinion, is much ado about edges. These French glazed pots have beautiful edges.  The top edge is compound.  The sides are sleek and precisely contoured.  The edge that meets the ground is generous and hefty.  What I would plant in them has everything to do with the shape, size, color and decoration of the pot.

concrete-pot-and-hound.jpgComposing seasonal plantings in pots is all about creating a world unique, complete, and believable, in a space notable for its sharply defined edges.  A pot has a distinct shape.  A top, a bottom, and 2 sides.  The four sides frame an expression.  Much like a frame contains a painting.  Much like the composition of a painting has four edges.  No matter whether you choose to respect or breach the edges, the treatment of the edges will dominate a certain part of the discussion.  How I design a planting begins with the space in question.  I have always wondered how the person who purchased this concrete pot with its companion dog chose to plant it.  The top edge is abrupt, and unadorned.  This pot could have plants draping over and down the sides-or not.  Were the paws of the dog still visible?  Did the dog appear to be enchanted by the fragrance of the flowers, or was he staring down a bug at eye level?

English-made-concrete-pots.jpgContainers with ornament and detail at the top edge may suffer from a mature planting that obscures that detail.  Some pots demand visual respect of the edges.  Were I to plant these containers, I would concentrate on plants that lift off.  The visual relationship between the planting and the pot is a relationship worth exploring.  These pots would look equally fine in a garden, unplanted.   I did not plant any containers when I was young.  I could barely afford to buy plants-much less containers.  Everything I planted went in the ground.  But even then, I was concerned about my composition.  My gardens had edges.  My grass had edges.  I would frame some views, and disguise others.

antique-French-Biot-pot.jpgI will confess I have always edged my beds.  I would strike a flat shovel deep down on an edge, and toss the soil up into the bed. I liked making a clear decision about shape and direction – for better, or for worse.  Any composition that was sloppy was unsatisfying.  Every gardener has their own point of view, and I have mine.  No matter how exuberant and wild the planting, the container holds it all together.  This late 19th century French pot from Biot is a container of breathtaking beauty.  If I were to plant it, I would go up.  The rim is too beautiful to obscure.  As strong as the rim edge is the slight foot at the bottom.  I would place this pot on a plinth, no matter how slight,  so that detail would not be lost.

classical-stone-campagna-shaped-garden-urn.jpgThis vintage stone campagna shaped urn is beautifully simple.  Much is made of the top edge.  The compound curvy shape and foot is hefty, yet graceful.  Any pot is an expression of the garden ready to be more.

Chicago-glazed-stoneware-pots.jpgThis pair of glazed stoneware pots made in Chicago in the 1930′s have generous rims.  The body of the pots-low and wide.  The square foot is large enough to visually support that width.  Would I plant them low and very wide-yes.  I respect the edges established by the maker.  However I might compose plantings for these pots would be as much about the architecture of the pots as the horticulture.

faux-bois-squares.jpgOver the past 18 years, I have had the pleasure of an exposure to pots, containers, boxes, buckets, troughs, and urns of every description.  I feel quite certain that part what the future holds involves containers the likes of which I have never seen before.  I like that promise inherent to the future.  Those people who made it their business to fashion a vehicle by which a small collection of plants can grow and prosper-I appreciate them.  The range of shapes, styles and colors is astonishing. The containers I have chosen for my own garden are friendly to the period and architecture of my house.  I favor bigger pots over small ones-I like having a lot of room to plant.  A pot whose top is 30 inches across represents an embarrassment of riches in container planting space. That size space in my garden is a trifle.  Given that my property is very small, I like gardening opportunities that seem large.

French-enamelled-pot-circa-1890.jpgThis giant enameled pot of French origin circa the 19th century-astonishing in its size.  Buck did a great job of repairing it.  Every year it is my pleasure to plant it for the summer, and the winter.  Its edges are of a scale and shape that challenge me.  In my favor?  A container planting rules for but one season.  You have another shot-next year.

cast-stone-urns-and pedestals.jpgThese English cast stone urns are an invitation to a seasonal party.  They are also large enough to comfortably contain the rootball of a good sized boxwood.

