A Quick Look At Some Stick Work

Federal Reserve Building (8)A  client who calls for work after the holidays is unusual, but we were happy to oblige.  We had materials, and there are months of winter yet to come. They had purchased these large scale contemporary birch faux bois concrete planters from Branch over a year ago.  The landscape is dominated by a single river birch.  An arrangement that would feature birch seemed natural.  We had just enough 3″ caliper poles to fill the pair of planters.  Bunches of white lepto came in handy for filling the gaps between the poles. Our last three cases of mixed evergreen boughs were just enough to soften the top of the pot with a thick blanket of green.

Federal Reserve Building (6)The ground plane of the landscape was done with groundcovers of various types in spaces dictated by a pattern of aluminum edger strip, and gravel.  The pattern established is graphically strong.  There were a few areas designated for a seasonal planting.  The concrete boxes had been planted with chrysanthemums for the fall.  What could be done in those areas that would have some height, volume and presence over the winter?  Our solution was to cut up some 1″ and 2″ diameter birch poles into random short lengths. Each piece had a hole drilled all the way through each end. Each of the poles were loosely attached to its neighbor with heavy gauge aluminum wire. The end result-a giant birch garland.

Federal Reserve Building (9)In order to get some height and mass, rolls of grapevine were stretched out and pinning into the soil.  The pinning was easy, as the ground was frozen.

Federal Reserve Building (5)We zip tied the birch garland to the grapevine where it seemed appropriate.

Federal Reserve Building (4)The large size bamboo poles was a vestige of a previous installation-not by us.  The client wanted to leave them in.  That was a good thing, as they were set into metal sleeves placed below ground.  Water had completely filled the sleeves.  The poles were solidly frozen into place by time we got there. I rather prefer the birch poles here.  They look like they belong in a winter garden in Michigan.  There is a certain authenticity to the materials used here.

Federal Reserve Building (3)In the background, the last of our big linden espaliers.  At 9′ wide and 12′ tall each, they mean something in front of this large commercial building.  Properly cared for, they will only get better looking as time goes on.  Funny how some very large commercial spaces devour almost every bit of the land they sit on. It takes the right material and a very strong design to work in a space like this.  I did not do the landscape design here, but I like it.

Federal Reserve Building (1)Hauling around four sets of fresh cut birch garland was the perfect installation for a 12 degree day.  We warmed up in a hurry. Once we were done, all we needed was some snow.  I wonder what it looks like now that we have a good snow cover.

 

Home At Midday

I had occasion to be home during the day today for the first time in weeks. This time of year, I usually leave for work in the dark, and come home in the dark.  My work for the season is finished. This means I have some time I can call my own.  While Steve was finishing up the very last of the landscape work, I went home to try to figure out what I would do for a Christmas tree.  Buck and I celebrate Christmas Eve, so I need to make a move fairly soon.  I was pleased to see my garden was holding its own, and hosting a little holiday display.   I am so happy for my evergreens in the winter. They mean I still have a garden, in late December.   

My home was built 81 years ago.  Vintage, it is.  I like a traditional holiday display that compliments the architecture-this I talked about yesterday.  Southern magnolia does a great job representing that feeling. I hang the garlands, leaf points up; magnolia curls as it dries.  These garlands will bulk up, the more they dry. The color and volume suits this old house. 


I do very little in the way of entertaining.  It is hard enough to find friends that understand and are willing to work around my work schedule.   My good friends come to the back door, or come through the garden gate at the back.  Those friendships are serious enough to welcome them to the back of the house.  But I still want my front door to look dressed properly for company. 

A magnolia wreath is a joy to decorate.  My wreath is decorated with bits and pieces left over from other projects, a stem of curly flame willow, some brown dyed bracket fungus, some pine cones, and a string bow in chocolate. Not so fancy, my materials list.       

My resin cherubs are not such a fancy material, but their shape and expression recalls lots of classical garden ornament I have seen over the years.  The detail and color is amazingly convincing.  Not everyone is a fan of the putti, the cherubs, and the angels, but I fell hard for this pair. 

My winter pots have lights-this is their holiday moment. I will run those lights much longer than I really should, and enjoy every minute of it.  I am just glad to see that the arrangement looks good at midday. 

Rob fixes a pair of pots for me in his own inimitable style that sit on the wall at the end of the driveway.  They are the first thing I see, when I pull into the drive during the winter.  These cream beaded picks are ablaze with light at night, thanks to a few strings of C-7 lights placed underneath them.  During the day, they still look great.  Bleached willow sticks, a few sprigs of flame curly willow, the cream picks and a ruffly skirt of magnolia-this looks as good at midday as it does when I come home after work.  I cannot really explain this, but these Galway stoneware pots beautifully dressed for winter mean all the world to me.  What fun to see them at noon time.

