The 2014 Gardening Season

2-27-2014 (14)Though nature had no plans to attend the opening of Detroit Garden Works today for the 2014 gardening season, the robins in the tree next door are here right on schedule.  Rob says they look to be the fattest robins ever.  I personally think they have their feathers fluffed out to the max-trying to defend themselves against the extreme cold.  On the news this morning, the following.  The combination of cold and snow this winter makes this the worst winter we have had for 130 years.  This means that the oldest gardener in my zone is experiencing a record breaking and a particularly heart breakingly endless winter for the first time.  This going on 64 year old gardener can attest to the accuracy of this statement.  I have never.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgTaking the 2013 version of Detroit Garden Works apart, repainting and cleaning, reinventing and redoing with all the new things for 2014 is a big job.  Both of my landscape crews are instrumental in helping out the shop staff with this transformation.  This means that both Steve and I have been there with Rob to plan and consider every move that gets made.  Keeping up with the winter landscape design work for projects on deck for spring, with a big dose of Detroit Garden Works on the side means I have been really busy.  This level of being busy helps to keep my mind off the winter that has engulfed us all.  Though my landscape design practice is the love of my life, the shop is a close second.  How so?

DSC_7937All of what Rob buys interests me.  Containers, sculpture, fountains, tools are an integral part of gardening.  But placing every element in a 10,000 square foot space in an interesting and well designed way is a challenge.  But I am happy for the work-this greatly informs my landscape practice.  I am dealing with objects big and small.  Lots of colors.  This line and that one.  This shape that relates to that one.  A garage full of pallets of objects I have never seen before all need to have a home, a scheme.  Rob does the vast majority of the buying for the shop.  It falls some to him, and a lot to me about how to present his collection. It is not so much different than designing a landscape for a particular property, and a particular client.  Objects from many countries in February, each with their own shape, color, texture and mass ask for an arrangement that will please the eye.  Making sense of a whole world of disparate objects can be exasperating, but it is a job I would not trade for any other.

DSC_7944Designing a landscape asks for everything a gardener has available to them.  A love of the living earth.  A plan to compost, which will enrich any planting.  A plan to plant.  Lots of energy and good will.  Faith in one’s convictions.  And a plan that personally expresses what that gardeners values and needs from their garden.  A plan that is coherent.  Dissonant shapes, forms, textures and colors all ask for some sense to be made.  And sense can be made of those things in many different ways.  How Rob puts a series of things together is very different than mine, as it should be.  I can’t be privy to why he selected certain things, until I start to work with them.  Even then, I may visualize them in a very different way. As much as I enjoy poking around the pallets, I more enjoy making a melody from a lot of different voices.

DSC_7928Surfaces really interest me.  Some are shiny.  Some are smooth and matte.  Some are rough textured.  Others are dark-some are light.  One surface contrasted with another generates interest.  What is happening near the ground level interests me as much as what is at eye level.  Then there is that vast space overhead.  My first moves in the shop always involve covering the walls, and populating the air space.  Part of that had to do with staging the work.  An empty room is the ideal place to navigate with a big ladder.  Once that work is done, everything else is arranged to fit in the physical and visual space.

2-27-2014 (2)Anything that generates an interest in the garden is of interest to me.  What I like is big and wide-a lot.  On a good and rare day, it is deep.  Any person who responds to the garden interests me, whether it comes via my landscape practice, or my shop.  Any place that encourages people to garden is my idea of a good place.  Rob and I both subscribe to the idea that a great garden shop ultimately should provide an experience of the garden.

2-27-2014 (17)I will confess I am tired out from the work of the past month.  But this kind of tired is a good kind of tired.  I was truly thrilled that Detroit Garden Works opened for the 2014 gardening season as usual March 1-even though our winter rages on.  I am pleased we have been welcoming gardeners of every persuasion for 18 years, come March 29.  We were happy to have gardeners gracing our gates today. Spring is a state of mind-is it not?

2-27-2014 (12)Rob’s buying trips to growers of hellebores all over the US and Canada means we have plants in our greenhouse now, with many more to come.  The sight and smell of live and blooming plants is a sight for sore eyes.  We have planned an event the third week of March-a Helleborus Festivalis.  For every winter weary gardener who has another month of winter to go yet.  We have missed all of you that visit our shop!  See you soon.

