A Favorite Place

I have my favorite places.  What makes for a favorite place?  A client with an eye for beauty and a committment to the garden.  A client who is always willing to try something new.  That said, an ancient and sparsely foliated scotch pine flanks the front door-Mr. will not now, and not ever,  let me touch it.  This too makes for a favorite place-strong feelings.  The Australian tree ferns I have wintered in a greenhouse for them for about 10 years.  We cut them back to the main trunk in the fall.  By spring they are leafing out vigorously.  This year I underplanted them thickly with maidenhair ferns.    

A pair of chimney pots got planted with an unknown begonia-I like the leaves.  The rusty colored hairs on the stems and backsides of the leaves look great with the rusty brown pots.  Lime licorice grows anywhere for me-sun or shade.  That pale chartreuse color will highlight those deep green leaves.

Planting day was a sunny day-so my pictures are not very good.  A lime, lavender, purple and yellow color scheme is enlivened with an occasion burgundy potunia-just for emphasis. Vinca maculatum will trail dowen long on the far side, as will the misty lilac wave petunias.

The small box got cactus flowered purple dahlias, purple angelonia (new this year) lanai blue trailing verbena, white petunias and lime licorice. 

A pot nearby has a yellow and peach bicolor dahlia, and a skirt of dark red violet trailing verbena.  I like the forms of the plants together as much as I like the color.  I like the contrast of the big dahlia leaves to the slight-sized verbena leaves.  Plants have visual relationships on a lot of levels.   

The centerpiece of this pot is a double (also known as hose in hose) datura.  I caution anyone who grows them-every part of a datura is poisonous.  The plants smell poisonous.  If you cultivate this beauty, wash your hands after you touch it.  Beyond the warning label lies a gorgeous big leaved plant with giant flowers.  A diminuitive white and lavender veined mini petunia against lime licorice is a cooly tart, and small textured mix.  The datura will be the star of the show.

The perennial garden at the pool is just coming to life.  The peonies are out, and the roses are not far behind.  The purple alliums show well from the second floor deck; this is a garden primarily viewed from above.  We add some nicotiana and verbena bonariensis between the tall perennials, and plant an annual border to soften the edge of the pool brick.  This year, showy oregano, appleblossom petunias and heliotrope will fill in and cover the soil.   

When my client asks for herb pots, she is really asking for basil pots.  I did a pair.  Leeks in the middle, and everbearing strawberries with pink flowers at the corners. Lots and lots of basil.  This I understand.  Its pungent smell and taste-irresistable.

This trio of pots feature an old variegated ivy topiary, and a single ball boxwood topiary.  The boxwood got an underplanting of variegated licorice; the third pot is stuffed with a dahlia.  The pots are from Francesca del Re in Italy.  The are very simple, handsome, and frostproof.  The clay is so loaded with minerals that the pots are very strong.  We make sure no water collects in them over the winter.  Freezing water expands as it becomes ice-this process can damage pots.  These terra cotta pots have been outside for a good many years.

This wildly natural rosemary has belonged to my client a long time. The only thing we prune is the rootball; this plant has a life of its own going on.  This year, we underplanted it with white polka dot plant-I think I am going to like this. 


My first project with this client many years ago involved digging up every plant she had, and rearranging. This took 2 days.  There were lots of projects after this-not the least of which was the most romantic garden wedding I have ever been involved with.  My client-she drove that bus.  The story of the driveway?  The drive needed to be enlarged; the original brick was no longer available.  We took up all of the old brick, and reused it with a new brick in an entirely different pattern.  All of the pale brick you see here is original.  The two colors of dark brick are new. It looks entirely believable; the mix of old and new reads as one thought.  The 12 year old waxleaf privet topiaries got planted back in their summer home-they are just about to bloom.  Most every bit of this garden-swell.

The Hudson Box

It helps me to define something, should I be able to give it a name. I could write a book about places, landscapes and their names.  Detroit Garden Works-I named the shop by making a list of all those words that I thought best described what I had in mind.  My city, my love of what goes on locally, the garden-of course, and works-as in works of art, in the works, working garden, work it out-you get the idea.  My garden-Rob named it Corgi Run.  It is a perfectly apt description of a landscape designed to accomodate two boisterous dogs of very short stature without looking like a dog run with decoration.  The flowers are up high-as in roses, or containers, and the boxwood has corgi doors carved in their favorite entrance and exit spots.  I have grass-and only the most rugged groundcover on the ground plane. My beloved beech ferns are on an intermediate level; the hellebores are outside the fence. Corgi Run-the name says it all. I wanted to design a handsome box with rugged good looks that would be equally at home in a contemporary landscape as a more traditional one. Subtle, stately, engaging.  Naming it after Rock Hudson seemed just right.  The Hudson River landscape paintings-handsome, and distinctly American paintings.  OK, so I have an active imagination.  Hudson-what does that word suggest to you? Try naming the place before you design and plant it-who knows where that might take you.   

