The Branch Fountain

pin cushion 003Winter at the Branch Studio is a gritty affair. The building is too large and drafty to heat to any decent level.  Everyone over there lives in their insulated carhardts, boots and leather gloves-amongst a whole host of other gear.  The wind makes the doors rattle like crazy.  Enter if you dare.  There is nothing romantic about manufacturing, but there is a special beauty in the making that goes on over there. A group of men who take extraordinary care in their fabrication. Beyond the din, dirt and sparks of a fleet of welders in use, there is a collective heart beating strong.  These guys weld cold rolled and pickled steel.  It is not an occupation for the faint of heart.  Steel bends for no man.  That said, my group at Branch works hard to make steel friendly to the landscape.

February 11, 2014 (4) Containers, fountains and garden ornament made at Branch comes straight out of the manufacturing heritage every bred in Detroit fabricator is heir to.  This means garden ornament designed and fabricated to last.  Boxes and fountains that can withstand anything nature decides to dish out. Everything at Branch is hand made, and rock solid.  The finish we have developed is a patina much like lead.  The stainless steel Branch tags that are attached to everything we make identifies our work, and attests to its longevity.  The Branch Studio is the youngest of my companies-just 11 years old this year.  The work however speaks to a maturity of which I am proud.

Branch fountain 3The winter is the time we make all of our stock boxes, fountains and pergolas, in anticipation of the spring season. But we also take time to design and fabricate new things.  I have been after Buck to fabricate a fountain of a design very different than our usual classically based garden ornament for at least 2 years.  He was slow to cotton to the idea, but in January I could talk of nothing else.  He finally heard me.  A Branch fountain got off the ground.

fountain feetThis fountain is comprised of almost a mile of steel rods, and weighs 3500 pounds.  On the outside, the fountain measures 5′ wide by 9′ long.  The bottom of the fountain was built as a torsion box, the weight was so great.  Buck held more than a few confabs with his group regarding visual density and texture.  The design called for a certain density, that would be satisfied differently, depending on the diameter of the rods. The texture needed to be congested, but loose.  A good friend remarked upon seeing the finished fountain that she was intrigued that a material so hard and heavy could be made to look so soft.

February 24, 2014 (12)Once the shell of this fountain was built, my conversation centered on the magic that that can be created by the human hand. Every hand is distinctive, like a signature.  I was after a group signature.  A show of hands.  Everyone welding on this project changed positions every hour.  No matter what view you take, the look is about community of hands-homogeneous.

February 24, 2014 (15)The texture is created from 8 sizes of steel rods, from 3/16 inch, up to 3/4 inch.  The length, size, and placement of each individual rod was a decision that had to be made, hour after hour, and week after week.   This was their first outing without a fistful of CAD drawings and clear specifications. We were building a fountain yes, but we decided to broach the topic of sculpture.

galvanized fountain 11Stepping outside any routine is about taking chances.  Taking a chance can be more than one bargained for.  But a result that is more than one bargains for is well worth the effort.  My welding group at Branch stepped right up to the challenge posed by this design, and dove in.  Their collective signature is all over this fountain.

DSC_8780The signature of every artisan at Branch is represented in this fountain.  I can read the moves, and I can see the names.

Branch fountain aThe act of creating is a thrill like no other.  A painting.  A quilt.  A symphony.  A poem.  A dress.  An event.  A car.  A necklace. A company.   A garden.  Branch of course is  interested to be a sculptural part of the landscape.

Branch fountain cThe Branch fountain is a sculpture around which a garden could be forged.

Branch fountain bThis is the news from the Branch Studio.

 

 

 

Delivering The Fountain

steel fountain

A client who had looked a long time for a fountain  fell hard for Buck’s contemporary steel creation.  I ws more than a little surprised, considering her more traditional taste in garden ornament.  But she was certain that this fountain was the perfect choice for her garden.  The job of transporting and setting it in place fell to Steve.  As you can see,  he was planning the move.      

Once he drained the fountain, he wrapped the fountain stem with heavy woven landscape straps.  As the fountain weighed in at about 400 pounds, and the site was not particularly friendly to the use of a front end loader, we would have to move the piece by hand.  12 hands, to be exact.  Each of three straps had a person at each end.  The straps would be a lot simpler to grasp that the smooth side of the bowl.  My crew can lift a lot, provided they are able to get a good grasp.

