The Hellebores In March

What’s better than waiting out the end of the Michigan winter is a road trip to Pine Knot Farms to pick up a collection of hellebores. After some discussion with Dick Tyler, I placed an order, and our David drove our sprinter there to pick them up.  Pine Knot Farms has been breeding hellebores for a good many years. Their strains of helleborus hybridus are incredibly vigorous, strong blooming, and hardy in our zone.  The book written by Judith and Dick Tyler, entitled “Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide”, was and still is a comprehensive and succinct description of the genus Helleborus. It is an invaluable reference work, and I reach for it whenever I have a question about hellebores.

helleborus "Pine Knot Select"From Wikipedia, “Commonly known as hellebores, the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleboreae”.  Ha. I find the book by the Tyler’s to be considerably more engaging, and a lot more detailed.  I am happy to say that Dick Tyler took the time and effort to give David a comprehensive tour of his nursery. If you are not near enough to Detroit Garden Works to shop his plants, he does ship. This is the last weekend of his hellebore festival, but he grows many thousands of plants. Just one of the many in our collection is pictured above in a photograph of Rob’s. For further information, check out their website.  Pine Knot Farms hellebores

Though we purchase hellebores from a number of different growers from all over the US, I was especially interested in Dick Tyler’s plants for a good reason.  Many of his strains of hellebores have helleborus hybridus as a prominent parent. Helleborus hybridus is in and of itself a plant of complex heritage. This is a major factor in its hardiness. They  are commonly known as Lenten roses, which means they are spring blooming. The blooming shoots of my hellebores emerge from the ground in late March, and will begin to flower in April.  As our spring weather is usually very cool, they are gloriously in bloom for quite some time. The flower itself is quite inconspicuous..  What appear to be petals are actually a modified calyx. Those petal-like structures will eventually turn green, and will persist on the plants for months.

The Christmas rose, or helleborus niger, is a winter blooming perennial.  Winter blooming plants do quite well in mild climates, but have a tough go in Michigan. There are a number of clones which have some measure of parentage from helleborus niger that are able to survive our harsh winter and unpredictable early spring. We are able to buy the hellebore hybrid “Joseph Lemper” in full bloom in December.  Customers who have kept them over the winter and planted them out in the spring report that the bloom stalks will come very early in the spring, but they do manage endure our early spring night temperatures. I prefer helleborus hybridus cultivars for my Michigan garden. I do have some intergeneric hellebore varieties whose bloom stalks began to grow several weeks ago. I have my fingers crossed that they will survive the forecast overnight low tonight of 12 degrees. For this reason, I do not cut off the tattered remains of last years foliage until it appears we will have night temperatures that are more moderate. That old foliage is like a blanket.

So what is one to do with one of our hellebores in full bloom when our night temperatures are so cold?  They are actually quite obliging about a place indoors for a few weeks.  We like to pot them up in a little something that is decorative. The green or black plastic pot that they are grown in will do, but why make do at the end of winter?  Rob potted this hellebore in a basket, and topped it off with some mood moss.  To follow are more pictures of his miniature spring gardens. If you are able to stop in and see them in person, I promise you will be enchanted.

hellebores in pots

See what I mean?

 

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March 1

Detroit Garden Works retreats into a semi-closed state from January 15 until the first of March.  During that time we do repairs, repaint, clean, and rearrange. An over simplified outtake on of law of nature we call entropy posits that everything tends to fall apart. Anyone who has ever had a garden, a washing machine or a favorite pair of boots understands how true this is. So every winter we take on a building maintenance project of one sort or another. 10,000 square feet and everything we have in it is a lot to keep clean and in working order. Once that is done, we rearrange every room to include all of the new things for spring that have been coming in since last September. That is an incredibly labor intensive and time consuming job, but by March 1, the shop will have that spring fresh look to it. I know we are just about ready for opening day when Rob is out photographing.

The landscape crews forego the lion’s share of  their winter off to participate in re-imagining the shop for the coming season.  This involves lots of patience moving fragile items, lots of sheer manpower for those incredibly heavy and awkward things, and plenty of attention to detail.  I will confess to asking to move some things around multiple times until I feel the design of it reads right to me. In better than 20 years, I have yet to hear a complaint. At that moment when I am too worried that a direction I have chosen will not work out, Marzela has been known to tell me that that we have it all in hand.

