Trimmed Up

Last March, when I was thinking about taking on writing a daily blog for the first time, I had some ideas about it-not the least of which had to do with the seasons.  I wanted to write what I thought day to day-not especially about the past, and maybe a bit about the future.  The news of the day-in this I was most interested.  The winter is excruciatingly long in Michigan; making writing for day to day interest in the depths of my winter, for other gardeners stuck in a similar spot, a challenge.  In defense of the winter months, lots of design issues can be broached and discussed. I have done that, maybe in more detail than you like. The 2010 store collection and how it came to be looks great-but all of this is lacking a certain kind of life. No collection comes to life until the plants get here. All I have a mind to do right now is think and talk about plants.  Steve has been on a road trip, checking out nurseries from whom we have plants ordered and soon to be on the way.  Relevant to my Sunday post about pollarding, his photograph above is of a willow stock plant, being pollarded.  The branches will not be used for firewood, as they are frequently used in Europe-these rootless cuttings will be sent out to growers all over who wish to grow on this cultivar.  These trimmings will become trees someday.         

Some older boxwood specimens spend the winter in tunnel houses.  Winter snow loads can devastate what has taken many years to grow. A tiny boxwood you may purchase at a nursery most likely takes seven years to get to that 12″ size.  Bigger plants take many more years to grow.  Nursery people do what they can, to protect what has taken so much of their time and effort, to grow on. 

I so love this photograph of Steve’s.  The dirt road, impressed with dusty tractor tracks, is in stark contrast to these painstakingly grown and trimmed plants.  Wow-do you not think you are looking at an alternative planet?  Or at the very least an alternative idea about plants?  Like trimmed topiary plants or not, the energy, will and work cannot be denied.  Growers and gardeners-a relationship.

I spoke for a big group of these plants.  They are beautifully grown, and healthy.  But I mostly admire the hand in evidence that sculpted these plants.  Make no mistake-so many years, so much effort, so much passion-one has to pause and admire what made this field come to be.  Growers by and large have no prize in mind-they grow, and live to grow.  Their hands-I plan to celebrate them.  I am sure you do too.

I see junipers grown and trimmed in this fashion regularly.  Yews grown like this-news to me. When I think old, gorgeous, and thoughtfully grown yews, I think England.  I am now seeing old and trained yews on my side of the pond-I will have some. Sensational topiary plants grown on this side of the ocean-I am clapping my hands. 

Buxus Sempervirens is not hardy in my zone.  I have avoided the plant like the plague-who wants to deal with a serious gardener’s grief when they loose a major plant?   I cannot plant this species of boxwood in the ground-all of us need to be committed to taking them into the garage for the winter. These topiary grown and trimmed boxwood would make my heart pound, planted in pots-a handtruck taking them to shelter for the winter is well worth the effort.    

 My pots are standing, waiting for plant material of this caliber.  How they have been grown and trimmed up before they ever get to me-many thanks to those growers whose committment and investment stands largely behind the scenes.  The hands put to a living plant by any gardener-no matter personal or professional, no matter a home or a growing field-I so greatly value this.

Sunday Opinion:The Romance Of Possibility

The very same Louise Beebe Wilder whose book on rock gardening (Pleasures and Problems Of A Rock Garden) I mentioned in last Sunday’s post, also penned several lines about gardening that are among my most favorite.  “In her own garden, every woman may be her own artist without apology or explanation.  Here is one spot where each may experience the romance of possibility”.  No wonder it is so often quoted by gardeners and garden writers alike.  “The romance of possibility”  so succinctly describes the source of that compulsion which makes every gardener put a shovel to soil-again and again-season after season.  I suppose there are those people who have gardened, and walked away, but I do not know them personally. I do know some for whom indulging that shot at romance is on hiatus. A new child, an imminent move, an illness-these big things can tie one’s gardening hands.  I myself am shuddering at the thought that this year I must see to a new roof.  Worse than the expense, the thought of the damage threatening my garden -I don’t know how I will cope.   I can save ahead for the roof,  but I despise the idea of regrowing or replacing my roses, or some boxwood crushed by the three layers of shingles that have to come off and down.  But as I see dealing with this come November, and today is the first day of spring, I choose to think about the possibilities.

Some possibilities involve an investment of time and imagination, and not so much money.  My blocks of limelight hydrangeas were almost seven feet tall when they bloomed last summer.  I barely trimmed them last March; I wanted the height. In August I could see the mass of flowers towering over my yew hedge. It is possible for me to cut them harder, and keep them lower-what would this do?  I prune one client’s hydrangeas to 20 inches tall out of the ground-her  four foot plus plants do not obstruct her view of the lake.  My hydrangeas span a considerable drop in grade; could I prune such that the eventual height of each block will be the same?  Would they be better, two feet shorter?  Would I like to give this a try?

