Complicated

stone-walkway.jpgThis past fall I had a call from a great client from years ago. They bought a new house- recently built, and close to finished on the inside. The outside revealed a large piece of property  with dirt as far as the eye could see. The contractor on the house recommended a landscape architect-a landscape professional I happen to greatly admire.  My first visit to the site was during the installation of his complex and beautifully imagined walk from the driveway to the front door. A curved set of steps lead to a generously scaled landing, centered on the dining room window, and not the front door.  Had the walk been centered on the front door, the landscape would forever have looked off balance and lopsided. A bump out halfway to the front door would prove to be a perfect spot for a bench. The curved walkway falls within the center space, defined by the front porch and dining room window taken as a whole.  That walkway would be the dominant element of the front landscape.

 

stone-walk.jpgMy clients were a little uncertain about the complicated landscape that was additionally proposed.  I understand that uncertainty. Any landscape involves lots of time and commitment. They were concerned that the landscape proposed was too involved, meaning it would be in need of frequent and ongoing maintenance. I  understand this point of view. I reserve complicated gardens for clients who latch onto the idea of a complicated garden as if it were all they ever wanted from their life. Other clients, who love the landscape, may have kids and demanding jobs that drain time away from maintaining an intricate landscape.

096Consideration of the maintenance was a key part of the design for my own landscape at home.  I would make regular time to take care of my containers, and dead head a few roses. But I also wanted to relax in and enjoy my garden when I got home from work. These clients were of similar mind.  They both are busy working people, and they are raising a family. A very simple landscape that would look put together and elegant every season of the year would respect  the lives of my clients.  By way of contrast, a simple landscape would visually reinforce that stone walkway as the dominant element of the landscape.

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Of great importance was the fact that the house was built on rather steeply sloping ground from side to side.  A stone retaining wall encloses that space, and isolates the remainder of the property from the front yard. The landscape would have a clearly defined space in which to be. As evident in the drawing in the first picture, the landscape beds are rectilinear and opposite in direction from the walk. The visual read is as though the landscape came first, and was overlaid by the walk.
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Laying out all of the spaces in advance is the last step of a design. What is drawn on paper only rarely translates to the actual space perfectly. My drawings are not perfect, as I draw by hand.  I have also had more than a few surveys with inaccurate dimensions.  Trying the landscape on for size before you plant is a good idea. Once the plants are purchased, they may not be so easy to return.
099No decision was made immediately as to what would go on either side of the walk leading up to the porch.  There was no need.  Those spots could be handled in a number of different ways, each of which could be good.  I had a plan to suggest different pots for the porch, and move these urns to the side.  I would bring the new pots out, so they could try them on.

DSC_6022We did cover the new limestone walk with plywood and tarps. There was no reason to put put any more dirt on that walk than necessary. As we did this job fairly late in the fall, the temperatures were chilly, and we had had a lot of rain. We had a need for a considerable amount of soil to bring the grade up to the grade set by the walk. The pipes for the irrigation had already been set.  The irrigation contractor would finish the job just before we were ready to mulch the planting. We use ground hardwood bark fines, which deteriorates fairly quickly, and adds much needed compost to the soil.  The mulching will need to be done every year.

DSC_6023We did plant three Venus dogwoods-small trees.  The geometry of the ever green planting was strong enough from the start that larger trees really weren’t necessary.  I like planting smaller trees.  They take hold quickly and put on weight fast. The center rectangle would be grass.  As the grass would go right up to the trunk of the tree, it would have to be clipped by hand around the trunk.

DSC_6256A tree set in the lawn without a ring of mulch is a maintenance headache, but given that the rest of the landscape would take very little work to maintain, I splurged on the look.

DSC_6250My clients did decide on four Jackie boxes from Branch-2 rectangles, and two squares. The area between the box and the front wall was planted with white tulips, and will have annuals in the summer. The area underneath the window was planted with white variegated hosta.

DSC_6028The look coming up the walk-simple, but lush. The house has particularly beautiful architectural details.  The landscape will never obscure any of those.

beautiful-stonework.jpgThe area in front of the wall will be planted in the spring.  Either a low sun tolerant ground cover, or perennial-or mix of perennials.  A low wall is a challenge to work with.  While the base of it needs softening, a beautiful wall should be visible.  I have a few months to think that through.

