32 Degrees At Night, And Holding

cold April day 2015 (2)I see a few signs of spring.  The crocus have come and gone.  The magnolia Stellata is in full bloom, weeks behind its usual appearance.  The grass is greening.  The trees are budding out. A few forsythia are blooming, halfheartedly. Their flower buds hated the intense cold of this past winter. There are daffodils and pushkinia here and there. We have had a smattering of spring. Our night temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark for weeks. Last week’s snow flurries on and off culminated in a brief but intense snow that actually stuck to the ground. Wow.

cold April day 2015 (4)Night before last was 30 all night long.  At 6 am the temperature dropped to 27.  At 6:45, when I loaded the corgis in the car, I realized that my windshield would need scraping. The grass was glittery with ice. All of my early spring flowering plants were frowning.  The chionodoxa were laying flat on the ground, stunned.  The flowers at the top of my magnolia stellata looked like wet blobs of kleenex.  The hellebore flowers were stooped over. The delphinium were caked with ice.The gravity of this late frost dragged everything down-including me.

cold April day 2015 (6)This April has been anything but hospitable. Snow in April means we had snow every month for the past 6 months. Not so unusual. Snow this late in April is a little unusual.  Years ago I kept a garden diary. It was not all that interesting-just a recording of what was blooming or happening when.  It must have been in the early 8o’s –  6 inches of snow on April 16. It made me laugh – I wrote that in the diary. This gratuitous winter dusting the other day was insulting. It made me scowl.

cold April day 2015 (7)Milo had an intuitive grasp of the situation.  We don’t go to the rose garden in the winter. Nonetheless, there he was, trying to get me to  venture out. As if I wouldn’t notice the winter weather.

cold April day 2015 (8)I most certainly am ready for that incarnation of spring that has night temperatures well above freezing.  Though I am perfectly comfortable outdoors on a afternoon that is 55 degrees, I would not be so happy spending the night outdoors at 30.  My trees, shrubs and perennials have been in a deep sleep all winter. A few obnoxiously cold nights won’t deter them from their scheduled appearance.

cold April day 2015 (11)Our tulips are well out of the ground. A 27 degree night did not faze them.  They grow actively in a very cold part of the year. All of those plants that emerge in the early spring are programmed to not only survive, but they thrive in cold weather. The netting of ice of the leaves of the tulips gone over in the cold did not please me, but I was not worried.  They are familiar with cold weather.

cold April day 2015 (12)I was sure they would recover. What doesn’t bounce back?  Any plants that you have bought recently that have been raised in a greenhouse need to put one toe in the water at a time in April. This is known as hardening off.  A perennial that has been wintered outdoors in an unheated space is ready for whatever insult April has a mind to deliver.  A perennial that has been heated, and brought on ahead of its normal time to emerge can be damaged by exposure to cold.  They need to be exposed to the real world-one step at a time.

DSC_9692Greenhouse grown plants need some time to adjust to the real world.  This process can be a bore to a gardener who is impatient for spring. Out in the day-but back in at night. We haul plants in and put them out dozens of times in the spring, before the season turns. Not interested in managing the transition?  Don’t acquire plants too early.  Plants already in the ground are very cagey about when they decide to make an appearance.  They respond to daylight length, and temperatures. Once they are in active growth, close to freezing temperatures can damage the new shoots or flowers. Extended below freezing weather can damage flower and leaf shoots-every gardener in Michigan got a PhD in that science a few years ago.  Your in ground plants are fine, given our very cold April.

DSC_9727These greenhouse pansies, even though they were covered, took a hit from the cold. They will recover. But they were not ready to be turned out into the cold.  Any plant not used to the cold needs protection when the night temperatures dip.  Or a lengthy hardening off. The daytime temperatures are not so critical.  Watch the night temps.  And the soil temps.  This will make you a better gardener.

purple violasThese violas were grown cold.  They shrugged of the dusting of snow, and the 27 degrees overnight. If you plant in early spring in our zone, remember that April is not always a spring month. The plants you have in your garden that lived through our winter-they will be fine. Thinking to plant new plants in a garden or a container? Look for spring annuals and perennials that are grown cold. If you can’t tell-ask. Any plant nudged along with heat under glass will be vulnerable to variations in temperature.  Baby them. That said, any cold friendly plants you put to the soil now will be spilling way over the edges of your spring in just a few weeks. I promise.

