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.

Sunday Opinion: Ageing Well

Buck and I were talking the other night about age-it is a topic, as I am due to turn 60 in a month.  He is not only well past that 60 thing, he took that moment in stride. How did he do that?  Grace under pressure, he says.  Raised in Texas in the 50’s, his role was to provide and protect, seamlessly.  This meant no wringing of hands in public. He was also raised to clearly distinguish what issues to pursue, and what issues to drop.  What a gift that was!  Our desultory discussion Friday night-were it a matter of choice, what age would each of us choose?  He decided thirty-I spoke for fifty.  To be thirty again, no thanks. 

My thirty-fraught with wrong headed assumptions.  My ideas about just about everything missed the mark in a way I would not even half way figure out until I was fifty. That hangover from my twenties-the notion that the world revolved around me-still hung on.  My penchant for subjecting everyone around me to lengthy and overwrought discussion, mostly revolving around my oblivious self,  seemed so righteous at the time.    How anyone put up with me-how I got through the day; I have no idea. I created conflict with no plan for resolution. I was thoughtless more times than I should have been.  I believed my point of view on every tropic was the correct point of view, and I spent a lot of time disseminating, persisting,  persuading, enforcing, pleading and pouting-and other such ridiculous expenditures of energy.  All of this-in the interest of control.  Embarrassing-yes indeed.  The aforementioned is quite different than having a passion, and the courage of one’s convictions.  It was just about being what it means to be thirty. The best part of my thirties was the boundless supply of energy I had to dig up acres of grass and heavy clay soil, and plant.  I gardened non-stop, and did most of the work myself.  I learned a lot about horticulture and good plant practices, as in I killed enough clematis to finally learn how to properly site and care for them. 

My forties were better, more focused and intense- and much more fun.  I had already owned my own business for four years-that was the best fun.  The process of getting an endeavor up and running is absorbing, and exciting.  I was making enough money to live, yes.  But just as importantly, I was making enough money to be able to move on to the next group of projects. Pilgrim’s progress, as it were.  No first effort is one’s best effort, unless you happen to be Issac Newton or Leonardo da Vinci, Carravaggio or Shakespeare. I had worked long enough to see some landscapes start to grow up.  My right choices got to be a more regular thing.

The element of age in a landscape is a vital element.  Once a symphony or a book is written, it is exactly what it will always be the moment it is finished. Some painters paint and paint over a single canvas many times, but once they lay down their brush, the work is finished, complete.  If a landscape looks the best it will ever look the day it is finished, then it has not been done properly. Every gardener has seen landscapes overgrown and out of control only a few years after planting.  Too many plants planted too close together to start-I see this regularly.  It is difficult to invest what it takes to install a landscape, and then endure that it look years away from maturity-but that is precisely what it takes.  I am sure at one time or another most parents feel they have invested everything they have in a child still light years from maturity; this can be exasperating.  I myself have patience for nothing save a garden.       

Close up on a sixtieth birthday, I realize that I have no control over much of anything, save my own behavior.   My landscapes have taken turns I did not foresee-many for the better. Some things need revision-I like the tinkering part of gardening.  I visited a landscape I installed some years ago today-I am happy to see it is looking very good.  I have landscapes still prospering from twenty years ago-this is even better.  There is something  right about a landscape that is ageing well.  Would I really like to be turning 50-not really.  I would not be willing to give up the things I have learned, the people I have met, the projects I have done in the past 10 years.  Those ten years are part of a whole life that will need be put to my sixties.

At A Glance: What Rain Makes