A Walkway

informal-walkwayMost landscapes have walkways of one sort or another. It is a vehicle by which people are able to get from one place to another. Anyone who has even bought a pair of shoes or a car knows that there are vehicles of all different sorts.  This particularly long and thin property has been owned by my clients for a good many years. They decided to build a new house on the street side of the property, the landscape of which has been an ongoing project for me since last fall. This informal stone walkway to the barn would remain intact.

049My client asked that a matching stone walk be installed from the driveway, and connect with the existing walk in the back.  It was not so hard to find flagstone that would match. Matching the rustic pattern took some attention to detail. A walkway dead center in a corridor space makes the corridor visually stronger.

under-the-stone.jpgThe distance from the garage to the lot line was not not very wide.  This landscape would always look like a corridor.  In a space that has a very strong personality to start, it makes more sense to amplify rather than transform that personality. We placed that stone walk dead center in the space, and constructed it at a generous four foot width.  The soil here is very heavy clay-it never gives up its water.  You can see that this corridor has been graded as a swale, the idea being to drain the water away from the landscape beds.

laying-the-walk.jpgThis walkway will get my client, her garden cart, and her tractor to the back yard.  It will also serve as a drainage ditch.  The gardens, espaliers and arborvitae will to tolerate too much water.  Better that the water lurk beneath the walk, where it can drain away over time.  This particular walk has a bed of gravel and sand underneath it.  Sand has the properly of settling instantly.  Implacably.  It will not move.  Setting the walk slightly high is important.  No one wants standing water, or soil washing onto their walkway.

DSC_2536Between the flagstones-slag sand. It settles quickly, and hardens up.  But truly, we selected this material as it matched the existing walk.  The idea is that eventually, given enough time and weathering, there will be no discernable difference between the original walk and the new one.  The walk will look all of a piece.

soil-for-sod.jpgOnce the walk was laid, we installed aluminum edger strip all around. In this instance, the order of events is good.  The idea was to make the walk rustic.  We did not cut any stones. The edger installed after the walk will keep the flagstone where it needs to be. This walk is not just for foot traffic. There is a tractor that will travel this walk.

new-and-old-walks.jpgThe walk from the front yard, and the walk from the terrace meet in a big lazy Y. Barely visible in this picture, a drain set where the two walks come together will direct rain water into the natural clay walled pond. Great care has been taken to direct the rain water from the street, the landscape beds, and the roof into the pond. The rear yard will be seeded with a sun/shade grass mix, and covered in straw to help retain moisture during the germination period.  We covered the big storm drain to the right of the walk with fine netting-to keep the frogs out!  Given the prediction of a mild August to come, we will seed this tomorrow, rather than waiting until the end of August.

finished-walkway.jpgA walkway is a means by which to get from one place to another, yes.  But it can also be a beautiful landscape feature. It can help to organize a landscape. It can be built over a swale designed to drain water away.  It can be strong enough to provide a roadway for a tractor. Or slight enough for occasional foot traffic. I can be formally designed, or rough and ready. I can provide a beautiful edge to a garden. The materials and construction style chosen can say much about the personality of the place, and the eye of the gardener. It can be narrow in those places to pass by, and wider in those places designed to invite a visitor to linger. A walk can be brisk, or slow.  A great walk is a way to make a great garden better.



A Watery Grave


I am sure you remember the astonishingly cold and lengthy winter past.  The fallout from that winter was severe.  So many plants damaged, or killed outright.  Trying to catch up to the repair and replacement, given that it was well into April before anyone could work the ground, has been a daunting task. That cold winter has proved to be a gift that is still giving.  Our summer has been remarkably, uncharacteristically, unsettlingly cool.  I have no complaints about the fact that Buck and I were able to have dinner outdoors every day in July.  The temperatures come 7:30 pm were neither cold nor hot-just perfectly comfortable.  But for 2 hots days, and a short spell with no rain, the summer has been a dream come true for people and landscapes alike.  The last week we have had driving rains and downright cold temperatures.  The seasonal plants are not so happy with this turn of events.


The seasonal flowers in containers have been remarkably good, although undersized for this time of year.  Tropical/seasonal/annual plants love the heat-as in hot.  What is too uncomfortably warm a temperature for me is much to the liking of most tropical plants that are native to much warmer climates than ours.  The boxes on the roof at Detroit Garden Works need to be planted with plants that luxuriate in high temperatures. It is a hot and windy spot, up there. My choice of a focal plant this year-Ruellia Britoniana, commonly known as Mexican petunia.  “When grown under hot sunny conditions the foliage assumes a metallic bluish cast that creates the perfect backdrop for the the scores of vibrant blue flowers that appear with the onslaught of hot summer weather. The blossoms are trumpet shaped and about 1.5-2 in (3.8-5.1 cm) in diameter and are borne at the tips of the stems. Varieties with white, pink, and many shades of blue are available, as are dwarf versions that form clumps that are about 8-12 in (20.3-25.4 cm) in height. Mexican petunia is very showy when in full bloom due to the clouds of admiring butterflies that swarm about the plants.”  The aforementioned is taken word for word from the floridata website. I had in my mind’s eye a hedge of ruellia 3′ tall and loaded with purple flowers-luxuriating in the heat.

