At A Glance: Good And Green

lemon cypress and scotch moss

tree ferns, caladiums, and bird’s nest fernspepperomia Jayde, variegated boxwood, lemon cypress

white mandevilleas

wasabi coleus and variegated licorice

white topiary fuchsia and Victorian parlor ferns

window box with lavender, angelonia, silver dichondra, and so on

green and white caladiums

eugenia topiaries underplanted with cirrus dusty miller and silver dichondra

rosemary topiary, fig, white petunias, cherry tomato


white geraniums, white angelonia, variegated licorice and mini silver petunias

herbs and strawberries

all green, gray and white.







Back From Atlanta

Atlanta-trip.jpgShortly after the holiday season comes to a close, Rob and I take a trip to Atlanta to shop for the holiday to come.  This might seem like less than a treat, to have the holiday go on until mid January-but I like the timing.  What just transpired at Detroit Garden Works is still fresh in my mind.  I am still familiar with the materials we had available at the shop for the holiday and winter installations done by the landscape company, Deborah Silver and Co.  What has just been on my mind makes early January is a great time to look for materials for the following season.  We always drive, as we may make side trips to look at plant material, or a pottery we have never visited in person.  Sometimes we find vintage or antique objects that would look great in the shop.  My 2004 Chevy Suburban with 120,000 miles still makes that trip without any complaints, and can carry plenty of odds and ends.  We have on occasion hauled big benches, concrete pots and plants.

Atlanta at nightAtlanta is a very long trip by car, but that time we spend discussing an approach for next year.  What direction we would like to take, and what things we felt were missing. It also helps to have a days separation from the previous work to the new work. People with shops all over the country come here for this week’s show.  I feel sure that each and every one of them will come away with a collection from their own point of view.  Despite the fact that many thousands of people are in Atlanta that week, we managed to run into buyers from four other nurseries and garden centers in our area.  Does this mean you will be seeing the same things in many places? Not likely.

birdsThe America’s Mart is the largest wholesale market of its kind in the US. The registration for the Mart is a rigorous one-it is only open to businesses who can authenticate their business status, not individuals.  7 million square feet of space is host to thousands of vendors.  I have no idea how many people come every year, but all of Atlanta’s hotels, restaurants, streets, escalators and showrooms are jammed with people.  We make reservations for a place to stay a year in advance. Some vendors set up temporary shop, just for the week. We always shop the temporaries, looking for new sources, and companies new to the business.  In the holiday category alone, there are many hundreds of places to visit, and countless items which can be ordered for the upcoming season.  The choices are just about endless. Every garden center in our area has their own idea about how to represent the holiday, and will represent their own taste and interests.  This means the purchasing public has lots of different things from which to choose.

birdYears ago, Rob and I would go through every holiday vendor’s showroom, and make a second trip back to order. Given that we have been celebrating a holiday season for many years, we can now more easily spot those things that would work well and represent our interest in the garden and nature. We scout a showroom, confer, and order. The work of it is two fold.  It takes a lot of energy and concentration to spot those few things from thousands that have appeal, charm, or quality. It also takes the ability to keep track of what direction the buying takes, so the end result is a coherent collection.  Many showrooms forbid taking any pictures, for obvious reasons.  But most do not object to closeup pictures of items that are being ordered.

holiday 2015There is another good reason why the show is held in January.  Many vendors manufacture commensurate with the orders that are placed.  Certain items we have ordered will never be delivered.  Lacking sufficient demand, it will not be available.  Though the Mart will host another show this coming July, many things will be sold out. We only rarely shop this season on line.  It is too hard to get a good feeling for the color,  heft, sturdiness and quality of an item from a picture. We like to look in person, as liking what we recommend to clients is important. Great materials speak for themselves. We will shop on line with certain vendors whose product lines do not change much from year to year.   wreathGiven the big numbers of new things we saw this year, I would say that business has been good for our vendors.  In 2009 one of our favorite vendors went out of business-it was a a shock, and a big loss. I like it when their business with retailers is brisk, as it means more choices, and new designs. This wreath made with large pine cones that had been split in half was innovative, and handsome. Shopping with Rob can be a challenge.  He wants to be sure he sees, if even just for a moment, most of every showroom-not just the holiday showrooms. This involves miles and miles of walking-but I know my way around the Mart well enough to stop for a cup of coffee while he scouts.