Francesca-del-re.jpgThe pots hand made by Francesca del Re are of the toughest frostproof stoneware it has ever been my pleasure to meet.  The design of the pots-surprisingly soft.  The edges are forgiving.  Plant away.  This pot can take whatever dream you have the mind to dish out.  A traditional container planting will be just as successful as a contemporary scheme.  The edges of these pots are friendly, and forgiving.  The planting will make the pot.

Doulton-four-handled-pot.jpgThis antique English glazed pot manufactured by Doulton – who knows how a gardener might interpret this pot.  A placement where the shape and decoration could be easily seen would be the first move worth making.  It would be lovely on a plinth, or on a wall. The shape and decoration is bold.  An oakleaf hydrangea might be just the plant for this pot.

Frank-Lloyd-Wright-style-urns.jpgBy way of contrast, these massive and benign cast stone urns manufactured from a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, would handle almost any idea for planting you had in mind.

Italian-terra-cotta.jpgThis is a picture of my most favorite seasonal container, ever.  Italian terracotta is a personal favorite.  The relationship of the container to the plants-as edgy as I am ever likely to get.  This coming year, I will have another chance to compose and plant.  How good does this sound?    Happy New Year!

The 2013 Garden

January-garden.jpgIt doesn’t seem possible that almost 365 days have gone by since I took this picture in January of 2012.  I recollect that we had almost nothing in the way of snow cover last winter; this modest January snow was a welcome relief from the winter grays.  But what interested me most was how the snow illustrated the pruning practices of this particular gardener.  This privet hedge has been sheared flat, and just above the previous year’s growth, for at least the past 3 years.  It is a paradox, or at the least ironic, that pruning  a branch results in a proliferation of growth via multiple shoots at the site of the cut. Eventually this yearly shearing will result in a mass of shoots on top so dense that light and air cannot penetrate to the interior.  A hedge deprived of light and air to the interior will decline.  I try to prune my deciduous hedges to look like a slice of swiss cheese.  In and out, low and high-plenty of places for light to penetrate.  Although I shouldn’t presume a gardener is in charge here, even the most experienced gardener makes pruning cuts that they wish they hadn’t.  A slight snow in January will tell all.

February-garden.jpgFebruary is typically a very snowy month in my zone. That snow cover is insulation against temperature extremes that can heave plants out of the ground .  A February with no snow is a worry.  Plants go dormant for the winter, in order to avoid injury. A cover of snow keeps my plants snugly dormant.  No unwanted mid winter wake up.  Given how brutal our winters can be, I favor plants that are tolerant of a wide range of winter conditions.  I save my lust for plants not hardy in my zone for my containers-so much less heartbreak.

March-garden.jpgThis March I did some major pruning.  Jack from Guardian Tree in Ann Arbor headed back my out of control Princeton Gold maples. He topped my arborvitae at 14 feet.  And he removed an old maple in serious decline from girdling roots. Years ago I planted parrotias and magnolias around this maple, knowing the day would come when it would no longer be viable.  I was glad not to have to watch large portions of the the tree fail to leaf out.  The understory trees will thrive, given more light, and better access to water and nutrients.

April-garden.jpgApril is all about the spring light. Not so warm, this light, but there is the promise of the gardening season to come. The maples leafed out with abandon. Jack had cut the maples back so hard I was worried it would be years before they looked good.  My worries were unfounded.  He will be back this coming March.  The maintenance of a hedge of trees requires a regular commitment.  In April I was glad I had gone ahead and had the trees pruned.

early-May-garden.jpgLate April belongs to the magnolias.  The bark, the sculptural habit, and large glossy leaves would be enough to include them in any small garden, but the flowers are swoon worthy.  This April day, the green maple flowers and magnolia petals peppered the driveway.  I parked in the street. This was a perfect early spring moment.

late-May.jpgIn May, the garden sings.  Every plant is covered with fresh new growth.  The grass is green beyond green.  A pair of old Palabin lilacs on standard flower as if they were young bucks. The gorgeous shades of green is the story of the May garden.  There is no garden marvel quite like the spring.  All of that will to grow that results in so much fresh growth is energizing.  Spring is the best tonic any gardener could hope for.  Late May-the peony buds swell and open-operatic.

mid-June-garden.jpgJune is the time that the roses hold forth.  I would not do without them, no matter how small my garden.  Some years are better than others, but they always enchant me.  The color and the perfume-heavenly. My roses have grown in this spot for 15 years or better.  The most I do is to prune in April, and July, and I dead head until mid-August.  I do not mind the fussing.  They reward me many times over.  My little urban garden-infused with romance in mid June.