Detroit Garden WorksIt is hard to describe the process by which we turn over a past season to a new one. It is a big fluid situation. Every year, I am surprised by how a small group of people manage to transform the atmosphere of a big space from what was past to the present. The entire process from the patching and painting to the finish runs between 3 and 4 weeks. My job as a designer has a yearly winter project that goes on in my own house.

Detroit Garden Works has been in business going on 21 years. We are in the midsection of the country, 30 miles north of Detroit. That geography may define what plants we are able to grow, but it by no means defines or confines our vision of the garden to the midwest. This means that a gardener who plants herbs in a vintage wood crate is just as likely to find something for their garden as the person who values the clean lines of a contemporary  garden pot. Gardeners are a very diverse lot, and what Rob buys for the shop reflects that.

This group of stone troughs, sinks, and staddle stones that Rob purchased in England this past September are all better than 100 years old, and are covered in lichen colonies that speak to their great age. The large stones with iron rings in the center are cheese stones, that were used to squeeze excess water out of the cheese by virtue of their sheer weight. Though their history is agricultural, their effect in a garden is sculptural.

A collection of English made wood birdhouses in a traditional style are as whimsical as they are utilitarian.

A collection of baskets, chimney stones, wood grape crates, galvanized buckets and steel bird and dog cutout sculptures complete one part of the 2017 collection.

Another room is full of classical antique and vintage urns, benches, tables, sundials, and sculpture.  Any of these garden ornaments would compliment a traditional garden.  It is just as likely that any one of them could organize or define the mood of a garden.

Objects for the garden can set a tone, create a mood, or organize a space. It only takes a gardener who is interested to take their garden to that level. A garden ornament may be dear, or not.  What gives it an aura is the selection and placement of a gardener who who has something else to express about a garden that means much to them.

pussy willow

Of course, our shop would be incomplete without plants.  At this very early stage of thje season, we do have fresh cut pussy willow twigs, both straight and branches.  And a collection of fan willow. The stars of our March season are the hellebores.  By far and away, they are the mainstay of the early spring perennial garden. Our collection this year numbers close to 1500 plants, in various sizes.  We carry named varieties, and a large collection of the justly well known Pine Knot Farms hellebore strains.  How pleased we are to be able to offer these hellebores for the first time.

For those of you too far away to see our collection in person, we can take pictures, and we do ship. And by all means enjoy the following pictures that Rob has taken of individual plants. It is just about impossible for me to pick a favorite. That could account for the fact that I have lots of them in my garden. A hellebore purchased now will be perfectly happy in a light and cool spot until it can be planted outdoors the beginning of April.  This early dose of spring is so welcome. It could be that the best part of the winter landscape is the beginning of the end of winter.

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Winter Ready

lighted winter containerWe finished our last winter installation this Tuesday past. A client who is out of town on holiday did not mind if her winter pots did not get done until after December 25th. Her home is now winter ready for her return. Yesterday we finished the winter pots at the store. So we are ready for winter too. The garland got done early in the season. We only have 6 or 7 to do in any given year. Buck’s fabricators at Branch make them, and install them. They do help a great deal with the winter containers, once those holiday garlands are done and hung. Once the first 6 garlands for clients were done and up, they made our shop garland. We had that garland, and not much else until 2 weeks ago, when Rob had a moment to dress this cast iron cauldron for winter. The spruce tips were a new green for us-of course he wanted to try them out. The hand wrought iron topiary form from England is wrapped with Lumineo LED string lights. Not so easy to see in this picture are a number of small scale pine cone picks that for all the world look like they are attached to those spruce tips. For weeks, a garland and a single pot were all we had to show for the winter.

So why wouldn’t I dress the store for winter early in the season? Lots of our shop clients would like to see what we have a mind for the season. Some of them might be inclined to take some aspect of our idea into consideration for their own winter holiday. There are plenty of good answers to that question. The strongest answer is that our clients come first. We did just shy of 60 projects between November 10 and December 24. Just about 200 containers. And two holiday parties. This is a lot of of work to do in a very short amount of time. Not every client can be first, but it is easy to do the shop last.

There is another reason why we dress the shop for the winter last. I consider it a personal challenge to design and install from the left over materials. If you were raised as I was, the meals featuring leftovers were not my favorite. Some were downright unappealing.  But as a designer, I have always been intrigued by the possibility that good design can take a rag tag group of the last of the materials, and make something worth looking at from them. I cannot really explain this, but metaphorically speaking,  making a beautiful meal from a group of leftovers is a challenge that is satisfying.

