Bred In The Bone

Though we have had a long string of warm days, the fall season is well underway. For Rob, the first whiff of fall means it is time for him to seek out and assemble a striking and unusual collection of pumpkins and gourds that will enchant gardeners who frequent Detroit Garden Works. Though it might be hard to believe, we ship his pumpkin choices nation wide this time of year. Unsurprisingly, he has a following. His pumpkin seeking has taken him several hundred miles in every direction from Detroit Garden Works. I greatly admire that focus and sense of purpose;  his travels represent lots of love, and lots more labor. I doubt he is aware of the hours passing. He has a big love for these fruits of the fall. And a bigger love and respect for those serious breeders with whom he has established a relationship. Countless times I have spoken to him while he was in the field. The excitement in his voice about what he was seeing was contagious. When did I fall in love with pumpkins and gourds? Just past that moment that he fell headlong for them. The colors, the patterns, the shapes, the surfaces- what is not to appreciate about these gorgeous fruits of the fall?

One of his favorite hybridizers is a gentleman close to 70. He and his wife have farmed for decades. Semi truckloads of their carving pumpkins are picked up weekly during the season, bound to markets far away from Michigan. He is also a hybridizer of considerable repute. His breeding crop, better than 30 years in the making, is under contract with seed companies that hope to be able to introduce some of his varieties. His interest in the future of pumpkins is bred in the bone serious. I suspect that Rob’s enthusiasm for a crop that he has devoted a lifetime was the beginning of a friendship based on mutual interest.

The average pumpkin field is bee hybridized. Pumpkins and squashes readily cross pollinate with each other. Bees gone wild! This means that every pumpkin field you visit will have pumpkins, squashes and gourds that are particular to that field, courtesy of random bee pollination.  Many of the pumpkins Rob selects for the shop are the result of a lifetime of work from a farmer turned plant breeder. Their pumpkins are a result of a breeding program that is strictly controlled. Many of the crosses are made in a greenhouse, to prevent any stray pollination from influencing the breeding goals.

Truth be told, Rob primarily buys pumpkins from two breeders. They are best friends, though they are many miles apart. They trade seed. They grow the most beautiful and interesting pumpkins I have ever seen. Of course the seed companies get first dibs on what they want. The blackest of the dark green pumpkins are usually put on reserve, as well as any bicolor pumpkins that feature strong and non-fading color contrast.  Rob brings in truckload after truckload of them once they are released for local sale. Rob has his interests and standards too. The very tall pumpkins have to stand up on their own, before Rob will buy them. The stems are stout and long. Many of the characteristics of a stem might actually become part of the upper surface of a pumpkin.

I did have the idea that I would discuss in this post the science involved in the hybridizing of pumpkins. Ha! That science is complicated.  I could not begin to discuss what is involved in breeding pumpkins. Suffice it to say that anyone who breeds pumpkins has a big love for nature, and loads of patience.

We had plenty of visitors for our fall fete this past weekend. I think I am accurate in saying the range of shapes, colors and textures was considerable. As in, something for everyone. I enjoyed watching people go through the process of making up their mind which pumpkins they would speak for. I understand this issue.  I like them all.

I feel fortunate that my home state is one of the top 6 states in pumpkin production in the US. This means I have the pleasure of being swamped with them. To follow are a few too many more pictures of Rob’s pumpkin picks.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 white pumpkin with green blush

pumpkin shopping

terrific, aren’t they?

