Detroit Garden Works hosted the first day of its annual spring garden fair yesterday. In 2010, we decided to sponsor a spring fair for a a few good reasons. Rob has shopped overseas for Detroit Garden Works for 18 years. In fact, we just had a container from Belgium arrive a few days ago. In his travels, he has had occasion to attend garden fairs in a number of different countries, in spring summer and fall. The European fairs feature growers of plants, vegetables and fruits. Some fairs have chickens for sale, or mushrooms in season. People of a gardening persuasion have a chance to gather over a coffee and a little something to eat.
We are firmly behind celebrating the spring season. Michigan winters are long and hard. This past winter was a record breaking heartbreak. Once nature suggests that the winter is about to be over, we like to celebrate. Last year’s fair proceeded as scheduled despite very cold temperatures, and snow flurries. 11 vendors representing topiary plants, spring flowering shrubs and tree peonies, cut flowers, spring container plants, herbs, wildflowers, spring flowering perennials including an extensive collection of hellebore cultivars, tools, succulents, spring wreaths, dry and preserved materials-I believe I even saw a strelitizia in bloom.
Spring was in the air. Yesterday was the best weather we have had in 6 months. The day was marked by lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of smiles. Even though we provide valet parking as so many people attend this event, lots of people parked blocks away and walked. The day was that nice. If you plan to come to the fair today, and park your own car, be advised that no cars can be parked blocking the bike path that is a bridge over Telegraph. When in doubt, let the valet people park your car.
Of course there was plenty of talk about the ruins of our winter, but there is nothing like an incredibly bad winter to make the experience of the first spring day so welcome. Liberating. We had as many people outdoors walking the shop grounds as indoors. We’ll be open today from 14 to 4. If you have a mind to, come to the fair.
18 years ago, on March 29, Rob and I were hosting a party to celebrate the opening of Detroit Garden Works. My landscape design and installation firm was the ripe old age of 10. I had always had a dream of a place where clients could find beautiful and intriguing objects to ornament their garden. No such place existed in my area. So Rob and I decided to create one. Crucial to the mix – my accountant. He also represented a gentleman with a machine shop for sale. Jeff was able to persuade his client to sell the property and building to me on a land contract. This proved to be crucial to the mix. Had I gone to a bank asking for a commercial mortgage to open a retail garden ornament business in an area zoned for light manufacturing, I would have been politely swept out the door. A shop retailing garden ornament? What exactly is garden ornament?
A garden group came to the shop Saturday for a talk on garden ornament. I pointed out that garden ornament – as in furniture, tables and chairs, benches and other seating- provides a place for a person to be in a garden. It is one thing to observe or review a garden, but garden ornament can provide a place to spend time in that garden. After work. Before work. To watch the birds. To entertain friends. To relax. To think things over. To rest.
A garden ornament can provide a focal point for a garden. An old galvanized washtub overstuffed stuffed with lavender or rosemary can be the star attraction of an herb garden. A sculpture in the landscape can organize a garden, endow it with atmosphere, and make an invitation to interact. Pots positioned on either side of a front door say welcome to my house. And welcome to my idea of making you feel welcome. Gardeners place birdbaths in their gardens for obvious reasons. Gardeners also have very different views about what constitutes a beautiful birdbath. Finding a garden ornament that suits your garden in particular is what gives that garden a personal and individual feeling.
A structure in a garden, as in a pergola, can enclose a space, and give it a sense of intimacy. A fountain brings the sound and sparkle of water to the garden. An arbor or trellis provides a home for climbing plants. A vintage bootscraper, rain barrel or garden umbrella is utilitarian. I could say that any non-living element in a garden would qualify as a garden ornament, but that is not exactly true. Some objects trigger a memory of an experience, a special occasion, or a person. Those memories are very real. Some vintage or antique garden ornament come with a feeling of history or culture attached to them. Some ornament is whimsical. Some is repurposed from old farm implements and tools. But no matter the origin, I am still interested, 18 years later, in how garden ornament can endow a garden with a little magic.
Interested in more on that moment which was so magical to me 18 years ago? Here you go.
