The Maddening Middle Of March

The middle of March-would that I could sleep it off. March is still winter in Michigan. It is 30 degrees during the day, and can be in the teens at night. Like it will be tonight. Every gardener in my zone is marching to a tune that plays the following refrain over and over again-the winter is not over yet. No, not yet. Unlike that spectacular snow from a week ago, our snow now is dirty and frozen. The snow barely liquifies during the day, and then refreezes at night. Horrifyingly heavy icy globs of snow have bent over sections of my boxwood and yews in an alarming way. There is little movement towards the new season.  Maddening, this.

The soil is slowly thawing. And it is sopping wet. I would not step foot in my garden right now. My weight would drive precious oxygen out of the soil. Or I would crush the crown of a plant that I cannot see yet. March is all about those things that cannot be done yet. It is a terrible state of affairs to be ready for something that is on hold. Who likes to be put on hold? No one.

Rob organizes a helleborus festivalis at the shop in March, aimed at those gardeners who are struggling to cope with the last of the dregs of the winter. I admire his positive approach. As unwilling as I am to let go of my seasonal grumpiness, I can’t help but appreciate his representation of early spring. The cut branches of pussy willow, prairie and fan willow are beautiful. When the time comes, they will grace many a spring pot.

But the hellebores are the star of the show. Our greenhouse is chock full of them in bloom. We shop all over the country to bring this alternative experience of a Michigan March to gardeners in our area. Hellebores are amazingly adaptable to being kept indoors for a few weeks, until they can be planted in the garden in April. I will confess to have kept a collection of juvenile hellebores indoors until mid May before planting them out. They handled being stuck indoors for 2 months without a hitch.

The hellebores from growers in more temperate zones than ours provide respite from our inhospitable weather. The smell of green plants is such a relief. A lot of excited talk goes on in this greenhouse over the course of the day.

I have a special affection for the hellebore Madame Lemonnier. The flowers are exceptionally large and side facing. The plants are vigorous, and will form very showy clumps in the garden. The hellebores that are commonly known as Lenten Roses are completely hardy in our zone. My helleborus orientalis hybrids are buried under several feet of snow in my garden. But the cultivars in our greenhouse are a spectacular spring preview.

The hellebores we have available for sale right now cannot be planted into the garden for another 3 weeks. But they will thrive indoors until the worst of the winter weather has passed. If you can provide good light, air circulation, and water, they will keep you company until the both of you can be outdoors.

The dressiest way to enjoy them is to plant them up in containers. In this form, they can be moved outdoors to a front porch or terrace when the night temperatures moderate. Hellebore flowers are tiny and modest.  What appear to be petals are actually modified leaves that will mature and persist on the plant long after the flowers have finished blooming.

The flower in the center of this picture has finished blooming, but the sepals have retained their size and color. Rob plants up containers featuring hellebores every day this time of year. A container version of a garden looks good in March. More of Rob’s late winter containers are to follow.

hellebores and cyclamen

hellebores in containers

green hellebore planted up

Rob has seen to stocking other natural, preserved and dried materials for spring pots. Our cut pussy willow branches are terrific this year. Our faux stems are fun. If you are a gardener who longs for the start of the spring season, try our shop. Shrug off March. We are ready, even if the garden is not quite there yet.

Welcome to our version of spring.

Coming Home

Rob shops on and off all year long, but in the month of September, he shops in Europe and the US, traveling just about full time. Months ahead of the fact, he is shopping for the spring season to come. Last year’s extended shopping trip was to France. Suffice it to say that he landed in Paris, picked up his rental car, and hit the ground running. For weeks he drove all over France attending antique shows, visiting dealers with whom he has long standing relationships, potteries, small specialty businesses, and the Maison Et Objet design fair. This biannual fair, one of the largest in the world, features high style objects for both inside and out.

In January of last year, his trip to the Mart in Atlanta resulted in the purchase of a container load of pots from Vietnam. A dealer in Louisiana who owns potteries and contracts out the manufacture of pots to her specification in Vietnam is a friend and valued supplier. Rob places an order, based on pot shapes and glazes that he sees in person. These stoneware pots are frost proof. Her glazes are beautiful, intriguing, and equally as frost proof as the clay body. The frost proof part is a big issue for gardeners in Michigan. A pot that can stay out all winter is of great value in our climate. Pots that can stay in place over the winter are pots we like.

This year, we placed an order for a 52 foot long container, stacked to the ceiling. The Vietnamese potteries are unusual in the following regard. They not only manufacture to order, they ready their goods for shipment. They are expert packers. They are happy to load a container bound for other countries. Their packing expertise has a lot to do with the thriving tennis shoe industry in Vietnam. Each pot you see in the above picture has 3 smaller sizes nested inside. The smaller pots, in graduated sizes, are nested inside the Mama pot protected by a layer of recycled tennis shoe sole cut offs. The pots that Rob orders and brings in from Vietnam are gorgeous. They are compatible with both tradition and contemporary landscapes. When he orders an entire container load, this means that the price to our customers is all that much more reasonable. I can say that Detroit Garden Works will have lots of frost proof glazed stoneware pots available for great prices this spring.

