The Gift Of Shade

shady neighborhoodLarge growing trees, commonly known as shade trees, take a lot of time and space to achieve a mature size. They need to be carefully sited, as they will eventually tower over a good bit of the square footage around them.  The maples that many cities planted at one time or another in the tree lawn – that space between the sidewalk and the street – eventually suffer. Their roots dislike being confined as much as their canopies. Many of those badly placed trees are gone, or in a serious state of decline.  Parks are a better place for the biggest growing trees to grow and thrive. But shady streets in the heat of the summer are welcomed by all.

shade (7)The shade that trees provide in the landscape is a topic of great interest right now.  We have had week after week of glaringly sunny skies and searing heat. Most lawns have turned a parched shade of beige. The temperature at 6am is too hot. Added to that mix – no rain, and no breeze. Our planting taking place in sunny locations is miserable for both the planters and the plantees. Keeping a new planting watered is a next to full time job. Even work that was done weeks ago needs to be monitored closely. A new plant not yet rooted into the surrounding soil can perish quickly if not kept watered. High heat means that water is evaporating from the soil at a rapid rate. A hedge of DeGroot Spire arborvitaes we planted recently is on a drip irrigation system that runs twice a day. The soil was dead dry and dusty down 36″ when we planted. It took over 2 weeks of this irrigation program for moisture to reach down to the bottom of those root balls. I have spent a lot of time on the business end of a hose, both at work and at home. Last but not least, if I am outside for any length of time, I am looking for a shady spot to land.

shade (6) The Princeton Gold maples in my yard, pictured above, were originally planted to screen the neighboring properties. This maple is a medium sized tree, meaning that it tops out at about 35 feet. There are lots of smaller growing trees suitable for smaller properties that can endow your landscape with shade. My maples have done a great job of making this part of my yard private. But with that privacy came a lot of shade. At first, that annoyed me. This summer in particular I am enjoying the shade they cast. After work, this shady part of the garden, and the fountain spraying water into the air makes a 90 degree day tolerable. A summer day when I cannot get out into the garden after work is a miserable day indeed. Though I like the freedom of choice that a sunny site provides, there are plenty of reasons to value a shady spot. There are not so many shrubs and perennials that will thrive in shade to this degree.  I grow hellebores, sweet woodruff, Japanese Beech ferns, European ginger, pachysandra and yews in this tree dominated garden. It is subdued, and mostly green. It is a fine place to meet and relax on a hot summer day.

shade (1)Dogwoods are usually open growing, but this particular tree in my yard is dense in leaf. From the vantage point of my upper deck, the cupped and curling leaves are an expression of distaste for the heat. There is nothing I can do to mitigate the temperature, but I do keep this tree well watered. My decks face east, which means they are shaded by the house in the late afternoon and evening. A terrace you intend to use located on the south or west side of a garden will need a shade scheme.  No doubt a canopy of leaves is cooler than an umbrella. To paraphrase from Wikipedia, only 2 or 3 percent of the water plants take up from the soil is used for growth and metabolism. Transpiration or the evaporation of water from stems and leaves is associated with the process of photosynthesis.  “Transpiration also cools plants, changes osmotic pressure of cells, and enables mass flow of mineral nutrients and water from roots to shoots”. The transpiration process that governs the life of leaves in the heat of the summer will cool you, too.

shade (2)A pair of magnolia planted on either side of my driveway have grown together overhead, and shade this spot in the drive.  If I park my car here on a hot sunny day, the time it takes to cool off is vastly less that if I had parked it in the sun. Though it was 95 degrees the day I took this picture, it even looks cooler. Extreme and long standing heat is a deterrent to gardening, but it can also be a call to provide shelter.

shade (9)A staircase going to the kitchen door has a less dense canopy of shade, cast by a pair of dogwoods. There are plenty of plants that tolerate this level of light.  In addition to the usual hostas and ferns, I am also able to grow campanulas, lady’s mantle, and acanthus.