The Hudson box has but a few details-a generously large molding at the top ordinarily used in the construction of iron handrails, and two smaller and simpler moldings, my obscure nod to a classic Italian terra cotta double rolled rim pot. The simplicity of the design lends itself to the construction of lots of different shapes.  This particular rectangle fits the spot in a satisfying way.  Spots that need square containers, or rectangular containers seem to need just the right size-not just any size.  For years I had two round matching Italian terra cotta pots in this spot.  The round worked fine,I like the fitted Hudson box better in this space.

These squares were made to fit a specific space on a flight of cypress stairs.  The boxes are in lieu of a handrail-a simple be careful on the stairs.  The box in the background is home to an espaliered apple tree.  We lined the box with styrofoam insulating sheeting; the tree has lived over the winter in the box for three seasons now.  In this case, a very large box, capable of holding a considerable soil mass, seemed like a good idea for the health of the tree. The cypress deck is large and sparingly furnished-a big box works just fine here.

I rarely buy window boxes for the shop-what size would I pick?  No two windows are the same.  I like window boxes that go wide of the windows, so it looks like the window has something substantial to sit on.  This variation on the Hudson box with associated brackets were made for this specific window-and they look like it.  There are actually three separate boxes.  Part of this has to do with not placing too much stress on the wall when we hang them, but part has to do with the galvanzing process.  A zinc bath of some 800 degrees can warp steel that is not adequately captured by a frame.  Long boxes are particularly subject to damage.  Now we build long or large boxes from a thicker steel. 

This Hudson box was outfitted with plumbing, and makes a fine fountain. The box has legs, so the boxwood skirt does not obscure too much of the detail of the bottom of the box.  This year the boxwood covers the legs altogether.  Hudson boxes make beautiful fountain cisterns.   

Not every design looks so great in a very large size; this box is still graceful when it is large.  It anchors this side door entrance garden with ease.  My client plants for all four seasons; there is always something interesting going on. Driving up, she has a seasonal garden going on-dead ahead. The driveway garden-I have written before about the importance of the landscape that marks your arrival home.  I may not get to every garden every day-but I do indeed drive up every day. I want to like what I see, when I come home.        

The largest of my Hudson boxes to date-a cistern 4′ by 8′.  It was designed to be placed in an overscaled drivecourt.  Without going into any detail, my client shares a driveway with two other homes; a big drivecourt was needed to handle family and friends. The size of this cistern breaks up a giant paved space, with a garden object of interest.  

This big red SUV has nothing on this Hudson box cistern -does it? Exactly my intention.  Stately, handsome, graceful, bigger than life-this is how I remember Rock Hudson.  Buck’s construction is true, square, level. This cistern, though the planting is yet to come, shows no signs of him wrestling this 1800 pound object as he welded it. It is a garden ornament of grace and dignity-I cannot wait to see the three fountain jets, representing.      


This Hudson box is set in concert with a long and low window.  It features an ever so slight bow front.  Pictures of the summer planting to come.  The Hudson box-I am pleased with it.  Every one of these Hudson boxes were fabricated by Buck.  A Buck week-he deserves it.

Boxing Up World Expression

My office windows look out onto a series of window boxes.  The box right behind my desk is, as you can see, a magnet for wild life.  How MCat manages to insert himself between the flowers and the glass without so much as a petal being ruffled-I have no idea.  These old factory windows are cloudy with lime, but I have a view, none the less.  On a lark, I planted World Expression tulips in them last fall. 

The lark part has to do with plants (in this case bulbs) surviving a winter boxed up. Few plants like to live over a winter with their roots above ground.  The repeated freezing, thawing and heaving wreaks havoc; all any plant wants over the winter is to sleep deeply, and undisturbed.  Had I been a better gardener, I would have lined the boxes with sheet insulation first-in an effort to keep the freeze consistent once it came. I just buried them deep, mulched them, and kept my fingers crossed.  

World Expression is one of my favorite tulips.  The plants develop surprisingly fast, considering how large they are.  When I am in the mood to contemplate the miracle that is nature, tulips instantly spring to mind.  From a brown orb barely an inch and a half in diameter comes a plant whose luxurious leaves grow in excess of 14 inches tall; the flower and stalk take the plant to 28 inches or better.  Miraculous.  I understand that giant trees grow from tiny seeds, but tulips grow up and hold forth in the blink of an eye.  In the beginning the flowers are small; the red flames are really pink,  the  white ground is a yellow ivory. 

