The New Berger Picard In The Neighborhood

Bergere Picard namedGary (4)Last November Rob drove to Roanoke Virginia to meet and pick up his intended-an 8 week old Berger Picard puppy.  Berger Picard? Berger means shepherd in French; Picard refers to the Picardy region in France. One of the oldest of all the French herding dogs, the Berger Picard was almost driven to extinction by the devastation of two world wars. The Picardy region in France was especially hard hit.

Bergere Picard namedGary (10)Devoted breeders, and the shepherds that needed their herding skills to tend their flocks kept the breed alive. They were virtually unknown in the United States until 2005. The film “Because of Winn Dixie” introduced this rare, rough and ready breed to Americans.  From the Berger Picard Club of America, ” The 2005 release of the movie Because of Winn Dixie introduced America to the Picardy Shepherd. The movie producers wanted a dog that looked like a mixed breed, but needed several that looked alike so that production could continue smoothly, thus they decided on this rare purebred dog. It is this breed’s rustic tousled appearance that has fooled many people into thinking “Winn-Dixie” is just a mutt.” Just a week after his arrival, Milo was invading his crate space, and Gary was at home enough to scold him about it.

November 20 2015 060The Berger Picard is still a very rare breed.  There are reputed to be no more than 3500 of them, world wide. So how did Rob become acquainted?  In July of 2015, the breed was admitted to the AKC. A regional dog show in our area featured a specialty meeting of a Berger Picard club that was graced by 14 of these dogs – all together, in one place. He was smitten.  Some months later, the President of the Berger Picard Club of America had pups on the way; Rob spoke for one of them.  Gary had not so much to do or say for his first few days, except to stick close to Rob.  By day three, he was starting to feel at home.

Bergere Picard namedGary (15)The breed is known for its giant ears, big feet, and energetic personality. They are herders, so they need regular exercise. But Gray would need to develop some people skills, as he would be coming to work every day. In his favor is an innate sense of humor. Not all dogs make good retail store dogs. My corgi Milo is an exception. He is too little and low to the ground to be a threat to anyone, and he is eminently sociable. He doesn’t jump on anyone. He has Welsh style manners, except for his enthusiastic barking when he is playing ball. We have people come to the shop all the time-just to check in on Milo. I like that.

Bergere Picard namedGary (8)Gary grew by leaps and bounds over the winter. The corgis were outraged by the Berger Picard puppy invasion, but eventually they all made friends. That is a tribute to his easy going nature, as the corgis are 11 now, and have their routines. Rob’s efforts to expose him to other people and dogs meant regular trips to the dog park, puppy obedience school, and introductions to people who come to the shop.

Bergere Picard namedGary (3)By late winter, you could watch him putting on weight and stature. It seemed like he went from 14 pounds to 50 overnight.  That shaggy coat that is typical of the Bergers was beginning to come in – face first. He is intensely attached to Rob, and he has taken many of his behavioral cues from Rob, which is a good thing.

February 27 2016 003The day he met MCat, I made an effort to stay out of the mix. There was no need to interfere with their introduction. There was a lengthy stare down. Then, a truce. If you have never seen MCat, you are not alone. He spends the middle of his day snoozing in the pot of his choice. Early and late, he is an active member of the group.

Bergere Picard namedGary (6)It has been fun watching these two fall for each other.

April 7 2016 031Both Corgis have been energized by the addition of a third dog.  They do not seem to be in the least bit intimidated by his size. His good and graceful with my 11 year olds. In the morning before the shop opens, they all play ball-even Howard.

April 12, 2016 123So why am I talking about Gary? He is a new member of our group. Gardeners coming in now after the winter hiatus want to meet him, and have questions about the breed. Should you come by, we will be happy to introduce you.

DSC_4528 Despite being only 7 months old, he has his quiet moments. This is a good thing. The 3 large orange caution cones positioned at our entrance right now is part of his training to never breach those open gates, and leave the yard. He seems to be catching on to that idea fast.

Bergere Picard namedGary (7) He has a warm and affectionate personality that matches his size.

April 12, 2016 058I don’t know how much longer Rob will be able to pick him up like this – ha. It is impossible to tell which one of them likes this relationship better.

Berger-PicardThey make very handsome grown-ups, don’t they?