LH winter 2014 (24)We did have time to squeeze in some winter pots. It is a little tough to see in the photograph, but the rectangular bvoxes sit on decomposed granite, for ease of maintenance.  I would not object however, to alyssum growing in the gravel.

DSC_6262Part 2 is set to come next year. But for now, the front of the house is entirely presentable.

 

 

A Quick Look At Some Stick Work

Federal Reserve Building (8)A  client who calls for work after the holidays is unusual, but we were happy to oblige.  We had materials, and there are months of winter yet to come. They had purchased these large scale contemporary birch faux bois concrete planters from Branch over a year ago.  The landscape is dominated by a single river birch.  An arrangement that would feature birch seemed natural.  We had just enough 3″ caliper poles to fill the pair of planters.  Bunches of white lepto came in handy for filling the gaps between the poles. Our last three cases of mixed evergreen boughs were just enough to soften the top of the pot with a thick blanket of green.

Federal Reserve Building (6)The ground plane of the landscape was done with groundcovers of various types in spaces dictated by a pattern of aluminum edger strip, and gravel.  The pattern established is graphically strong.  There were a few areas designated for a seasonal planting.  The concrete boxes had been planted with chrysanthemums for the fall.  What could be done in those areas that would have some height, volume and presence over the winter?  Our solution was to cut up some 1″ and 2″ diameter birch poles into random short lengths. Each piece had a hole drilled all the way through each end. Each of the poles were loosely attached to its neighbor with heavy gauge aluminum wire. The end result-a giant birch garland.

Federal Reserve Building (9)In order to get some height and mass, rolls of grapevine were stretched out and pinning into the soil.  The pinning was easy, as the ground was frozen.

Federal Reserve Building (5)We zip tied the birch garland to the grapevine where it seemed appropriate.

Federal Reserve Building (4)The large size bamboo poles was a vestige of a previous installation-not by us.  The client wanted to leave them in.  That was a good thing, as they were set into metal sleeves placed below ground.  Water had completely filled the sleeves.  The poles were solidly frozen into place by time we got there. I rather prefer the birch poles here.  They look like they belong in a winter garden in Michigan.  There is a certain authenticity to the materials used here.

Federal Reserve Building (3)In the background, the last of our big linden espaliers.  At 9′ wide and 12′ tall each, they mean something in front of this large commercial building.  Properly cared for, they will only get better looking as time goes on.  Funny how some very large commercial spaces devour almost every bit of the land they sit on. It takes the right material and a very strong design to work in a space like this.  I did not do the landscape design here, but I like it.

Federal Reserve Building (1)Hauling around four sets of fresh cut birch garland was the perfect installation for a 12 degree day.  We warmed up in a hurry. Once we were done, all we needed was some snow.  I wonder what it looks like now that we have a good snow cover.

 

Back From Atlanta

Atlanta-trip.jpgShortly after the holiday season comes to a close, Rob and I take a trip to Atlanta to shop for the holiday to come.  This might seem like less than a treat, to have the holiday go on until mid January-but I like the timing.  What just transpired at Detroit Garden Works is still fresh in my mind.  I am still familiar with the materials we had available at the shop for the holiday and winter installations done by the landscape company, Deborah Silver and Co.  What has just been on my mind makes early January is a great time to look for materials for the following season.  We always drive, as we may make side trips to look at plant material, or a pottery we have never visited in person.  Sometimes we find vintage or antique objects that would look great in the shop.  My 2004 Chevy Suburban with 120,000 miles still makes that trip without any complaints, and can carry plenty of odds and ends.  We have on occasion hauled big benches, concrete pots and plants.

Atlanta at nightAtlanta is a very long trip by car, but that time we spend discussing an approach for next year.  What direction we would like to take, and what things we felt were missing. It also helps to have a days separation from the previous work to the new work. People with shops all over the country come here for this week’s show.  I feel sure that each and every one of them will come away with a collection from their own point of view.  Despite the fact that many thousands of people are in Atlanta that week, we managed to run into buyers from four other nurseries and garden centers in our area.  Does this mean you will be seeing the same things in many places? Not likely.

