The saga of the rebuilding of my fountain begins and ends with Carter. The man with that short scruff of a white beard, the navy shirt, vest, and cap-that’s Carter.  A combination of considerable brains, even more experience, patience and exacting craftsmanship-he and his crew have been my pleasure to observe for the last three days.  They tore my leaking fountain apart, and rebuilt its foundation some three weeks ago.  The stone for the coping had not been delivered two days when he picked it up; time to finish.

For pools and fountain stone, I specify a stone native to and quarried in Wisconsin.  This particular limestone is dense, and has few pores.  Indiana limestone is so porous, that pool copings and decks absorb too much water-a perfect medium for moss and algae.  Though I would as soon look at moss as anything nature provides, I do not want to walk on it around a pool-too slippery. This stone is as dense and smooth surfaced as marble-and weathers my climate without a problem. 

Buck did CAD-computer assisted design-drawings for the quarry-each piece was cut to his exact specification and dimension.  Communication is the art of life, a client once told me. I could tell Carter thought it was very cool that he did not need to cut or otherwise modify any piece of stone.  I do not think I have ever seen a crew of  four measure and remeasure like Carter’s group did; when a piece of stone was laid, it was laid in the right spot.   

Each slab needed to be set in precisely the right location.  OK, once located, each slab needed to be set exactly level.  Watching Carter level a piece of stone is exactly like watching paint dry.  Each piece took an incredibly long time. My eyes were crossing, and I thought I might black out-watching him tinker and tap.   

He has a tool-a gizmo-that helps him determine if a slab is set level.  The laser level-I could tell by looking at its battered casing that he uses it non stop.  But make no mistake-I could see him using, and trusting his eye.  I am very interested in the history and practice of fine craftsmanship.  I have been watching the real deal, in my own back yard, for three solid days. 

The Wisconsin limestone is so dense, Carter directed that each piece be buttered with thinset mortar before he placed it in the mortar bed.  The mortar bed was levelled and relevelled.  Think of the foundation, and finish stone as a cookie-the thinset, and the bulk mortar-the creme filling.  Unlike a sandwich cookie, the filling needs to grip both the foundation and the stone, and stay stubbornly stable in spite of stresses from up above, and underneath.   

A client remarked recently that small spaces need to be designed just so-there is little margin for error.  Any mistake in the layout or execution is all the more obvious in a small space. I did have occasion once to deal with a pool that had been dug, and shot with gunite-out of square.  Needless to say, the pool coping stone, and its pattern had to be modified.  Luckily, the pool terrace stone could be modified and recut in such a way that makes this mistake almost imperceptible.

We had quite the event going on.  I larned quite a bit about the technology and properties of concrete and mortar-not to mention the science of making something lay flat, and stick tight, for good. 

Last night at 7 they finished the last of the mortaring of all the stone joints.  I will need to wait 5 or 6 days before I can repaint the pool interior; all the work needs time to cure.  I should have running water in no time.

Wirework Planters

This photograph of a wirework planter and insert lowers my blood pressure considerably.  I am planting furiously-directing and following three crews.  My group-there are 16 of us.  I know there are celebrated CEO’s who manage many more than I-but I find what I can keep track of, instruct and help out-16 is a plenty big number. I do plant pots for the store-it is recreation of a sort.  I planted a few wirework planters yesterday; I have a big love for steel in any dimension. Steel wire, galvanized, painted, raw, faux finished- I find all the available forms of interest. Wire planters need lining-soil and wire need an intervening medium of some type.

This galvanized steel basket came with a densely constructed liner.  Landscape fabric is all this bucket needs to keep the soil where it belongs.  The galvanized mesh is almost dense enough on its own to hold soil.  The fabric will not obstruct the pattern of the diamond mesh in any way. This basket could be planted in a loose, or very contemporary manner, but surely it asks for a very simple liner. 