Planting Pots For Spring

spring pots April 2015 (20)I have been planting spring containers for over a week now.  Of course the earliest pots had the biggest restrictions as to what plant material will tolerate the chill. No one wants to haul their pots into the garage every night that the temperatures threaten to be below freezing.  But every gardener is ready and willing to risk being out early.  We have been stuck indoors too long.  The pansies are incredibly cold tolerant, as are the kale and cabbages.  Lettuce is fairly cold tolerant-but the leaves are very thin.  They can suffer over a cold night.  Parsley has thicker leaves-they shrug off the cold.  Ranunculus do quite well outdoors in early spring, but their time is short.  Love them while you can.

spring pots April 2015 (18)Trailing pansies are new to me.  The Cool Wave series. I love the colors, and the lax habit of growth.  They are great and graceful in urns.  By mid June, these pansies will put on a lot of horizontal weight.  This wispy look is fine for now, at a time when the garden is just beginning to wake up.

spring pots April 2015 (14)I will confess that I have a few trick up my sleeve for height in spring pots.  I could plant 1 gallon pots of forsythia in spring pots, but a 1 gallon shrub takes up an enormous amount of space.  Container space is at a premium.  These pots got a spring look via some spiralled dry palm leaf stems and dry palm leaf flowers.  Do I mind that these stems come from natural materials that are dry-no. The greater good is an expression of spring that delights the eye, and the heart.

spring pots April 2015 (6)Cut pussy willow stems are beautiful in spring pots. Though we get in loads of straight stems from our grower every spring, I value the home grown branched stems that have volume. This pot had alyssum and phlox intensia which is barely showing color. Another few weeks of warmer weather will mean growth. The plants we use in spring pots are cold tolerant, but it will take some warmth for them to grow.

spring pots April 2015 (21)Spring flowering bulbs are actively growing, despite the cold. We do pot up lots of bulbs in the fall, as they are programmed to thrive in the early part of our gardening year.  The small flowering bulbs are blooming in the garden right now.  Having a pot full at the front door is all the more fun.  From the time the tulips break ground, until the flowers open is an experience of spring not to be missed.  This tulip, Jaap Groot, is a pale  yellow, with dark yellow feathers.  The cream colored edges on the leaves are beautiful, are they not? This pot looks good already. The joy and pleasure of growing any plant is much more than the story of the flowers.

spring pots April 2015 (4)I like mixing cut pussy willow stems, the early starts of romaine lettuce, and the pansies. This is a gesture that will only get better as the spring progresses.  spring pots April 2015 (9)

These centerpieces graced the winter pots for this client.  I did not see a need to replace them for spring.  They just needed a spring hug. I like when materials can be reused from one season to another.

spring pots April 2015 (11)This spring pot features a pair of German ivy baskets whose long trailers were tied up into the birch branches that filled this pot for the winter.  It will take a few days for the leaves of the ivy to turn back towards the light.

spring pots April 2015 (10)Twigs, whether they be fresh cut or dry, add some welcome volume to a pot that is freshly planted for spring. There is no need for any pot to sit empty in early spring. Though our greenhouses are filling up with summer flowering annuals, I like to take the time to enjoy the season at hand.

spring pots April 2015 (17)There are plenty of plants to choose from-cold tolerant annuals, spring perennials, cold tolerant herbs and vegetables, and spring flowering shrubs. Just about anything green looks good.

spring pots April 2015 (3)Putting ones hands in the soil of a container again feels great.  It’s the first place I garden in the spring. I like to wait until the in-ground garden shows itself before I wade in. There are plenty of good reasons to plant for spring.

spring pots April 2015 (5)spring pots

spring pots April 2015 (23)potted pink grape hyacinths

spring pots April 2015 (2)yellow twig dogwood and cool wave pansies

spring pots April 2015 (7)the face of spring

 

 

 

The Tulipiere

the tulipiere (14)Last fall, a friend who had business in Amsterdam wrote me that he had gone to a shop specializing in handmade Delft china.  They made vases in sections, which when assembled, would provide a striking display for tulips.  From Wikipedia:  “A tulipiere or tulip-holder is an ornate vessel in which to grow tulips, and is usually made of hand-crafted pottery, classically delftware. They are typically constructed to accommodate one single bulb per spout with a larger common water reservoir base. They were not designed as vases for a cut bloom, as is sometimes supposed. While fairly uncommon in modernity, during the 17th century tulipieres were used to grow tulip bulbs indoors and were common pieces of decorative art. After the advent of large-scale global trade in the 17th century, numerous flower bulbs from Asia such as the tulip, crocus, and hyacinth became luxury items in Europe and these bulbs remained an exotic novelty until the end of the 17th century. Large floor-standing pyramid-shaped tulipieres were particularly ornate, and dedicated to the love of a tulip.”  My friend and I-we both love tulips.  In the ground, and inside in a vase. Both tulipieres were shipped to me-one for me, and one for him.