shade (4)A shade garden holds its moisture much longer than a garden in full sun. A thorough soaking once in a while is all it needs. An established garden sheltered by trees can take advantage of moisture in the soil around it. An irrigation system or sprinkler is fine for maintaining an adequate level of moisture in the soil. This is not to say that the most established of trees do not suffer during periods of no rain. The interior leaves of many shade trees will turn yellow, and drop, when the soil is too dry.  The tree will jettison interior leaves in an effort to conserve what precious little water there is for those outer leaves that actively photosynthesize. Our little leaf lindens at the shop drop interior leaves the moment they are dissatisfied with our sandy too well draining soil. We water them with a small rotating sprinkler called a poppy, made by Nelson. Our version is every bit of 20 years old. Poppy Sprinkler  It can be turned down such that all of the water your tree needs will soak in. London Plane trees are notorious for dropping their leaves in hot and dry weather. Their larger than life leaves have more opportunities to transpire.

shade in the garden (1)We have been in the process of planting a large shade garden for a client. The area is large enough for kerria japonica pleniflora, aralia cordata Sun King, thalictrums, and dwarf oak leaf hydrangeas. The dappled light means we have a wide range of plants that will thrive here. No small amount of the installation has been the watering in. We watered again today.  And celebrated a few hours of rain this afternoon.

shade in the garden (5)Not only will this garden be lovely when it has some age, it was a relief to have some shade during the planting. Though the irrigation for this garden will be installed this Tuesday next, every plant will need water directly to their root balls until they have had time to grow roots into the surrounding soil. New plants need lots of hand watering. The old spruce are a huge help.  They take the brunt of the sun and heat, and protect the new plants underneath them.

shade (5)Milo’s long black fur coat looks hot as blazes. He is not a fan of this heat.  He is much happier when we have 28 degree weather.  Though I know that fur to a point insulates him from the heat, he has a considerable appreciation for a shady place. Wherever he can get it. The gardener in me is taking a cue from him.









A New Landscape In Detroit

Our garden cruise July 17 raised $14,470.00 for the Greening of Detroit. Nine years of tours means we have raised $107,500.00 in support of their mission; I could not be more pleased about that. One of the landscapes and gardens on tour this year is a project we have been working on for several years. It was finished just days before this year’s tour. My clients support and identify with The Greening-who has had their eye on the reforestation of Detroit, sponsorship of urban farms, and education regarding the environment since the mid eighties. I should preface my remarks about their landscape design with a few more words about my clients. They purchased this house built in the 1920’s with their eyes wide open about what would be required to restore the house and the grounds. It has taken some time, but they stuck with it start to finish. I admire this about them. They are young people, with loads of energy, and a commitment to the city of Detroit.  Their neighborhood, known as Palmer Woods, is on the north side of the city. A raft of old homes built in the early part of the century are now owned, prized, and looked after by a diverse group of people who love the old homes and graciously sized properties. They are a group of people whom I greatly respect.

DSC_7533I did post about the installation of their driveway some time ago. Should you be interested in that earlier post, type  A New Gravel Driveway  into the search line. It was difficult to convince them to install a drive court in front of the house.  They were concerned it would take up too much room. That it would be the beginning and the end of the front yard landscape. I was not concerned about this, but explaining to a landscape client what drives your design is part of the process.  It is a long way to walk from the street to the front door. The driveway to the the rear is narrow, and is only useful as a way to get to the garage. My clients have lots of friends, and entertain regularly. The front yard was large enough to take a house side parking area.  I know they like it now, as they and their guests are using it. The landscape from the street side does a great job of screening that drive court from the road, without obstructing the view to their beautiful home.  The shape of the bed mimics the shape of the parking area, which features a long shallow curve in the middle. The curve is planted with dwarf red barberry on the street side, and allium “Millenium” on the inside. This is my first time ever specifying dwarf red barberry. The color perfectly responds to the color of the brick on the house. At a maximum height of 24″, they endow the view of the front of the house. That barberry atropurpurea nana traverses the front yard from the north drive to the south drive. The lawn area on the street side is just that-lots of lawn, punctuated by a pair of katsura trees.