For the past 5 years, I have been pruning a pair of palibin lilacs on standard rather hard after they bloom.  The heads have gotten so large, they are always on the verge of out of bounds.  It has taken every bit of five years to change their shape from a giant ball to lower and wider ovals.  This shape I like better. But those ovals are not uniform all the way around-have I the nerve to pollard them? Pollarding a tree heads back all of its branches breathtakingly close to the primary trunk.  Though I love the look of pollarded trees in European cities and gardens, I am a little faint of heart, subjecting two of my own to this treatment.  They never seem to mind how hard I prune-they flush out again without any complaint.  It is a possibility on my mind, pollarding the lilacs.  In my own garden, pollarded trees like I see in books about European gardens-it would no doubt be a romantic experience.

Though our winter has been very mild this year, my Helleborus Angustifolius survived the mild winter with very little damage-but their giant stems were flattened by the weight of the snow.  As they bloom on last year’s growth, I cannot cut them back.  Shall I trade them in for some orientalis cultivar whose tattered leaves can be pruned off in March, as the flowers push forth from the soil on their own fresh stems?  I have quite a few years invested in these giant hellebores, but they really do not like this climate. Should I decide to cut my losses, is there something else that would compliment my beech ferns even better?

All of the elements of my fountain garden seem to be working well, and growing fine.  But something seems to be missing-what is it?  Do I need a new fence?  Should I stain my old fence black?  Does my fountain need something?  If so, what?  This has to be the most exciting part of the first day of a Michigan spring-what are my possibilities?  As I am only thinking things over, I can let my imagination run wild. My imagination gets a little frayed come September, but a long winter has set me to longing to be out of doors, tinkering.    

Other years, my spring has been much more about repairing winter damage than romance.   One winter, ice and snow brought an entire hedge of 14 foot tall arborvitaes to its knees.  The only possibility at my disposal-have it tied back up, look after it, and hope for the best.  This was three years ago; perhaps this year it will look its old glorious self again. Splayed out and winter burned boxwood took its share of time and effort, as did the cleanup of wind and ice damaged trees.  My spring plans-dashed.   

This winter though, has been very grey, very long, and quite benign. A little romance seems to be right around the corner.

At A Glance: Rusting Steel



I spent the better part of this week walking from one end of my property to the other- watching Rob and a crew haul out everything he had ordered for spring, tear the entire existing space apart, and put it all back together.  I could not even guess how many thousands of pounds of terra cotta, stone, wood, lead, were involved all told-but I would guess many.  I thought his method was smart-everything got moved into the driveway lane, leaving each side ready to be cleaned up, and re-raked.  Though our all over surface is compacted decomposed granite, it doesn’t feel like spring until it every vestige of last year gets raked out. Those of you who know of the late Allen Haskell-he took up, washed, and relaid all of the gravel in his nursery every spring.  Think of it.  Beyond relevelling the gravel, even more interesting was how he put things together. 

I would not have a word for this, but for Pam.  She designs, plants, and maintains gardens, so she has a point of view about it.  She was telling me she admired another desgner she knows for her ability to “layer” in plants.  By this she means plants are paired or grouped so while one is going quiet, another is coming on.  Daffodils with daylilies, or oriental poppies with phlox, or phlox with Japanese anemone.  Skilled perennial garden designers are adept at arranging plants to avoid what I call a gaposis. I like treating these perennial spaces with big growing annuals, but some like to handle this perennially. A large clump of oriental poppies going dormant is not such a pretty sight-something needs to be coming on strong in the spot in front of that poppy-otherwise a gaposis. 

I think this is a good description of how Rob has arranged the outdoor spaces. He packed materials in close quarter that seemed to like each other or play off each other.  In this case, the steel striped bench echo the wood stripes; its scrolls recalls the scrolling corbel detail.  Surfaces and colors are different, but friendly. Lots of materials and styles are represented here.  His arrangement is a conversation about choices.   

Contemporary garden ornament can include a wide range of objects. This early twentieth English wood trestle table is clean lined enough to be quite comfortable with some galvanized steel wire crates, and some painted French garden chairs. The round acid washed steel pots are finished with a nod to traditional forms, but have a subtly more modern shape.  

This space is densely populated.  On the table, below the table, in the air, on the ground-everywhere you look, something is going on.  I am surprised how amiable the contemporary limestone balls are to the modern lead sculptures of classical design.  I do not see any argument about to erupt.  I suppose any object for a garden implies that partnership-all of these things have a landscape to come in common.  Maybe this accounts for how they all get along. 

A pussy willow stem and a trench drain have almost nothing intrinsically in common.  What they do share is how they are arranged in a similar V-shaped fashion.  The color of the iron repeats the stems of the still dormant Boston ivy. What a different view will present itself once that wall is green. But given the early spring season, I like the bouquet shapes.

These steel tuteurs are Rob’s interpretation of some formally trimmed yews at Versailles.  I have already been scheming about what could be planted inside them, that would still reveal the outer form.  But it is the multiple forms in multiple pots that makes for such a big impact.  The blue/grey and terra cotta color scheme is repeated in the background in a very rhythmic way, alternating pots of different shape and height.  

An arrangement of geometric shapes is so pleasing to the eye; the V-shapes in differing materials compliment that.  The color is strikingly contrasting-black and white, with just a little in between.  A restricted color palette is a modern gesture; the twigs soften this.  

He has quite an eye, and an ability to layer all his own.