Vernissage, 2018

 

Nine years ago, on April 1 of 2009, I published my very first Dirt Simple blog post, appropriately entitled “Vernissage”. As much as it was the commencement of my gardening season, it was a very special beginning for me. I published on this date the first journal style blog essay focused on garden and landscape design. To date I have published 1621 essays. Some are good, some are OK. Some are fun, and others I hope are challenging. You decide. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of organizing my thoughts, and writing them down in some in some coherent form. Every moment that I have spent photographing gardens, landscape projects, and plants for this column has been time in the garden that has made me slow down, observe and reflect.  More recently, my posts are longer, and more detailed-and fewer. I write when I think I have something to say. To follow is a revisited, rethought, and revised version of my first post in 2009, annotated in 2010, 2012, 2014,2015, 2016, 2017, and today-April 5 of 2018. Why April 5 instead of April 1?  We are still waiting on spring.  A colleague suggests maybe April 11.  We’ll see!

Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word 23 years ago from a client with whom I had a history spanning better than 25 years. She was an art collector. Our conversation over the years spoke to the value of nurturing long term interests and commitments.  I learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in the disposition of every square foot of her 8 acre property. The years flew by, from one project to the next.  I have favorite projects. An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th and early 20th century was exciting to research and plant. A grove of magnolia denudata “Ivory Chalice” came a few years later. Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and regrassed. I learned how to operate a bulldozer, I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on part of the sculpting of the ground. We had a relationship that I treasured.

There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm. Deterring deer became nearly a full time job. Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new. All these years later, there is a body of work generated by the two of us that I call the landscape – that living and breathing discussion about nature that draws every gardener closer to the knowledge that life is equal parts mystery and miracle.

She sold this property some years ago.  Change comes sooner or later to people and gardens alike. The landscape of her new and much smaller property was a design challenge for the both of us.  That new landscape was all about a conversation about letting go of what had brought her so much pleasure, and embracing the challenges posed by beginning over. Making that move with her from one large landscape to a city lot landscape was hard. That transition was not pretty for either of us. I am sorry to say that we broke up over the stress of this move. I am sure she felt just as bad as I did. This treasured client passed away this past winter.  It was more than hard for me to bid her farewell. I will never forget her. She encouraged me to be the best that I could be. She trusted my eye, and I loved hers. The following is in sincere regard and respect for Marianne.

In a broader sense, vernissage does refer to a beginning- any opening. The opening of the gardening season has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does, sooner or later. Every spring opening has its distinctive features. Some springs are notable for their icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground-this is not so unusual. Snow can be very much a part of the landscape in mid April.  This year, a different kind of no change of status. The rule of the day was more of the same. A warmish February, and then a stony March cold that has become a stony cold April. Night temperatures in the 20’s, wind and cold has kept all of our plans, and our plants, under wraps. We hope to begin outdoors next week.

I usually associate spring with the singing of the birds. I hardly noticed the singing this year, until this past week. The cold that has been reluctant to leave means there has been much more anticipation than experience.  I see a few small signs now. The snowdrops are in bloom, but they look bedraggled. The magnolia stellata is still silent. Perhaps there will be no flowers this year, but perhaps there will. To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature is a challenge I usually anticipate. It has been hard to rev up this time around. The last of this persistent cold reduces my spirit to a puddle on the ground. A client suggested yesterday that February had been steady at 60 degrees, and March seemed to last 60 days. How well said!  Spring is finally within sight, in a chilly and miserly sort of way. Everywhere I see fat buds, waiting for that signal to proceed.

Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea. I put it to paper. I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back. This is the most important part of my work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in. The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill. The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure. The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature. I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be years or more-the recovery. I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution of a garden seems to have ill defined beginnings, and no end.

VERNISSAGE (4)This spring will see an average share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs. The winter cold and wind was neither here nor there. I am still wearing winter clothes. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, I get my spring. I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my interest. The birds singing this 5th day of April l means it is time to take stock.

I can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can coax or stake what the heavy snow crushed.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Two years ago I removed 100 Hicks yews that have been in my garden for close to 20 years.  They have been ailing for years in a way that defied any remedy. I now have 60 feet of planter boxes, that will be mine to plant for a second season. I can look over what I did the first time, and make changes.  A pair of new arbors installed over a year ago hold roses, clematis and Dutchman’s Pipe. I see buds on those plants. I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good?

April 1 marked 26 years that Rob and I began working together, and 22 years that the shop has been bringing our version of the garden to all manner of interested gardeners. That relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden. In 1996, our shop was a one of a kind. We plan to keep it that way. No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir. Rob’s 2018 collection of hellebores and topiary plants is a delight to the gardening eye. Our annual Spring Fair, this Saturday.

We have begun to plant up spring pots.  What a relief to put our hands back in the dirt. We will soon be able to be outside in a light jacket-hooray.

We are ready for the new season.

