Landscape Under Construction

landscape under construction (8)A long time has passed since I first laid eyes on this lovely old home in Detroit. Dating back to the 1920’s, all of those beautiful details built in to homes of this era were intact.  The front door has a gorgeous hand carved limestone surround. The brickwork and slate roof are sensational. Gorgeous bones, everywhere. My clients were willing to put what it would take to restore and re imagine the interior to their taste. Every move they made paid great respect to everything original. As for the landscape, there was work to be done. They consulted me about the landscape early on. They both have a love, an appreciation, and a respect for all things green. They were interested in a landscape that would permit them to grow vegetables, a small conservatory in which to grow plants all winter, and a place to be outdoors as much as possible in the summer. Both are very busy professional people for whom a beautiful landscape and garden would be a sanctuary, a delight, and a place to grow plants, and to host friends and family.

landscape under construction (5)The interior renovation took a long time.  This gave me plenty of time to consult with them about where they wanted to take the landscape.  It is obvious from these pictures that no one had cared for the property in a very long time.  The weeds were old, tall, and woody. Some tree seedlings were over six feet tall. There were dead trees, and trees in poor condition.  What shrubs had survived were unkempt. None of them were precious or unusual, but for a group of multi trunk yews in the front yard that were old enough to have attained tree status. They are breathtakingly beautiful, and thriving. The back yard needed some thoughtful design.

landscape under construction (6)Their interior designers, Arturo Sanchez and Barry Harrison from Art Harrison Design Studio made some great decisions early on.  The kitchen windows in the center of this photograph would become French doors.  This would make a trip from the kitchen to the barbecue convenient. There was a great interest in a terrace that would be friendly to dining and entertaining. The question about how to handle the rear terrace would be mine to explore. The other kitchen windows beyond the wall in this picture would be looking out onto the driveway. Driveway?  The drive outside this wall was gravel, and covered in a thick layer of compost and weeds. Once all of the construction was finished, the driveway would be redone. How would that view be handled?

landscape under construction (7)
The wall which connected the house to the garage had been beautiful in its day.  It would need to be rebuilt.  And perhaps rebuilt in some other configuration. Designing the walls and hard surfaces would come first.  But there needed to be a concept established for how the entire space would work.  They wanted to cook and entertain outdoors.  They wanted a pool.  They wanted a spa they could use year round.  A conservatory was on the list. Perhaps the conservatory could be located behind this wall. This is an urban property with 3 neighbors.  How would we establish some privacy in the rear yard?  How could we maximize the the outdoor living spaces?

landscape planThis conceptual plan for the entire property evolved over a period of time.  The design for the rear yard is at the top of this picture.  The rear terrace would span the space from the new kitchen doors to the entry to screened porch at the opposite side.  Given a terrace of this size, there would be two sets of steps down into the back yard. The spa would be situated just below that terrace.  The pool would be round.  The rear yard is not that large.  A round pool would fit the space with ease, and be conducive to entertaining. As the grade of the rear yard rose the further one was away from the house, the pool was designed to have its front half out of the ground, with a coping set a seat height.  The rear half of the pool would be set at grade.  Beyond this round pool would be a pergola-the design to be determined. Once my clients were convinced that the round pool, and the terrace with a curved front and dual stairs was to their liking, the discussion turned to all of the details.


Branch pergola (3)A good bit of time was devoted to the design of the pergola. Eventually it was decided that the pergola would have curved wings that would follow the radius of the pool. The center section would be round, and have an open roof. The posts at the back would rest on a brick wall at seat height. The back of the pergola would be finished with lattice panels, for privacy.  The poles in front would sit at grade.  In the center, a round pavilion with a curved roof. This center section would provide ample space for a large dining table and chairs. The Branch Studio would manufacture the pergola.

Branch pergola (2)This picture of the finial to go on top of the finished pergola gives an idea of the size of the finished structure.  There will be lots of space to entertain.  A swimming pool can be a beautiful and welcome feature in a landscape.  That feature asks for a place to be, pool side.

Branch pergola (1)Each piece of the pergola will be fitted together prior to the galvanizing process, to be sure everything fits. The body of the pergola can be installed by the landscape crews, and the Branch crew put together, but the roof will have to be set by a crane. If all goes well, that pergola should be ready for installation in less than a month. landscape under construction (4)The terrace, pool, and spa were well underway by time winter arrived last year.  The pool terrace, and the new wall separating the back yard from the driveway would have to wait until this spring.

landscape under construction (14)It has taken more than 5 months to complete all of the stone and brickwork, and the pool.  The area in the foreground which will be occupied by the pergola has been barked, to keep the dirt and dust down.  This area will be graveled with decomposed granite, to provide a hard yet water permeable surface.  The back of the pool sitting at grade is accompanied by a generously sized terrace perfect for lounges and containers.  The back wall of the pergola features posts which will be set into a brick seat height wall with blue stone coping in the immediate foreground.

