Checking In To The Grumpery

DSC_8800The month of March in Michigan always manages to test the good nature of the most graceful and exuberantly positive gardener. The bitter last of the winter is still firmly entrenched. It is 20 degrees, with snow flurries today.  It will be 14 degrees over night. I don’t know why these buckets of cheerfully fake red poinsettias irritate me so much.  If I didn’t know it was March, I would think it was Christmas time.

DSC_8788The north side of every cranny on my property has dirty snow and dead leaves on top of ice. The night temperatures regularly sink below freezing.  Dead tree branches litter the garden. The cold winds come and bring paper and plastic trash. Burned orange evergreen needles jump out at me. The south side of every Alberta spruce in my neighborhood is burned.

espalier damage

Tree trunks of espaliers whose bark has been gnawed off by rabbits-I fear for the lives of these plants.

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Boxwood tips turning from cream to tan-I see the signs that signal winter kill. Never mind the bare boxwood branches courtesy of the winter of 2014.

DSC_8789My snowdrops that have just emerged will be subjected to 14 degree temperature over night. These should be named frozen through and through drops. I do not see any signs of the crocus-that is a good thing.

DSC_8798Some patches of my hellebores are still smothered in icy snow.  I am thinking of shoveling the last of the winter off of them, but I probably would take the crown of the plant with it.

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The dead fern heads and cold singed European ginger laid flat out-I am more than ready for this phase of the year to be over. If you are a gardener, this is what March Madness really means.

DSC_8767My yard is dirty.  I have a big love for dirt-but not this kind of dead grass and compacted muck dirt. The dirt just outside the doorways is salt saturated. This dirt is in my car, and on my kitchen floor.  When it dries, it dries white.  A dirty white, that is.

DSC_8793Potholes, gaping and deep potholes, open up in the neighborhood streets. I believe a neighbor, out of desperation, filled this with dirt. A water main broke here in late January. A huge disk of ice sat here until a few weeks ago, when the pavement seemed to disintegrate over night. The skies are the same color as this road.

DSC_8784  Even the dogs had that accusatory look on their faces-can’t you do something about the endless winter?

DSC_8782We are still stuck indoors and moping. Why I went outside to see the dead leaves on the ivy – I am not sure. Maybe just to verify that we are truly living the misery.

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I have talked to Buck at great length about all of this. On a number of occasions. Finally last night he advises me to go to the grumpery, and leave him be. I do not fault him for his exasperation. We have an understanding about the grumpery.  The grumpery is a place for any gardener who is so over the winter that they need to be quarantined.  I am hoping I do not need to spend too many more days there.

The Collectors

the collectorI may not know all of their names, but I recognize their faces. Those people for whom the world turns on an axis determined by a garden, a landscape, or a property –  firmly entrenched at the center of their universe. That landscape may be a dream, or a work in progress. It is most assuredly a life’s work. That landscape is visionary, and very personal.  I would not call it a hobby, or even an avocation. I would call it a passion for nature that runs deep, and most of all, wide.  That emotional landscape is the foundation upon which all else in life rests. Their interests are varied. Some collect seed.  Some collect heirloom vegetables.  Some collect memories of nature.  Some dig, and find the smell of soil the most intoxicating perfume they have ever had the pleasure to experience. That experience of the garden is constellation wide. There is the smell of grass, the sounds of the birds, the sight of the first clump of crocus coming into bloom. Some click with and collect a specific plant. Some take great pains to prepare seed beds for a favorite species. Some see themselves as stewards. Some are all of the above, and more.

 

the collectorThese two have been clients of Detroit Garden Works for many years. Most recently they bought the house and property next door to them.  For the property, not the house. The second half of a bowl shaped parcel of land defining their landscape was part of an adjacent property. They chose to purchase that property which would make their landscape whole. The reuniting of the two pieces of land-the act of a collector.

DSC_8575They came to Detroit Garden Works today, and left with 2 full flats of hellebores.  The discussion about which varieties would be appropriate for their garden was lengthy, and interesting.  I so admire that the two of them see themselves as stewards of a large property. The lengths to which they go to look after it, and develop the landscape is astonishing. Their garden making is not a project.  It is a way of life.