DSC_7624The interior of the drive court reveals what the street view conceals.  There is ample space for parking to the left. To the right, a driveway that makes it possible to to drop off guests or packages at the front door, or continue on to the right, and through the port cochere, to the garage.

RR the finish 2016 (3)The front facade of the house is anything but symmetrical. The oversized front walk centers the view on the front door. At the out skirts of that walk, a quartet of Jackie boxes made by the Branch Studio further emphasize the entrance. The treatment of the front door organizes the space. The red and lime color scheme-a request from my clients.

RR the finish 2016 (2)The landscape near the house is largely handled by big blocks of boxwood, and an outside frame of Nova yews. The dwarf and feathery Allium senescens is planted on the front edge of a pair of gorgeous classically styled concrete benches, while blocks of allium Millenium frame them on either side. Allium Millenium is a carefree perennial with gorgeous foliage all season long that deserves a spot in any perennial garden. The massive planter in the side yard is planted with an equally massive banana. That banana is all the more striking, in textural contrast to the hedge of DeGroot Spire arborvitae planted behind it on the north side lot line.

RR the finish 2016 (4)The gravel driveway that goes under the port cochere to the garage switches to concrete aggregate, in the back of the house.  Going in and out of a garage, and the walk from the garage to the house asks for a material that can withstand lots of backing up, and moving forward, traffic, and snow removal. Concrete aggregate is a favorite material used in concert with contemporary homes, but it is equally friendly with homes of great age. It has the look of gravel, with the serviceability of concrete.

RR the finish 2016 (5)A new brick wall separates the garage, and the coming and goings of several vehicles, from the back yard. Any landscape design needs to address the need, while treasuring the look. This is not always so easy. It is important that the landscape be just as functional as it is beautiful. The back yard is screened from the garage and pavement by a substantial brick wall. That brick wall was original to the house, and in great disrepair when my clients signed their purchase agreement.  Given that the wall would have to be rebuilt, we changed its contours to fit the new landscape.

RR the finish 2016 (6)My client was about to install a small rectangular terrace off the back of the house.  I asked that they consider another idea. I suggested that they go big and wide with the rear terrace-a substantial terrace that would not only include the entrance and exit from the kitchen, but also a way to access the screened porch. I am happy that they went wide. A generous gesture in the landscape always gets noticed, and appreciated.

RR the finish 2016 (7)This is the first round swimming pool I have ever designed. It seemed right for the space. At 20 feet in diameter, it would not overly dominate the landscape. The ground rose naturally from the house to the rear lot line. The yard is formally terraced into two levels by the pool, and stairs on either side. The garden behind the pergola sweeps around to the right, and falls naturally on a gentle slope to the grade set by the house. This past year was all about the design and fabrication of the wall, pool, pergola, spa, and the house and pool terraces. Late last fall, a hedge of American arborvitae were planted on the rear lot line. Buck and his group at Branch fabricated the pergola you see in the distance.

RR the finish 2016 (8)The rear of the pool deck is spacious enough for lounges. The circular center area under the roof is large enough for a table and chairs. The floor of the pergola is gravel. This made it easy to plant clematis on the front poles, and grapes at the back.  The lattice panels on the pergola provide another layer of privacy. My client chose the location for the pair of pots planted with hydrangeas on standard. Next year, the hydrangeas planted in front of the arborvitae, and behind the pergola will make a strong visual relationship to the hydrangeas in pots.  We will plant them in the ground for the winter season.

RR the finish 2016 (14)All of the furniture was chosen by my clients, as was the chandelier.

RR the finish 2016 (9)the view from the screened porch door

RR the finish 2016 (19)raised planters for vegetables and herbs

RR the finish 2016 (16)the view from the pool terrace to the house

RR the finish 2016 (17) dining table and chairs outside the screened porch

RR the finish 2016 (20)sweet autumn clematis on the pergola

RR the finish 2016 (21)The view from shade garden towards the front yard

RR the finish 2016 (1)the view to the street

2016 garden cruise (3)This could be my favorite feature of the landscape.  The stone contractor created this walkway to the back yard from limestone and brick original to the house.  I call it the history walk. Every time I see it, I am reminded of how much my clients did to restore and preserve this historic building, and add themselves to that mix.













