The Cruickshank Garden

cru1cr2Jane and Ken Cruickshank have been enthusiastic supporters of my store Detroit Garden Works, since it opened 13 years ago.  I went out to her house last week to consult with her about her entry porch-more on the outcome of that later.  But when I drove up to the house, I realized that I had designed and installed the landscape for a previous owner; I later determined that the gorgeous Magnolia Soulangiana had been planted some 22 years ago. Jane tells me this makes us family.  I am glad there is existing proof of my intent to plant magnolias whenever I can; it is incredibly beautiful right now.  But really the best part is that making landscapes has made for a kind of community-of which I am a member; gardens are good for people.

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The Language of Design

boldforms1Everyone makes decisions about a life’s work.  Whether they think it through, or not,  decisions get made.  As a landscape designer,  I realized part of my life’s work was to plant magnolias-all manner of magnolias, every where it made good design sense to plant them. I am a  designer who in part came to design via a love for plants.  Plants are part of the vocabulary that helps give voice to a point of view. Every designer needs heart, soul, and nerve-but they also need language.

But back to magnolias. There is a history to my love for them. My design mentor Al Goldner had a big love for plants, but also a penchant for dragging along, and provoking his young staff, with beautiful  plants.  He took me to the garden of Phil Savage 35 years ago, give or take. I have not one shred of memory of the visit. But thanks to a thoughtful niece, I visited there last spring, after his death.mag

mag2Phil Savage,  lived on almost 8 acres-most of which reflects a lifetime growing and hybridizing magnolias.  He also grafted magnolia cuttings onto ash tree root stock-these trees are 70 feet tall on his property, as we speak.  He hybridized “Yellow Butterflies”;  when the spring weather is perfect, it is a dream come true in bloom.  Later, it is sturdily and robustly green.  His property had magnolias of a size, with flowers in colors, I have never seen-yellow, peach, orangy pink.   It was like a visit to another planet.  But no, just a visit to a man who knew and lived his life’s work.

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I have a magnolia in my yard, which I inherited.  It looks like no magnolia I know. It is the first thing to make a move,  in the spring.  I have a  supposedly “hardy” hybrid of Magnolia Grandiflora tucked into a corner, hoping nature won’t notice.  In pure envy of the British, I am growing an arbor of Magnolia “Galaxy” over my driveway.  My neighborhood dating from the 1930′s is peopled with Magnolia Soulangiana trees of immense size-mostly poorly placed.  Plants have a will to live, thank God.   The day they drop their petals, one could weep.

The point of this-you don’t need to know the words magnolia soulangiana.  But you may need that tree somewhere in your landscape that is asking for bold form, flowers and leaves-so put its image in your  design dictionary.  If I have my way, my life’s work will make for a whole  blizzard of giant petals, dropping softly, every year, on one particular spring day.

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