We excavates the soil from the spot where the fountain was to be placed, and filled it with coarse gravel.  A square concrete tile was placed over top.  This made it much easier to check to be sure the spot was level.  It is also much easier to adjust this tile to get it level, as opposed to the fountain.  It seemed like the fountain would be a good fit in this circle of boxwood-but we wouldn’t know for sure until we got it there.

The fountains we have manufactured at Branch of late come race ready.  The jet inside this fountain is attached to a steel plate, and comes with a valve that regulates the height of the jet.  Having a special event?  Open up the valve.  A tee fitting off the jet pipe is attached to the pump.  The cord for the pump comes through a hole in the base of the fountain.  The jet and pump assembly sits in the bottom of the fountain, making it easy to level the jet.  All the customer needs to supply is a source of electricity.

Getting the fountain through the gate was a challenge.  Luckily the gate itself was easy to lift off its hinges. Once the fountain base was resting on the second step up, the fountain would be flipped over on its side. The fountain has 4 eye hooks inside should the fountain ever have to be lifted.  It proved handy for tying the jet in place for the move.

There were but a few inches of room to spare, but that proved to be enough.  Luckily, any circular or hemispherical shape is not only very stable, but it is very strong.  This steel is relatively thin, considering how large an object it is, but there was no worry that the edge would be damaged.  At this point, we were rolling the fountain on its edge, rather than carrying it. I roll pots around the shop that I could never lift off the ground.

The last stage of the journey did involve lifting the fountain over a boxwood hedge.  My crew made it look like no big deal. 

They left me to fill the fountain-my pleasure, and my worry.  If the level were the least bit off, the water would tell that tale.  Water is always level-it’s people that get things crooked.  As I cannot abide a statue or pot that isn’t sitting level, I was willing to wait.   

I needn’t have worried.  It read perfectly level to my eye.  The wide rim of the fountain finishes the shape in a beautiful way, but it also masks any little bit it might be out of level.  The fountain was filled with water to just under that rim.  My client did very well with this-the fountain looks remarkably good in her garden. She had had an electrical box installed a long time ago, so an hour after our arrival, the fountain was running. 

The entire garden made more visual sense given a centerpiece.  The peach trees have a much more opulent and exotic look. I am standing on her porch, looking out.  The water seems to be at just the right height.  After trying the jet at a number of levels, she decided on this.  Just enough height to make for a great sound.

My client thinks it looks like I designed this fountain especially for her garden.  Since I would have never considered it for her, I realize that giving clients the chance to look without prejudice can result in an interesting outcome.   

 

Ready For Water

These early June days, my days are filled with projects, and those scraps and pieces more commonly known as following up.  The fulfillment of all of those little ending details that transforms a job to be done into a finished and beautiful presentation.  These big things and little things, at the same time, is the normal course of events.  At home, a big and little thing of my own.  Carter has rebuilt my leaking fountain, and Buck repainted the inside.  The chlorinated rubber pool paint has to cure five days before the pool can be filled. It seems like it has been a lifetime since I have had  my water.      

Post the appropriate waiting period, Buck is filling the fountain.  Gillette Pools installed new out take jets-installed properly in the wall of the basin.  The original pool had these jets installed in the stone riser-not such a good look. Lest you not understand the effort expended for my fountain by Gillette Pools, they took on a massive mess, and made it right. They took on a deconstruction and reconstruction; this is tedious and uncertain work.  I had to commit to the project before what they knew what it would take to fix it. Yikes! Though we cleaned the inside, the sandy grit from the concrete work is still visible on the bottom of the pool.     

Howard and Milo are happy about getting their overscaled water dish back; the moment water started pouring into the fountain, they were there checking it out. Sometimes I leave the water at the level shown here-sometimes I fill it all the way to the top.  Today, I am feeling like to the top is an excellent idea. If you think this was the equivalent of Christmas Day to me, you are right. 

Milo is in motion running for his life the very second water starts blasting out of those jets. How did I know when the exact moment was at hand?  Buck and I were on the phone with each other-as he needed to be in the basement to adjust the valves governing the height of the water.  I was so worried the pumps would not work at all-having been silent almost 10 months.  No science here-just a nagging worry that something else would go wrong.  Buck had hauled the filters outside and cleaned them, and was very confident all would work fine. 