This round heavy wire basket-beautiful in its own right. To ready this basket for planting-any number of materials would work.  Florist’s moss, in giant sheets, is a good choice.  We call high quality florist’s moss “hides”- large intact sheets make easy work of lining wire.  Small pieces are a nuisance to handle, in addition to being an invitation to topiary erosion.  Wet soil running out the side of your basket-not so pretty.  If you must use smaller moss pieces, overlap them a good amount.  Well done moss makes a great presentation.  The moss in contrast to the steel wire-easy on the eye.  Alternative liners for wire baskets-you have choices., should florist’s moss not enchant you. The wiry coir mat-difficult to form, but eminently effective.   Landscape fabric-cool and easy.
This small handmade laser cut steel pot is lined in grey landscape fabric.  This is a compatible pairing; the intricate steel work is the star of the show.  The wiry succulent completes the thought.

Coir is thick and difficult to handle-these wire baskets came with the liner already made.  The color and texture is a good contrast to the wirework.  Containers such as these are perfect for herbs, as they drain fast.  Succulents are likewise a good choice.  A small basket such as this may not be a good choice for those flowers needing regular moisture.  I will water once a day if I have to, but I like an every other day schedule the best.  As this suits my life, I plant large containers.

This fancy Nancy white wirework oval planter-I could line and plant this at least ten different ways. Should you be shopping, be clear in your own mind about what effect you are trying to achieve.  Something delicate like the wire-I would go there first.  Maidenhair ferns?  Miniature fuchsias? Thyme, variegated oregano, and alyssum?

This geometric wire rectangle has plenty of space between the bars-so a bulkier liner material would work just fine.

Natural materials from jute, burlap, hemp fiber and the like make great liner material. They have great textural appeal, which looks great paired with a simple container. Once you pass by the moss option, there are plenty of things out there.  Fabrics-just that option alone could produce some stunning containers.  

This faux finished wire urn is tall and elegant.  I stuffed the entire thing with moss.  The base-stuffed solid with moss.

Once the moss is in place, I trim off the wild hairs, and dye it with moss dye.  This helps a lot to keep the color better longer.

Twenty minutes this morning planting was the emotional equivalent of a cat nap. These vista silverberry mini petunias have a delightfully horizontal growth habit-very pretty.

Neither Rain Nor Snow Nor Sleet…..

Annual planting season is an event like no other. The next six weeks are the most intense design/plant days of my entire year.  I review the plants, first.  I have a large group of plants that I custom grow, and then there is the shopping for whatever looks great and sparks an idea.  My annual design is plant generated.  They may inspire a color palette, an shape, an exciting exercise in texture, or suggest a gorgeous mass.  Groups of pots-I think a lot about the rhythm that gets established.  I could explain my process in a hundred essays-but in the end, my eye is my own. All I have to offer anyone is my point of view.  That point of view-I have no formula.  All I have is my off the cuff, late to be delivered, idea.  The big  idea here-trust your own vision, or find someone who can beautifully represent you.   Should you plant for yourself, I am happy to contribute to your effort.  But be advised-what I do in the blink of an eye, is all my own.

My client with the firebowl-she has an event on Thursday.  Flowers-especially in a zone 5 where the summers are relatively short-are a very emotional issue for Michigan gardeners.  Once the weather shows signs of breaking, I get calls.  Everyone is so relieved the endless winter is over-everyone wants to move outside, and enjoy every day of the summer.  No one has any interest in the night temperatures, the soil temperatures-why should they?  That is my job.   

But all of them have special birthdays, trunk shows, parties, graduations, anniversaries-important milestones.  Milestones that need be celebrated with flowers.  A late May early June annual garden is no looker-everyone knows that.  But when the seasonal flowers are planted, any event is all the better and happier for that expression.  My notes are as much about events that influence scheduling, as design.     

Inclement weather-whatever. There are no rain days when we plant annuals.  The annual planting season is short, so we all have gear.  The actual planting is a footnote.  The bulk of the work is the contracting for custom grown material, the contracting for a custom soil mix, the maintenance and gas for the truck, the design, the shopping, the arranging for transport, the hauling of soil, the cleanup, the disposal of debris-big, and largely unseen, work. Whew!