birdsThe America’s Mart is the largest wholesale market of its kind in the US. The registration for the Mart is a rigorous one-it is only open to businesses who can authenticate their business status, not individuals.  7 million square feet of space is host to thousands of vendors.  I have no idea how many people come every year, but all of Atlanta’s hotels, restaurants, streets, escalators and showrooms are jammed with people.  We make reservations for a place to stay a year in advance. Some vendors set up temporary shop, just for the week. We always shop the temporaries, looking for new sources, and companies new to the business.  In the holiday category alone, there are many hundreds of places to visit, and countless items which can be ordered for the upcoming season.  The choices are just about endless. Every garden center in our area has their own idea about how to represent the holiday, and will represent their own taste and interests.  This means the purchasing public has lots of different things from which to choose.

birdYears ago, Rob and I would go through every holiday vendor’s showroom, and make a second trip back to order. Given that we have been celebrating a holiday season for many years, we can now more easily spot those things that would work well and represent our interest in the garden and nature. We scout a showroom, confer, and order. The work of it is two fold.  It takes a lot of energy and concentration to spot those few things from thousands that have appeal, charm, or quality. It also takes the ability to keep track of what direction the buying takes, so the end result is a coherent collection.  Many showrooms forbid taking any pictures, for obvious reasons.  But most do not object to closeup pictures of items that are being ordered.

holiday 2015There is another good reason why the show is held in January.  Many vendors manufacture commensurate with the orders that are placed.  Certain items we have ordered will never be delivered.  Lacking sufficient demand, it will not be available.  Though the Mart will host another show this coming July, many things will be sold out. We only rarely shop this season on line.  It is too hard to get a good feeling for the color,  heft, sturdiness and quality of an item from a picture. We like to look in person, as liking what we recommend to clients is important. Great materials speak for themselves. We will shop on line with certain vendors whose product lines do not change much from year to year.   wreathGiven the big numbers of new things we saw this year, I would say that business has been good for our vendors.  In 2009 one of our favorite vendors went out of business-it was a a shock, and a big loss. I like it when their business with retailers is brisk, as it means more choices, and new designs. This wreath made with large pine cones that had been split in half was innovative, and handsome. Shopping with Rob can be a challenge.  He wants to be sure he sees, if even just for a moment, most of every showroom-not just the holiday showrooms. This involves miles and miles of walking-but I know my way around the Mart well enough to stop for a cup of coffee while he scouts.

holiday lightingHis instinct to scout paid off in a significant way for us this year. This showroom, which featured lighting such as you see above was located on a floor where the other vendors offered goods completely unlike this.  Had we not gone into an area which did not seem relevant to our business, we would have never seen this. If you know Rob, then you are aware of his keen interest in winter lighting of all kinds.  This was the find of the entire market week for him.  I have never seen him more enthused.

light bulbYes, we will have this lighting next season.  The timing of the deliveries is complex to set up, especially when you buy from 70 or more vendors like we do.  The first deliveries will start to trickle in towards mid July.  Spacing the deliveries means Scott will have the time to inventory everything, price it, and pack it back up. There will be thousands of items all requiring a lot of handling, even before we are ready to put them out. We like to have everything on hand, come mid September,as planning how we will display everything takes time.

LED light stringsAnother great lighting find-LED light string sets with a warm light much like the incandescent light we like. Rob had stood back from the early years of LED lights.  The light was so cold and unwelcoming. This light is warm and cheery. These strands are shatterproof-we watched the showroom staff drop them on the concrete floor, and walk on them. Astonishing, this. They are waterproof. They are guaranteed for 10 years. This will be a significant contribution to our light sculptures-ruggedly built light strands that do not require maintenance.

starsThe same company had a select group of ornaments that we liked just as well as the lights.

Atlanta 2015This was Sunne’s first trip to market with us. Just as enthusiastic as her name suggests, she was a great addition to our group. She spotted lots of things that I missed.  A third pair of eyes is good when you are shopping spaces jammed with all sorts of things. Plus she has a very good idea of what will be coming in.

Atlanta from the 18th floorThe view of Atlanta from the 18th floor of one building-spectacular.

IMG_2753In addition to holiday, we also shopped Halloween.  We do a little of that, just for fun.

shopping AtlantaWe also shopped showrooms specializing in vintage home and garden.

yellow chair 2We also shop the Gardens-2 giant floors devoted entirely to things for the garden. By day 7, the show was beginning to feel endless and overwhelming-as you can see! We buy only select things from these floors, as Rob buys most of the garden ornament, pots and furniture from other sources. Eight days, all day and into a few evenings-this was our longest show ever.  I feel confident that our holiday coming up this fall will be a particularly good one. That said, it is great to be home.