DSC_8573A smile upon the face of a collector is music to my eyes. This is not about commerce – this is about a world view. A world view that I recognize and admire. They have differing points of view about lots of issues.  The one hates looking at weeds.  The other hates pulling weeds. Somehow they work it out.  It is obvious they have a long standing and serious romance with their garden that sustains the both of them.

DSC_8572The two of them weighed down with a collection of hellebores did my heart good. It is a sure sign that great plants have a strong and committed audience.

DSC_8576 They collect earth, nature, garden, shade plants, landscape, hellebores -they grow vegetables and trees. They grow it all, in their own style. They enable us to thrive.  Rob and I treasure them. Plain and simple, they are family. This is the best part of our hellebore festival. It brings out the collectors.

 

 

Awash In Hellebores

helleborus.jpgI am embarrassed to complain, given what the people in Boston have endured this winter, but I will say it.  We have had a long tough winter. We had the better part of Boston’s snow last year. This year, no heart or record breaking snow, but plenty of snow nonetheless. The snow I could plow through, and shrug off. The tough part was an interminable run of very cold weather, lots of it below zero. Dressing for a trip outdoors was an event the likes of which was almost intolerable. Boots, gloves, coat, hat, and lots of layers in between. All of this piling on took lots of time. That effort did not come to much good-the cold was bone chilling.  No one took the arctic winter poorer than the corgis. Every day they would plead with me to change the channel. They were bored and irritable. It was a daily thing, wanting to be let out every possible door to the outside-in hopes one would reveal habitable weather.  The spring in Michigan does not come easy or in an orderly fashion. Mother nature takes her time, deciding when the season will change from winter to spring. We have been made to wait.

detroit garden works helleboresWe feel better about the weather, having worked to introduce our own indoor version of spring. In March, we take delivery of over 1000 hellebores from growers all over the US and Canada. We invite gardeners in our area to come, browse and review our collection, and speak for them. We mean to offer gardeners a respite the winter, with our hellebore festival. It takes a few days, but our greenhouse space is starting to look like and smell  like a garden. Our March weather seems to be moderating-we have hope we are on a track to spring.  But if the spring outdoors is practically still weeks off,  we have a version of spring in our greenhouse. Should the spring be a few weeks off, the hellebores are content to reside in  sunny window until the ground outside can be worked.hellebores_double_pink_strain__84306Hellebores are a hardy perennial in our zone. Many of them are hardy in zone 4; most of them are eminently hardy in zone 5.  I treasure them, as they are the first perennial to bloom in my garden in April.  Hellebore foliage is large, and will persist long past the fall and into the winter. In warmer zones, the foliage is evergreen. The Orientalis hybrids throw their bloom stalks very early in the spring, arising out of the declining foliage from the previous season. The new foliage which is to come after the blooming is lush and substantive. They are tolerant of a wide range of conditions in the garden. I grow them in full sun, but I water them when they need it.  They are equally as happy in a lightly shaded location. They can live and increase in a garden for many years, without any need for division. Deer do not touch them. The flowers are surprisingly large, and quite beautiful.

detroit garden works helleboresThe flowers of the hellebores my Mom grew in her garden 50 years ago did not look like these. The blooms were nodding-down facing. To enjoy her bell shaped flowers required getting down on the ground to look up into their faces. She would cut them, and put them in a vase in the kitchen window.  Her favorites were the white and green flowered hellebores, as the pink cultivars were a muddy not so appealing pink.  It took years to grow on a hellebore to a decent size, as they were only available as young starts.  There was always lots more foliage than flowers. Nonetheless, she loved the look of them in her shade/wildflower garden.  Their foliage would last the entire summer and beyond, unlike the spring bulbs and ephemeral wildflowers she cultivated. The hellebore world has changed dramatically since then.

pink flowering helleboresThis group of plants have been the subject of intense breeding all over the globe. A lot of attention has been devoted to breeding plants who flowers are out and up facing. Some breeders have produced strains of hellebores with double flowers, or unusual coloration. Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, who own Northwest Garden Nurseries, have bred some stunning strains of hellebores.  The same can be said for Judith and Dick Tyler who own and operate Pine Knot Farms. These names are just two of a long list of hellebore enthusiasts who breed and sell plants in Belgium, Germany, England, Japan, the US and Canada.

