The 2016 Garden Cruise

Detroit Garden WorksFor those of you who are not aware that we sponsor a garden tour every year to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit-here are the details.  The Greening of Detroit is an organization that has been planting trees, teaching good environmental practices, hiring young people with poor prospects for summer jobs to water and weed, and sponsoring urban farms since 1989.They have made a mission of the health of the environment, and the health of the people who live in the city of Detroit for 25 years.

the garden cruiseFrom the Greening of Detroit website:  “Between 1950 and 1980, around 500,000 trees were lost in Detroit to Dutch elm disease, urban expansion and attrition. Troubled by this deforestation of a great city, Elizabeth Gordon Sachs devoted herself to reforesting the city. She played a key role in the 1989 founding of The Greening of Detroit. During that same time, economic constraints prohibited the city from replacing those trees. The Greening of Detroit was founded in 1989 with a single focus in mind – restore the city’s tree infrastructure.”

DSC_7282“In 2015 Detroit successfully emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in the United States  and swiftly began the long journey toward financial stability. This is no easy feat, but a necessary one for survival and transformation. In its heyday during the 1950s, Detroit grew to accommodate almost 2 million residents. Today we are a city of less than 700,000 residents amidst miles of vacant land. Yesterday’s industrial urban center will become tomorrow’s model of a greener, cleaner city.”

DSC_7286“Our focus at The Greening of Detroit is to enhance the quality of life for Detroiters by repurposing the land to create beautiful and productive green spaces. We involve Detroiters in the process through community engagement, education and jobs.”

DSC_7285“The trees we plant, the gardens and green spaces we create and maintain, and the workforce training programs we operate all provide economic, environmental and social benefits to the communities we serve. But most of all, we inspire visitors and residents to imagine a new paradigm for the city of Detroit.”

DSC_7292“We are committed to building stronger relationships in the communities we serve. We assist neighborhood groups in forming block clubs; visioning green strategies for vacant lots; and coordinating neighborhood clean-ups, tree plantings and community gardens. We recruit Detroit residents for job training and work in green skill jobs.”  I can attest to the fact, given my association with them over the past decade, that they have worked tirelessly for the environmental health of the city of Detroit and its residents. I greatly admire their efforts. I more admire that they have worked towards their mission for 25 years. They are a serious group. Further interested?

thegardencruise.orgDeborah Silver and Company, our landscape design/build firm, Detroit Garden Works, a retail store that specializes in containers and garden ornament of every period and aesthetic persuasion, and the Branch Studio, which fabricates heirloom quality pots, garden furniture, and garden ornament in steel steeped in the midwest tradition of fine manufacturing – all three of my companies support the mission of the Greening of Detroit. We support their mission with words, but we also host a garden tour once a year to raise money for their programs. We have raised to date 93,000.00 to date in support of their mission.

IMG_9409Though I sit on their board, I am not so happy or useful attending meetings.  In 2008, I decided to sponsor a garden tour of landscapes of my design or influence, in an effort to raise money for them. 100% of the cost of the tour tickets goes to the Greening. A tour ticket is 35.00. A tour ticket including our after tour dinner and cocktails, and live music is 50.00. We handle the cost of that afterglow dinner party on our own. It is worth the price of admission to see what summer cocktails Rob has in store for this tour, in addition to his stellar gin and tonics.

IMG_9415We send the entire proceeds of all of our ticket sales to the Greening.  Any other expenses, we handle. If you are a local gardener with a keen interest in design, and have a mind to contribute to an organization that has the best interests of an organization devoted to the greening of Detroit, come tour with us. The entire price of your ticket will go to an organization whose mission is dead to right. We sponsor an afterglow dinner and drinks at Detroit Garden Works, starting at 4pm. Our garden cruise has a website. You can read about this year’s landscapes scheduled to be on tour Sunday July 17 here:  The 2016 Garden Cruise   Any questions about the tour that the website does not answer?  Call us.   Detroit Garden Works

IMG_9226 (3)Every one of the 6 landscapes on tour is worth seeing-I can promise you this. Our light dinner and drinks, replete with live music from Tola at Detroit Garden Works, is an event all of us enjoy. To those of you who came from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Minnesota last year-thank you.  I hope you all will come again this year. If you have not been on our tour, consider it. The Greening of Detroit, and our companies who support their work, will thank you. We have a city we love, and a city we support. Hope to see you July 17.