The John Davis Roses

climbing roses (11)One of the many benefits of planting summer containers for a client that has had a landscape and garden designed and installed by us is the chance to see how that landscape is growing on. This client is 45 minutes away, so my visits are not all that often. I will drive out whenever there is a problem that needs some attention. But this yearly visit is never about trouble. It is about adding some seasonal plants to a garden that is the apple of its owner’s eye. She not only looks after it, she truly enjoys every bit of it. Planting her containers in June is a pleasure. The soil is warm, and the plants that have spent the early weeks of the summer protected from unpredictable weather in a greenhouse look great, and will handle the transplanting without issue. Though we planted 21 containers today, the big news of the day were the John Davis roses.

June 13, 2016 055John Davis is one of the Canadian Explorer Series of extremely hardy and disease resistant roses developed by Agriculture Canada in the 1960’s.  The goal was to hybridize garden roses that would not only withstand cold northern winters, but would perform beautifully in spite of it. John Davis is hardy in zone 3-think of that. There are quite a few roses in the series, all of which are good garden plants in my zone, meaning they are tough plants that shrug off the fungal diseases roses are famous for. They bloom as if there were no tomorrow. John Davis is a great choice for a not too tall climber that has the look of an old fashioned rose more often seen in England or California.

climbing roses (6)This is the 4th June for the John Davis climbing roses planted on each post of a pair of long pergolas that frame the view from the back of the house to the lake. Each was planted with a companion clematis, which range in color from white to dark purple. The clematis do not seem to mind the competition from these vigorous roses. Though John Davis usually tops out at about 7 feet, these roses are up 9.5 feet off the ground, and have started to grow over the roof of the pergola. I will be interested to see if they keep adding more height. I have planted John Davis in a number of gardens, almost all with great success.  This group has seemed happy from the moment they were planted.  The soil is heavy clay, and does not give its moisture up easily.  There is a constant breeze from the lake, which I suspect has something to do with the fact that I never see mildew or black spot on the plants. They get a yearly dose of rose tone, and extra water when they need it. All that remains is to stand back in June, and take in the bloom.

June 13, 2016 065The lax canes have had some support to attach them to the pergola poles, but that is not visible. The flowers are not particularly large, but there are thousands of them on each one of these plants. I am surprised that this series of roses is not more readily available in my area.   The roses we have available at Detroit Garden Works, including John Davis, had to be custom grown. I made arrangements for that almost a year ago.

June 13, 2016 047I understand the reluctance to grow roses.  They are ungainly plants that no one would have, but for the bloom and perfume.  They routinely fail.  I mitigate that tendency by planting the graft 2 to 3 inches below ground. No gardener wants diseased plants in their garden. Choosing roses with a clear track record of resistance to disease and hardiness is educated buying. The Canadian Explorer roses might be worth a look. I find that they are reliable in every regard.

June 13, 2016 110Roses in bloom like this is a garden experience like no other for a gardener who greatly values romance. Roses invoke romance like no other garden plant. I would go on to say that the big idea here is that any garden plant in the right place and endowed with the proper care will thrive. So much about the success of a garden depends on a thorough understanding of the horticultural requirements. I am rarely perfect in this regard. I have been known to short some greatly needed sun to sun loving perennials. I have placed my share of part sun perennials in shade that is too deep. I have exposed shade plants to blistering sun, in the hopes they will adjust.  I have planted perennials that require perfect drainage in soggy soil, in hopes I could skate by.  Suffice it to say that everything I have leaned about planting perennials has come from the plants.  Any plant that is unhappy will speak back to me, if I am inclined to observe, and listen.

June 13, 2016 080These John Davis roses in bloom are extraordinary. I can only claim that I somehow managed to put the right plant in the right place, in the beginning. What had happened over the past 4 years is a constellation of events attended by nature, and looked after by an extraordinary client. This does not happen so often. Thanks, Harriet.

