At A Glance: The Malvern Autumn Show

Europe 2014 351The following are Rob’s pictures from the Malvern Autumn Show in England, one part of which was the National Vegetable Society’s Midland Branch Championships. Every flower vegetable and egg – exhibition quality gorgeous.

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Recent Work


fall-container-planting.jpgFall is an incredibly beautiful season in Michigan. The sun low in the sky, and the morning fog makes every color intensely saturated.  The leaves changing electrifies a fall palette of color in the landscape in a way that no flower could hope to achieve. The sugar maples are brilliantly fiery; the hydrangeas are a muted shade of brown and pink.   No season celebrates color like the fall. We are in the early stages of that transition from summer to fall.  This is a season that I follow closely, as I do not wish to miss one moment of it. The materials available for fall are spectacular in color.  The ornamental cabbages and kales intensify in color as the temperature drops. The pumpkins and gourds are impossible to resist. Everything about them speaks to the harvest, and to fall color.

coral-bells.jpgThese pots are planted all around at the bottom with heuchera.  I am not so much a fan of dark leaved coral bells in the summer garden.  They are shockingly gloomy to me in the heat of August.   In the fall, they shine in containers. These dark colors are so beautiful on a rainy fall day. I see many more growers offering large heuchera plants for sale in the fall.  There are so many foliage plants with great color available.  No doubt I associate and welcome certain colors with certain seasons.  This is a luxury enjoyed by a gardener in a four season zone.

DSC_5372The window boxes in the front of the shop are showing signs of fall color.  I so appreciate those years when the fall comes slowly, and the killing frost is late.  The brown potato vine and the coleus are singed with cold.  The color in these boxes is changing with the season.  It is easy to replace certain very cold susceptible elements in a summer container with more cold tolerant plants.  But letting the fall season work its magic on a a summer planting can be quite beautiful.

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These urns sitting at the front door empty would be just lovely.  But planted for fall, they have a warm and welcoming appeal .  week of Sept 29 (14)Red Bor kale is one of the most versatile of all fall container plants.  They are tall enough to make a vertical statement.  The crinkled dark purple leaves darken more as the temperatures get cooler. They are less rigid in shape than the other cabbages and kales, making it easy to fill in the gaps between the other plants.

DSC_5408Not every fall arrangement needs to be standard issue orange and yellow.  There is an astonishing number of white and green pumpkins and gourds to be had.  Every grower has something a little different.  Every fall I see gourd shapes and color combinations I have not seen before.  An arrangement of pumpkins and gourds in a window box is as lovely a celebration of the fall as a boxful of foliage and flowers.

DSC_5364pots at the shop

JR fall 2014  5fall pots with dry hydrangeas

White kale and dry banana stems


fall container with broom corn, plum eucalyptus, orange floral picks, red bor kale and red chidori kale.

JR fall 2014red cabbage, cirrus dusty miller, gray eucalyptus and white banana stems

Red bor kale, pink cabbage and succulents

coleus-in-the-fall.jpgHow I am enjoying this beautiful moment.

The Burford Garden Company

Burford bulbsRob is back home after a 4 week shopping trip buying for the Detroit Garden Works spring 2015 collection. He drove over 4000 miles, and visited over 50 garden antiques shops and shows- not to mention individual artists and craftspeople whose work he admires and would want to represent. He brought home close to 1500 pictures from his trip, some of which I will surely post. He had business in the Cotswolds in England, and had time to to visit the Burford Garden Company in the heart of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.  From their website:

Burford Garden Company is a family-run business, established nearly four decades ago by Nigel and Louise Johnson. We started life as a simple plant nursery on a derelict farm in the Cotswolds, where we still are today – perched above the hills in the Oxfordshire countryside. We have now grown to become home to one of England’s largest and most exciting shopping destinations. We have one of the country’s most imaginative and inspirational product ranges for the garden and the home, all hand-picked and expertly curated by our team, the people who make up Burford Garden Company. Our innovative and creative retail practices have always blazed a trail – winning medals at Chelsea Flower Show along the way – and setting new standards of excellence which have made the Store a much envied market leader in its field today.”