the branch studio fountain 2016Every winter, the Branch Studio fabricates a new fountain or two. Some years that fountain is classical in form. Classical garden fountain style interpreted in steel interests me, and our clients. Our fountains come ready to fill, plug in, and turn on. There is something about water in the garden that enchants, so I like to make it easy as possible to have. Some years our winter fabricated fountain is contemporary. We have in the past fabricated an elliptical and rectangular steel fountain with a congested steel rod surface. The rectangular fountain has over a mile of steel rods welded to its exterior, and weighs close to 4000 pounds. Have you seen it?  The elliptical fountain has been placed in a private garden. In the interest of fabricating a one of a kind fountain, our newest contemporary fountain is a shape we have never done before.
The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (3)This winter, our contemporary fountain from Branch is spherical, and features our signature stick like and prickly surface. A pair of steel hemispheres, 64 inches in diameter,  got welded together. We sliced the top third off that welded hollow sphere.  The remaining 2/3rds of a sphere became the armature for this fountain. Owen and Riley, with followup from Sal, spent a good bit of the winter welding sticks of all different sizes to the surface. Our group of companies, Deborah Silver and Company, who designs and installs landscapes, Detroit Garden Works, who retails just about everything beautiful and useful for a garden and landscape, and The Branch Studio, who fabricates whatever garden ornament a gardener or landscape designer might dream up for a project –  hope to help every gardener and landscape designer get where they want to be with their landscape. But in the dead of the winter, we just express ourselves, and keep our fingers crossed there will be a client who hears what we have to say.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (1)Branch created this fountain for the garden strictly on speculation. Why would I speculate?  All of the Branch fabricators, and the studio head, Buck, are very creative people. They need a project once in a while that allows them to stretch their wings, and fabricate something new. This is a breath of fresh air for our group. It creates excitement in the studio. And is is good for a client seeking a very unusual and one of a kind ornament for the garden.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (2)The Branch group handled the fabrication of this fountain like they were born to make it. Once the stick making had covered the surface, a decision was made to leave the 6″ wide return plain. The contrast of one complex surface to the other plain one is striking and pleasing. The fountain jet will be fabricated next. The jet pipe will mimic the spherical shape and construction of the fountain. Water from the jet pipe splashing over a rod steel covered sphere will be quite musical.  The sound of a fountain is a considerable part of its attraction.

20160419_124028 (2)Clients considering the purchase of Branch containers are concerned about the longevity, and the durability of their resistance to rust, and rightfully so. Everything we manufacture is meticulously hand fabricated with heavy gauge hot rolled steel, with a lifetime of service in mind. The cost of them reflects this. What we do to prevent rust is considerable. All of our containers, fountains, and garden ornament are sent out for galvanizing after it is fabricated. Our galvanizing company has a zinc tank  6 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and forty feet long. This shape has everything to do with the fact that most steel that comes here for galvanizing are steel beams using in the construction of building, bridges, and so on. The plant manager was dubious the day we arrived with our first load of garden containers. 13 years later they know we are as serious about rust prevention as we are about beauty. We pay for galvanizing by the pound.  Our scale at Branch only weighs objects up to 2000 pounds.  This fountain went over the 2000 pound mark.  We won’t know what it weighs until after the galvanizing is complete. The fountain is lifted with a bridge crane via steel straps in preparation for the dip.

20160419_124120This tank holds 824,000 pounds of molten zinc, heated to about 900 degrees. The galvanization process completely immerses the raw steel object in molten zinc, very slowly.  The shock of the heat to the steel is considerable.  Steel which is not thick enough can be damaged by the plating process. The molten zinc coats every surface with a skin of zinc. How much of a skin?  This fountain will weigh 20% more once it is galvanized. This means that a 3000 pound object will emerge with 500 pounds of zinc coating its surface.The fountain was lowered into the tank ever so slowly.

20160419_124757 The shop foreman made a trip up to Branch to inspect what we had a mind to galvanize, before we took the fountain to them. An object of this size and complexity is a once a year project for us. There are logistical issues that need to be addressed in advance. There was plenty of discussion about what it would take to get the fountain to sink slowly and evenly. An object that floats on top of the molten zinc is a problem object. Our big spherical fountain had lots of holes drilled in it, which will be repaired with galvanized steel discs once the galvanizing process is complete. Our garden boxes have loose galvanized plate steel bottoms which are added after the boxes are galvanized. A box with no bottom sinks in the zinc bath.