angelonia.jpgI asked George at Telly’s Greenhouse if he had ruellia in 4″ pots.  He did, although the plants were small.  He wanted me to leave them in his greenhouse-his hot house-for 3 weeks.  They would grow faster for him in his hothouse than they would on my chilly roof. I was sure we would eventually get hot weather, so I delayed planting the roof until the beginning of July.   I under planted the ruellia with several colors of angelonia. “Angelonia is an exceptional summer bedding plant that can be relied upon for dependable garden performance through the hottest summer weather”-this quote from Dan Gill. For a little contrast in color and texture, a dwarf sweet potato vine every so often, to trail.   My roof garden is a perfect location for plants that thrives in high heat. As for the heat, I am still waiting.


Those cool temperatures in midsummer?  I do believe we have our past winter to thank for that.  Days upon days of weather in the single digits or below zero made for a record breaking ice cover on the great lakes.  Over 90% of the Great Lakes were ice covered. Friends that ice fish told me that the ice was 3′ thick on Lake Huron this past winter.  Ice that thick did not melt so quickly, given our very chilly spring.  If someone told me today that Lake Michigan still had chunks of ice floating around, I would believe it.  How has that affected our summer?  The prevailing winds blowing over frozen or near freezing lakes has made for a relatively cold summer. This week, the rains just kept coming. My ruellia and angelonia look good, just small.  How have I protected my tropical plants that like high heat and hate waterlogged soil?


The proper watering of tropical/season/annual plants in ground and in containers is key to their success.  In the heat of July, I water my containers every other day. I water my begonias only once a week in July-if that.  Their fleshy stems store a lot of water.  One bit too much water from my hose, and they will rot. The heat of July means water is evaporating out of the soil in the pots at a rapid rate.  It takes a lot of attention and some skill to water just enough to keep the moisture level even.  Not too much, not too little.  Plants that are greatly wanting for water shed leaves, and shut down.  Rescue water may revive a desperately thirsty plant, but the stress of going without can take a toll. Plants that get watered on a schedule without regard to the weather will eventually protest, and falter. Too much water is just as bad as too little. I see watering on containers now at a rate proper with 90 degree days, though many of our days have barely hit 70.


Linden trees suffering from lack of water in the heat of the summer-their interior leaves will turn yellow, and drop.  A tree suffering from lack of water will shed interior leaves.  The leaves at the ends of the branches are actively engaged in photosynthesis.  Precious water reserves will be reserved for those leaves performing vital functions for the health of the tree.  A linden tree which is over watered will send signals.  The leaves-all of the leaves-wilt, and eventually yellow. Leaf drop will be considerable. This silver cascade dusty miller has been over watered.  The interior leaves are yellowing.


Container plantings that are not doing well right now can largely be attributed to over water.  When the temperatures are cool, and the overnight temperatures downright cold, water less.  Maybe a lot less. Maybe not at all. The usual watering routine does not apply in a season like this.  I always put my finger in the dirt down to my knuckle before I water.  If the soil sticks to my finger, I don’t water. If the knuckle test says don’t water for 10 days, I don’t water for 10 days.  If the soil slides off my finger, I water.  Past this general rule, great watering becomes an art. A great diagnostician/gardener is an artist at heart.  If one plant in a container seems dry, I water one plant.  If it is 95 degrees, and I need water to soak a container, I may fill that container with water 3 times before moving on. When in doubt, I pass on the water.


Many factors influence the performance of plants. Placing the plant in the right place comes first. Light and water are crucial secondary elements.  In shade, in cool temperatures, and in rainy weather I water tropical plants less.  My hardy ferns and European ginger love all the rain we have been getting.  My landscape is thriving, happy with all of the unexpected water from the sky. They have so much more potential for drainage than a plant in a pot.

rain-damage.jpgIf your annual plants have leaves that are pale or yellow green, if they look peaked, fungus marked, black and mushy, or otherwise headed to a watery grave, shut off the hose. Keep that hose in neutral in cold and rainy weather.



At A Glance: Gray Leaves

June 24 2014 (3)silver cascade dusty miller

July 26 2014 (23)silver king begonias

July 27 2014 (9)sage

victorian rosemaryvictorian rosemary topiary and silver falls dichondra

DSC_2714helichrysum icicles

DSC_2709 (2)

silver king begonias, watermelon pepperomia and pink polka dot plant- Persian Shield in the center

Hudas-05-20-475x356[1]centaurea gymnocarpa, cirrus dusty miller, and silver licorice

July 26 2014 (25)White caladiums and silver king begonias

July 27 2014 (15)silver king begonias-several varieties

July 27 2014 (29)silver king begonias

July 27 2014 (18)silver king begonias

June 24 2014 (20)silver cascade dusty miller



A Small Property

landscapes for small propertiesA small property is uniquely suited for the creation of  a landscape that can be fully charged with an atmosphere and aura all its own. In a small space, every gesture is deliberate, apparent, and personal. Nothing escapes a keen eye. The scale of a small space is a scale a single person can easily become part of.  The experience of a beautiful small landscape is compelling, as every element is geared towards interaction. A small space can be readily absorbed and savored.  This landscape is about the relationships between shapes, both green and not.  How the color of the roof, the window boxes, the blue stone walkway, and seasonal plantings is a cohesive visual discussion of color. The mix of materials is interesting, no matter the season.  It could be seen in a matter of minutes, but many visitors told me they lingered there an hour or better, enthralled by the experience of it. Four gingkos, under planted with boxwood, frame the view to the window boxes, and gently guide visitors towards the front door, which is hidden from the street.

