Green, please.

A client with whom I have had a relationship spanning many years-how can I describe her point of view about the landscape?  She was never interested in showy, always in stately.  Her color palette-quiet.  She oversees an amazing collection of old yews, and older trees. Her landscape, gardens, and containers clearly reflect her understated taste. Many years ago I added touches of pale pink, blue and lavender-and of course the white.   

In recent years her taste has evolved such that I plant her containers with green plants of all different textures and habits. I store her collection of green topiary plants every winter; many have considerable age.  The agave of hers pictured above is many years old.  We plant it in a Bulbeck lead egg cup every year.  Each and every one of her garden containers have a history of note.  It took no small amount of time to put that collection together. Her plants-a collection of considerable age. 

This years annual planting of course involved the planting out of her topiary collection. The underplanting this year-green, more green, white and grey.  The triple ball eugenia topiary pictured above on the left I underplanted with parsley.  The Bulbeck egg cup-a king Tut papyrus, and white nicotiana alata.  The lead square is home to a cardoon, and some blue pencil succulents. 

The thriple ball eugenia on the shady side of the terrace gets a ruff of ferns.  The big Belgian oak box-a mass of farfugium.  The small lead square-a mass of white datura and variegated sage.  The empty Bulbeck egg cup-waiting for the old agave.

White datura-spectacular.  Though every part of the plant is poisonous, I plant it whenever I can-with strong instruction.  When you touch this plant to deadhead it, wash your hands afterwards.  Gardening is all about the work-is it not?   The underplanting of this double white petunia-this I like.  They grow long and lanky-I am hoping for sideways growth under the datura.  The pairing of simple white datura flowers with ultra double white petunia flowers-this is my idea of an interesting conversation. 

These old eugenias-I will need to replace them next year. In an effort to keep the grime off the painted porch floor, we replanted them, and underplanted them with lime selaginella on a tarp.  A dirty business, gardening.  No small amount of what I do is to be efficient about the cleanup.    

We planted the playhouse for the first time this year.  White nicotiana, white Christmas caladiums, white polka dot plant, white impatiens.  As this area is some distance from the rear terrace, I called for lots of white.  White-what it does I could write a book about-but not this week.  Ask me later.  White reads beautifully from a distance.  My idea here is to connect the playhouse visually with the rear terrace-so lots of the white that will bring the two spaces closer. A second pair of triple ball eugenia topiaries flank the front door.  I try never to treat a space on autopilot.  So many shady annual plantings- routine.  Who needs routine? 

We have big boxes to plant, and small containers to plant.  Each and every pot may have its planting, but the existing landscape, the relationship of the big planter boxes to the small containers-everything needs to work with the neighbor. My idea-be friendly.    

These single ball eugenia topiaries are but 2 years old.  I am pleased about how they are coming along.  I underplanted them with white new guinea impatiens; come August, these pots should be more than beautiful.  Patience-you and I know all about this.  My client-she knows about patience better than anyone else I have ever met. 

The long troughs planted thickly with lavender-they will be incredibly beautiful with some time. The walls we built to enclose the terrace have a considerable space to plant-on top.  My work is not so much about the actual, physical work.  It is much more about the evolution, the building, the communication and interaction.  When I wake up in the middle of the night anxious-it is not about her.   My green please client-she is a keeper.

Sunday Opinion: Endurance

I happen to be very fond of the poems of Marge Piercy. I first discovered her work when I was in my twenties; she is a Michigan artist.  There are times when I I will pick up her volumes and read all of them, over again.  Having emailed a client today at 5:30 am, and now home from work at 7pm, I am thinking about one poem in particular she wrote about oak trees.  Not that this is unusual for her.  Her poetry may have political or social implications, but she writes from a gardeners point of view.  She grows things.  The upshot of the poem-and do not quote me as I cannot look up the particulars-is that the oaks are stately, stubborn, long lived, immoveable, silent-enduring.  At the end she concludes that what she so admires so about the oaks depresses her in people.

Today I am not much in agreement with that. Values, traditions, recipes,  ideas, skills, history gets passed from one generation to the next in human culture-via that vehicle I would call endurance. Not one thing about this depresses me.  I am, in fact, encouraged by this.   Just imagine what it took to establish and takes to maintain the Library of Congress, or the Smithsonian, or the Chicago Museum of Natural History.  How is it that centuries later visitors to the Sistine Chapel can still see-restored and protected- exactly what visitors saw during the Renaissance?  We have the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the history of the growing of espaliers, the volumes of Linneaus detailing plant nomenclature, the Taj Mahal, the drawings of Michaelangelo, seed catalogues from Suttons in the 1920’s-the instinct to preserve knowledge is fueled by that sheer will to prevail and protect that I call endurance. 

