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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Planting Containers In June

Waiting to plant seasonal containers until the soil and night temperatures warm up in our zone is an idea of considerable merit. For those of you that read this journal regularly, you already know my point of view. Here me out, again. If you are a client, you have heard me talk about how the best place for tropical plants in May is a greenhouse. Tropical plants that hail from tropical environments have evolved to not only withstand a tropical climate, they thrive in it.  Michigan is anything but tropical. Just a week ago we were having night temperatures in the mid to low 50’s. Tropical plants do not like nor are they likely to adapt to our brisk spring weather. Our spring is just about the equivalent of winter weather to an alocasia, or a solenia begonia in May. May is when gardeners want to plant their containers, but June is better.Tropical plants that go into the ground in anticipation of better weather to come will sulk, be set back, or refuse to grow. I shudder, and have to avert my eyes when I see those huddled masses of fibrous begonias bedded out in commercial settings the first freezing week of May. I am a proponent of planting containers, if only a few key containers, for spring – in an effort to stave off that longing for a summer planting until the time is right. The summer solstice, or longest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere is June 21. Planting summer containers in June helps make a success of all of the work of planting those containers.

Nothing tells a story more succinctly and simply than a picture. These boxes, as well as all the rest of this client’s containers, were planted on June 2. In 28 days, all of these heat loving plants have grown exponentially. Calocasis, begonias of several types, caladiums and licorice like warm soil, and warm temperatures. A good bit of the pleasure of tending containers comes from a collection of plants that are healthy, happy, and growing. In the healthy, happy and growing department, a lot of credit goes to my client Fred P. He is in charge of the watering of all of their container plantings. His watering skill is obvious. The only condition under which begonias fail to thrive is too heavy watering hand. He waters the solenia begonias only when they are truly dry. Their thick succulent stems will rot with too much water.  He tells me it takes all of his willpower to water each plant in this series of boxes individually, but his restraint has paid off. He tell me that he precision waters of of their containers. He never blankets any of his containers with water.  The gorgeous state of all of his container plants is a sure sign of his attention to the individual needs of his seasonal plants. These planters look sensational. It is my opinion that when he waters, he focuses only on that task at hand, and nothing else. Another word for that is relaxation. Another concept for this is that growing plants is good for people. A June planting, a master waterer, and some warm soil and heat-voila.

No plant hates the cold and windy weather more than tomatoes. The size and health of these plants makes it obvious the conditions for growth were right. The basil looks terrific. These tomatoes were 18″ tall when we planted them. The basil were maybe 4″ tall. Summery conditions have enabled them to grow.

The Black and Blue salvia in the centers of these two boxes grow to 40″ tall, and need nearly a season’s worth of time to get to their peak. But I see some signs of early blooms. Happy salvia. As long as the solenia begonias are not over watered, they will bloom profusely into the fall.

New Guinea impatiens are as notoriously adverse to cold weather as are calocasias. Unsurprisingly, New Guinea impatiens are native to New Guinea – the second largest island in the world which is located the the southwest Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, New Guinea is a tropical place. These New Guinea natives look incredibly happy here. Planted green in 4″ pots, they have grown an incredible amount in 28 days, and are now blooming profusely.

There are so many types of gardening-too many to list. To name a few: There are those growers of dwarf conifers, and those gardeners who grow vegetables, and those farmers who grow cut flowers or broom corn. Those people for whom a perennial garden is a continuing source of interest and delight rub shoulders with those gardeners who grow bananas, palms and herbs. Do not forget those who plant trees, or roses, and those who collect cultivars of hydrangeas. Those who plant seasonal containers, and those who plant shade or wildflower gardens have the same issues as those who grow dahlias, rock garden plants or meadow gardens.  The common thread? Plants are very specific about what they need. A gardener who is alerted to and caters to the requirements of the plants will be a successful gardener.

A June planting was an optimal time to plant this particular collection of plants. The plants have responded in kind to that early summer date. Even the view from the outside is a treat.

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At A Glance: Rob’s Pots

To follow is a very lengthy collection of photographs of Rob’s container plantings, but I think the numbers are justified, considering how beautiful the work is. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

French fountain planted with fernsgold sage, gold marjoram, and a glass float

lavender and violas; lettuceWasabi coleus, pinched into a broadly oval shape, and myrtle topiary

bird’s nest fern, lobelia, and creeping jenny in one of his grow spheres.

rosemary, pink marguerites and cream alyssum

herbs with a tilted Russian sage

This galvanized pan with rosemary and herbs got wheeled in and out of the garage on a cart until it was safe to leave the basil outdoors.

tree fern with streptocarpella

coir lined wood crates with verbena bonariensis,  dahlias, marguerites, cream zinnias, angelonia and sweet william

collection of lemon cypress pots and herb pots

eugenia topiaries with yellow petunias

Who knew lettuce could look this good?

pennisetum, yellow celosia and yellow petunias

variegated lavender, marguerites and alyssum

tomatoes and herbs in twig boxesrosemary topiary, lavender and lobelia

coral bells and streptocarpus

containers designed and planted by Rob

ferns and streptocarpus

bok choy, marguerites, osteospermum and cream alyssum

bird’s nest fern, lime selaginella, hosta Sum and Substance, green selaginella

succulents and herbs

tomatoes and weeping rosemary

shade planting at the shop

lettuce, parsley, and violas

rosemary and alyssum

meadow flowers in a wood trough

Strawberries in a moss lined galvanized wire box, looking good.