On The Water Today

On the water today is a 40 foot container’s worth of goods for the garden that Rob bought in France last September. Some of what he bought is either antique or vintage. Other things are new. He buys what he treasures and can’t bring himself to leave behind. I like that about him. Our shipping agent in Paris collects what he buys wherever he shops in France. Some orders for new goods, no matter where they are sourced, are manufactured to order only. Thus he times his overseas shopping in the summer and early fall so we can take delivery prior to the spring season opening March 1. Once all of his purchases are packed and collected, arrangements are made to fill a container and send it on its way. It is incredible really, how much planning and traveling he does every year in support of amassing a beautiful and curated collection of objects.

Rob turns over all of his invoices and buy sheets to our internet sales and service manager, Heather D, once he returns to the states. Just one of her many responsibilities involves coordinating pickups, packing and shipping of goods that come to the shop from abroad and in the US. Doing business internationally is a complicated job. Rob places orders and buys overseas, but payment for goods whether old or new is arranged by wire transfer of funds to our shipping agent. Our agent pays for what Rob has purchased when they pick up. Heather takes the hand off from Rob, and coordinates the shipping as quickly and gracefully as possible. I greatly admire that she coordinates with him in such a way that our overseas buying results in moving many items from various places in a European country to our doorstep in an efficient and timely way.

The shipping from a big group of vendors/suppliers in Europe to our shop takes time. There are always problems, and negotiations. Heather handles this with aplomb. I am confident in saying that all of us representing Detroit Garden Works go to great lengths to bring beautiful garden ornament to our clients. Each person plays their part. Heather gets everything to us, best way. Rob sets the prices, and all of the sales staff pitch in to tag everything. Jenny photographs all of our new things for the Detroit Garden Works website. Dave, our business manager, handles the finances.

There are other jobs that need to be done. In preparation for our spring 2018 season opening, my entire landscape crew has been busy cleaning and repainting all of the shelving and trim with fresh color via several coats of paint. A new 8′ by 8′ skylight just inside our front door will be installed early next week. Our go to painter for difficult jobs has been engaged to repaint the ceilings in our front two showrooms-for the first time in 22 years. In preparation for his week’s long work, everything in those rooms had to be moved out, so a scaffolding on wheels can access every square inch of our 14 foot high ceilings. We are ready for him, ahead of his February 1st start date. We will be on hand to help him mask off the walls and the track lighting. As shipments and containers come in, the landscape company
will take on the unpacking  and placement of most every substantial and heavy item.

Only Heather would say that importing goods from the European continent to the US is easy. It is in fact a complicated affair, dealing with multiple vendors, import rules and regulations and shipping. She is incredibly focused and for good measure and balance, incredibly patient. She communicates via telephone and the internet in such a friendly and productive way. All of my group and all of our vendors truly appreciate her candor, good humor, and problem solving skills. She has spent a good deal of time researching and engaging companies that can deliver our goods intact, and in a timely way.

Heather also manages all of our internet inquiries, sales, and shipping arrangements for both Detroit Garden Works, and Branch  We do business nation wide, with individual clients, and design firms. She is client services oriented, and she is not afraid to take on a project that is difficult or complicated. She has made it her business to become familiar with everything we offer for sale, so she can speak knowledgeably about them, and answer questions.

Why all this talk about Heather? I regret to report that Heather D, our internet sales manager, has accepted a request from her brother to return to the family business. Even though she will be sorely missed, I wish her well. She has graciously agreed to stay long enough train a new person for her position. I am very glad that our new internet sales manager to be will have the benefit of all of the systems she has put into place the past three years.

If you or someone you know is interested in a fast paced and variable sales and client services position that evolves day to day, supported by a great and closely knit group of people with a big passion for the garden, let me know by email at dsilver@detroitgardenworks.com  I can email you the job description and responsibilities, so you can take a closer look at what would be involved. I am open to professional people from other fields, but a sense and interest in design is key.

I am looking forward to the season to come. We have three containers set to arrive in the next month. It is hard to believe that February in the garden industry could be chaotic, but in our case, it is.  We have to be ready for company March 1. The chaos is somewhat mitigated by the fun of seeing what is in all of those packages. It’s a birthday party for Detroit Garden Works.

I have had this photograph of a pair of French pots for months, but it is nothing what it will be to see them in person. I am very keen about these. A very traditional French pot shape has a decidedly contemporary look created by the glaze. Are these new or old? I have no idea, yet.

Rob is a fan of dolly tubs, and I understand why.  They are happy in a contemporary or traditional setting. The planting space is generous. They are lightweight and weatherproof.

This is a closeup of a new glaze from a French pottery. I can’t wait to see these in person too. These pots will be every bit as welcome in a variety of settings as a dolly tub, but they are heavy, and will need to come in for the winter in a northern garden. There will be someone who is not in the least bit daunted by this. For a while, I will be able to look at it, any time I choose. As for Heather, she gave a lot for the while she was with us. As much as I am reluctant to let go, there will be a new person who brings their own style and sensibility to the mix. I look forward to meeting them.

 

 

 

 

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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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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