The Easter Rabbit

3-BunniesMy first Easter with Buck produced a giant pink stuffed rabbit. It was an Easter gift to me. It was spectacularly big and fluffy, and would have made a quite charming addition to a nursery-a nursery of the baby human sort.  I was a little taken aback, but I did not want to appear ungrateful.  I casually asked him about it over our Easter dinner. He had plenty to say about them. Rabbits are the most non confrontational animals on the planet. They eat lettuce. They are squeaky clean vegan creatures. Even their poop is polite-little perfectly formed pellets. They are soft, cuddly, and have eyes that could melt a heart of stone. They are just plain cute.

best-house-rabbit-breeds-on-the-planet-54d4f74d4d59f continental giant rabbit Buck built a rabbit condo in the mid 1980’s. He found two rabbits at a garage sale, and bought them. Luckily, both rabbits were the same sex. There would be no baby bunnies.  Of course the rabbits needed a house. The house was basically a large box, constructed from beveled cedar siding, with a hip roof structure on the back side. Half of the hutch was completely enclosed.  The hardware cloth floor was with covered with straw. A pair of  mouse hole shaped doorways permitted travel from the covered portion of the hutch, to the open air terrace. The roof was hinged, and could be raised up, so the straw layer could easily be replaced. All this for a pair of rabbits. au_pets.19535.1flemish giant blue bunny I have a client who had a pet rabbit for almost a decade. This rabbit had a name, and a house. He ran around inside, and as he got older, outside. He would take a carrot, or a lettuce leaf from my hand. He was a big warm furry and utterly peaceful beast who bore no one any ill will. He was perfectly content for me to hold him, just like the Flemish giant blue bunny pictured above.

Eastern_Cottontail_(Sylvilagus_floridanus)Rabbit species are many, and are indigenous to ecosystems world wide, one of which is the Eastern cottontail pictured above.Even my back yard. I spotted a rabbit of incredible size out of my bathroom window last week-I could not believe the size. Later that early morning, I spotted the damage to my early spring garden.  Crocus flowers were sliced off. That rabbit even sliced off hellebore flowers.  Astonishing, given that hellebores are poisonous. Deer, which will eat just about anything in the landscape, won’t touch them.  Rabbits (forgive me Buck) are rodents.  Their teeth are formidably adapted to slice through any stem. What was even more irritating was the fact that what was chomped off was still laying there on the ground.  As in the best and biggest big stem of a double white flowering hellebore I have been coaxing along for several years.

Brown_Hare444 from wikipediaI do have clients whose gardens are on Lake Saint Clair. She has a not a rabbit or two, but a population living in her yard.  She would do just about anything to keep rabbits out of her garden. They would keep her perennial gardens mowed down, if they had the chance.  Every day, from spring until fall, they are eating something. I have only seen a rabbit, and rabbit damage twice in my yard, in over 20 years. I consider myself lucky. Pictured above-a brown hare.

lop rabbit Netherland Dutch dwarf from skybirdsales.co.ukThe natural world does not come with any guidelines, suggestions, or guarantees. It is up to the individual gardener to craft a truce, or wage a war with the rabbits.  I did spray my crocus with the most foul smelling natural rabbit repellent I could find. I was not interested in letting the rabbits rob me of my enjoyment of the crocus. I have not seen any damage since. As for my stuffed toy Easter rabbits from Buck, I have many. 12 years worth. I am not complaining. The rabbits and bunnies from him do not have any bad habits. As for the lop Dutch dwarf rabbit from Sky Bird Sales in the UK pictured above, he looks completely benign.

maxresdefault big Flemish giant rabbitI suspect that if my client could arrange to have the rabbits to a sumptous dinner spread of her own making every day, in exchange for them leaving her garden be, she would do it. Gardeners are a dedicated lot. But so are the rabbits.

4544652960Freddie from sheffieldrabbits.co.ukWill I ever get used to the destruction rabbits do to the garden?  Not likely.  They slice stems off that they do not have the good manners to eat. This  is infuriating. But I did enjoy taking some time to read about rabbits.  They are a very diverse group. Pictured above is Freddie, from Sheffield Rabbits in the UK. To follow are more photographs of rabbits I encountered in my reading yesterday-all of them as cute as could be.

P4BzupWubunny buddhism

dsc01023mini rex doe castor

IMG_5continental giant rabbit from rossendale-giants.netContinental giant rabbit from Rossendale giants

mini-lop-rabbit-242mini lop rabbit

jack-rabbit-flickr-tinyfrogletjack rabbit

article-2573318-1C06A15800000578-776_964x641mad march hares dailymail.co.ukThe mad march hares, doing their spring dance.

Beautiful-White-New-Zealand-Rabbits-Wallpaperswhite New Zealand rabbits

Runt_and_Paxie flemish giant rabbit from wikipediaRunt and Paxie-can you tell who is who?