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The Garden And Plant Show At Kasteel Hex

Rob is part way through his annual sojourn to Europe, shopping for the spring of 2018. He does all of the buying for Detroit Garden Works. He does an incredible job of making our shop the place for serious gardeners to shop for whatever they need, or might fall for. He procures ornament, tools, pots, sculpture and furniture-and all else that might help to define a garden. He brings Detroit Garden Works to life. His current trip includes both Belgium and France. He does have a big love for plant fairs, no matter where he is. It so happened that he was able to book a half day to see the garden and plant show at the Kasteel Hex in Belgium. It was so many years ago that Rob first shopped for garden ornament in Belgium. Over my objections, he was keen to visit the country. His most compelling argument? Belgium is close in latitude to Michigan. Garden ornament and landscape design in Belgium was bound to strike a chord in our zone. That made good sense. He has been a fan of Belgian garden and landscape design since the shop opened over 20 years ago. We have imported many things that seem fitting, appropriate and fitting in mid western gardens.

Though I have never seen a vendor at our local farmer’s market selling garlic on this scale, our scene is strikingly similar to the one pictured above.  All of the farmers at our market who take their flowers, vegetables, herbs, roses, cut flowers, and perennials to market 3 times a week interact with those people shopping much the same as I see here. There is plenty of discussion. Plenty of exchange. What happens at the market over the garden is of interest to all that participate.

My late season market features all of the vegetables that have ripened on farms in our area. These tomatoes offered for sale at Hex are much the same as what I see at my own market. It is good to see that interest in the garden alive and well in other places.

To follow are more photographs of Rob’s visit to the show. If you are in my zone, you will recognize a lot of the plants. I so enjoyed the idea that in a place so far away, people are shopping the farmer’s market in much the same way that I shop my own. Of course he would not be able to bring perennials and tomatoes home with him, but he obviously enjoyed the experience.

man contemplating the perennials for sale

dahlias for sale

lime foliaged heather

perennials laid out in blocks

A booth devoted to iris

Iris corms for sale

Heather in bloom

Booth with lots of gaura

mossed pots

A seed stand graced with a vase full of flowers

A booth featuring hens and chicks

Hens and chicks in crates

Hydrangeas

More hydrangeas!  This display is so beautiful.

Hex garden and plant show

plants and straw on a  rainy day

A rainy day at the Kasteel Hex garden market. So beautiful!

The Plant Fair

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Lay In Some Lavender

Our early September has been surprisingly chilly. As in 48 degrees early this morning. My tropical plants in containers look insulted by the turn of events-both at home, and at the shop. I am not especially ready to give up my summer containers. I regret any face off with nature, as 100 percent of the odds are against me. We’ll see how long I can keep them going. The weather turning this quickly from summer in to fall has me thinking about plants that gracefully survive that transition. Rob planted a number of pots at the shop with lavender this spring. They were as tolerant of our cold April as they are of this chilly September. They are shrugging off the chill as if it were nothing more than a tiny blip on a very big screen. Maybe I need to lay in some lavender.

Lavender is an iconic garden plant treasured by gardeners world wide. The soft and subtle bluish green or gray foliage is topped by equally subtle flower stalks sporting diminutive flowers in white, lavender and purple. I hear tell of varieties that have pink flowers. The plant, and the plant blooming on thin stalks that wave in the breeze, is self effacing. Lavender speaks softly to the charm of a cottage garden. It speaks loudly to those precisely laid out fields of lavender in France and England. Even in pictures, those rows and rows of lavender blooming enchant. What is not subtle about lavender is the the strength of its fragrance. That powerful and unforgettable fragrance speaks to the garden in no uncertain terms. It speaks just as clearly to the romance that is the garden. I have seen countless pictures of American, English and French gardens planted with lavender. I imagine those gardens are all the more to experience, given that familiar and pungent fragrance.

I like romance in the garden, no matter what form it takes. This means I would plant lavender with a lavish hand-if I could. But as much as I like lavender, it does not like me, or my garden. My zone is the northern most range of its hardiness. Our poorly draining and intractably dense clay soil is a poor home for all of the cultivars of lavandula. Lavender thrives in a freely draining soil, especially in the winter. I have had individual plants thrive fore 5 years or better, as long as they were perfectly sited, and if I only pruned it in the spring. Late summer of fall pruning in my zone is an invitation to disaster. A dead lavender is heartbreaking. I know. Several attempts at borders or drifts of lavender in my garden invariably resulted in random failures. My hedges always had holes, and replacement plants were never the size I needed. I was young when I pulled out all the stops trying to get lavender to thrive in my garden. Though the idea is intoxicating to this gardener, I never plant it in in the garden now. I find that lavender is much happier in my zone in containers.