holiday lightingHis instinct to scout paid off in a significant way for us this year. This showroom, which featured lighting such as you see above was located on a floor where the other vendors offered goods completely unlike this.  Had we not gone into an area which did not seem relevant to our business, we would have never seen this. If you know Rob, then you are aware of his keen interest in winter lighting of all kinds.  This was the find of the entire market week for him.  I have never seen him more enthused.

light bulbYes, we will have this lighting next season.  The timing of the deliveries is complex to set up, especially when you buy from 70 or more vendors like we do.  The first deliveries will start to trickle in towards mid July.  Spacing the deliveries means Scott will have the time to inventory everything, price it, and pack it back up. There will be thousands of items all requiring a lot of handling, even before we are ready to put them out. We like to have everything on hand, come mid September,as planning how we will display everything takes time.

LED light stringsAnother great lighting find-LED light string sets with a warm light much like the incandescent light we like. Rob had stood back from the early years of LED lights.  The light was so cold and unwelcoming. This light is warm and cheery. These strands are shatterproof-we watched the showroom staff drop them on the concrete floor, and walk on them. Astonishing, this. They are waterproof. They are guaranteed for 10 years. This will be a significant contribution to our light sculptures-ruggedly built light strands that do not require maintenance.

starsThe same company had a select group of ornaments that we liked just as well as the lights.

Atlanta 2015This was Sunne’s first trip to market with us. Just as enthusiastic as her name suggests, she was a great addition to our group. She spotted lots of things that I missed.  A third pair of eyes is good when you are shopping spaces jammed with all sorts of things. Plus she has a very good idea of what will be coming in.

Atlanta from the 18th floorThe view of Atlanta from the 18th floor of one building-spectacular.

IMG_2753In addition to holiday, we also shopped Halloween.  We do a little of that, just for fun.

shopping AtlantaWe also shopped showrooms specializing in vintage home and garden.

yellow chair 2We also shop the Gardens-2 giant floors devoted entirely to things for the garden. By day 7, the show was beginning to feel endless and overwhelming-as you can see! We buy only select things from these floors, as Rob buys most of the garden ornament, pots and furniture from other sources. Eight days, all day and into a few evenings-this was our longest show ever.  I feel confident that our holiday coming up this fall will be a particularly good one. That said, it is great to be home.


Time To Read

DSC_7376I always buy myself a few books at year’s end.  My library is big enough that friends and family are afraid they might duplicate what I already have. Worse, they fear buying a book that isn’t of interest, or is off point. I am not offended in the least.  Choosing a book for me is not an easy task. My tastes are quirky, and wide ranging. I have a long history of collecting books on gardening and landscape design. My library has shelf space devoted to design from lots of countries, regions, and cities. What I love in a book is not something I much discuss with anyone. It is by and large a private matter, based on whatever is going through me at the time. This is not so unusual. The choice of a book, no matter the subject, is a personal matter.  Buck likes to buy me books-I humor him with a list. This goes on all year round. He never fails to deliver 2 or 3 books. Buck keeps me reading, Christmas Day.   Part of the solitary end of the season pleasure is looking into what books I might want to own. I don’t know what I read that made me interested in David Culp’s book, The Layered Garden. But I was intrigued enough to buy the book. The idea of a discussion of how a garden might be layered-what did that mean, exactly?  I read the book over the past 2 days. The book is better than I imagined it would be.  How so?  His writing is excellent and lively.  His thoughts on the garden are well thought out-succinct. The horticulture is spot on. The photographs are heavenly. But most importantly, the book makes it obvious that his relationship to his garden, and to horticulture, is a multi-layered affair.