The Collection

the collection (14)I will admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed constructing this collection of winter wreaths. That they will be boxed and packed away until next fall does not bother me in the least bit. There will be a season for them-to come.  Making them for a time yet to come has made me think about how gardeners invest their energy in a landscape or garden that will bear results some time in the future. Digging in tulip bulbs in unpleasantly cold conditions in late fall for the pleasure that is their blooming months later is a case in point.  It takes time for a seed to germinate, and grow on. Hellebore seeds germinate readily, and unless you are a passionate hybridizer, you can let nature take its course.  But that sprout is many years from its first flower.  And many more years from a handsome mature clump. Most things imagined, worked for, and accomplished in the garden involves time.

the collection (12)No matter what you put to a landscape, you will do the time. There is no getting around this.  I might plant a 10″ caliper beech, but I know it will be 10 years before that beech recovers from the shock of the transplanting process, and starts to grow.  If I plant a 1″ caliper beech, it could be many more than 10 years for that tree to grow to a substantial size. There is no getting around an engagement with the future. The investment in the future of a garden takes planning, lots of grime, and patience. In my own garden, I delight in the things I have done by instinct. I love the texture and smell of dirt. I have patience for nothing, but for my garden. That’s me. Not everyone has an interest in dividends which pay an unspecified rate at some vague date many miles down the road. But by and large, I find gardeners are willing to invest themselves in a process of growing on that may take many seasons to bear fruit. I see evidence of this all the time. I think this willingness to bet on the future of a landscape is a characteristic I really admire.

the collection (15)Those gardeners who think through a landscape design, and sign up for installing that dreamboat of a garden one shovel full at a time – bravo. I know plenty of gardeners who have moved mountains with a spoon. The garden they hope will be is all about the promise of the future. No wonder spring is that season that delights every gardener. The work of the previous year is one year older.  All of us who garden have a common bond. We dig as though we only have 10 minutes to live.  And then we wait.

the collection (16)The waiting can be next to impossible to endure. There are those who keep on gardening, as if possessed, even when the day is done, and the sky is dark. There are those who plant a whip of a tree, and watch it, as if they could not bear to change the channel.  I do not know any gardener who is happy about waiting.  But wait, they do.

the collection (17)This wreath, which took an inordinate amount of time to design, and an endless amount of time to make, might be my favorite of this January series. I love seeing the grapevine structure, upon which all else is built.  The bleached acorn tops and the preserved baby’s breath  are just about the same color. The acorn tops are some lighter than the gyp. I cannot really explain how this arrangement of color and textures speaks to me-but there is no need. It is all there, to be seen. Look quick, as Sunne is ready to box this up, and put it in storage.

the winter wreaths (6)After taking this outside to photograph it, I hung it back up on a wreath hanging suction cup affixed to the glass of my office door. At the end of the day, I came back to my office.  The suction cup had given way, and this wreath was face down on the floor. There is damage that will take a lot of time to repair. This is no different than all of the disappointments that dog gardeners routinely. Any investment can sour. Will I repair this wreath due to debut next fall-oh yes I will.

the collection (6)I have so enjoyed having my hands on a group of natural materials, and arranging them as I see fit. The making is all about the pleasure of this moment.  As a gardener, the moment I put my shovel to the ground is as sweet as it gets. I am happy to report that I am in that winter sweet space, having a great time.

the collection (7)wreath detail

the collection (10)wreath with dried limes

the collection (11)wreath detail

the winter wreaths (11)winter wreath

the wreaths (16)split pine cone wreath detail

the collection 24the beginning of the series

grapevine wreathI have one grapevine wreath left to go.  You can see the bare bones. I have hopes it will be the best of this series.

 

 

The Hybridizer

hybrid pumpkinEvery  gardener at one time or another comes in contact with plant cultivars introduced as a result of the painstaking work of  someone who breeds plants. Bressingham gardens in England has a group of fine perennial plants marketed under the aegis of Blooms of Bressingham. There are countless other individuals who have devoted themselves to breeding towards a better plant.  Some hybrids are more disease resistant.  Some are more sturdy-others have larger flowers with interesting variations in color. The dogwood Venus, a cross between Cornus kousa, and Cornus nuttallii, was bred at Rutgers University by Elwin Orton.  His Venus dogwood, once it was introduced, took a gold medal at Chelsea.  Anyone who loves the landscape is all the better for the introduction of this tree.