the tulipiere (15)My delft tulipiere arrived last December.  It is a tower devoted to the display of the tulip. I loved the shape, stature, and the history surrounding this structure. Many tulipieres dating back to the 17th century were very elaborate, and hand painted. Modern tulipieres are more streamlined, and simple in shape and color.  But the idea is the same.  A vase that would provide a forum for the tulip would delight gardeners of all persuasions. Though the tulipiere was originally designed to hold tulip bulbs, which would root in the water, grow and bloom, I knew I would only use my tulipiere for cut tulips.

the Tulipiere (6)Jody Costello, whose company is known as J Costello Designs, does an amazing job of providing cut flowers for homes and events in our area. She was a participant in our spring fair 2 weeks ago. I can count on her to bring the most amazing array of spring cut flowers.  Her buckets of ranunculus, sweet peas, hyacinth, clematis, garden roses and tulips took my breath away.  Bunches of cut flowers wrapped in kraft paper and string were flying out of her booth on that Saturday.

the Tulipiere (4)On my mind was my tulipiere.  As she brought a great collection of cut parrot tulips, I asked her to arrange flowers in that Delft tower with an expression of spring all her own.

the tulipiere (11)How she arranged spring flowers in this vase was of interest to everyone who came by. This about tulips: the tulips are the mainstay of the spring bulb garden. The cultivars available to plant are just about endless.  The very early species tulips are quite persistent.  The Darwin hybrids feature giant flower heads in the midseason.  The Triumph tulips combine great flowers size with shorter, and more weather resistant stems.  There are double flowering early and late tulips.  The bunch flowering tulips are a bouquet springing from the ground.  The fringed tulips are all about an unusual texture on the edge of the petals.  The lily flowering tulips are late,  and vase shaped.  The viridiflora tulips feature green streaks in the petals. The late flowering tulips extend the season with their tall stems and large flowers.

the Tulipiere (5)Our tulips in the front of the shop are better than a foot tall right now. The big leaves are a sure sign of spring onm the way.  Some say the time between the emergence of the leaves and the bloom is a month.  I have never tested this theory, but I can say that once the tulips come up, I am tuned in to their story.  Those papery brown orbs that we planted last fall are growing every day now.  Our spring has been steady, but slow.  My hellebores are just beginning to bloom.  The crocus I usually see in March peaked a few days ago.  My magnolia stellata is in full bloom today-weeks behind their usual bloom date.  Only yesterday did I see forsythia beginning to bloom, and the grass growing greener.

the Tulipiere (8)Every gardener in my zone anticipates the spring with great excitement.  I am no exception.  Our winter has some snow, not record breaking snow, but long and lingering cold. The break in the cold was so welcome.  We have had cold mornings, and moderate afternoons.  Many layers of clothes in the morning gives way to a tee shirt in the afternoon. Winter is making some gestures towards spring.  The willows are leafing out.  My chionodoxa are in full bloom.

the Tulipiere (7)
As for my tulipiere, Jody did an incredible job of arranging flowers in it.  Cream parrot tulips, white hyacinths and white sweet peas.

the Tulipiere (3)Spring comes in a lot of different forms.  Every gardener in a northern zone is waking up. My tulipiere, full of tulips, sweet peas and hyacinths-a breath of spring. Fresh and sweet.  I can smell the spring coming. Thanks, Jody.

 

A New Relationship

The Branch Studio

In July of 2004, I bought 7 acres of land which was home to a pair of buildings totaling 30,000 square feet.  The buildings, used in the past to service trolley cars and tricked out vans, had been unoccupied for years. My favorite part was the meadow-7 acres of weeds rippling in the breeze that had been untouched for years.  My more than favorite part was that one building had 2 operational 5 ton bridge cranes. Who taught me how to love bridge cranes?  Buck of course.  Why would I buy another building? I wanted to make ornament for the garden-from concrete, and steel.  Garden ornament that was not just beautifully designed, but of heirloom quality. Those bridge cranes would provide me with a very basic tool I would need-the ability to lift and maneuver very heavy things. The steel on my mind would need lifting gear. I had been fabricating concrete faux bois furniture, pots and garden ornament in the garage at Detroit Garden Works in the winter for a few years previous. I couldn’t help but get my feet wet. In the meantime, Detroit Garden Works had grown, and it needed the space that the landscape trucks and equipment were occupying.  We had gotten too big to house 2 companies in the same 3/4 acre. And we had an idea to make things for the garden. It was time to make a move.