July 16 2014 (9)Large landscapes and parks can be awe inspiring. Even overwhelming.  Large landscapes can be exhilarating. If poorly done, they can be pushy, boring, or tiring.   Some large landscapes are designed such that only one area is experienced at a time.  This in recognition that overscaled landscapes can be as easily off putting and impersonal as they are grand.  A  beautiful small landscape is an opportunity to intimately become part of, and experience the garden.  Small spaces can be difficult to design edge to edge, and floor to ceiling, but the rewards are great.  In this front yard landscape, the change of levels creates a three dimensional sculptural quality which can be enjoyed in every season. The low wall that traverses the width of the property is a visually friendly way of differentiating public part of the landscape from the  front door.  The unusual placement of this front door on an angle from the street makes the front door garden more private, in a very modest way. The boxwood hedges which terminate in yew spheres is a transition space, an exterior foyer for the front door, if you will. The natural growing multi stemmed dogwood and gingkos contrast with the precisely trimmed arborvitae and boxwood.

July 16 2014 (2)In the summer, a very beautiful low stone wall is obscured by a seasonal in ground planting.  This planting of blue chalky fingers succulents, helichrysum icicles and cirrus dusty miller is my most favorite choice ever. The cool color is crisp, and echoes the color of the stone and the steel of the window boxes.  In the winter, that wall is an architectural feature that is friendly to the style and period of the house. The upper level features a vintage wood bench at one end, and a modern bistro table and stainless steel chairs at the opposite end. I like the nod to the period of the house, and the corresponding nod to my client’s more modern taste. In a small space, there is the opportunity to create an interesting tension which comes from the juxtaposition of one aesthetic, and another.

July 16 2014 (1)The window box is a combination of plants whose forms and color are not the usual.  To my eye, the planting is both sophisticated and unusual.  This has everything to do with the taste of my clients.  I have worked for them for years, and the relationship which has come out of that association shows.

July 16 2014 (26)The blue gray annual border is equally unusual, and striking. It is in concert with the boxwood hedge, and such in contrast to the loose habit of the Annabelle hydrangeas.

July 16 2014 (10)The driveway garden is home to a number of terra pots planted with vegetables and herbs-all appropriately placed close to the kitchen door.  The stepped evergreen screening limits the view of the garage from the street.

July 16 2014 (12)A low granite wall capped in limestone separates the driveway area from the rear yard proper.  A higher wall of the same material and design at the far side is a beautiful feature of this yard.  The planting of columnar red maples in front of this wall is purposeful.  The narrow gray trunks do not obscure the wall from view.  The canopy of the maples adds another, taller layer of screening from the neighboring garage.

July 16 2014 (14)Though the rear yard is a rectangle, the landscape is a celebration of the square established by a square fountain in the center, a square picture frame of lawn, and a square arrangement of Winter Gem boxwood. In order to maintain that square, a double row of boxwood was planted on the north and south side, and a single row of boxwood on the east and west side.  Behind the boxwood to the south, a pair of pear espaliers are under planted with a white variegated hosta.  The pears provide fruit, and screening of the service area between the wall and the garage.  Each boxwood is individually pruned into a spherical shape, courtesy of Melissa and her crew from M and M Flowers. Those round shapes, and the round shapes of the Irish moss compliment and contrast with the dominant square geometry.  The dirt space between the fountain boxwood and the Irish moss is deliberate.  Every element of that fountain centerpiece has room to breathe.

July 16 2014 (16)On the west side, a hedge of arborvitae screen the property behind, the phone pole, and the electric lines.  Limelight hydrangeas are planted as a hedge between the arborvitae and the boxwood.  The limelights are limbed up to just below the height of the boxwood.  The foliage of the Limelights do not interfere with the growth and health of the boxwood.  A hedge of topiary form hydrangeas helps keep both the hydrangeas and the boxwood happy – in a small space.  Underplanting arborvitae is always a good idea.  With age, they thin out at the bottom. An old crabapple visible at the far left of this picture is kept trimmed up to permit a view through from the house.

July 16 2014 (15)A rear terrace with furniture and container plantings, and a screened porch -  both of which has been in place many years -  are places to relax, and be part of the landscape.

July 16 2014 (18)A wild garden on the north side of the back yard is full of hellebores, snakeroot, hosta, solomon’s seal, european ginger and ferns, among other things – this a much more relaxed ode to shade. This garden was on our recent garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  I was pleased about how many people truly enjoyed it.  The best part of this landscape-all of the care my clients lavish upon it. Every detail is of concern.  Small properties help make a lavish hand possible, and visible.