detroit gardenworks helleboresMost of the plants in the greenhouse are hybrids of helleboris Orientalis. Helleborus Orientalis is not a species of hellebore, strictly speaking. It is a plant which is an interspecific cross from a number of different species hellebores-the O’Byrnes think maybe more than 16 species have a part in what is properly known as helleborus x hybridus. They do not come true from seed, so many of these named varieties are referred to as such and such “strain” of hellebore.  Given that the plants may take 3 years to flower, many breeders sell their young plants with pictures that show the possible color range. The advent of tissue culture has made it possible to clone specific plants, and make them available to interested gardeners.  My discussion of the history and science is quite limited-for a detailed look at hellebores, do visit the website of Plant Delights Nursery. Some of the hellebores we have came from a trip Rob made there a few weeks ago.  Tony Advent does a terrific job making great garden plants available to serious gardeners.  He also does a great job of providing an overview of the history and proper culture of the plants he sells.

   http://www.plantdelights.com/Article/Hellebore-Lenten-Rose/Hellebores/Christmas-Rose/

dscn1230The hybridizing of hellebores to produce stronger growing and beautifully flowered hellebore cultivars has been a shot heard round the world. Today, hybridizers in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US have created cultivars featuring study and garden worthy plants, and breathtaking flowers. The vast majority of the plants we have available now are cultivars that have a proven performance record. And we feature large sized plants that are old enough to produce a good crop of flowers from the start. But we also have a limited number of one of a kind plants that would appeal to a hellebore collector.

detroit garden works helleboresI did buy a collection of named hellebores last February from a nursery in British Columbia, Canada, named Fraser’s Thimble Farms.  They ship small plants to the US, bare root. I did have to pot them up, and baby them along in the window sill of my drawing studio until they took hold. I finally planted the entire lot of them in a patch in my garden that used to be occupied by some not so wonderful looking yews. Just yesterday I could see that the snow had melted, and all of those small plants look like they survived our winter. I am not expecting all of them to bloom this spring, but I have hopes.

h 5We do have gardeners come in who are not familiar with hellebores. This is not so surprising. Some nurseries are reluctant to carry plants that take 3 years to flower from seed, or are already out of bloom in May.  The good news for gardeners is what appears to be the flower is actually a modified calyx, or petal like structures that surround the actual flower. The flower is in the center, and these true petals will drop when the flowering period is over. But the calyx persist on the plants for months, giving the appearance of a really long bloom time. Still, I try to site hellebores in spots that make them easy to view in early spring.

Detroit Garden Works hellebores March 2015 (16)Hellebores also make great container plants.  Everything we ordered for our collection is in, and our Hellebore festival is slated for Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22. Can you come ahead? Of course.

The Landscape At Lee Hill Farm

Lee Hill FarmI have a very good friend, Susan Cohan, who also happens to be an extraordinarily talented landscape designer. Her firm, Susan Cohan Gardens, is based in Chatham, New Jersey. She is well educated in the arts and design. Her history is varied, and rich. Mind you, this previous bit does not in any way address the length and the breath of her experience and expertise. She has a keen eye, a well developed point of view, and a huge passion for the landscape. In my opinion, her passion for every aspect of the landscape is awesome. We met during her 2014 tenure as President of the APLD. The APLD is a national association of landscape designers that has members in almost every state. They work tirelessly to improve the quality of landscape design among their members, and they work to inform the public about landscape designers with experience and talent who would be worth consulting on a landscape project. From the beginning we were professionals and associates, with a relationship that grew to regularly debate the issues regarding landscape design.  Now we are friends. The result of that friendship – she got on a plane, and came out to visit me for 4 days this past February. Those days flew by.  She is delightfully interesting, serious, and genuine, not to mention fresh, direct, and personal.  How I love all these things about her!  I was so pleased to hear that she had won a Gold Medal award in the 2015 APLD competition for planting design. I want to share that award winning design and installation. I  greatly respect how she approached the work, and brought a project to bear fruit, from the ground up.