The greens in the window boxes at the shop were the leftover scraps from a busy season.  Even those scraps proved to be not enough. The day after Christmas we bought 6  Frazier fir Christmas trees at a tree lot for one dollar each.  It took four trees to produce enough greens for the window boxes at the shop. These were trees that were moments from being discarded-  I was happy to rescue them from the discard heap. The labor to cut up the branches was considerable. But the end result was worth it. The window boxes do not look like they were stuffed with a material that no one wanted. The spruce tips in the centerpiece came to us late in the season, so we had those left over as well. I was more inclined to try to put them to use, than pitch them.

It is impossible to tell in advance which twigs will be left over. Every year the twig overage is different. This year, we had curly willow left, and just about nothing of any other type of twig. So curly willow was destined to play a part in the shop winter pots. The sage eucalyptus was not so popular this year, but the color is striking with the curly willow, and the red berries.

I will admit we never have any bleached pine cones left over, no matter how many we buy.  So I did purchase 2 cases of them, just for my clients and the shop winter display. We put them in the garland, and in all of the pots and window boxes.  At the close of the season, we had 2 bags left. Detroit Garden Works has their only sale of the year between December 25 and January 7.  One of those bags of cones was sold yesterday, and I am sure the last one will find a home soon.

lighted winter containerWe also manufacture the most stunning lighted rings for winter gardens; I have posted pictures of them plenty of times. Both the hanging and spiked versions are just about gone now.  But we did have 4 steel rings that had not had lights put on them, so we used those rings as a base for a collection of curly willow wreaths that sit at the back of each window box. Those three foot diameter wreaths are properly scaled to our industrial sized windows, and that vibrant color reads even at a distance.

Lighting is such an essential part of any Michigan winter display. They gray days will vastly outnumber the sunny ones from now until April. We did use left over incandescent garland light strings in the window boxes and pots, as we are transitioning over to stocking only LED lights. The light strings on the garland are attached to the grapevine portion of that garland.  Those light strings are LED lights.  One string is 110 feet long, which eliminates the need to string light sets together.  As the LED lights have a 10 year lifespan, we can store the grapevine with the lights still attached for next year’s garland, and maybe the year after that.  The grapevine is a durable material.

Detroit Garden Works for winterI will enjoy being able to walk past all my leftovers every day all winter long.

winter lightingThat pot at the end of the driveway has some company now.

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Gifts For Gardeners

At this time of year I get a lot of queries from wives, husbands, associates, children and friends about what would be a great gift for the gardener in their life. I do the best I can to answer those questions. I can be good, and I can be off. Just saying that my gift guide is no better than my opinion. Like most people, I try to do a good job matching the gift to the person. So to follow is an 11th hour gardener’s gift guide, of sorts. A gift guide for those of you still stymied at the last minute by the gardener on your gift list. I want to preface my remarks with this story. Rob sent me the picture above of an antique staddle stone while he was in England this past September, shopping for the spring 2017 season at Detroit Garden Works.  The stone itself has an incredibly beautiful shape, and an equally beautiful reticulated surface. I loved the stone wall in the background, and the moss at its feet. The fallen green apples and the brown fruit leaves that litter the ground speak to the fall season in Britain. A section of an agricultural wheel in the right of the picture tells me where he was when he took the picture. He has a relationship with a dealer in Britain who farms, and collects fine objects for the garden – many of them with an agricultural history. I am keenly interested in staddle stones, as they are one of many antique or vintage ornaments for the garden that are saturated with the history of a long and strong intersection of agriculture, and the landscape. I like them. But this particular stone takes my breath and my gardening heart away. I of course expected that since Rob sent me this picture, that he had bought this stone. Not so, he tells me today. Dang.  But at least I have learned that objects for the garden redolent with history appeal to me the most.

sneeboer garden toolsThat story told, a stellar holiday gift to the gardener in your life will depend on how far you are willing to go to understand the particular nature of their love of the garden.  Some gardeners are very hands on. The grime under their nails and dirty clothes that have real dirt on them is a clue. The shop carries just about the complete line of gardening tools from the Dutch company Sneeboer. A  hand digging and weeding gardener would love one or a collection of these job specific tools. This company goes so far as to manufacture a left and a right handed trowel.

hori hori garden knifeIf your dirt gardener has no interest in a collection of tools, they might like one tool that does just about all.  Barebones has created a hori hori inspired tool that digs holes, uproots weeds, and incidentally takes the cap of a bottle of beer at the end of a long day in the garden. This tool is hefty and useful.  It can do a job it was never meant to do, and not break.