Burford bulbs 2Rob emailed me these pictures from their bulb room. What a thrill for any gardener with a big love for spring flowering bulbs to walk into this room!  There were bulbs of every description and cultivar as far as the eye could see. I would be beside myself, trying to decide which bulbs and how many. Their display was plain breathtaking – crates chock full of bulbs, and neatly arranged and labeled brown paper bags to the side. Just imagining what all these bulbs would look like in full bloom – exciting.

Burford-bulbs.jpgA roomful of brown orbs that would need to be planted when the weather has gone chilly-only a gardener who loves flowers in the spring would fall for this.  Each of those brown bulbs represents the opportunity for a glorious spring moment many months away.  Nature is pretty strict about the planting requirements-plant them now, or do without in March, April, and May.  Even the bulbous alliums need to be planted now, for a bloom time in June. I don’t mind planting bulbs.  It is an investment in the future.  Most bulbs are fairly tolerant of any positioning, provided they get below ground before the ground freezes.

prepared bagsA tulip can be planted any side up. A bulb which is planted up side down does not mean game over.  Tulips will sprout, and grow towards the light, no matter your planting technique. I rarely dig holes for bulbs. That method of excavating soil, setting a bulb, and refilling the hole is so tedious. And unnecessary.  A perennial spade that can make the slightest slot in the ground down about 6 inches will do.  Small bulbs can be pushed into the ground the requisite 3 inches with an index finger, providing you have good and friable soil.

chionodoxa_forbesii_blue_giant_mainThe spring flowering bulbs we have available at Detroit Garden Works is nothing like the experience of the Burford Garden Company.  We have a highly edited and quirky list of spring flowering bulbs we would not want to live without.  Chionodoxa Forbesii Giant is astonishing beautiful in bloom.  Though this picture (courtesy of John Sheepers Bulbs) is a very close view of a very small flower stalk, what gardener would not want this spring blue in their life! The bulbs are no bigger than a thumb – this means easy to plant.  My advice-plant this fall for the spring to come.  You won’t be sorry.

hyac_hispanica_excelsior_extraspring flowering bulbs that we recommend?  Look over our short list.  Scilla hyacinthoides hispanica

musc_magical_mix_mainphotograph of Muscari Magical Mix  courtesy of John Sheepers

Muscari Pink Sunrise-500x500muscari Pink Sunrise

best_puschkinia_libanotica_mainPushkinia libanotica takes little effort to plant, it will appear and spread regularly in the spring for many springs to come.

Galanthus elwesiiThis photograph of galanthus came from Carolyn’s Shade Garden blog.  She is a big fan. Reading her blog will make you a fan of galanthus.

tulips 2014 (3)tulip mix at Detroit Garden Works spring 2014 – we have this mix available for purchase.

tul_lily_ballerina_main_the lily flowered tulip Ballerina

PL2000008177_card2_lgwhite parrot tuliptul_single_late_renown_maintulip  Renown

tul_giant_silverstream_extra_2_Darwin tulip  Silverstream

tulip  Dordogne

tul_single_late_pink_diamond_mainstulip  Pink Impression


tulip  Jaap Groot


The lily flowered tulip Mariette is a beautiful shade of dark carmine pink.

Longfield Gardensphotograph from Longfield Gardens.  Tulip  “Daydream”

tul_single_late_maureen_extra_1_from Van Engelen’s- tulip  “Maureen”

tul_single_late_menton_extra_5_tulip  Mentontul_single_late_camargue_maintulip  Carmargue

tul_parrot_apricot_parrot_mainapricot parrot tulip

tul_lily_elegant_lady_mainpictured is the tulip Elegant Lady.  Plant now for spring.  Look into your choices.  Plan.  Buy.  Plant.  Your spring will be all the better for what you do now.