Branch StudioI bought the building and land, not realizing what was to come-to make the property liveable and workable.  We needed a fire hydrant, and a parking lot for starters.  We needed a new furnace, and an electrical upgrade, and service on the overhead doors and bridge cranes. All of this work was accomplished as the landscape company was able to generate the income to fund them. Of course I had to pile it on. I  wanted to make terra cotta pots. Anything we made from concrete, steel, or terra cotta needed to be beautifully designed, and fabricated to an exacting standard. My attitude towards the garden ornament was no different than my attitude towards the landscape.  One at a time, thoughtfully designed, and beautifully executed.

DSC_1235By 2008, the US economy was in free fall. No one needs landscape design and installation to live. People were afraid to commit, as well they should have been.  My business contracted.  I am happy to say that my landscape practice was steady-but it was not growing one bit. There was no income left over to fund the Branch Studio enterprise.  Like many other businesses, all of the managerial people took substantial pay cuts.  Buck would spend the next 18 months handling everything at the Branch Studio on his own. He bought battery heated gloves, as we could not afford to heat the building much past 45 degrees in the winter. But he never thought to give in, or give up. My accountant-I waved him off when he suggested that I close the business. It was simple- I had an idea that I believed in, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take to make that idea viable.

Branch 3 2013We were busy sorting out and distilling who we were, and who we hoped to be. We made things that needed revision in size and proportion. All the right details are not always so obvious on the first or fifth go around. We were after a garden box that would turn heads.  Buck had already worked for 30 years as an architect, with a specialty in technical design. He and I both were after ornament that came from our history in Detroit.  The order of events was not so easy or predictable. We spent years in development, both on the design and the manufacturing side.

DSC_9098Tough times made it easier to decide what medium was our medium of choice. The head and guiding hand of the Branch Studio is Buck Moffat.  If you read this blog regularly, you know about him.  But for those of you who are not familiar with him, he was a Saarinen scholar in the department of architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1970’s. Though he is from Texas, he is all about a love for the history of Detroit style great industrial design and fabrication. The Branch Studio red book of creating precisely fabricated objects for the garden is of his invention, and I have him to thank for the fact that we now ship our garden boxes, fountains, pergolas and custom made ornament all over the country. The entire studio is confident that they will look great, and measure up to those people with a big love for the garden.

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The Branch Studio hums along now, some 11 years after that beginning. We make contact with all kinds of people who value the landscape such that they would commit to very fine ornament for their gardens. We do a lot of custom work for garden designers and landscape architects. This is who we have always hoped to be. Purveyors of ornament for the garden that does indeed provide a lifetime of beauty and service.

DSC_9095This past fall I had a call from Restoration Hardware. They were interested in pursuing a relationship with Branch. If you have seen their 2015 outdoor catalog – or any of their catalogs for that matter – you’ll see that they have a very big idea about design and home, and are pursuing that idea with great focus and energy.  After much discussion, it was agreed that we would design and fabricate an all steel garden box exclusively for them. We shared the design of one of our fountain cisterns with them, and will fabricate it in 2 sizes exclusive to them. The experience of dealing with them has been extraordinary. They were very thorough about wanting to understand everything they could about our work, and our products. They were very generous with their time. They were determined to represent our work.

DSC_9103Based on my experience over the past six months, they are a very large company that takes great pains not to be or act like one. What shines through is their excitement, passion, and commitment to great design. And a mission to make that design available to a very wide audience. Their customer service is very personal, thoughtful, and all around awesome-that part of them is a mission they take very seriously.  If you are not familiar with them, I would encourage you to seek them out. Their new catalog for 2015 for interior furnishings for small spaces-brilliant.  Restoration Hardware

We are but a very small part of their group, but by invitation, we are a part of their vision. Thank you, Restoration Hardware.

So very happy to be here:  Deborah Silver for Restoration Hardware