dibbers and dib dabsIf your gardener likes to grow plants from seed in an orderly way, a dibble or a dib dab is a great choice. Neat gardeners are not so ordinary, but if you have one in your household, it should be apparent. Tools get cleaned off and put away at the end of the gardening day. Dirty boots get scraped, or get left outside the back door. These beautifully made beech wood planting tools may enchant the organized and methodical gardener.

flexi-tieIf your gardener goes so far as to stake wayward perennials and shrubs, a spool of flexi-tie is a great gift.  This chocolate brown stretchy plastic tie is harmless to plants. If the plant grows, the tie stretches.  I have staked big annuals, roses, and the wayward branches of my arborvitae with this tie. Flexi-Tie is English made-we are their only US distributor.

French made black soap with olive oilIf the gardener on your list gardens barehanded, this entirely natural, vegetal, and scentless French made black soap loaded with olive oil is an end of the day treat. Combined with a nail brush, the wash up will make a clean and refreshing ending to the gardening day.

mud glovesOn the other hand, some gardeners prefer gloves. There are plenty gardening gloves out there, but Mud Gloves are inexpensive and durable.

flower press
A flower press is the perfect gift for that gardener who believes that gardening is an art that should be recorded.  It is also a great gift for a young gardener who is just becoming acquainted with the beauty of nature, or an older gardener who is not doing so much digging any more.

vintage watering cansThe container we had delivered from England just this past week features an incredible collection of vintage watering cans. Your gardener may water select plants by hand, or they may be equally happy for a beautiful watering can to ornament their garden. We have a client whose garage has shelves for his collection of vintage watering cans – no kidding.

grapevine topiary formsWe manufacture steel topiary forms in a variety of shapes.  These forms have had grapevine added to them.  If the gardener on your list admires anything formal or topiary-like in the garden, these forms could be a hit. The four prongs at the bottoms make them easy to insert in the soil, or in a container.  They would be good looking planted with a small growing vine, or not. Sunne would be able to figure out how to gift wrap these, and Rob would be able to figure out how how to get them in your vehicle. The rest is up to you.

amaryllisSome gardeners focus on the plants. Detroit Garden Works does carry seasonal plants for those gardeners for whom what is green is everything.  We have just about to bloom hellebores, frosty selaginella ferns, and amaryllis.

amaryllis vaseThe gardener who loves the green, but is not so happy handling the dirt would appreciate an amaryllis vase. An amaryllis bulb can be brought in to bloom by filling the bulb portion of the vase with water, and setting the bulb down so only the roots are in water. The high sides of the vase keep will those tall and heavy bloom stalks aloft. This vase makes keeping the garden going in the winter so simple.

hand made terra cotta vase from EnglandThe gardener who loves fresh cut flowers would appreciate this contemporary garden style vase. This hand made English terra cotta vase imprinted with a fern frond is beautiful. Think how great it would look filled with cut flowers.

holiday ornamentSome gardeners would appreciate a quirky gift far afield from the ordinary. Rob’s holiday arrangement featuring vintage bottles, an English vintage tray, and a silver wire string of lights – different. A one of a kind gift.

citrus and herbs scented candlesOther gardeners like to bring the warmth of the garden indoors.  The citrus and herbs candles would make a thoughtful and beautiful gift. The orange and basil scent is my favorite. Any one of this series of candles might make a great gift to the gardener on your list who has had to move indoors.

Garden Design MagazineStill not so sure what the gardener on your list would be so happy to receive? A gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine is perfect for all manner of gardeners. How so? They cover in great depth a wide range of topics sure to interest every gardener. There are gardens from all over the US to see and read about.They write about plants, garden makers, tools, cut flowers, garden ornament and more. This publication is more book like than most magazines-they do not accept any advertising. The articles are thoughtful, and incredibly well written, and are season specific. The photography is stellar. I am so happy to hear they have a winter issue just about to come out. Jim Peterson and his staff have recreated Garden Design Magazine such that any gardener on your gift list would be thrilled with a subscription. I am so impressed with what they have accomplished. I feel sure this would be a great gift to just about anyone with an interest in the landscape and garden, but there is no need to take my word for it. See for yourself. They have made a short video about who they are, and where they hope to take their publication: Garden Design

I am equally happy to oblige with a link to their subscription page:   a gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine

I know this is all last minute, but help at the last minute can be quality help!

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