The-Layered-Garden.jpgMy favorite written passages in the book are in the forward. He speaks to what motivates him to share his experience of the garden. The history, and present-all folded into one.  I admire that he would do whatever he could to encourage people to garden. That almost every question can be answered with a yes is a world view well worth some thought. It has much to do with why I write here, and why I will continue to write.    I hear from readers every day.  They are by and large just as passionate about the act of gardening as I am. They have lives not so different than mine.  We share a lot.  A reader sent me a letter and pictures just a few days ago. He makes me feel like everything I have ever done to make or write about making a garden or a landscape  was well worth my time. To follow is his letter, and his pictures.  Thanks, CT.

Dear Deborah,

I truly hope you are doing well! We corresponded earlier this year about my design needs, and unfortunately my idea has become a dream deferred. And since the ideas of my local designers are unimaginative and template-like, I’ve been working at it on my own. It’s been quite a journey, but I’m appreciating the process. In all I want to thank you for your time. I also want to thank you for your inspiration from afar. Your blog is rich and full of passion–I love it.

This fall I started compiling ideas for outdoor winter decorations–I had never done it before–at least to the DGW scale. I looked many places, but always came back to the designs you all put together for your shop and your customers. The thought, the setup, the attention to detail, the process–it’s a privilege to see. I’ve always had an eye for the finer and more intricate things, no matter the art. But sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to achieve the same end when you don’t know the means. But you have been a teacher, and I have been eager to learn. Many of the materials you use and write about are not readily accessible to me, so I had to drive some distances as well as send for lots of it. Margarita was also such a great help when ordering from your shop!

Anyway, after weeks of working (my wife thought I was deranged) I put together a few containers and a garland. The process…painstaking but well worth the work. I have an even greater appreciation for what you and your crew does. I think you once wrote that Buck always stresses the approach to the work. And doing this all on my own, I can’t agree more. In fact, my 27ft garland…a 3 person job. I was in a pinch with time, and with no help it took 3 1/2 hours to hang. I’ll NEVER do that again. But I learned from it all. I even made a small pot for my neighbor after she saw my work. My designs aren’t original as you can see, haha. But it was nice to have a reference point for my first crack at this. I’m enchanted with the turnout…and so are my neighbors. I’m sure you have hundreds or even thousands of followers that feel the way I do. But I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that I appreciate all that you do and all that you know.

Happy Holidays to you Deborah and the entire Detroit Garden Works crew! Enjoy the pix.



CT 1a gardener’s expression of the holiday

CT 2holiday entry

CT 4a winter container

CT 5How I love the letter and the pictures from CT. He read what I wrote, and said yes, David Culp style.Though he stuck close to my designs this year, I know the next season around he will venture out entirely on his own. CT-I cannot wait for your pictures, next year.  Why wouldn’t I? If I encourage any person to garden, my writing will have been worth so much more than I ever imagined it would. David Culp said everything about the process of gardening that needs saying-just my opinion.  His garden is extraordinary. His book is well worth the read. The heart this book is everything I would wish for any gardener, including myself, for the new year. Layered.


A Small Property

landscapes for small propertiesA small property is uniquely suited for the creation of  a landscape that can be fully charged with an atmosphere and aura all its own. In a small space, every gesture is deliberate, apparent, and personal. Nothing escapes a keen eye. The scale of a small space is a scale a single person can easily become part of.  The experience of a beautiful small landscape is compelling, as every element is geared towards interaction. A small space can be readily absorbed and savored.  This landscape is about the relationships between shapes, both green and not.  How the color of the roof, the window boxes, the blue stone walkway, and seasonal plantings is a cohesive visual discussion of color. The mix of materials is interesting, no matter the season.  It could be seen in a matter of minutes, but many visitors told me they lingered there an hour or better, enthralled by the experience of it. Four gingkos, under planted with boxwood, frame the view to the window boxes, and gently guide visitors towards the front door, which is hidden from the street.