Tulips open in an immature stage; watching the flower grow and change color dramatically is one of their charms.   It may take better than a week for that pink to go red, and longer than that for the white to whiten all the way up.

We had a very mild winter; the tulips in the boxes are amazingly good.  The box with the maximum amount of exposure to the snow, sun cold and wind tells the story of that exposure.  A few bulbs only sprouted undersized leaves.  Others of them produced undersized plants and flowers.  But by and large, there is quite the show going right now.

As I wrote a long time ago, I grew up without TV-weather was my idea of a one hour drama, movie, or news flash.  Buck will watch the weather on TV, but has a very narrow range of tolerance for anything venturing very far from 70 degrees and sunny. I like all kinds of weather-a spring rain is a favorite.  What it does for all those things coming to life and growing is beautiful to behold.

Just after the rain, equally as beautiful.  I do have a fondness for bi-color flowers; how tulips flame is particular to their species.

The flowers quadrupled in size over a period of 10 days; I began to worry they would flop over to the ground.  Though the flowers are huge, they are remarkably weather resistant.    

The 80 degree wind yesterday-fierce.  I worried every petal would be blown into the street. I need not have bothered; most every flower survived just fine. 

Now is such a good time to decide where in your garden some tulips might be just grand.  I have 3 yellow tulips at home in my wild garden-the walnut sized flowers have been there for 15 years.  I am thinking I do not want to miss this part of spring ever again.

The Window Box: A Hybrid Vehicle

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Window boxes have large areas for planting, which can give the impression of annuals in the ground-minus the turning of the dirt, the stooping and the stooping again to weed.  They also put the action at eye level.  Window boxes on a second story is a striking surprise.  Sizing a window box appropriately is the toughest part.  Plan carefully, so your boxes thrive.
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I like window boxes to be sized generously in width.  Sizing the box wider than the window puts the visual weight at the bottom, where it should be.  A box narrower than the window makes the window look top heavy and oppressive-windows are large dark shapes during the day.   �
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Window boxes are not just for French and English cottage style homes.  A sleek contemporary box can compliment the architecture of a modern home. They provide great mass and substance in the horizontal plane.  They have the added attraction of views from inside, as well as the outside.
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A very wide box invites planting  tall annuals, even vines, which serve to frame the window.  The large planting space allows you to showcase the relationship between a number of different plants. Boxes have the heart of a whole garden, in a smaller space.
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Many ready made window boxes are sized more to be convenient to load into your car, than convenient for good plant growth.  Undersized boxes are the devil to keep watered, once the plants have rooted in well.  These boxes are 11″ wide and 16″ tall-plenty of room for a soil mass that will retain moisture evenly, and allow for root growth.  A window box that is 8″ tall and 10″  long will need succulents, as they do not root deeply, and they are happy in dry soil.
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Window boxes have no need to be fancy, especially if your idea of a good one is profuse and spilling over with flowers. Luxuriant-I like the word, and the look.  These boxes are made from a simple iron grillwork, and lined with galvanized sheet metal liners.  Wood boxes will last much longer, if they have sheet metal liners.  Wood that is constantly wet deteriorates quickly.�
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Wet soil is incredibly heavy; be sure the boxes are securely fastened to the wall. The weight issue is somewhat mitigated by the drainage material; I routinely fill the box at least half full with drainage material; bagged bark works well.
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Not all boxes need to be attached to a wall. Boxes can be integrated into a pergola roof, or placed on top of a wall to good effect. Clear irrigation tubes can be run to them.  This makes watering simple, as long as you experiment until you know how much time it will take to soak them.  A plain sheet metal box will need reinforcement on the interior to prevent the metal walls from bowing out.  I sometimes screw treated lumber to the inside to maintain a cleanly rectangular shape.
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Window boxes are not just for sunny locations.  The caladiums, dieffenbachia, and yellow coleus in this box light up a very shady spot.  The trailing licorice is surprisingly tolerant of shade.�
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A great window box is rhythmic. Decide if you want the height in the middle, or at the ends. A uniform height is a more contemporary look.  The colors of nicotiana-terra cotta, and 2 shades of lime, set the stage for this box.  All the supporting cast plants repeat color, or contrast in texture.  A lime green variety of hops is growing on wires outside the shutters. Wispy small growing grasses are great in boxes, as they are neither upright nor trailing.  If you are after a tall middle, plant the center first, then work to the edges.  If you are fond of symmetry, reverse the order of right half on the left.
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This box, tucked neatly between dark stained shutters, makes the flowers, and shutters the center of attention. This arrangement of a formal box and equally formal shutters, and green and white planting is elegant, but lively.  �
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These boxes,  specially constructed to sit astride a narrow brick wall, say welcome in a very big way.  What a happy improvement over the wall.