 

A Rude Awakening

February 11, 2014 (18)Our winter, which shows not one sign of abating, has been our snowiest and coldest for 20 years.  My landscape has rarely been subject to temperatures below zero – never the extreme below zero numbers that have been routine this winter.  A worst case winter like this is bound to have consequences.  I fear the spring may not only be an awakening, but could well be a rude awakening.  Have I planted marginally hardy species in my garden?  Yes.  Magnolias and dogwoods are somewhat marginal here.  Other trees common to my area, as in redbuds, London Plane trees, sweet gums (liquidambar), and even tulip trees are very sensitive to extreme cold.  Many specialty evergreens that thrive in the Pacific northwest that have been planted in my zone may not fare so well.  I have already seen many Alberta spruce with substantial cold burn. I know of several long established sweet gums who routinely have crown dieback in a middling cold winter. What will happen to them this year?  Furthermore, years of reasonable winter temperatures have encouraged me to try plants that are on the edge of my hardiness zone.  This has worked for many years.  This year, I may be in for a little course correction.

snowy landscapeI am not a worst case alarmist. It could entirely be that I will see little damage.  But professional growers I have known for years are concerned about what our spring will bring.   I have magnolias which are definitely a zone 5, and maybe a zone 6. For 18 years, those trees have done better than survive.  But weather cycles are much longer than my gardening lifetime, and the lifetime so far of my landscape.  I am quite sure there is not a single plant in my yard which is 100 years old or better.  Bob Schutski, professor of horticulture at Michigan State and well known lecturer in landscape practices, predicts we will have no magnolia flowers this spring.  Ouch.  I hear of peach growers in Michigan talking about total crop loss.  My gardening friend Michael whose barn is pictures above-his mountains of snow may be the least of his worries.  He has trees and mature shrubs missing their bark above the snow line.

mature quinceThis picture from his garden is from a mature quince.  Every branch which above his current snow line has no bark.  The 6 feet of snow we have had so far this winter means that there is little winter food for wildlife.  This damage is most certainly the result of gnawing from hungry rabbits.  Though the extreme cold will take its toll, the deep snow meant the bark of this quince would become rabbit food. A shrub or tree stripped of its bark can no longer sustain the life of that limb.

girdled treeThe damage to the landscape may not be apparent until the snow has melted, revealing disaster like what is pictured above.  Deep snow means wildlife are struggling to find food.   Deep snow can be damaging in other ways.  When the sun moves higher in the sky, the light reflecting off of the snow can thaw evergreen branches.  An evergreen branch brought out of dormancy by the reflected light and heat of the winter sun can burn, or die, once temperatures drop dramatically at night.  Tree bark that warms during a sunny day, and then refreezes at a rapid rate may produce sunscald.  Most frequent on the south side of a tree, sun scald can kill the inner bark.  Winter burn, sun scald, frost cracks-these are all conditions brought on by an extraordinary confluence of  extreme cold, extreme snow and sun. Rabbit damage copy.previewFrost cracks, or vertical splits in tree bark from extremely low temperatures, can damage a tree.  These splits, though they may heal, are an ideal point of entry for disease and insects. No gardener has any control over any of this.  A friend in Chicago has written that she sees frost cracks on London Plane trees now.  Circumstances beyond one’s control are never easy to take, but some understanding can help relieve the shock.  I have been thinking when spring comes, all will be well in my world.  In fact, five weeks hence, I may have issues in my landscape that are not to my liking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt least I have no deer.  My very populated urban area is not a habitat of choice.  Were I to walk to my rose garden once the snow had melted, the sight of my arborvitae denuded by hungry deer might make me black out. This gardener whose plants are pictured above-I cannot imagine their anguish.  I have had severe damage to my arborvitaes from ice and wind that weighed down and splayed out long branches.  Though they have all been professionally staked by an arborist, they have not completely grown out of the damage which dates back six years.

winter light 4Our winter is not even close to a close.  Am I beat down to the ground by the incredibly cold temperatures and relentless snow-yes.  So far today we have had high winds, hail, and freezing rain.  Though there is nothing I could have done to protect my plants from exposure to any of this, as usual, I have hope.

 

A Belated Valentine

cut-flowers.jpgI did have Valentines flowers to arrange and deliver Friday, most of which got away from me before I could photograph them.  But the process of arranging gave me some time to think about them-the flowers, that is.  In the dead center of February, in the middle of a too cold snowy and icy winter, I had tulips, roses, alstromeria, waxflower, ranunculus, lisianthus, tracelium, white button pomps, black red carnations and godetia in my hands.  Just the smell of all of that fresh and living was pretty exciting.  Like most gardeners, I am used to the dirt that nature dishes out.  But this winter came early, and shows no sign of letting up, months later. I have to admit I am ready for a change of seasons.  No wonder Valentine’s Day comes at this time of year.

flowers.jpgThis winter began for us in November.  By Thanksgiving, the ground was well on its way to freezing, and we had snow.  We are closing in on three months in which we have had snow entirely covering the ground, and cold that penetrates to the bone in a matter of minutes.  Of course I am dreaming in color.  And thinking about flowers.  Nothing in my environment is green now, much less flowering.  The work I am doing now revolves around design.  This means black lines on white paper.  Ideas. Representations of places.  All of this work is abstract.  I am not standing on a patch of dirt, with the sky overhead.  I am not digging holes.  I have not one patch of green, anywhere.

