The Big House

A Michigan spring is a big fluid situation. We have cold days and cold nights. We have hot days and freezing nights. Every day is a new weather drama, with a new cast of characters. We have a glass roof over one room inside Detroit Garden Works. Once we start buying in seasonal and tropical plants, it feels like a little house. During those cold spells, we jam no end of cold intolerant plants under that glass roof, to keep them happy. For years we have moved seasonal plants in and out of our garage, given the night time temperature forecast. That in and out is a a huge chore. So late last winter we made arrangements to purchase a big house for our plants.  A 60′ long by 30′ wide gothic styled house that would put all of our seasonal plants under cover. The house got delivered on a flatbed truck.  Seeing the boxes and pieces on the ground made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This is a greenhouse?

Of course I asked Buck to take the lead. He was reluctant to take on the big house, but he did. The worst part of getting it aloft was the fact that we could not dig into the ground to set the posts. I suspect this part of our property was formerly a road bed. It was full of asphalt, big rocks, and giant pieces of concrete. It took a week, 4 people, and a jackhammer to dig all of the holes for the posts. The landscape crew took on that thankless job, day after day. The Branch crew saw to setting every post in concrete in a perfectly vertical position. This may sound easy, but it is not. I have never seen so many levels and so many measuring tapes in one place in my life.

Once the posts were set, we were ready to set the ribs aloft. We had willow branches in the way that had to be cut, and a lots of work to be done in the airspace. The willow that had to be pruned back provided material for a tool the Branch fabricators needed. I will say this tool took my breath away. I like simple solutions.


One person on the ground held the rib in the proper position with the willow tool, so the person on the ladder could bolt the support bars in place. The greenhouse came with directions that were very unclear. Given that this was Branch’s first greenhouse, they proceeded cautiously. But once the ribs were set, the structure was rock solid.

I had no idea how a 2000 square foot piece of 6 mil plastic would go over the house, and be secured, but it turned out to be fairly simple.  We had to wait for a windless day, with no rain. Apparently wet plastic is very difficult to slide over the ribs.  After laying out the plastic next to the house, ropes were secured to the edge of the plastic with the help of small rocks. Rocks? The plastic was bunched up over a rock, much like the paper wrapper over a tootsie roll pop, and then secured with rope. Of course it is done this way. The plastic would slip through a loop of rope, no matter how tight it was tied. The rock secured the plastic to the rope. This is how greenhouse people do it. Ingenious.
Each rope was thrown over the top of the house, and handed off to a person on the other side.

8 rope pullers and two wrinkle reliever people made quick work of getting this giant piece of plastic over the top. The plastic keeps heat in the house, and wind, rain, hail and other weather events off the plants.

Once the plastic was in place, it was secured on both sides in a channel with a locking cap that runs the entire length of the house. This was a very cold day. Instantly it seemed warmer inside the house than out. Seasonal plants hail from tropical climates.  They dislike cold temperatures, and cold soil even more. In mid May, the best place for annual plants is under cover.  Planted out in our cold soil too soon, they sit there. Inside, they grow.

The short ends of the house are rigid polycarbonate panels. We will install the polycarbonate sliding doors later.  Right now, the house is open to promote good air circulation, and to permit carts to come and go.

The final layer over top of the house is a shade cloth. It blocks 40 percent of the sun coming through the plastic.  This will keep the house much cooler when the weather gets hot.  This means less stress to the plants that are in small pots. And a more comfortable place for people to look at plants. The long sides have separate plastic panels that roll up, so when its warm, some of the heat is able to escape.

We are by no means a business specializing in seasonal plants. Nor are we a nursery specializing in trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers for the landscape. We specialize in pots, tools, ornament, sculptures, fountains, furniture and interesting objects for gardens.  Rob sees to making the Works a place friendly and engaging to those people who garden. And those people for whom the beauty of a garden is a way of life. Those objects around which a garden or landscape can be organized is just a part of the equation. Of course we treasure the plants, especially plants that can be grown in containers.

 

It seems fitting and reasonable to have a plant house. What I had not planned on was how much I would enjoy it. Thank you Branch for putting up a big house.

 

 

Some Good Reasons To Plant Pots For Spring

Our spring has been an exasperatingly wintry sort of gray and cold. April has been a last of the winter month. But today April 30th, we have blue skies. That blue is a giant step towards spring. Every gardener in my zone is on that plane that promises to leave our wretched April weather behind. The sun drenching my landscape with warmth and promise-that promise could not be more welcome. Was this worst April of my gardening lifetime? Yes.

No one is happy looking at empty pots. It has been too cold to plant anything except the most cold tolerant plants. Can you hear me sighing?  Not that my memory of past Aprils mean much. I know that the weather cycles in years vastly bigger than my time on this earth. The theys who keep records say this is the coldest April we have had for 134 years. We’ve all been living that scene. Sitting out a few nights ago after work made me wish I had a coat like Milo’s. Today we are slated to hit 80 degrees.