The Branch Studio-in business for ten years now. The first year, we made faux bois garden ornament and furniture-in the garage at Detroit Garden Works. Our first year in business-pretty quiet. We had the winter season to design, experiment, and build. None of us had any idea where our passion for ornament for the garden might go. Several years later, we were looking for our own building. A 7 acre property with 30,000 square feet between two buildings seemed like a good idea. That good idea ran along the lines of producing finished steel garden ornament and containers for the garden.
Branch Manufacturing had grown considerably. As has the landscape company-Deborah Silver and Co Inc. There was no room to house the landscape vehicles, plants and tools any more at our retail location-Detroit Garden Works. Deborah Silver and Company needed a new home. As for Branch-a company newly emerging-what they needed were bridge cranes. I can explain. When you work in concrete and steel, you need tools that enable people to move very heavy objects from one place to another. A pair of 5 ton capacity bridge cranes sealed the deal for my purchase of the Sanford Street property. We bought a big property, with close to 30,000 square feet of buildings.
We have 7 acres there. This means plenty of space to house plant material for a landscape installation. It means plenty of space to store compost, and decomposed granite. Plenty of space to store tools, box trucks, and loaders. Room to store brick, stone, mulch, and plants. The 7 acres at Sanford Street is shared between the landscape company, and our manufacturing subsidiary- Branch. Branch has 13,500 square feet of studio space. Though this space seemed really large when I bought the property, today I am happy for the room.
I bought the property. Some ten years later, Branch is humming- producing garden ornament, boxes, pots and fountains in steel. Our finish is the closest thing to rust proof and maintenance free of any finish I have ever seen on steel. Painted and powder coated steel eventually succumbs to rust. Our signature finish looks a lot like that classic garden ornament material-lead. Our finish is not perfect. Perfect only applies to moments and diamonds. If a rust rust spot develops, it can be fixed. Given that the price of lead has tripled in just 5 years, we feel our steel ornament is a lead substitute of merit. And a vast improvement on painted or powder coated ornament. I would go further to suggest that our products are lighter, more versatile, and more reliable than lead.
Buck and his crew of four spent the better part of last winter churning out boxes, pots, pergolas, and fountains that would be available for the spring season. Though Branch does a considerable amount of custom fabrication with a lead time of many weeks, we were ready with our stock styles and sizes for the spring. We manufacture planter boxes, fountains and pergolas in three styles. Branch features 4 planter boxes in each style. A small cube. A large cube. A tall cube-and a rectangle.
Ten years ago, we were a very small group with a very big idea in mind. That said, we were a bunch of kids with a more passion than expertise. It has taken every bit of ten years to grow up. Get better. The garden ornament that Branch produces now is level, square, and true. Heavy-as in heavy duty. Frost proof. Maintenance free. We had the idea that every garden deserved pots, fountains, and pergolas that would not require much work. Every true gardener understands that a garden needs a serious committment. The garden ornament and planters from Branch-an investment in the lifetime of a garden, and beyond.
This cast iron fountain face-the face was a purchase Rob made in Kent, England, in the fall of 2012. Branch designed and built a fountain around this mask-in the spring of 2013. I am happy to say this fountain found a home, early this spring.
Another Branch introduction for the 2013 gardening season-this 3-spout fountain. The spouts were machined from solid blocks of steel. The pump-we researched what fountain pumps were the most quiet. A fountain cistern needs to display the splash and sound of the water. No humming from the pump, thank you very much. A fountain cistern that you can take home and plug in? The Branch fountains- including this 3 spout fountain- are road ready.
Though Buck and his crew fabricated stock boxes, pots, pergolas and fountains over the course of the winter, Branch Studio is swarmed right now with custom work. We are not complaining! We are happy for all of the interest in what Branch might create for a garden.
The Branch Studio, a subsidiary of Deborah Silver and Co, is a manufacturing company devoted to the making of fine pots and ornament for the garden. The Detroit Garden Works website details everything Branch produces. Should you have an interest in something we make, or an idea you’d like to explore, contact us.