 

Time To Read

DSC_7376I always buy myself a few books at year’s end.  My library is big enough that friends and family are afraid they might duplicate what I already have. Worse, they fear buying a book that isn’t of interest, or is off point. I am not offended in the least.  Choosing a book for me is not an easy task. My tastes are quirky, and wide ranging. I have a long history of collecting books on gardening and landscape design. My library has shelf space devoted to design from lots of countries, regions, and cities. What I love in a book is not something I much discuss with anyone. It is by and large a private matter, based on whatever is going through me at the time. This is not so unusual. The choice of a book, no matter the subject, is a personal matter.  Buck likes to buy me books-I humor him with a list. This goes on all year round. He never fails to deliver 2 or 3 books. Buck keeps me reading, Christmas Day.   Part of the solitary end of the season pleasure is looking into what books I might want to own. I don’t know what I read that made me interested in David Culp’s book, The Layered Garden. But I was intrigued enough to buy the book. The idea of a discussion of how a garden might be layered-what did that mean, exactly?  I read the book over the past 2 days. The book is better than I imagined it would be.  How so?  His writing is excellent and lively.  His thoughts on the garden are well thought out-succinct. The horticulture is spot on. The photographs are heavenly. But most importantly, the book makes it obvious that his relationship to his garden, and to horticulture, is a multi-layered affair.

The-Layered-Garden.jpgMy favorite written passages in the book are in the forward. He speaks to what motivates him to share his experience of the garden. The history, and present-all folded into one.  I admire that he would do whatever he could to encourage people to garden. That almost every question can be answered with a yes is a world view well worth some thought. It has much to do with why I write here, and why I will continue to write.    I hear from readers every day.  They are by and large just as passionate about the act of gardening as I am. They have lives not so different than mine.  We share a lot.  A reader sent me a letter and pictures just a few days ago. He makes me feel like everything I have ever done to make or write about making a garden or a landscape  was well worth my time. To follow is his letter, and his pictures.  Thanks, CT.

Dear Deborah,

I truly hope you are doing well! We corresponded earlier this year about my design needs, and unfortunately my idea has become a dream deferred. And since the ideas of my local designers are unimaginative and template-like, I’ve been working at it on my own. It’s been quite a journey, but I’m appreciating the process. In all I want to thank you for your time. I also want to thank you for your inspiration from afar. Your blog is rich and full of passion–I love it.

This fall I started compiling ideas for outdoor winter decorations–I had never done it before–at least to the DGW scale. I looked many places, but always came back to the designs you all put together for your shop and your customers. The thought, the setup, the attention to detail, the process–it’s a privilege to see. I’ve always had an eye for the finer and more intricate things, no matter the art. But sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to achieve the same end when you don’t know the means. But you have been a teacher, and I have been eager to learn. Many of the materials you use and write about are not readily accessible to me, so I had to drive some distances as well as send for lots of it. Margarita was also such a great help when ordering from your shop!

Anyway, after weeks of working (my wife thought I was deranged) I put together a few containers and a garland. The process…painstaking but well worth the work. I have an even greater appreciation for what you and your crew does. I think you once wrote that Buck always stresses the approach to the work. And doing this all on my own, I can’t agree more. In fact, my 27ft garland…a 3 person job. I was in a pinch with time, and with no help it took 3 1/2 hours to hang. I’ll NEVER do that again. But I learned from it all. I even made a small pot for my neighbor after she saw my work. My designs aren’t original as you can see, haha. But it was nice to have a reference point for my first crack at this. I’m enchanted with the turnout…and so are my neighbors. I’m sure you have hundreds or even thousands of followers that feel the way I do. But I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that I appreciate all that you do and all that you know.

Happy Holidays to you Deborah and the entire Detroit Garden Works crew! Enjoy the pix.

Sincerely,

CT

CT 1a gardener’s expression of the holiday

CT 2holiday entry

CT 4a winter container

CT 5How I love the letter and the pictures from CT. He read what I wrote, and said yes, David Culp style.Though he stuck close to my designs this year, I know the next season around he will venture out entirely on his own. CT-I cannot wait for your pictures, next year.  Why wouldn’t I? If I encourage any person to garden, my writing will have been worth so much more than I ever imagined it would. David Culp said everything about the process of gardening that needs saying-just my opinion.  His garden is extraordinary. His book is well worth the read. The heart this book is everything I would wish for any gardener, including myself, for the new year. Layered.