Today we will plant the last of our spring container plantings. Do I plan to post pictures of what we have planted this spring? No. It will take weeks for what we have planted to grow on and look like something. Spring container plantings are at their most beautiful the first of June. Perfect timing, in my estimation. My spring pots coming in to their own later in May prevents me from rushing to plant too early for summer. Nature, and gardeners, abhor a vacuum. The sight of bare dirt is instantly followed by the urge to plant. The urge to plant this year is especially strong. To follow are pictures of some of my favorite spring container plantings. Most of them were taken in late May.

pansies and violas

variegated lavender

orange osteos, heuchera, and orange pansies

curly pussy willow and sweet peas

spring pots featuring pansies, violas, dill, and fan willow

Marguerites, pansies, violas and cream alyssum in a basket

Bok Choy, osteospermum, mini marguerites and alyssum

White osteospermum, chrysanthemum paludosum “Snowland”, yellow petunias and blue salvia

daffodils

carexviolas and angelina

lettuce and alyssum in a basalt pan

Variegated lavender, cream alyssum and strawberries in mid AprilThat mid April at the end of May-striking.

Okra Pods

We were able to finish all of our 2017 projects last week, save one, by last Thursday afternoon. That final project needs a decent sized block of time, so we will do it this coming week. This meant there would be time for me to get some pots done at home. Finding materials would be a challenge. Given that the supply of fresh cut greens is all but depleted, my only hope was 8  9 foot Frazier fir Christmas trees purchased to chop up for our last project to come. There would be enough branches from those trees available to do my two pots on the driveway. The Frazier fir would shake off all the cold and snow a winter season would have to dish out, and still look great next March. The skirt of green was available.

Our supply of fresh cut twigs was equally skimpy, but for two bundles of red bud pussy willow we put on reserve for our last project. I toured the shop at least three times before I focused on a pair of steel topiary cones that we had Missy cover with grapevine and brown corded incandescent lights. These topiary forms are 5.5 feet tall. The scale of them would be perfect for my 30″ tall and 30″ diameter Branch Hudson tapers, given that we had no branches available for the center. I had no use for those incandescent lights. There had to be another idea. While David was removing those lights, I toured the store for the 4th time. We had a case of 10′ long LED rice light strands on silver wire still available.  These lights would need their transformer and plug protected from the elements.  We could do that. As the lights seemed so minuscule (each light is truly the size of a grain of rice), I doubled up the strands. David and I took a few minutes to wind them around each topiary form in an informal spiral.

What next? The intersection of that vertical topiary form with that horizontally oriented bed of greens was bare, stark and dry. Awkward.  An intermediary element that would soften spot and provide visual interest would be a good idea. This part of the container would be at eye level, as my tapers are set on tall steel socles. I knew I would want to load up that interior level with Lumineo cluster lights, but those lights needed something at eye level to illuminate besides the bare legs of the topiary cones. Successful containers, no matter the season, need to be designed and planted as a complete and literate visual world unto themselves. The spring, summer and fall plants, and winter materials, play a considerable role in this. But it is the overall sculptural quality that makes a container garden complete.

We had plenty of bunches of dried okra seed pods on slim wood stems in the shop greenhouse. I love these pods-we always have them. We usually use them in fall and winter interior arrangements. The numbers of bunches available were sufficient for my pots. OK, bring on the okra. David and I faced all of those curving pods inward. Like a chrysanthemum flower, or an artichoke. We left the pods tall, so they would represent entirely above the level of the greens. The slight wood stems on the pods would not in any way obstruct the light at the center. Setting the levels for all of the materials for these pots was all about creating sculpture. Those stick bottoms are not visible unless you walk right up to the pots, and look over the greens.  Okra? Few on my crew had ever heard of okra. Over the course of building these winter pots, there was a discussion of okra the vegetable, as well as placing dry pods in a pot.

Though I spent much time melding a design to the available materials, I was not prepared for this outcome. The rice lights were anything but shy. The four strands on two pots illuminates my entire driveway. The okra pods set tall on wood skewers both absorbed and reflected the bright light.

These winter pots are by far and away the best I have every had. That best had everything to do with an unusual choice of materials. The design and fabrication of these pots is all about creating relationships with unfamiliar materials.

The pots are at their best at night. I had no idea that the okra pods would so dramatically provide the much needed weight to the bottom of these pots. These pots glow from top to bottom, and are fiery in the midsection. Having the fabrication of these winter pots scheduled next to dead last has its advantages. There was time to tinker. Time to dream up something different.

The light is delightful and startling.

From the deck above.

The later darkness strips away all of the detail, and celebrates the big gestures.

The full moon looking over my driveway pots? Terrific. So swell. I will admit I was over the moon about every bit of this.

 

More Of The Winter Work

Every Saturday from the first week in November until just before Christmas, I pose a question to my landscape crews. The closest answer to the right answer wins a cash prize. The prize money goes up as the weeks go on-as well it should. The work of doing holiday and winter containers, lighting, and holiday decorating is hard work that requires considerable attention to detail. The design comes first. Then all of those elements that contribute to the construction. And then the installation. Then we start that process all over again-fresh. The staying fresh part is the hardest part. I am very lucky to have a group of people who go after the gold, day after day, for weeks.  That gold?  Excellent and thoughtful work.

My last question before the Christmas holiday was “How many winter and holiday containers have we done this season?” I never want to start the season with a run down of all the work we have ahead of us. We all know we have lots of work, but handling that work one day at a time is how we like to do things. So I wait until we are close to the finish to broach the topic of volume.

199 pots got filled this season, by my count. Salvador won the prize with a guess of 178. Would I subject you to 199 photographs- heavens no. But to follow is a good number of pictures of some of our work this season.



Almost done.