The Sylvan Lake Effect

 Rob called me at home early this morning with a weather alert.  A spectacular hoarfrost had built up at his house overnight; in minutes I was on my way.  As a result, I have a much better understanding of why people so prize lake living.  I have had lots of clients with lake properties.  They are an amazingly homogeneous group.  Nothing in the landscape must obstruct even a fraction of the view.  Every element in the landscape must be subordinate to, and in celebration of that view.  Some lake communities have specific ordinances that restrict any obstruction of the view.  Rob has no lake front, but he does have a beautiful lake view.  Lake properties are highly prized and expensive.  Today reminds me why that is.  This morning, the fog hovering over the water and the frost on the lake front trees-spectacular.  I am also seeing why a lake environment demands a very specialized design discussion.   

The temperature at 7 am-1 degree. The pin oak in his front yard was clothed in spicules of ice.  I know this sounds creepy, but it was incredibly beautiful.  The bark of the tree was even colder than the air, as it was loosing heat like crazy.  The warmer wet air around those branches condensed on every surface.  A large and lacy coating of ice was a first time in person hoarfrost weather event for me.  

Even the chain link fence was coated in frost. Chain link fence ordinarily reads dark in a landscape, much like a window screen.  Even though most screens are bright galvanized metal, they appear dark, and permit a view through. The pattern of this fence is graphically rendered in white-visually graphic, and new.  How rare to see the dark and delicate branches of trees thickly rendered in white. 

The lake effect-I have a picture.  This hedge of carpinus tells the story.  Those trees open to the lake are covered with frost.  Those trees sheltered by the house have none.  Anyone who designs formally in long runs has lots of issues to consider.  Do the soil, light, or exposure conditions exist equally start to finish?  Maybe not.  The patience to grow hedges level with the horizon, the skill to cultivate them for a uniform effect-a job for a committed gardener.  The variation I see here-I have seen it in countless other forms.  This hedge-challenged by nature.  I would expect to see a different pattern of growth based on the level of exposure to the lake. 

These lilacs in Rob’s yard screen him from his lake front neighbor.  I would be hard pressed to decide if these lilacs in bloom are better looking than this winter rendition.  As much as I dislike the winter, these branches coated with frost were incredibly beautiful.  Beyond the beauty, the wind and weather that comes off a lake can be very tough on plants.    

This horizontal and wild thatch of stems on an ornamental tree-enchanting.  Identifying the tree would add nothing to the discussion.  What would add?  In my zone 4-5, the winter appearance of the landscape is equally as important as the summer.  Bare branches and ice have their day-as they did today.  If this tree belonged to me, on this day, I would be delighted.


The old willows on Sylvan Lake were much more astonishing than this photograph suggests.  I am sure the stub ends of these giant branches were created in a strong storm. The thin branches were so coated in frost, they just about described the meaning of vertical.  The larger Sylvan Lake view this morning-I understand what it means to have a long and wide view of a natural phenomenon.  The lake effect-substantial.  From my kitchen window, I have an excellent winter urban view of M-59. I have a pair of dogwoods planted just outside these windows for good reason.   

Everywhere and anywhere the sun struck the willows, the frost melted.  These upper branches are yellow, and yellowing up more and more as spring approaches.  The lower branches, frost laden. As much weather as I have been exposed to, a view like this was a first.  


Almost every day of all of the years that I have been a gardener, and a landscape designer, I see something new.  I regularly experience something I neither planned for or anticipated.  How great is this?

Black And White

Looking out the window yesterday, I was crushed by what I saw.  Snow falling at a rapid rate.  Nor did it quit-hours later there was still snow falling.  Wouldn’t you think that after all the snow we have had in the past 5 days, that nature would be out of snow?  Are not the snow reserves in the upper atmosphere completely depleted?  Is nature not exhausted from her nation wide, days long snow and ice dump, and needing to scale back, or take a nap, or something?  Is she not getting a little bored with all the white everywhere, and thinking to switch on some other type of weather?  Change the channel, maybe?  I have places where the 30 inch tall boxwood has a snow top hat over 36 inches tall.  Yes, the snow came spectacularly wrapped in a wind package.     