landscape under construction (13)The spa sits just below the house terrace, making it convenient for winter use.  The ground between the spa and the pool will be lawn.  On the left side, a wild flower and shade garden loaded with spring flowering bulbs will feature hemlocks and dogwoods.

landscape under construction (10)On the rear lot line, a hedge of recently planted American arborvitae provides loads of instant privacy to the yard. The shade garden will curve around and blend into this hedge.

landscape under construction (12)A dressing room is in the process of being built off the back of the garage.  And the conservatory?  it will be built on top of the brick wall off the side of the garage.

landscape under construction (11)The new brick wall dividing the garage and driveway from the back yard is soon to get an iron gate. On the backside of these walls, we will plant gardens.  The driveway garden is always an important garden. Everyone visits that garden at least several times a day, all year round. Now that the hard surfaces are done, I can revisit the landscape plan, and see if anything needs to be changed.  It is always a good idea to let the space speak back to you before you plant.

Sept 2, 2015 (10)Once the pergola is installed, I will better be able to judge where any additional trees and shrubs should be planted. The shade garden down the side of the yard needs to be integrated into the hard surfaces and spaces.  Will I plant on the pergola?  If course.


At A Glance: The Branch Fountain

April 19, 2014 (49)To each and every one of you who left a comment about this new fountain from Branch, my sincere thanks.  It was a sculpture that was months in the making. So much conversation.  So much thought.  So many members of the Branch group stepping up.  All of us fell for this fountain.  We are pleased that you like it too.  This morning my colleague, friend, and director of landscape services for English Gardens, John Collins, brought an operator in on a Saturday, who drove his Volvo 6000 pound capacity front end loader several miles down Orchard Lake Road to Detroit Garden Works.  Our front end loader could not unload and place this fountain. We needed help, and our good friends at English Gardens responded.

April 19, 2014 (55)Branch spends some of the winter building containers, pergolas and fountains outside of our usual product line. The best part of a fierce winter at Branch is the opportunity to go beyond what we have already done.  Imagination is like an ocean, water charged with energy washing up on the shores of what has been before.  Branch manufactures a stock group of garden boxes, fountains and pergolas.  But in the winter, we go off course, we dream, and we make what we have never made before. This winter work gets all of our blood moving, in spite of the cold.   But my lame attempt at a poetic description of the creation of this fountain lags far behind the story and reality of moving an object that weighs close to 2 tons.    April 19, 2014 (60)John, and his Volvo,  handled it with ease.  I truly value the relationships I have with other companies in my field.  English Gardens has many garden centers in our area.  They speak to a broad spectrum of clients via their retail locations.  They also offer and deliver thoughtful landscape design and installation.  They are friends and treasured colleagues.  I so appreciate that they would lend me a hand.  On a Saturday, of course.  All of us are busy working during the week this time of year.  And especially busy, given how shy spring has been to make an appearance.

April 19, 2014 (64)Once the fountain was in the general vicinity of its home, we set it down with the loader forks.  We picked it up again with straps slung over the forks, to place it true and square to the wall.

April 19, 2014 (72)Once in place, Buck and Sal saw to attaching the jet.  The jet pipe was threaded by hand, and screws into the base plate welded to the fountain floor.  The jet needed a secure installation, as it weighs close to fifty pounds.

April 19, 2014 (76)Any fountain demands a perfectly level placement.  Water levels itself with the horizon.  A fountain out of level -not good.  The water will talk about any mistake.  We spent a good bit of time with a pallet jack and a level.  Any fountain asks for as close to a perfectly level placement as possible.  Leveling is the most time consuming part of a permanent installation.  When filled over the top, the water should flow over every inch of the rim equally, and at the same time.

April 19, 2014 (78)The Branch fountain has a rectangular housing for the pump.  It has a jet in the same style, shape, and proportion as the fountain itself.

April 19, 2014 (79)The rectangular pump cover encloses all of the workings of the pump.  No one needs to see this.  The fountain could be hard wired with a remote location for the pump, if an installation warranted that. But for now, it can be fired up by plugging it in.

April 19, 2014 (80)This steel nest jet breaks the water falling from a very powerful pump.  The music that a fountain produces is important.  I could not be more pleased with the sound.  It is musical, not at all metallic.

April 19, 2014 (81)The fountain filling and the pump running – a moment I will not soon forget.  There is such pleasure in bringing the construction to a close, and attending opening day.  We have 3 other fountains just about finished at Branch.  More on that when they are actually here and running.  Buck says we will have them within two weeks.  It has only been within the last 10 years that I have seriously considered water as a feature in the landscape. Now I would not want to do without it. No matter the size or scale, water in the garden is a pleasure.  Bring on the ponds, birdbaths and fountains.

the Branch FountainThe Branch fountain is now on display at Detroit Garden Works.  Thanks again for all the comments and calls-we all appreciate every one of them.  Should you live nearby, we invite you to stop in and see for yourself.





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.




The Morning News At Branch












bon-voyage.jpgbon voyage.