20160419_124729The fountain took as long to emerge as it did to descend.

20160419_124500A molten zinc tank always has floating hardened zinc and impurities floating on the surface.  Prior to and during the galvanizing of this fountain, the surface of the molten zinc got raked, so those impurities would not be deposited on the surface. Occasionally a glob of something will stick to an object.  If it is chipped off, or ground down too hard, the integrity of the galvanizing might be breached.

20160419_124541If a galvanized object from us develops a small rust spot, it will do so within 2 weeks of being outdoors. That spot can be repaired with cold galvanizing compound. A breach in the galvanizing is a rare occurrence.

20160419_124549The moment any steel object emerges from a zinc bath sports a shiny as silver color. Once that object comes in contact with the air, that shiny surface begins to oxidize, and will become that dull gray color one usually associates with galvanized metal.

20160419_124649The process by which Branch fabricates, finishes, and sells their garden pots, fountains, pergolas and ornament is all about beautiful design and fabrication, and a thoughtful and serious finish that is unlikely to need any maintenance. My thanks to the plant manager for taking these pictures for me.

spherical Branch fountain (2)Back at Branch, the fountain is awaiting our final signature finish, which will give the steel that blue gray patina which is reminiscent of lead. Heather, who handles all of the Branch Studio inquiries, came with me for a look see today.

spherical Branch fountain (1)I am sure this fountain will be up and running soon.

Building The Lucerne Pergola

the Lucerne pergola (2)Phase 1:  Design, engineer, and build  Once Buck had my sketch for the pergola, there were a lot of drawings that would need to be done.  The CAD drawings would indicate the angles, the rolling radiuses, and the exact sizes of every piece of steel that would be necessary to fabricate the piece. Buck constructed the pergola full size – down to the last bolt hole – in the computer.

the Lucerne pergola (3)

the Lucerne pergola (4)

the Lucerne pergola (5)

the Lucerne pergola (6)

the Lucerne pergola (10)Buck’s crew put the base of the pergola together up side down, to be sure every piece fit together properly. Owen was the lead fabricator on the project, with help from Adam, Riley, Sal, LaBelle, and Buck.

the Lucerne pergola (8)Lattice panels were designed and fabricated as an open wall for the back of the pergola, and feature a steel ball detail.

the Lucerne pergola (9) Each of nine panels were hand fabricated and fitted to each opening.

setting the structure (7)The installation: setting the structure.  The bottom of the pergola was bolted in the rear to a seat wall of brick, through the bull nosed blue stone coping.

setting the structure (5)

setting the structure (8)

setting the structure (6)The top of the brick wall is seat height, and width.

setting the structure (4)

setting the structure (3)

setting the structure 2The front post were anchored to 42″ deep concrete footings.

setting the roof beam (7)Setting the roof beams was the most difficult part of the job.  Each half-beam was 12 feet in diameter, and was incredibly heavy.  A support bar made especially to hold these beams, and a loader was necessary to get these pieces to the proper height for bolting on.

setting the roof beam (6)

setting the roof beam (4)

setting the roof beam (3)

setting the roof beam (2)

setting the roof beam (1)

setting the structure 2

the roof (2)Setting the roof.  These pictures are not so swell, with all that sky behind the action.  The top of the finial is 17 feet off the ground.

the roof (3)

the roof (1)

the roof (4)

hanging the lattice panels (3)hanging the lattice panels

hanging the lattice panels (1)

hanging the lattice panels (4)

the finish (3)

Branch Studio pergolaThe finish

Branch Studio pergola (2)

Branch Studio pergola (3)

Branch Studio pergola (1)

the finish (1)5 of the 6 Branch Studio dudes

the finish (2)The two day installation consumed 110 hours of work on the part of all 6 members of Branch. My clients had the great idea to do a time lapse video of the installation-what a treat this is to watch! If you are interested in watching, click on the link below.

the Lucerne Pergola installation


A New Relationship

The Branch Studio

In July of 2004, I bought 7 acres of land which was home to a pair of buildings totaling 30,000 square feet.  The buildings, used in the past to service trolley cars and tricked out vans, had been unoccupied for years. My favorite part was the meadow-7 acres of weeds rippling in the breeze that had been untouched for years.  My more than favorite part was that one building had 2 operational 5 ton bridge cranes. Who taught me how to love bridge cranes?  Buck of course.  Why would I buy another building? I wanted to make ornament for the garden-from concrete, and steel.  Garden ornament that was not just beautifully designed, but of heirloom quality. Those bridge cranes would provide me with a very basic tool I would need-the ability to lift and maneuver very heavy things. The steel on my mind would need lifting gear. I had been fabricating concrete faux bois furniture, pots and garden ornament in the garage at Detroit Garden Works in the winter for a few years previous. I couldn’t help but get my feet wet. In the meantime, Detroit Garden Works had grown, and it needed the space that the landscape trucks and equipment were occupying.  We had gotten too big to house 2 companies in the same 3/4 acre. And we had an idea to make things for the garden. It was time to make a move.