July 16 2014 (9)Large landscapes and parks can be awe inspiring. Even overwhelming.  Large landscapes can be exhilarating. If poorly done, they can be pushy, boring, or tiring.   Some large landscapes are designed such that only one area is experienced at a time.  This in recognition that overscaled landscapes can be as easily off putting and impersonal as they are grand.  A  beautiful small landscape is an opportunity to intimately become part of, and experience the garden.  Small spaces can be difficult to design edge to edge, and floor to ceiling, but the rewards are great.  In this front yard landscape, the change of levels creates a three dimensional sculptural quality which can be enjoyed in every season. The low wall that traverses the width of the property is a visually friendly way of differentiating public part of the landscape from the  front door.  The unusual placement of this front door on an angle from the street makes the front door garden more private, in a very modest way. The boxwood hedges which terminate in yew spheres is a transition space, an exterior foyer for the front door, if you will. The natural growing multi stemmed dogwood and gingkos contrast with the precisely trimmed arborvitae and boxwood.

July 16 2014 (2)In the summer, a very beautiful low stone wall is obscured by a seasonal in ground planting.  This planting of blue chalky fingers succulents, helichrysum icicles and cirrus dusty miller is my most favorite choice ever. The cool color is crisp, and echoes the color of the stone and the steel of the window boxes.  In the winter, that wall is an architectural feature that is friendly to the style and period of the house. The upper level features a vintage wood bench at one end, and a modern bistro table and stainless steel chairs at the opposite end. I like the nod to the period of the house, and the corresponding nod to my client’s more modern taste. In a small space, there is the opportunity to create an interesting tension which comes from the juxtaposition of one aesthetic, and another.

July 16 2014 (1)The window box is a combination of plants whose forms and color are not the usual.  To my eye, the planting is both sophisticated and unusual.  This has everything to do with the taste of my clients.  I have worked for them for years, and the relationship which has come out of that association shows.

July 16 2014 (26)The blue gray annual border is equally unusual, and striking. It is in concert with the boxwood hedge, and such in contrast to the loose habit of the Annabelle hydrangeas.

July 16 2014 (10)The driveway garden is home to a number of terra pots planted with vegetables and herbs-all appropriately placed close to the kitchen door.  The stepped evergreen screening limits the view of the garage from the street.

July 16 2014 (12)A low granite wall capped in limestone separates the driveway area from the rear yard proper.  A higher wall of the same material and design at the far side is a beautiful feature of this yard.  The planting of columnar red maples in front of this wall is purposeful.  The narrow gray trunks do not obscure the wall from view.  The canopy of the maples adds another, taller layer of screening from the neighboring garage.

July 16 2014 (14)Though the rear yard is a rectangle, the landscape is a celebration of the square established by a square fountain in the center, a square picture frame of lawn, and a square arrangement of Winter Gem boxwood. In order to maintain that square, a double row of boxwood was planted on the north and south side, and a single row of boxwood on the east and west side.  Behind the boxwood to the south, a pair of pear espaliers are under planted with a white variegated hosta.  The pears provide fruit, and screening of the service area between the wall and the garage.  Each boxwood is individually pruned into a spherical shape, courtesy of Melissa and her crew from M and M Flowers. Those round shapes, and the round shapes of the Irish moss compliment and contrast with the dominant square geometry.  The dirt space between the fountain boxwood and the Irish moss is deliberate.  Every element of that fountain centerpiece has room to breathe.

July 16 2014 (16)On the west side, a hedge of arborvitae screen the property behind, the phone pole, and the electric lines.  Limelight hydrangeas are planted as a hedge between the arborvitae and the boxwood.  The limelights are limbed up to just below the height of the boxwood.  The foliage of the Limelights do not interfere with the growth and health of the boxwood.  A hedge of topiary form hydrangeas helps keep both the hydrangeas and the boxwood happy – in a small space.  Underplanting arborvitae is always a good idea.  With age, they thin out at the bottom. An old crabapple visible at the far left of this picture is kept trimmed up to permit a view through from the house.

July 16 2014 (15)A rear terrace with furniture and container plantings, and a screened porch –  both of which has been in place many years –  are places to relax, and be part of the landscape.

July 16 2014 (18)A wild garden on the north side of the back yard is full of hellebores, snakeroot, hosta, solomon’s seal, european ginger and ferns, among other things – this a much more relaxed ode to shade. This garden was on our recent garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  I was pleased about how many people truly enjoyed it.  The best part of this landscape-all of the care my clients lavish upon it. Every detail is of concern.  Small properties help make a lavish hand possible, and visible.