My client Susie wanted orange this year-she loved how my pots looked last year.  What do I so love about her? She has one big idea to express-having done so, she is confident enough to step back, and watch what happens.  We have been working together more than 15 years.  Relationships get forged, over time. Those relationships show, believe me.  Good design relationships result in work any eye would appreciate.  

We moved one pot this year to a new location-I was caught flat footed today.  I had to regroup, and come back. I spent no small amount of time deciding what should go in that Francesca del Re pot at the corner of the pool-as well I should.  Taking the time to do a thoughtful job in the middle of a frenetic season-I can be depended upon for this.  No client knows I am awake half the night worrying about their design,  their life and their installation-this is as it should be.    It is my worry about how to bring orange,white, and lime to life for Susie.   

I planned and planted surely around the pool deck.  That newly placed planter took the better part of the afternoon to resolve.  I promise to post pictures of the mature annual plantings-you can decide if you like them.

My client Susie-she bought giant white dahlias for her wood boxes.  Fine.  I tuned up.  The planting of the annual gardens and pots-lots of emotion, lots of changes, lots of conversation-lots of tuning up.  I would not have it any other way.  

Outside her annual plantings-I am so pleased to see the butterburrs have taken hold at the pond.  The long view-so beautiful.  Any relationship forged over a conversation about the landscape-energetic, and very beautiful.  Thanks, Susie.

Generating A Little Fire

Lat fall I had a client interested in an outdoor fireplace.  I winced.  I am not very fond of those giant chimney and mantle affairs that look like they belong inside a house, rather than in a garden. Indoor and outdoor spaces may be created equal, but I do not subscribe to the notion that they are the same.  Thus, I have an aversion to rugs outdoors, giant stainless steel heaters, refrigerators and the like.  Outdoor fireplaces need be friendly to the landscape, and not impose some object completely out of context.    

I would always favor an open campfire type affair over a massive stone fireplace and chimney floating in the garden, weirdly disassociated from a building.  But campfires have that informal air that do not particularly work well visually in every situation.  My client likes contemporary design, and furniture.  She likes every element of her garden to have that same spare but strong look.  Some years ago we built a large cypress deck which overlooks an L-shaped pool.  This steeply sloped area of her yard was the only spot that would permit a pool. The grade change allowed for an infinity edge on one end of the pool-this was interested and good. The deck terrace was spacious, the steps to the pool generous.  But how to add a formal and contemporary fire feature to the existing mix-I did lots of drawings. Once we had a design, the existing landscape material was moved out of the way of the construction.      

A placement in the lower yard was out of the question; I was dealing with a considerable slope.  I did not want to give too much of the deck terrace space to an activity that would be intermittent.  I did not want to interrupt the flow of one level to the next.  The result of all of this-a 54″ diameter brushed stainless steel firebowl set half in, and half off, the existing cypress decking.  Though I hate to take apart any just recently finished hard structure, I thought the back tracking would be justified in the end.   

We finished the work last November; I was happy to see the result this spring.  From the entrance to the pool yard, that firebowl is subtly tucked into and off of the deck surface. The bowl itself is set in a column at seat height, finished in bullnosed stone, for comfort. Three contemporary lounge chairs and tables complete a seating area that will hold a number of guests. 

Concrete block walls sit on top of a concrete foundation; the walls were simply finished in acid washed steel. We have one more yew to put back around the foundation and ground level to restore the landscape.  The firebowl is filled with pewter grey fire glass. 

The fire bowl does not obstruct any views of the pool from above.  Its placement puts the pool in better visual range with the upper terrace.  Its round shape echoes the large round divan with integral umbrella that my client fondly refers to as “the contraption”.

The shapes, places and spaces make sense to my eye.  The pool yard is ready for flowers, friends, and fun.  

My client is thinking orange white and lime for her pots this year; I can’t wait.