Branch StudioI bought the building and land, not realizing what was to come-to make the property liveable and workable.  We needed a fire hydrant, and a parking lot for starters.  We needed a new furnace, and an electrical upgrade, and service on the overhead doors and bridge cranes. All of this work was accomplished as the landscape company was able to generate the income to fund them. Of course I had to pile it on. I  wanted to make terra cotta pots. Anything we made from concrete, steel, or terra cotta needed to be beautifully designed, and fabricated to an exacting standard. My attitude towards the garden ornament was no different than my attitude towards the landscape.  One at a time, thoughtfully designed, and beautifully executed.

DSC_1235By 2008, the US economy was in free fall. No one needs landscape design and installation to live. People were afraid to commit, as well they should have been.  My business contracted.  I am happy to say that my landscape practice was steady-but it was not growing one bit. There was no income left over to fund the Branch Studio enterprise.  Like many other businesses, all of the managerial people took substantial pay cuts.  Buck would spend the next 18 months handling everything at the Branch Studio on his own. He bought battery heated gloves, as we could not afford to heat the building much past 45 degrees in the winter. But he never thought to give in, or give up. My accountant-I waved him off when he suggested that I close the business. It was simple- I had an idea that I believed in, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take to make that idea viable.

Branch 3 2013We were busy sorting out and distilling who we were, and who we hoped to be. We made things that needed revision in size and proportion. All the right details are not always so obvious on the first or fifth go around. We were after a garden box that would turn heads.  Buck had already worked for 30 years as an architect, with a specialty in technical design. He and I both were after ornament that came from our history in Detroit.  The order of events was not so easy or predictable. We spent years in development, both on the design and the manufacturing side.

DSC_9098Tough times made it easier to decide what medium was our medium of choice. The head and guiding hand of the Branch Studio is Buck Moffat.  If you read this blog regularly, you know about him.  But for those of you who are not familiar with him, he was a Saarinen scholar in the department of architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1970’s. Though he is from Texas, he is all about a love for the history of Detroit style great industrial design and fabrication. The Branch Studio red book of creating precisely fabricated objects for the garden is of his invention, and I have him to thank for the fact that we now ship our garden boxes, fountains, pergolas and custom made ornament all over the country. The entire studio is confident that they will look great, and measure up to those people with a big love for the garden.


The Branch Studio hums along now, some 11 years after that beginning. We make contact with all kinds of people who value the landscape such that they would commit to very fine ornament for their gardens. We do a lot of custom work for garden designers and landscape architects. This is who we have always hoped to be. Purveyors of ornament for the garden that does indeed provide a lifetime of beauty and service.

DSC_9095This past fall I had a call from Restoration Hardware. They were interested in pursuing a relationship with Branch. If you have seen their 2015 outdoor catalog – or any of their catalogs for that matter – you’ll see that they have a very big idea about design and home, and are pursuing that idea with great focus and energy.  After much discussion, it was agreed that we would design and fabricate an all steel garden box exclusively for them. We shared the design of one of our fountain cisterns with them, and will fabricate it in 2 sizes exclusive to them. The experience of dealing with them has been extraordinary. They were very thorough about wanting to understand everything they could about our work, and our products. They were very generous with their time. They were determined to represent our work.

DSC_9103Based on my experience over the past six months, they are a very large company that takes great pains not to be or act like one. What shines through is their excitement, passion, and commitment to great design. And a mission to make that design available to a very wide audience. Their customer service is very personal, thoughtful, and all around awesome-that part of them is a mission they take very seriously.  If you are not familiar with them, I would encourage you to seek them out. Their new catalog for 2015 for interior furnishings for small spaces-brilliant.  Restoration Hardware

We are but a very small part of their group, but by invitation, we are a part of their vision. Thank you, Restoration Hardware.

So very happy to be here:  Deborah Silver for Restoration Hardware