June 13, 2016 053The day planting containers here was a moment I shall not soon forget.

climbing roses (10)June garden

climbing roses (8)Venus dogwoods in bloom

climbing roses (1)John Davis

climbing roses (7)The greater garden is just as beautiful.

climbing roses (5)oxeye daisies and amsonia “Blue Ice”

climbing roses (4)looking towards the lake

climbing roses (9)A June garden-what could be better?



May Days

the spring garden (7)If you are a gardener in my zone, there is nothing quite like the experience of May. The winter lets go reluctantly. Early March was warm and friendly. Late March, April and the first two weeks of May were chilly enough to put on a jacket, and zip it up. When I went to work yesterday morning, the air temperature was 37 degrees. These are personal observations. The dormant trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs have been responding to physical changes in the temperature and day length in a different way.  Once all of the signs suggest it is time to bud out, leaf out, or emerge from the ground, the plants go for broke. They don’t much respond to daily changes. An apple tree in full bloom has next to no defense against a string of below freezing temperatures. For sheer drama, the spring is hard to beat.

American dogwood It is so hard to believe this is already the 23rd day of May. For 23 days, I have been observing the process of spring.  The hellebores and crocus emerge early.  They are long finished blooming.  The daffodils have had a very long run, given the past month of cold nights. Only a few straggling blooms remain.   The tulips were challenged by the warm and then the cold, and then the May snow-it was not their best year.  The magnolias have already shed most of their flowers. My American dogwoods are in full bloom-how incredibly beautiful they are this spring. All of the evergreens are pushing that lush lime green spring growth that makes my gardening heart beat a little faster.  The azaleas and lily of the valley in my north side garden are blooming in much the same fashion as they have for the past 22 years.

the spring garden (8)The few perennials that I have are growing with abandon.  The lady’s mantle, catmint, and delphiniums are especially robust. That growing with abandon is a good description of the spring season.  I do not have a fancy landscape or garden. It is an ordinary trial and true urban garden. It is shot through with early spring weeds. There are places where the design is less than stellar, or not apparent. Woe the design move that is not visually apparent!  There are more than a few places that need updating. There is no time to think about that now.  The spring is the time to enjoy each and every plant emerging from the strangle hold of winter.

spring garden (23)To my delight, a modest stand of sweet woodruff, and campanula porscharskayana has completely covered the ground. The leafy remains of some old daffodils are grassy good contrast to the plants covering the ground. The weeds in the path – they are growing with abandon too. The obsession with pulling my weeds and cleaning up will come later. I am wholly engaged in watching the plants do what they do.

the spring garden (2)I have only 3 plants of variegated lily of the valley. None of them have particularly increased in size over the past 3 years. This plant has two stalks this year-how great is that? These three plants, growing in spite of being overrun by ivy, may be small, but they are an important part of my experience of spring.

the spring garden (14)The joy of designing is different. It so much more about architecture, flow, and sculpture.  It is much about line, direction, mass, texture, color, and function. Though I am designing for clients, and have done so regularly since the beginning of March, my spring is all about the plants.

the spring garden (13)I live in an urban neighborhood. Some landscapes and gardens are well designed.  Other properties have nothing much that could be attributed to great design, but every one of their plants is growing just the same as mine. If they falter from neglect, that sorry situation will become apparent later. I take several things from this.  Nature has its own independent agenda. And, those gardeners who are more interested in plants than design have my respect. At this moment in the season, I am right with them. Even though the grasses and hardy hibiscus will not be fully grown and in their glory until much later, watching the process by which they broach the spring is every bit as interesting as their flowers.  The spring means good things for every square inch of ground from which a plant might grow.

the spring garden (16)The parrotias are leafing out so fast, the leaves are wilted from the effort.

the spring garden (10)The ferns and hostas are in that gawky adolescent phase.

spring garden (29)The Princeton gold maple leaves are the most shocking shade of chartreuse imaginable.  Later in the summer, that lime green will fade to green.

spring garden (26)Everywhere I look something is growing.

spring garden (16) - CopyA seedling Helleborus argutifolius has taken 4 years to grow to blooming size.  A mild winter means I have had the please of three blooming stalks for over a month now.

spring garden (10) - CopyWhat great May days we are having.