Not all of Rob’s shopping is as efficient and reasonable as the load of pots from Vietnam. He shopped at a number of small potteries in France this past September. Few of them have the ability to pack, and deliver. They make the pots, and offer them for sale. Locally. He placed a special order for pots, knowing that we would need help to get them ready to ship. Our shipping company played a vital role in getting this container to us. They send trucks to all of those places where Rob shopped, to pick up the goods and consolidate them in their warehouse in Paris. Once all of his purchases have been collected, they are boxed or crated for shipment. Once everything is ready, the goods are handed off to a freight company that will see that our container is shipped door to door, from Paris France to Sylvan Lake Michigan. Countless rules and regulations govern the import of goods from other countries. In a good year, all goes smoothly. This year, a glitch. The bill of lading did not specify the city, so the transport company decided their work was done once the container arrived in Detroit. It sat on the railway for better than a week after it cleared customs, while all the parties involved decided how to get our container transported the last 28 miles. Heather’s last week with us was in part spent training our new internet sales and service person Jackie in the fine art of getting a container derailed by incomplete paperwork back on track.    Once the container was unloaded, all of the boxes went into our garage and stockroom. There were a lot of boxes and crates to unpack. 204, to be exact. Every pot Rob purchased came to us in its own box.  Every box was stuffed with heavyweight kraft packing paper. Very large pots came in wood crates built especially for this purpose.

The trip from Paris can be a rough ride, so expert packing is necessary. Though the entire container load was insured, our primary interest is in pots delivered in perfect condition. In all of the 204 packages, only one pot has a small chip in the glaze.

A collection of both new and antique wood barrels would not be subject to breakage, so they were blanket wrapped.

In the upper left of the above photo you can see Jackie moving a pot she had just unpacked. That will give you an idea of how much paper was used to pack the pots. I was standing near the top of our rolling ladder to take this picture.

We are fortunate to have a paper recycling facility available to us. After all of the boxes were knocked down and placed flat in our box truck, we started loading the paper.  It would take 3 truck loads before all of the paper was gone. Now we are taking inventory, pricing, and displaying asfast as we can.  The shop reopens for the season in 2 days.

A first look at the pots from Les Enfant de Boisset made clear why Rob fell for them.  The color is a rich and lively mix of olive greens.

Even the interior of the pots is beautiful.

Detroit Garden Works is opening for the 2018 season March 1.


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  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.






Don’t take your eyes off of May. You may miss a fleeting moment that will not be available to see again for a very long time. Nor will next spring look quite like this one. This spring moment is a unique moment. Enjoy this spring like it is the only one you have ever experienced.  This seems a proper response to nature’s May extravaganza. The spring is an opera of the grandest sort. This once yearly production is a month long celebration of the opening of the garden. That age old and dramatic play with a cast of many thousands has a beginning in March. By April, one can feel the momentum building. I swear I can feel the ground shuddering, ridding itself of the frost in the ground. OK, maybe I can’t, bit I imagine that I do. No matter how road ready one is for spring, come the beginning of May, there will be much too much to absorb.  One dramatic moment after another leaves a gardener blinking, and struggling to keep up. That complex constellation of spring stories is attended by no end of subplots, addendum’s, asides, unexpected turns and twists. Following the progression of spring is an unforgettable exposure to the natural world.

How many thousands of words would your essay about spring amount to? I will sheepishly admit to a novella, but for the fact that the spring comes too fast. Watching the spring play out is the best program it has ever been my pleasure to watch. So mostly, I watch.The cast is huge. The costumes are gorgeous. The spring orchestra has too many members playing their individual instruments to count. The volume is turned up. Every scene is juicy.

The plants in my garden responding to the call of spring are many. This 14th of May, some of my plants are fully leafed out. Others are just coming out of the ground. The ornamental grasses and hardy hibiscus have not made a move.  They like the warm soil of early June. My clematis are fully budded up. The hostas and ferns are unfurling. Evergreens are sending forth their new growth, known as candles. That the new growth on evergreens is known as a candle speaks to the season when the sun returns. The roses are leafing out, and growing on. The lilies are up. The delphiniums are almost 2 feet tall. The boxwoods are carpeted in their lime green new growth. The dogwoods are loaded with flowers. The azalea and rhododendron buds are swelling. Intoxicating-all of it.

The Princeton Gold maples are just about fully leafed out. The lime green color of the leaves is both fresh and luscious. Not one of the three 2 story houses in close proximity to mine can be seen. This has become a fairly shady garden, thus the yews along the fence, the pachysandra European ginger and beech ferns on the ground –  all of which are bouncing back fast from the winter. I spend more time looking at or being in this garden than any other place in my yard. In the summer it is quiet but for the sound of the water, and private.  In the spring, it is growing in every dimension and direction.  I take this picture almost every day. As the lens is focusing on what is there, so am I.

My picea abies mucrunatum candle in the most astonishing fashion. That lime green new growth is a feature of the spring growth on most evergreens. If you are accustomed to thinking that evergreens are dark and dour, watch the fireworks in the spring.

The dogwoods are breathtaking. I have not seen them bloom so profusely for a good many years. An upper deck means I have a view of them at eye level, and  from the top down. Changes of grade in a garden enable multiple views. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about any of the plants. Nor is this a show garden. Nature works the spring miracle everywhere equally. It is all there, everywhere, to be appreciated.

The Boston ivy at the shop leafs out slowly over the course of a solid month. It still has a few weeks to go before the walls will be completely covered in green.  The space between this east facing wall and the concrete driveway could not be any wider than 6 inches.  I do not recall planting one ostrich fern in that gap, much less all of these. I am sure how they spread happened over a period of years, but this spring I suddenly notice how thick and lush they have become. I am sure the heat of the summer will test them, but right now they are lovely.

Should anyone wonder where the phrase “grass green” came from, please reference the above picture.  It is a spring green color quite unlike any other plant. Mine has responded strongly to all of the rain we have had in the past month. Later I will appreciate how soft it is underfoot. How the transpiration from all of the leaf blades will provide natural cooling on hot summer days. The green color will darken. But right now, I am enjoying this simple version of spring.

Too soon, the spring growth will harden off, and this moment will evolve from an experience to a memory. I intend to keep looking as long as it lasts.