Susan Cohan DesignHer clients had purchased a beautiful old house and property.  Many of the structural elements of the garden – walls, and walkways – were in a considerable state of disrepair. In Susan’s estimation, a renovation of the property would have to begin with repairs. A good designer lays out the issues, and details the journey. Her client committed to this aspect of the restoration. Any successful project is a result of a rapport between a designer and a client. It was agreed that the old walkways, steps, and some walls would have to come out, and be redone. Another wall was slated to be built.

Lee Hill Farm
Repairs are not that much fun. Fixing what is broken does not necessarily result in something new and exciting. Just what was, before it was broken. But an old property with beautiful walls and walks may not need something new.  A repair and renovation that goes on to become a landscape better than her client thought she could have it-that’s very new and exciting! Repairs can be lengthy and tedious. These before pictures of Lee Farm which Susan sent me do not tell the tale of the days and weeks of work that would be involved to make the hard structures of this garden whole again.

vintage stairsEvery place has its own aura. A feeling. An atmosphere.  Recreating and restoring a sense of place relies on a sure hand. How Susan approached this project tells me she has a gift for the concept of the genius of the place. This property had a long history that deserved respect.  I am sure she steeped herself in the ruination, before she put a drawing, a hand, or a shovel, to the ground.

old gardenThe heaved and crumbling brickwork and the grass challenged stonework did not faze her.

Susan Cohan GardensThis view of a landscape long neglected makes clear that a lot of work needed to be done. Landscape projects that are really good address the land, the history, the client, the structures, the furnishings, and the plants. Like a play having six acts, this project would build on itself.

redoing the stoneworkThe restoration of the hard structures took lots of time.  Lots of hard work. Lots of supervision, and even more discussion. The pace of this work took so much more time than these pictures would indicate. This picture of a degraded walk, some hand tools, and a person tells a story. A beautiful project takes a vision, and work to follow that is skilled.

Lee HillOnce the hard structures were restored, the replanting of the landscape would involve an arrangement and plant list that would convince.  A beautifully planted garden is a joy.  But this garden had to be true to the history, the aura, and the meaning of this property of great age.  I think Susan did a great job of thinking through a plant list that was not limited to what perennials were available at the time the garden was built.  It was a plant list that served and recalled the original spirit of the garden.

the stoneworkThe fountain needed repair. The stone terrace was relaid, on level ground. The brick walks were redone. The millstone was level in the center of two brick walks, intersecting at right angles. The planting had begun.

Lee Hill Farm small fileYears later, this landscape evokes the spirit of the past, courtesy of lots of skilled design help from the present.  These pictures, which Susan submitted to the APLD competition, tell a certain story.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #4Her hand is a subtle one. It takes great experience, confidence and skill to plant a landscape that gives the land, the history and the plants center stage. I can see she is interested here in a landscape that seems natural and appropriate. Genuinely believable. Flowing.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #2On one level, the planting design for this project was meant to evoke the spirit of the original garden. But that design goes on to other levels. More interesting and thoughtful placement. More variety, or better performing cultivars. Designed spaces. The plant choices and the colors echo the original garden, but have relevance in the present.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #5The original iris still have a place.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #8the sweep

Lee Hill Farm Photo #9a long line

Lee Hill Farm Photo #10the layered view

Lee Hill Farm Photo #7The matching hedges of the same cultivar of peony is a way of illustrating how the design is as important as the plant choices.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #6The peonies, arbor and fountain are the strong and simple organizing feature for a constellation of perennial borders.  In May, the peonies hold forth much more strongly than they would have, had they been planted singly in a number of different places. At this moment, this view is drenched in the history of the original landscape in a visually compelling way.  It is also a very strongly designed space.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #2This is an award winning project-as well it should be. This picture tells the tale-everything seems right and rings true to the setting.  As for Susan Cohan, should you have a great passion for the landscape, and live within 100 miles of her, contact her.  She is a landscape designer I greatly admire. Interested in reading further about her?

Susan Cohan Gardens