It’s not as though I have no tolerance for winter weather-after all, this is my 60th winter in this zone.  But the volume of snow we have had has wrought a remarkable change in the landscape.  That every crisp angle and shape is blurred-an ordinary consequence of the Michigan winter.  But the volume of white in the landscape is making every other still struggling to survive color go black.  I can always tell when the temperatures get very cold-my yews at home will go black green.  Today they make a black hedge with a few white specks.  Boxwood is a lighter green color-this boxwood has gone black from the sheer volume of white engulfing it.  In spite of my exasperation with the current weather,  I am noticing that the extreme contrast between black and white is painting a graphically stark and pared down picture of the design of the landscape.      

Perhaps the very best time to look at whether the design of a landscape is working is when it is reduced to its black and white bones.  Every sculpture, pot, fence or other inanimate object has a shape that is unmistakable.  The shape and size of this brown pot makes a far stronger statement than its surface decoration.  When I look at pots for a specific spot, I consider the shape and proportion first, and its color or surface decoration second.  The most gorgeous pot in the world will not look like it-placed in the wrong spot.  I am getting a lot of visual help from the snow here.  It blankets the ground, and every other horizontal surface.  There is no grass, water, flowers, dog toys, bugs, leaves or birds to distract me. I can see the form, as it is all that is there to see.  I suddenly realize why people photograph objects with a white background.  To better see the object, yes?  It may be that the ability to design has something to do with being able to see like this-in spite of all the extraneous noise.  Winter is an incredibly quiet time in a garden, in more ways than one.            

These wirework plant stands have details that could be lost, depending on how they are planted. The round shape will persist no matter what-making them a great choice where they can be viewed in the round.  Against a flat wall seems like a less than optimal placement for this piece.  I can clearly see the relationship of the round object to the straight wall of an iron fence.  Celebrating what an object does best means looking long and hard at that object, and its relationship to a place.  A fence creates an implacably strong shape and visual direction.  Perhaps that is why serpentine walls and brush fences are so visually compelling.  They are so unlike our intellectual idea of a fence.  Trees planted close together so as to make a fence is an unexpected experience of a tree.     

The placement, shape and mass of every object in a landscape-live or not creates visual relationships.  Symmetrical relationships are calming, orderly and dignified.  Asymmetrical relationships are dynamic, fluid, rhythmic. These concrete pots at the shop were placed to make efficient use of the space in which they are stored-not to look beautiful. The snow is so deep, the true shapes are obscured.  The rectangle in the foreground is buried in snow.  All I can really see here is the relationship of the black shapes to the white shapes.  That relationship makes a description of depth.  The mass of white in the foreground narrows to a ribbon of white that moves back in space diagonally to the grey- white in the far background. I see like this routinely. Seeing like this enables the ability to compose.      

Every woody plant has an overall shape.  Individual branches have their own shape, line and texture.  Now might be the best time to look at trees and shrubs, should you be looking to add one.  Should you want a dogwood worse than you need the size and shape of a dogwood, at least you know up front what the issues are; I am assuming you have covered the horticulktural bases.  Deciduous shrubs that have been pruned into balls and squares tell all on a black and white day.  You can decide if that style of pruning is what you want.  My pollarded Palabin lilacs looked beautiful this morning.  Another gardener might not warm up to that woman generated shape; natural, it is not.  


The stairs to the kitchen door are not only obliterated from view, they are buried under a drift that is amazingly deep. But the shape and the directional quality of the yews is apparent.  This hedge has panic grass planted in front of it; I never see this view in the summer.  I might some day want a different look, that does not obstruct the hedge, and its relationship to a magnolia and a kousa dogwood.  I can see what the change would look like.  More simple.  Maybe visually stronger.  Could it be that this part of my garden has so much competition for attention going on that it is not as good as it could be?

This contemporary limestone V-shaped bowl had a leftover wreath from the holidays on top.  That wreath has proved to be an excellent snowcatcher.  That snow gives me an excellent idea about what a single species summer planting might grow up to look like.  It furthermore tells me that if I plant every plant vertically, rather than turning the rootballs of the outermost plants outward, I will end up with a stiffly vertical mature shape.  Is this what I would want?   It also tells me that a minimally trailing plant will best illustrate and preserve the view of the geometry of the pot. 

My picea mucrunulatum came with the house; they were planted on either side of my front walk.  As I know them to be slow growing, and wider rather than tall, I moved them both to a spot on the drive where they had plenty of room to grow and mature without restriction.  I never do one thing to them-except look at them.  That was a good move.  This black and white day reminds me what a beautifully complex texture they have. 

Cardigan welsh corgis have very short legs.  Milo’s might be 8 inches long.  The snow depth is much more trouble for Milo than for me, but he is good natured about it.  Corgi cum rabbit, he is these days.  His only complaint is that I am reluctant to follow him out there.  I finally had to get out there-before he completely disappeared.  The overnight forecast?  More snow.