I have all manner of examples in my own personal experience of nature that supports my theory.  Yews in my yard that are getting too much water from the lawn irrigation endure my thoughtlessness until the eleventh hour.  The New Guinea impatiens flopped flat to the ground from lack of water will rise again with the first flush of moisture.  A tree completely defoliated by bugs or fungus with throw new leaves.  A landscape besieged by freezing rain, below zero temperatures, hail and wind, poor pruning, a heavy airless soil to which no compost has ever been added, thoughtless little or too heavy irrigation, and all other manner of neglect-still survives.  The instinct to survive, to endure, is a strong one. 

My late call this afternoon routed me on a major Michigan highway.  On the roadsides-all manner of plants thriving.  My last choice of a home would be just off the median on M-5, but there are plenty of plant species thriving-enduring there.  The ox eye daisy has been prohibited in some states as a noxious weed-but I love seeing white daisies in bloom everywhere right now.  I do not fault their endurance. They make living on the relentlessly windy, exhaust blasted, overheated and untended roadside seem like a walk in the park.  This description applies equally to the thistles, the buffalo grass, wild hemerocallis, the cattails, and the wild grapes.  This time of year, I see women enduring the blast of roadside conditions known for heat, speed and exhaust to collect grape leaves for what they cook for their families-they are all about endurance too. Many places, plant and human species endure- without much in the way of encouragement. 

Clients that wring their hands about providing for this perennial or that shrub, I tell therm that the instinct of the plants living on their property to survive, to endure, is an incredibly powerful one.  You can sometimes make mistakes that won’t kill your plants.  You can make repeated mistakes with plants-they do not give up easily.  I see trees poorly placed and neglected, I see perennials planted in light and water conditions they abhor, I see pruning for which I have no explanantion, I see the cracks in the concrete roadways that someohow support colonies of plants.  The natural world is all about endurance. 

If I had a sizeable field at my disposal, it would be tough to decide if I should line out every peony known to man, or give over the entire space to Queen Anne’s Lace.  A field of Queen Anne’s Lace in full bloom-breathtaking.  No small amount of my sense of breathtaking has to do with the biology of  the endurance of this wild carrot.  Wild, wiry, and so very beautiful-a freely existing field of Queen Anne’s Lace  might be better than any perennial garden I have ever designed. I would not ditch the rows of peonies-how I love peonies!  Everything in the garden is about giving up this to have that -I am sure you understand this. 

Some plants have beyond enormous endurance.  Properties on which the farmhouse has long disappeared still sport rows of asparagus.  You can easily see where the house might have been, given the arrangement of the asparagus.  Poenies are reputed to live better than one hundred years.  I have clients with peonies that came from a great grandmother-enough said.  Old lilacs such as what graces Mackinac Island in Michigan, ancient and unpruned beauty bush (kolwitzia)-I do love those blooming plants with exceptional endurance.  Given the entire list of plants hardy in my zone, each and every one has an exceptional endurance gene.

As for me, I have good ideas some days, and no ideas other days.  I am as likely to miss as I am to hit.  I regularly forget what I have not written down.  Some days what I have written down, I still miss. I handle lots of projects simultaneously.  Does this make me talented-absolutely not.  It only means that I was gifted with endurance.  I start early, I stay engaged, and I end late.  The difference between so-so and better than so-so -a matter of endurance.

There are times when a design issue with a landscape stymies me.  With one hand  raised, I ask for time.  With the other hand raised, I ask for help.  This is not about talent-it is about endurance.

At A Glance: Saturday’s Planting

More Of The Birmingham Pots

It has been great fun to go through the files of pictures I have from the Birmingham pot project.  I am so glad I have these pictures.   A garden is ephemeral at best; a container planting-yours for one season only.  I am not going to talk about all of these pots I have done over the years-just picture them for anyone who never had a chance to see them. If you drove by them-here is a still image.  I am up close to them in the designing and planting phase-not so much the grown out phase.  But I did make an effort to photograph at 6am one Sunday morning every year in August, so I could see what had transpired.  I hope you enjoy looking at these pictures as much as I enjoyed planting these pots.  

The very best thing a body of work does for any designer is to permit and push them to whatever place lies ahead.  I am happy to have had the opportunity to do them.    I am casting at this moment a pair of Birmingham planters for a new project in Birmingham-this new work brings back memories of producing those pots so many years ago. 

As much as I went over the design and the plant list, the very best part about these pots was how they grew out.  I would be an idiot to suggest that the interaction of this inky fingers coleus and these few striking fingers of lime licorice was a finish I planned in advance.  My plan-anything but what you see here.  This mature pot is all about the nature of  plant interactions, the nature of growing-nature.  

This pot may be the closest I will ever get to fashion design. I will let this post go at that.