July-garden.jpg
In July, the roses are still representing.  The big pot has been planted, and the boxwood has been pruned.  Every day the four of us go to the rose garden.  The corgis know exactly what I mean when I say “Let’s go see the roses”.  They get there long before I do.  I treasure the late day in this garden.  The temperature has cooled off.  The arborvitae shield the hot summer sun.  I am done working for the day.  This is my idea of a garden which is a sanctuary.

late-August-garden.jpgIn late July, the Limelight hydrangeas come into bloom.  Though we had a cold and rainy summer that was not so friendly to my container plantings, the hydrangeas were stellar.  They were laden with flowers.  The foliage was a very healthy green.  The herniaria carpeting the ground plane of this garden loved the cool and rainy summer.

September-garden.jpgAugust was notable for the street trees that were cut down by the city.  They were rotted and hollow-I worried they would fall and hurt someone.  As sure as I was that they needed to come down, I regretted their demise.  Big trees are a treasure-their loss is not to be taken lightly.

October-garden.jpg
September was a great month for my garden. My container gardens finally picked up speed.  The weather cooled.  The grass grew like crazy.

October-garden.jpgOctober-one realizes the garden is waning.  The season will come to a close.  Parting from the garden is hard..  Buck shut down the fountain in mid October-over my protests.  I did not want to let go.  He knows when it is time to say goodby.   How the moss grew in the still water!

November-garden.jpgEarly December-an ice storm.  The ice coating every surface is beautiful, and alarming.  There was nothing to be done, except to hope for the best, and endure.  No matter my worries, plants do a good job of protecting themselves from harm.  They have lots of coping mechanisms for which I am grateful. So many things that govern a garden are out of my hands.  But in the end, the will to live and prosper is a powerful force indeed.

December-garden.jpgThis gardening year may not have been my most favorite ever, but I appreciate what I had.  There is much to learn and live by, via the garden.

Merry Christmas, Luca Della Robbia style

delle-robbia-wreath.jpgAn Italian sculptor named Luca Della Robbia produced many charming works in glazed terra cotta from 1400-1475.  Many of his plaques featured frames depicting fruits and vegetables.  This style of decoration still persists centuries later, in a style of Christmas decorating known in this country as the Williamsburg style.  Someday I would like to go there at the holidays, and see all of the wreaths and architectural elements decorated with the fruits of the harvest and holiday season.  Though the Willamsburg decor is traditionally done with real fruits and vegetables, my interpretation of the style makes use of faux fruit.  The fruit in the above wreath is produced from a weighted core, and a rubbery, almost waxy outer layer.  The color and texture is incredibly realistic.  This magnolia della robbia wreath, with proper care thast protects the dry magnolia leaves, will last many years.

holiday lighting.jpgWhy am I thinking about the della robbia style?  Rob made me 2 sets of Christmas lights-one for my tree and one for my mantel.  The red, yellow and green lights have a remarkably jewel like glow.  They so remind me of the Christmas trees I remember from my childhood.  Those big glowing lights on on our Christmas tree were enchanting.  Seeing anything through a child’s eyes is a way of seeing like no other.  How would I decorate my tree to make the most of these extraordinary lights?  It seemed a natural choice to pair this color and texture with a mantel and tree decorated with ornament of a similar feeling.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy holiday tree does not have ornament with an intrinsic history.  No objects which provoke memories, in and of themselves.    I actually like it that way.  I like having the option to decide on a scheme or a theme that is quite different than the previous year. The challenge of creating a display that reflects the immediate sentiments, importance, and aura of the season is an activity I enjoy.  When the seasonal work for clients comes to a close, it is time to go home, and create a little holiday spirit of my own.

trimming-the-tree.jpgThe della robbia tree had a modest beginning.  A Christmas tree, an evergreen garland, plastic ornament balls in lime green, and lots of faux fruit.  Having been laid low by the worst cold in a decade, Steve saw to getting the tree and mantel garland up, and the ornaments on the tree.  Angie stuck the large fruits with floral picks; it is vastly easier to secure a stick than a heavy round slippery fruit. The rest would be up to me.  For the better part of a day, I worried I might not have the strength to decorate our tree.  Funny how once a project captures your interest, troubles fall away.   Early on it became apparent that the big fruits could not go on the tree.  They were much too heavy.  The big fruits would have to go on the mantel.