hybrid pumpkinsI am thinking about hybridizing right now, as Rob has such a big love for the various forms and colors of pumpkins that he collects fruits from countless farms within a day’s drive of us. He cannot get enough of them.  Of course most pumpkins are grown to eat, or to carve for Halloween, but others are grown for their sheer beauty.  Every farmer who grows pumpkins is a hybridizer, whether they intend to be, or not.  Cucurbits are plants of the gourd family, and include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumber. All of these plants, grown within range of one another, will cross pollinate with abandon. Squash flowers are huge-they intend to have progeny.  And progeny they do produce. Any pollen on the wind might settle in these giant flowers. As a result, every farm who grows curcurbits has their own distinctive offering of pumpkins and gourds. These hybrid crosses are random.  Some are beautiful, sturdy, and robust.  Others-not so much.

hybrid pumpkinsRob has been fortunate to meet some gardeners in the course of his pumpkin collecting whose big love is hybridizing these big fruits.  You are looking at pictures of pumpkins that are the result of a lifetime of careful breeding. The gentleman in question is in his late sixties, and has been hybridizing pumpkins for decades. He grows his pumpkins in a tunnel house, so he can eliminate accidental crosses. Pumpkins and squash take up an enormous amount of space as they grow.  The breeding process is slow, as not so many crosses can be made in a given year. His crosses are thoughtful, and methodical.

pumpkins 2015 (9)His current crop of fancy pumpkins sit in a shed.  They are not displayed on his farm stand, as they are not for sale. They are part of his breeding stock.  He will harvest the seed, and breed again. The near black pumpkin in my first picture with a brilliant orange waist-I have never seen anything like it.  The black pumpkin in my second picture-astonishing.  I know squash with dark green rinds-I am a fan of acorn squash, and eat them regularly over the winter.  But this black pumpkin is like nothing I have ever seen.

pumpkins 2015 (8)Anyone who grows plants has at one time or another placed a plant in their garden whose form, color and texture is a result of years of breeding.  Endless crosses that amount to nothing.  A few crosses that have promise.  And perhaps a few plants in a lifetime that are worthy of introduction.

IMG_6456I am an old school gardener-I admit to that. I favor plants that look good all season, in leaf and in bloom.  I like plants that are vigorous, and hardy.  I love plants that ask little, and perform willingly.  I love those plants that verge on the weedy side.   I see some perennial and shrubby plants that have been introduced that seem unlikely to survive the test of time.  Should I have a landscape client who is interested in the garden, I make sure that what I select for their garden has a history of great performance.  Nothing discourages a gardener more than failure. Some plant breeding quits too soon-before there is a cultivar worthy of introduction.

pumpkins 2015 (22)Keeping plants alive, and keeping plants thriving, is a big job. I can be challenged by it, despite my many years as a gardener.  One of the most important aspects of landscape design to me is to do what I can to insure success for my clients. Success in a garden encourages interest.  I mean to encourage others to garden.  Great plant hybridizers do a lot of this work for me. They spend years and thought developing plants that gardeners can grow.

pumpkins 2015 (23)The man who hybridized that black pumpkin does not make a living from his fancy pumpkins.  He grows acres of orange pumpkins that get shipped nation wide.  His tall thin pumpkins that sit up on their own are especially good looking.  We sold out of our group within two days.

pumpkins 2015 (10)All of his pumpkins, squash, and gourds have great color.  Many of them sport what we call witches warts. Rob loves the bumps.

IMG_5933But even his most simple pumpkins feature strong stems. The long stems are part and parcel of a fall fruit that delights the eye, and speaks to the harvest. I never knew how beautiful a pumpkin stem could be, until I saw his pumpkins.  Rob is a looker.  When he sees something that makes him look twice, he does what he can to foster a relationship. The pumpkins we have at Detroit Garden Works right now are all about the thoughtful work of a hybridizer with many years in the game. We so value his contribution to every garden.  And every front porch in the fall season.

pumpkin stemIf you are like me, you have wrongly picked up a pumpkin by its stem, and had that stem detach. Dang. I will confess that I have hot melt glued broken stems on to a pumpkin.  No pumpkin stem can stay intact, given the weight of most pumpkins. But for our current pumpkin collection. We have a breeder who means to meld the stem with the body of the fruit.

pumpkin stemImagine a hybridizer whose goal is to develop stems that come down onto the fruit.  Gripping stems. A stem which is integral with the fruit. What hybridizers imagine and breed for-so simple, but so important. A garden does imply a generous grip.  Some of that comes from plant breeders.  Some of that comes from us. The mix is a really good one.