A Michigan Gardener

I have been gardening long enough to now have clients who are the children of clients.  I like this.  One such Bebe child belongs to one of my most favorite clients.  Cathy loves her landscape, and her garden, and she has put all of her effort and care behind that for as many years as I have known her.  Her son seems to have inherited all of this passion from her.  Though his favorite place to be is on the golf course, or horsing around with his kids, he is very keen about the out of doors.  Rich and Sue’s first house-a bungalow with not much of anything going on outdoors save some mature pines.  We got a plan together, including some concrete work, and installed the landscape.  Notice how the ground drops awkwardly to the sidewalk-we would fix this.

Some years later, the real gardening story is apparent.  The day I walk away from an installation, my clients are armed with as much as I can give them about looking after what they have. But it is instantly apparent which clients fall, and fall hard, for their landscape. Check it out- the plants have grown, and are healthy.  The pots look beautiful-and most astonishing, the Annabelle hydrangeas are standing upright.  Two years into his stewardship of a substantial hedge of Annabelles, a terrible storm knocked them all to the ground-just as they had come into full bloom.  Rich was beside himself.  He had to have called four times about what to do to restore them to their former glory.  He was genuinely devastated by a storm laying waste to his landscape.  Being young, smart and exceedingly sassy, he was sure he could wave a wand, and get those belles back on their feet.   I would get off the phone, having listened to his latest restoration scheme, and burst out laughing.  A client more obsessed than me-rare.  I will admit when I went to see what he had done, I was impressed.  Believe me, those hydrangeas ever after that disaster in 2006  had the staking mechanism in place the first day of spring-I am talking March 1.

Years later, there is a new house.  Like the old one, there was precious little in the way of landscaping, and even less that he liked.  Before I could even protest, he had taken things down, and shovelled other things out.  A lengthy renovation of the house ensued, but I knew I would get a call sooner or later.  In 2008, he was ready for a plan.  I find the house very interesting architecturally; note the pair of entrance doors in the front.  The landscape design would feature that pair of front doors.

The view from the street tells little.  This I like.  A landscape plan that details an unusual entrance landscape not seen until a visitor is close to the door-the best of all possible worlds. Be friendly to friends.  Posit an elegant statement from the street.  Urban landscapes ask for public and private spaces both.  The house looks beautiful from the street.  The walk to the front door splits into two walks, and goes around the old maple which dominates the landscape.  Once you are inside the yew hedge; a guest can choose which door they want.    

Three days ago I had an appointment with Rich and Sue-about the rear yard landscape.  I could tell he was gunning for me.  The front yard looked superb.  The grass was cut and edged. There were no weeds anywhere.  The symmetrically placed pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” in the lawn are thriving.  Not visible in this picture are a slew of Sum and Substance hostas planted at the base of the maple. My visit a year ago-there was still a weedfest going on under that tree. My threat to revoke his license to garden in the state of Michigan apparently worked.  

This Michigan gardener can annoy me beyond all belief.  If I tell him the sun will be coming up tomorrow morning, he will want a substantive explanation in support of my theory.  He asks more questions than I have time left in my life to answer.  But how could any gardener be miffed for long, once they laid eyes on this container planting?  This mandevillea, prone to spider mites, and fungus, can be the devil to grow.  But there it is, gorgeous and very well grown.  His Spirit Violetta dwarf cleome are the best I have seen anywhere this year-and that includes the plants in my pots at home.   Can you not tell he knows all this?    

They brought this pair of stone Italian vases with them from the old house to the new.  There is no problem spotting them from the road.  This is the first year he has not blown in unannounced on a May Sunday afternoon with Sue, Violet and Rich III in tow, wanting not one scheme for his pots, but multiple schemes from which to choose, a mini-dissertation on the merits of each scheme-and the plants to go with.  When this past June came, I knew he did not need me anymore.  Rich, your pots are really swell.      

The largest part of the house renovation was in the back. Not in this picture-the view from all those new windows to the golf course.  He would be seconds from the links, and sublimely happy about it.   

We three have been kicking around the landscape plan for a year now. This rear terrace faces west, and Sue is very clear she has had enough of the blaring sun from which there is no relief.  She tells me the kids cooked eggs on the concrete aggregate terrace surface on a 98 degree say this summer. After sitting at the table for 1/2 hour, I believed her. Not obstructing the views to the golf course both upstairs and down have been the subject of much discussion, but I could tell even Rich was getting tired of the design and development phase.  So the plan is to go ahead with the landscape and see if it provides the shade they need.  If it does not, we have a plan Aplus in the works.  I will keep you posted.   


  1. Very nice job by both you and your client on both homes. Funny commentary and back history too. He did a nice job on this containers.

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