Christmas-tree.jpgThe mantel garland was secured around a thick bamboo pole, and secured to the weighty metal mantel lights with zip ties.  I managed to find spots in the evergreen garland that would grip the picks.  As for the tree, I had to change gears. A trip to English Gardens yielded 10 boxes of dark red glass ornament balls.  Miniature limes and green apples could easily be fastened to the tree-after Buck wired bag after bag of them for me.  40 red berry picks, when taken apart, yielded 480 individual berries.  Other bits included 6 boxes of shiny lime green mini berry clusters.

Christmas-tree.jpgI like a Christmas tree that still looks like a tree, even after it is decorated.  This involved wiring on many small bits.  Big bits can engulf a Christmas tree.  I favor lots and lots of just a few types of little things.

decorated-tree.jpgI attached the red berry balls to the tips of as many branches as I could.  At the time of this writing, I still have about fifty to go.

holiday-mantel.jpgThe tree and mantel only have 30 lights, but the bulbs are big, and make an impression.  How this feels to me is nostalgic and warm-just how I like to celebrate the season.

holioday-tree.jpgI owe the look to the inspiration provided by Rob’s lights.  May your holiday be just as warm and bright as mine has turned out to be.

Winter’s Icy Grip

icy-day.jpgA week ago, both my garden and I were laid low by nature’s icy grip. Steady rains over several days and declining temperatures resulted in a rare late December ice storm.  My garden was spared the worst of the storm, which mostly laid waste to landscapes north of us.  I was not so fortunate.  I woke up a week ago Monday with a miserably bad cold.  How could something so ordinary be so utterly debilitating?

ice-storm.jpgFrozen is a word that routinely characterizes the winter landscape.  But ice that accumulates on plants in the landscape can result in terrible damage to life and limb.  Water is very heavy.  Water that is glued fast to small branches can break them.  Ice on evergreens can bring their boughs down to the ground.  An ice storm last March broke a major branch on one of my dogwoods.  That branch, with only a little wood and the bark on the bottom side still intact, bloomed normally, and had a full compliment of leaves all summer.  It is loaded with flower buds for the spring.  Every few hours I would check out the window to see if the weight of the ice would break that branch off altogether.  Obviously the will to live is a strong one; the branch survived the ice.

ice-storm.jpgAll that night and into the next morning, I could hear the sounds of branches crashing to the ground. I only hoped that none of them were in my yard.  I do prune my trees and shrubs regularly, in the hopes that they will successfully weather wind, snow and ice.  But our street trees are not kept up by the city forestry department.  All of the pruning to the trees is done, on an irregular basis -  and in a very messy way – by a stormy weather event.  Dead, diseased or damaged branches weighted by ice did break loose from the trees.  Nature can be benign, beautiful, and violently destructive.  If you are a gardener, you have seem all of the aforementioned.

iced-over.jpgThe ice glittered, even though the day was entirely overcast.  Fascinating and frightening accurately describes nature’s icy grip.

winter-container.jpgThe winter pots in the driveway were all the better for the ice.  The curly ting and white leptospermum bowed their branchy heads in a most graceful way.

winter-container.jpgOnly the icy weather could create this swooping shape from materials known for their stiff and inflexible habit.  Bowing to the force of nature creates all kinds of unexpected shapes in the landscape.  Trees whose mature shapes are dictated by a windswept or otherwise hostile environment are a marvel to behold.  The marvel of the common cold is that the day finally comes when that virus loosens its grip, and you feel you might be able to breathe, eat and sleep again.

winter container.jpgI am happy to report that the ice is melting.