Rob plants no end of containers with lavender in the spring. It is very tolerant of the cold weather that accompanies the spring. Some of his summer containers that were not snapped up in the spring feature lavender that had been planted very early in the season. All summer long, that lavender prospered. The chilly early fall weather has not endangered any of those plants.  For gardeners looking for container plants to span the spring, summer, and fall season, you might consider lavender.

Rob likes lavender well enough to plant pots full of it. He buys 1 and 2 gallon pots of it in the spring by the truckloads, as well as lavender trained in to topiary forms. Every pot looks good, loaded with lavender.

Lavender and thyme like similar planting conditions, and do well in a pot together. This subtle and restrained planting reward anyone brushing by. The fragrance of lavender and thyme mixed together is delightful.

This lead container had a pussy willow centerpiece, lavender, pansies and ivy planted in it for spring.  When I came to do the summer pots in late June, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all that lavender thriving.  This particular cultivar is called Grosso.

A client who was opening a restaurant loved Rob’s idea to plant wood crates and pots full of lavender. This container planting will have a very long life. I suspect it will look great long into the fall.

These containers looked beautiful-today. Though planting lavender directly into my garden has never worked out very well, these pots of lavender and thyme are entirely satisfactory. So pleased to have a little lavender in my gardening life. To follow are pictures of lavender that make my heart beat faster. Click on what is written below each picture for details and pictures credits.

  Lavender “Grosso”   

lavender “Phenomenal” from Peace Tree Farms 

lavender angustifolia “Munstead” from RHS plants

lavender “Provence” from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

Lavender “Platinum Blonde” from American Nurseryman Magazine

lavender “Anouk” from American Meadows

There are so many varieties of lavender available. Make a place somewhere for this plant. You will appreciate the romance.

Interested in a good overview?

A more detailed discussion of lavender

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The 11th Garden Cruise Club

Our tenth garden cruise to benefit the Greening of Detroit was this past Sunday. As usual, I spent the day at home. My garden is on tour every year as I so enjoy meeting and talking to everyone who stops by. And I enjoy talking to those people who have taken our tour year after year, now a decade old. It is satisfying that people who have toured for years do not tire of visiting my garden. This year my garden had a few surprises. A new pair of arbors, a new fence, and 72 linear feet of planter boxes across the front, planted with summer blooming annuals. For someone who likes to plant containers as much as I do, that 72 feet worth of planting space is a treat. What fun it was to plant those! The weather forecast was perfect – 72 degrees and partly cloudy skies with a slight chance of a brief shower.  Hovering over the event was my decision that this would be our last tour.

Ten years ago, encouraged and sponsored by board member and noted architect Michael Willoughby, I joined the board of the Greening of Detroit. I went to one board meeting. It would be my last; I was completely out of my depth. While I was familiar with their mission, I did not understand the issues the board had before them well enough to have anything to contribute. The next day I decided that the best contribution I could make to them would be an effort to raise money on their behalf. Putting together a tour of landscapes of my design or influenced by our group, and a dinner reception, was a commitment we were ready to make. We charged more than most tours for tickets, and all of that ticket money would go to the Greening. I do truly believe in the work done by the Greening of Detroit, so I persisted. We have kept the tour going a long time.

Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Company put their weight behind this tour. The shop rearranges and cleans. Rob designs the reception party. The Detroit Garden Works staff sets up tables and chairs and the bar, spanning the entire length of our driveway. They gracefully handle request for tour tickets for weeks before, and that Sunday morning beginning at 8am. They design tours for people who only have a few hours to attend.  They put on a dinner reception with live music that is a perfect summer evening for those who have toured. Rob obligingly mixes up his latest version of the classic gin and tonic, and also mixes an array of unusual summer drinks. The line at his station is always long. Christine has long retired from the shop, but she does work the cruise. She handles the wine bar, as she has for the past 10 years.

Deborah Silver and Company weeds and rakes the shop out for company. All the gardens and pots get groomed and watered. They also lend a hand to every garden on tour the week before. We weed, haul away debris and brush, water, attend to a fountain which is not working right, or any other issue that needs to be righted in time for the cruise. They prune and fluff- so every landscape and garden looks its very best. A beautiful landscape and garden is a pleasure for those who make them, and for those who experience them. The Greening of Detroit does important work –  making and sustaining landscapes in our city, and teaching people how to make plants grow.

Tour day this year was a very emotional experience for me. My original goal in 2008 was to raise 100,000 for the Greening. We went over that mark on our 9th tour, but so many friends of ours and the Greening asked if I would do a 10th tour, I said yes. The tenth year and tour would be the last. Why our last? I had done for the Greening what I had set out to do. I did not want to overstay my welcome. All things run their course, do they not? I did not want to risk people losing enthusiasm. I was not expecting what was to come.

All day long, people attending the tour came up to me, and talked to me about how much the tour meant to them. About how much they learned from a conversation and exchange of ideas with garden owners. One person in particular articulated how she was able to take what she saw in other people’s gardens that she liked, and express them in her own garden. So many made a point to tell me they regretted that this would be the last tour. Many asked if I would consider continuing the tour. Some said it was the best tour of all, and they were sure next year’s tour would even be better.  I was not expecting such an impassioned response.

Would I consider continuing the tour?  Sunne has always thrown her entire weight behind this tour. Everyone who shops at Detroit Garden Works knows her.  She turned out to be the founder of the 11th Garden Cruise Club. She made a point of explaining that this was the last tour, and anyone who was not happy with that should let me know. I got to the tour reception about 5:15. The first person I saw was Jennifer T, who had flown in from Seattle with her daughter to take the tour. She is a long time reader and supporter of this blog. How incredible that she took the time and handled the expense to come out for our event. Though I have read and responded to many comments she has made on these pages, it was such a treat to meet her in person. How charming that her daughter was all on board to take that trip with her Mom. Though we were only face to face for two days, I will never forget her. This tour made possible a meeting with a passionate gardener halfway across the country from me. Grateful does not express how happy I was to meet her.

More than 125 people attended our reception.  Between our companies and the Greening, we sold 385 tickets.  We raised 15,650.00 for the Greening. Garden Design Magazine had some 40 new subscriptions, from which they would donate 12.00 from each to the Greening. The new President of the Greening, Lionel Bradford, attended our reception, and gave a short and heartfelt speech about his appreciation for what the tour has done for his organization. For me, a basket full of things to eat and drink-made in Detroit. Touching, this.

That moment was a moment I will not soon forget. Sunne has the idea that tour was just hitting its stride, and I was considering the possibility.

Michael on tour. For those of you too far away to have toured, to follow are more pictures of my landscape and garden from that day.

tour morning

the deck

Milo and Howard were both home for the tour this year.

pots planted for summer

a little one on tour

upper deck

planters

planter detail

deck pots

fountain landscape

fountain

front yard

landscape

the opposite view

new planter boxes and original cast iron pots

new planter boxes in the other direction

tour landscape

Bringing the tour to an end is tougher now, considering all of what we heard that day. Yesterday I heard from Monica Tabares at the Greening that a donor who took the tour for the first time this year regretted this was our tenth and final tour. In a meeting with her, they pledged that if I would continue the tour for 5 more years, they would match the funds we raise every one of those five years. That offer gives me great pause. It could be that what we thought was the end is not quite the end yet.

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