18 Years

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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?

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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.

antique-iron-trough.jpgA 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.

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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.

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Interested in more on that moment which was so magical to me 18 years ago?  Here you go.

The Dogs At Chase Tower

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My company Detroit Garden Works is in the garden ornament business.  We buy and sell ornament for the garden – new, vintage, and antique and repurposed, from sources in the US and Europe. What is a garden ornament?  Any object deliberately placed in a landscape or garden.  This definition would include pergolas, sundials, sculptures, bird feeders, benches, trellises, staddle stones, topiary forms, grapevine or stone spheres.  Fountains and water features.  Found objects, fencing, topiary plants.  Espaliered trees, arbors, and stone cisterns.  Tables and chairs.  Rain water collection barrels and boot scrapers.   Containers are garden ornament.  They may be handmade Italian terra cotta, or galvanized buckets.  They may be old apple or tulip crates.  They may be contemporary Belgian stoneware, or cast stone versions of classical garden urns.  They may be lead, or steel containers from Branch.  They may be concrete, or wood, or cast iron.

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A garden ornament may be as modest as a gazing globe on a steel stand, or as elaborate as a waterfall and pond.  No matter the subject or scale, a garden ornament makes a statement about the taste and interests of gardener in charge.  The inclination to ornament or decorate a space is natural.  People decorate their houses with objects that help to create that atmosphere which feels like home.  How a home is furnished says something about the taste, values and priorities of the person who lives there.  There may be objects treasured for their history.  One person might decorate their place with art, and that art could be sculpture, or paintings, or quilts or hand painted china.  Buck collects vintage doll heads, typewriters, scientific instruments, and accordions.  His personal spaces are just like him, as they reflect who he is, and how he sees things.

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A landscape or garden is no different.  A garden endowed with ornament says something very personal about the garden maker. An ornament can infuse a landscape with an atmosphere of history, mystery, or whimsy.  There are no end of gardens where roses are growing.  But the garden that has roses growing in profusion over a picket fence has a much different feeling than the garden that features roses trained as single ball topiaries, planted in orangerie boxes. A 19th century cast iron bench is not just a place to sit.  It is an expression of an aesthetic much different than what is created by 3 rough hewn slabs of granite assembled as a bench.

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So why this discussion of decoration?  Once the plants in the garden shed their leaves and go dormant, a landscape with no ornament can be bleak place indeed.  I am thinking about this, as we have just begun our winter and holiday decorating.  Topiary forms, arbors, and pergolas will get lights wound around them.  Doorways will be festooned with garland.  Containers will get winter coats and hats.  Wreaths will be decorated, and hung on the front door. Lights in every shape and color will be hung from the eaves, or stuffed into the pots.  A bench will get a cushion of fresh greens.  The trees will be hung with grapevine and light garlands.  A Japanese maple decorated with glass drops will glitter all winter long.  A sundial will get a wreath boa.

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As for the dogs at Chase Tower, they have a carpet of greens.  The dogs look like they have just paraded through a stand of yellow twig dogwood, their leashes trailing behind them.  They have topknots and collars that are one part holiday, and 2 parts winter.  Is this really what was in my mind when we decorated these pots?  Yes.  Decorating that tells a story will have an impact.  There is an amusing and charming story being told that will make the winter a little easier to bear.

winter-dog-detail.jpgSee what I mean?

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I do see the decorating outdoors for the holiday and winter as a form of gardening.  A trowel or garden spade is useless this time of year.  The sight of them on the shelf, dusty rather than dirty, is irritating.  On the other hand, a pair of pruners and a spool of good garden twine might be all the tools you need to decorate the garden for winter.

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Woof!

 

The Morning News At Branch

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bon-voyage.jpgbon voyage.

A Small Space

Everyone is plagued by it.  An awkward or small space.  The space that is what is left over after the invention of a more important space.  A closet, or a kitchen cabinet that is deeper than your arms are long, or way over your head.  The airspace underneath the stairs that asks for a piece of furniture that has yet to be imagined, much less made. The above picture details the problem.  A portion of the driveway on the way to the detached garage maroons a small space.  The overscaled bluestone walk to the side door chops the small space in even smaller bits.  On view, the dryer vent, the automatic gate mechanism, a hose bib, exhaust pipes, and a roof drain.  The windows are both high and low.  The two story house looms over this little space, as there is nothing going on at grade that would ground the eye.    

The view in the opposite direction tells the rest of the the story.  An L-shaped covered walkway to the garage that wraps around into a covered rear yard porch has produced this small but highly visible space.  No doubt this is a daily drop off or drive by.  The bottom of the garage window barely pictured on the left, is within 12 inches of the ground.  Given the numbers of different materials and angles and shapes, no wonder my client grassed over the ground. 

A driveway is a utilitarian gesture meant to easily accomodate motor vehicles coming and going.  It is rarely the most beautiful part of a landscape.  It is a necessity that frequently follows the fastest and most direct route from the street to the garage.  That does not mean that short trip cannot be a visually interesting one.  Given that the driveway comes so close to the house, it seemed like a good idea to pave it with a more architectural and beautiful material.  The proximity of the driveway to the fence line behind it presented another problem.  What landscape gesture could possibly be made in a space this shallow? 

Sandwiching plant material between the driveway and the fence seemed like a short term solution at best.  Anything large enough to screen the property and garage in the neighboring yard would not like growing in such a restricted space.  The space directly opposite the porch steps was the narrowest spot.  We would try some multitrunked yellow magnolias.  But for the narrowest space, we built a car stop.  A smaller and more handsome version of a bus stop.  The steel lattice would screen the neighboring yard from view.  A bench would be built that oriented the view towards the house. 

 

This existing asphalt drive was removed in favor of a brick drive in a herringbone pattern. A herringbone pattern interlocks securely, and can handle vehicular traffic.  But the big move was to remove the grass and bluestone walk, and build a brick terrace that exactly matched the new material and pattern of the driveway.  This stubbornly unlovely spot has become a rather spacious terrace, thanks to the square footage added from the driveway.

An oak bench was installed inside the car stop. 

A brick landing for the car stop was built at the driveway grade.  A low dry stack stone wall would  permit the maximum width and depth of soil space for a pair of shrubby magnolias.  Amazingly, the house and driveway had been originally set below the grade of the perimeter of the property.  There were water problems.  Quite a bit of drainage work had to be done here.     

An English lead fountain with all of the supply lines running under the terrace was centered in the space.  The view of the neighbor’s car is not quite so prominent.  Once vines grow over the car stop, it will fade even further from view. 

The perimeter was planted with a row of large taxus densiformis, and nothing else.  They seemed to work well with all of the varying heights of the windows.  The bluestone from the walkway was repurposed to provide an edge for the brick terrace. Immediately, there was a good spot for another bench.  Who knows what other ornament or pots might be added later.  What once was an awkward space has become a market square of sorts for this family’s comings and goings.