The Engineering

engineering the flowers (14)Don’t ask me for the particulars, but I do recall seeing a spot on television recently featuring lots of young people studying engineering.  Engineering?  It never seemed to me that a career in engineering was anything but sleepy-just one short step up from accounting.  But these young people had solving the problems of the world on their mind. Their projects were as diverse as they were complicated.  An artificial limb powered by nerve impulses, salt water desalinated for drinking. Housing simple enough to put up in just a few hours. I was impressed-enough to rethink my casual disdain.  In fact, every project requires some engineering.  A landscape design may require a grading plan, a drainage plan, a footing or a wall.  It may require sleeves under a driveway, or lighting.  It may require a flat plane of ground, or a slope that descends on a certain angle.  Projects with the most modest of goals have than engineering phase.  Cut flowers for an event of a certain scale and feel proved to need some careful engineering.

engineering the flowers (15)Any cut flower arrangement 6 feet tall and as wide asks for some engineering in advance-yes. Add to this call the fact that the flowers in question were calla lilies.  Arranging callas in a small vase is a challenge.  Consider their requirements.  Their thick fleshy stems resent water that is too deep.  They are not a good choice for a long term arrangement.  The juicy stems split, give way and go down long before the flowers.  Heavy, long stemmed flowers have a mind of their own.  What was my idea to arrange armloads of callas in the top of a glass vase sitting 48 inches off the floor?  The opening of the vase was big – 18″ in diameter.

engineering the flowers (19)I have Sunne to thank for this engineering idea.  The long time manager and special events coordinator for Mary’s Enchanted Garden in downtown Detroit, she brought years of experience in the floral industry with her when she came our way.  A clear plastic saucer of just the right diameter was placed into the vase full of water, and wedged level and tight.  This sounds simple, but it took a number of tries before Rob got it right.  The calla lilies would have the shallow water they prefer.

engineering the flowers (21)What came next was more about construction than arranging.  Each stem was placed with the idea of creating a structure that would be stable and self supporting.  After all, this event was not to take place in my office.  This would need to be transported, and transported without a hitch.  Callas have a naturally curving stem.  The early stems were placed with the natural curve down, so the faces of the callas were turned up.  Calla stems can be straightened with repeated pulling all along the length of the stem, but that takes a very skilled pair of hands that exerts just the right amount of pressure.

engineering the flowers (16)Other arrangements included white phalaenopsis,  green cymbidiums and white dendrobiums.  All of these flowers are orchids.  The flowers of the white moth orchids are exceptionally delicate, and come packed in white shredded tissue. Each curving stem may have 6 or 8 flowers. These stems were supported by a series of birch twigs, placed inside and outside the vases.

engineering the flowers (1)The twigs provided structure and support to the orchid stems.  Their dark vertical shapes are in stark contrast to the curves of the flowers.  Bark covered twine and moss completed the look. Next up, engineering the transport.

engineering the flowers (3)A platform dolly is a huge amount of help, but in the end, there is no substitute for the human hand.  We had stuffed the box that held the calla vase with bubble wrap, but there would be a lot more to do before this arrangement would be road ready.  The weight of the water in the vase was considerable, but the weight of the callas made the entire affair extremely top heavy.  There were a lot of skilled hands on deck for this part.

engineering the flowers (5)As I expected, water sloshed out of the top of the vase getting it from my office to the lift gate of the truck, but it wasn’t much. Much to my relief, the callas looked serenely indifferent to all of the bumps getting through the shop to the truck. Phase 2 of the engineering was about to get started.

engineering the flowers (10)The time it took to remove the box from the vase, screw 2 by 4’s over the blanket-wrapped foot of the vase, wrap the upper portion of the vase in bubble wrap, and secure the arrangement to the walls of the truck with straps was a considerable amount of time.

engineering the flowers (11)The juncture of the vase to the foot was very small, and vulnerable.  Great care was taken to protect it. Fine textured bubble wrap insulated the flowers from the straps.  All the engineering here was geared towards making sure the arrangement would not move in the truck.

engineering the flowers (13)The big vase  was finally ready to transport. I was sure the vase would ride up and down in tandem with the truck.  That said, I was glad it would not be me driving.

engineering the flowers (8)All of the smaller arrangements would ride on a two tiered padded cart. Just before loading, every empty crevice was stuffed with bubble wrap.  The cart would be strapped to the wall of the truck. It should be clear that the engineering involved in this project was the most important element.

engineering the flowers (9)I am happy to report that all the flowers got to their destination safely.

engineering the flowers (18)The time and thought that goes into the engineering of any project is time well spent.