pink-alstromeria.jpgThis is as good a time as any to talk about flowers.  Did I evolve from a person to a person of gardening inclination from exposure to flowers?  It could be.  I am not a botanist, but my quick take is that flowers make the process of pollination and seeding a visually sexy affair.  Some flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds or bees, or moths.  That flowers might be attractive to me is not nature’s intent.  Some hybrid flowers are sterile.  Though they are beautiful beyond compare, there will be no babies.  Just me-I have been reduced to a baby state by the length and ferocious nature of this winter. I understand completely that plants do not flower to make my gardening life more beautiful.  But they do.   What they do for this garden starved person in February-enormous.

Hollywood rose 002There are many things about gardening that satisfy, beyond the flowers.  I am interested in outdoor spaces designed to embrace people.  I like grass to lay down on, after a long day.  I am awed by trees of age.  I am interested in texture, mass, motion, rhythm, line, color, and form-in the landscape.  There is a fondness and respect for every  green plant.  Is one better than another?  Not really.  I may like peonies better than delphiniums, but that is a matter of taste, not worth.

May 2 2013 (33)There are some years when the flowering trees enchant.  Last spring was the first spring in two seasons that this magnolia bloomed.  The previous year, every bud was frosted off by a long late spring cold snap.  I was so ready for those flowers to emerge.   Other years, I feel like flowers on trees look silly.  How could any tree as sculptural and majestic as a magnolia go the frivolous route of tarting themselves up with big blowsy pink flowers?  Are the big glossy leaves and pale gray bark not enough?  The magnolia stellata outside my window this morning is  making ready for spring.  How can I tell?  The snow this morning is accumulating on the enlarged buds.  The snowbuds tell me March is not so far away.

4284263358_538beec025White flowers are not tough to love.  They have a fresh and pristine look so unlike the dirt they came from.  The white of this double flowered hellebore is all the more striking, given the pale yellow stamens and green flares.  I like single flowered hellebores, but I would grow this double without hesitation. Why?  I like flowers.  Ugly flowers-could those two words ever be side by side?  The flowers of butterburrs, Dutchman’s pipe and American ginger are not exactly what I would call lovely, but they are flowers none the less.

July 28, 2011 028
Roses fall in and out of favor so fast a gardener can hardly keep up. They can be easy to dismiss, given their ungainly habit of growth, their affinity for disease and Japanese beetles.  Not to mention that they are so, well, girly.  This overblown pink Carefree Beauty flower is not to everyone’s taste.  I grow this rose in spite of all the work they require because I like the flowers.

Aug 25 2013 (4)There are lots of other roses I cannot grow, that are only available to me as cut flowers, grown by someone else.  My Carefree Beauty roses would never be available as a cut flower.  They last no longer than a day or two when cut.  The history of the romance of the rose aside, a flower which can last for a week or better in water is especially welcome in mid February.

Mother's Day 2012 011I like cut flowers in season. When the tulips are in bloom, arrangements with cut tulips have that extra from the garden cache.  But there are no flowers of any description in season in my February.  How great it is to have the opportunity to put vegetables and flowers in a grocery cart in February. Tulips, Dutch iris, delphinium and sweet peas in February?  Bring them on.  Buck brought me a dozen Confetti roses for Valentines.  As much as I love the yellow flowers whose petals are edged in orangy red, I am most fond of how willing they are to open wide and flat – this a memory of the roses in my garden.  They look so beautiful this morning.

valentineOf course everyone has their own idea of what tugs at their heart strings, come February 14.

 

 

At A Glance: Leaf Deprived

 

Sept 1b 2012 006The Michigan landscape has a decidedly arctic look to it right now.  I thought these pictures might be a comfort to leaf deprived northern gardeners, myself included.  Strobilanthes is commonly known as Persian shield.

Sept 1b 2012 003asclepias incarnata, orange sedge, and verbena bonariensis

Annuals 2006_09_19 (7)calocasia, coleus, creeping jenny and scotch moss (sagina)

Sept 15, 2013 (65)plectranthus, dusty miller, and barbed wire plant

dgw c (2)hosta, lime green selaginella, and clear sky primrose pansies

DGW 2006_07_26 (31)
blue green and red-violet- Persian shield, perfume purple nicotiana, red bor kale, senecio “blue chalk”, lavender star verbena, silver falls dichondra, petunia

Aug 9, 2011 027caladiums

Sept 15, 2013 (78)caladiums and polka dot plant

dieffenbachiadieffenbachia and company

Sept 15, 2013 (68)red bore kale and variegated scented geranium

audi 027Can’t wait for the coming of the leaves.