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Sizing Up The Situation

We are a good week or so into our container planting season. The location of the planters or the light and available water drives the selection of the plants. Sizing up the situation is key to successful container plantings. This pair of planters are tall and wide, as they needed to be,  placed in front of substantial stone pillars. Their narrow depth is friendly to the fact that they are placed on a walkway. It is easy to see why my clients selected them. What plants did they ask for? These triple ball eugenia topiaries came in a 1 gallon pot. They would fit. Their shape addresses the formality of the entrance, and they add some much needed height and scale set against the mass of stone. Eugenias are also very tolerant of the shade cast by the north side of the house. There were at least 3 good reasons to plant them. When designing and choosing plants for containers, spend some time assessing your conditions.      The interior of this front porch has a very high roof overhead. Add a northern exposure to the roof overhead means the shade here is serious shade. The porch is massive, and overscaled. Lots of stone and iron flank a pair of dark wood doors. This location asks for very shade tolerant plants with bold texture and good size that would soften and complement the architecture.  The leaves of the lime dracaena “Janet Craig” will burn with the slightest exposure to sun. But in a place like this, they will thrive. The chartreuse leaves brighten the shade. They are striking in an architectural way.

The purple and white flowering streptocarpus is a relative to African violets, and likewise thrives in low light. Given its diminutive size, it is most effective in a mass, as a supporting cast member in a container. The bird’s nest ferns are tropical, meaning they are not hardy in my zone. They offer big and strong mass, shape, and texture to a container planting, while asking for little in the way of light. The black tubes on the porch steps are irrigation lines which will provide water to the containers.  No rain falls here given the roof, so all watering must be done mechanically, or by hand. We run the tubes through the bottom and out the top when we plant the pots as a courtesy to the irrigation contractor. Last but not least is the selection of the containers.  They are of simple shape and smooth texture, which contrasts to the visual complexity of the stone, iron, and glass.  The dark color echoes the dark wood doors, and visually defers to the plants.

This deeply shaded and constantly wet spot was the perfect place for a large scale container. Everything that ever got planted in this ground promptly drowned.  The caladiums and ferns tolerate the the shade, and their striking texture and color help to keep all eyes off the soggy dirt. I have on occasion planted sanseverias in the dirt. They never looked entirely happy, nor did they grow, but they lived. A container is a great idea for a place where nothing else wants to grow. Consider containers for those stubbornly bare spots. A soil and drainage structure above ground can circumvent poor conditions.

This painted brick chimney features a very interesting brick applique, quite unlike any I have ever seen. It thus asks for an arrangement of containers and plants that will not obstruct a view of that feature. The green and white under plantings emphasize that white brick. The triple ball Green Mountain boxwood topiaries can be planted in the ground for the winter, and will only get better with age. I would guess that these boxwood topiaries would would be fine in these lead pots for a number of years.  The white mandevillea will loosen up the look a little, although I will advise my client to clip every once in a while.

This contemporary landscape is dominated by a long and tall corten steel wall. Both the steel and the stone will absorb a lot of heat.  The mid century modern pots are mid sized at the top, and small sized at the bottom. This situation calls for drought resistant plants. As for style, the wild and rangy rosemarys are good against the geometry established by the wall, bench, and terrace. The wide growing small felted leaves of the variegated licorice, and the cloud of tiny blooms from the euphorbia at the bottom will soften the look, without obscuring the shape of the planters.

A container all on its own, well away from a porch or wall, asks for some volume and mass. Once this Limelight hydrangea topiary grows out and blooms, this 24″ by 24″ container will have a living tall and wide presence.  The petunias, white phlox and variegated licorice will provide a wide and soft cushion below, in contrast to those big coarse hydrangea leaves. As the container is 30″ tall, there is room for the roots of a shrub to go deeper than the typical annual plant. The grass, ground cover, gravel, and stone are all on the same level-the ground plane. A tall container and a statuesque central and defining plant that represents the landscape on an entirely different level is particularly effective. Formal landscapes ask for equally formal container plantings.

This client owns a pair of particularly fine and detailed bronze urns. The recent planting was designed to never obstruct or impinge on the view of the urns. The white mandevillea will grow up, and provide some green company to the porch columns. The white sunpatiens will flush out, and grow wide.

This small front porch does have a roof, but it does face south. This tall pot has a very small planting area.  A tree form fuchsia with long and graceful arms readily fits in the small space. The petunias and licorice will not thrive to the extent they do in full sun-but in this situation, restrained growth will be good.

This delicate wire planter on legs is also placed on a covered porch, facing east. The pink caladiums will flush out, as will the button ferns. This will soften the blocky look of the walls and floor. The container is light enough to be taken out for some overhead light once in a while. The creeping jenny will cascade. A little judicious pruning will help keep that jenny narrow.

These large Italian terra cotta pots occupy a partly shady corner on a terrace that occupies most of the floor space. Small beds permitted the planting of Boston ivy, and climbing roses, but containers provide an opportunity to really warm up the space. The fuchsias will bloom all summer in this protected location, as will the sunpatiens. These containers were planted on May 9 for an event on May 12. There would be no time for growing.  So we planted gallon pots and baskets rather than 4″ pots. This is an equally good strategy if you need to plant seasonal containers late. Many greenhouse 2 or 3 crops a season, or an edited selection of annual plants in 6″ or 8″ pots. A new terrace, a birthday gift of a pot, a new house, an engagement party-there are plenty of good reasons to plant late.

In the meantime, all of the containers we planted for spring look terrific right now. These plants are thriving in our cool weather. I like to plant seasonally. By this I mean the best place for heat loving annuals right now in my zone is a greenhouse. Deciding when to plant is an important decision.  I will do most of my container plantings in the next 3 weeks.

Rob placed this basket full of white gerbera daisies next to this antique stone cistern. I think he did a great job of sizing up this situation.

 

 

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