The water coming out of the jets-old stinky and dirty water. It will take a few minutes for each jet to be flushed out, and spouting clean water.  The corgis are no where to be seen.  Then the tedious job of getting the jets adjusted so the height is just so-meaning high enough to make enough sound to blotto the sound of my neighbor’s lawn mower.  The sound that a jet of water produces is the best part of having a fountain. 

Each valve gets turned up or down and up again until the pressure produces spouts of equal height. 

The water is murky with mortar and dirt.  It will take a few days stirring up and filtering out before the water is clean.  The reconstruction was such a beautiful job; the water appears to my eye to be exactly level-as if the fountain had a sheet of glass over the top.   

In another few days, the water is clean, and the Corgis are back to drinking from it like nothing had ever happened. But I know plenty has happened-and more is yet to come.  Dealing with the damage to the landscape is the next order of business.  There is more work to go than what I would like.  The good part-I have the luxury of rethinking certain parts of the composition.  Luxury from disaster-this is what I call trying to keep a good attitude going.    


I will keep you posted.

Water In Your Garden

Antique Cast Iron French FountainI am sure I own the most fabulous French antique fountain on American soil-take a look; do you not agree?  I detailed some time ago the process by which this incredibly beautiful piece came to me-but it is not the subject of this post.  As beautiful as it is, a fountain, any fountain, is a means by which to introduce and integrate water as a decorative element in the landscape.  I do such injustice to use the word decorative; what water does for a landscape is give and sustain life.  What water does for a gardener borders on the sublime.

Fisher Garden Con (16)In my early years designing, I never went near any suggestion of a fountain, pond, pool, or lotus pot.  I did believe anything of any importance in a garden sprang from the earth, and grew. Arranging for delightful water for a client was just over my head, and beyond my capability.  It is the sorry truth that a lot of things I thought early on about landscape design proved to be provincial, ill-informed, and shallow. Thank heavens the normal course of events is to grow up into something.  My age and history is a good thing. At some point I figured out that fountains were not the sole province of public parks and libraries; any home garden is all the better for water in some form.  This English iron fountain I placed a few years ago-I never tire of the look of this water in motion, the peaceful sound of it.    

Nemer 151This very regal cast iron fountain is of American manufacture, mid 19th century. This part alone enchants me.  Placing an American garden ornament of historical significance in an American garden was a good moment.  It looks even better when the water is moving over its surface.  Note the planting of creeping jenny around-water splash comes with the territory when water drops a long way.  Plan for plants that like this regular shower when water is being pumped to great height. 

dgwspring_0004No matter any history, or construction issues, water beautifully representing in the air is available to any gardener. This small English iron version of a classical tiered fountain has a lead basin just 5 feet in diameter. This fountain is installation friendly; take it home, set it up, and plug it in.  Three things are at issue in putting together a fountain.  You need a means by which the water gets airborn.  This could be a decorative piece like this one, any pot or sculpture which can be modified to convey water. A copper spout works fine. You need a pump of sufficient power, and the electricity to run that pump.

DSC_0025These gorgeous glazed ceramic jars have been outfitted by the manufacturer brilliantly-meaning, thoughtfully.  The  jar, a water reservoir , and a pump make it possible to take this complete water feature home, place it in a great spot, plug it in, and learn firsthand about what water in the air can do for a garden. The water moves so slowly that it cannot break the surface tension of the jar surface.  No splash means you might consider bringing it indoors for the winter.

June 22 006My 26 foot long by 4 foot wide fountain-a gift from my Mom.  It so irritated her that I never took any time off work-she made an issue of this, when she was alive.  What she left me enabled me to build this fountain.  I hear the sound of it when I get out of my car at the end of the day.  I get in it, to cool off, and scale back. I go and sit in its company every day.   I am on vacation-at home. Some days I just look at all that watery motion from the deck.  I can hear it when I get in bed.  The action of the water in my garden-better than very good. 

Aug 15 003Water once meant no more than a good drink for my plants.  From the looks of this, it should be easy to see how fountain water can make a garden a better place to be.  

July23b 071
No matter the size, shape, scale or material, a fountain has great appeal.  It can organize a garden space that invites visitors. It also recalls those hot summer days when standing under the hose meant really living.      

DGW  17
Water, anyone?