Saving The Best For Last

Persian ironwoodMy designing life may have been consumed with finishing up as many of our landscape projects as possible, and dealing with the demands of our holiday and winter container work, but the garden has never been far from my mind. Every day, as I am loading up the corgis in the morning, or preparing for them to disembark in the evening, I see what is pictured above. This antique French pot from Biot sits on an Italian terracotta socle, which in turn sits on top of the substantial stump of a maple that succumbed years ago to girdling roots. It was made in the early part of the 20th century by a French pottery that is no longer. I love the shape, the color, and the history. The pale yellow glazed rim finishes the hand thrown raw clay body. There is ample evidence of its age.  Moss spores have infiltrated the surface, and taken up residence. I have never felt the need to plant this pot, as I doubt a planting would make it look any better than it already does.  It pleases me to see this pot every day, in every season, year after year. In the summer, the ground is covered by Sum and Substance hostas, and ferns. In mid-November, the pot is embraced by a pair of Parrotias, just coming into fall color.

persian ironwoodThis essay is not really about my old garden pot. It is about a not so well known and underused small growing tree that saves the best of its beauty for the last of the year. Parrotia persica is the only species in the genus Parrotia. The tree matures at about 25′ tall, and as wide. My group of four trees has been in the ground for close to 20 years, and might be 18 feet tall.  Suffice it to say they grow very slowly. It is irregular growing, and branches out quite close to the ground.  Parrotia persica is one of only two only species in the genus Parrotia. The loosely oblong leaves are quite reminiscent of hamamelis, or witch hazel.  This is not surprising, as they are in the same family. Those leaves have a purple/copper colored  tinge when they emerge in the spring, which matures to a deep  rich green in summer.

persian ironwoodPersian ironwood is reputed to have some of the best fall color of any deciduous tree. A single tree may have red, yellow, orange and maroon colored leaves at the same time. Only once in a while do I get fall color like this.  In most years, the leaves turn yellow and peach, long after many other trees have already dropped their leaves. By the time they begin turning color, all of the hostas and ferns that grow in proximity to them have gone dormant.

persian ironwoodThe branch structure and exfoliating bark endows this tree with considerable winter interest.  The old bark sheds in a patchy way, revealing the new bark underneath. It is not uncommon for the bark on my trees to have green, yellow, peach, gray and brown coloration all at the same time. The bark does not shed in huge sheets like the London Plane.  I rarely notice the flaking bark on the ground. The literature says that parrotias bloom in very early spring, much like witch hazel.  Clusters of red stamens are surrounded by brownish bracts; the flowers do not have much in the way of petals.  The bloom is subtle.  That said, I have never seen my parrotias bloom.

parrotia persicaAt the end of December, the trees still had most of their leaves.  The yellow fall color had matured to a rich coppery color. Though the landscape and garden has gone dormant, this spot is still beautiful in color and texture. These leaves will hold most of the winter, no matter how tough that winter might be.  Some leaves will last long enough to be pushed off by the new leaves emerge in the spring. Should you have a winter season, a parrotia is at its most beautiful at that time of year. The picea abies “mucronata”, or dwarf Norway spruces, and the parrotias completely screen this part of my garden from the street.

The old pot has a sheltered place to be.

persian ironwoodAs a result of the horrifically cold winter we had three years ago, I did have twig die back in the midsection of this tree. That damage is easy to see in the picture above. I would have thought the damage from the cold and wind would have been most prominent at the top of the tree. I cannot explain what happened, but the trees have begun to recover. I have never seen any damage from insects or disease, and I do nothing to look after it besides watering the hostas around them during dry spells. Parrotias are remarkably healthy and just about maintenance free.

 

persian ironwoodI may have snow and cold for the next few months, but I will also have this parrotia, and three others, all decked out for winter.

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The Holiday At Home

home for the holidaysThe holiday season is a very busy time for us. This work is different than landscape and garden design, but not unrelated. The winter work does not revolve around the plants.  It revolves around people. For that reason alone, I greatly enjoy it. I am party to a lot of holiday celebrations. Families. Children. Community. Helping hands. Every client who asks that their pots and landscape be dressed for the holiday and winter has a reason to request the work. Whether or not I ever learn the circumstances, I make every effort to treat every project as if it were my own. That means I may not get to my own until late December.

holiday decoratingThis year was no exception. Dan and crew installed a giant Christmas tree in my side garden pot the second week of December. I put faux fruit and bleached pine cones on my garland on a Sunday morning a few days later. I have always found the Williamsburg style of holiday decorating appealing. I also think is looks good, and is appropriate to my circa 1930 house. Owen and LaBelle did the the grapevine and lights, and installed it a few days after that. This held me over until the 23rd, when my pots both front and back which transformed my house into a home. David and I put together this year’s version of a Christmas tree at the shop.  It was easy to transport all of a piece.  Buck and I celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, and we were ready. I am happy for a late installation date, as I will leave this up all winter. I may run the lights all winter too.

holiday garlandA few days ago I had the chance to come home early, and take a leisurely tour. I like how the garland looks with my 19th century concrete urns and pedestals on my front porch. I like just as well how the warm colors of the fruits look with my yellow/peachy brown brick. The boxwood looks how it always looks-fresh and green.

traditional winter garland and associated pots

The front door

winter arrangement in a vintage Galway pot

winter centerpiece with curly willow

on the driveway, red bud pussy willow, 2 shades of purple eucalyptus, and Norway spruce

a pair of pots

holiday treeOur Christmas tree. This year I took a steel topiary form, and covered it with grapevine and lights. I set the form in an incredibly beautiful galvanized tub that Rob purchased in England this past September. A foam form is wedged in the top of the pot. The foam was stuffed with German boxwood. The spikes on the bottom of the topiary form were pushed all the way into the foam.

christmas treeI decked out that lighted grapevine topiary tree with feathered birds and clusters of small chartreuse holiday glass balls.

Christmas treeWe had a very merry Christmas.

holiday lightinglast night

holiday lightingthe front door New Year’s Eve

holiday lightingA little holiday fireworks in the garden.  Happy New Year!

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Winter Ready

lighted winter containerWe finished our last winter installation this Tuesday past. A client who is out of town on holiday did not mind if her winter pots did not get done until after December 25th. Her home is now winter ready for her return. Yesterday we finished the winter pots at the store. So we are ready for winter too. The garland got done early in the season. We only have 6 or 7 to do in any given year. Buck’s fabricators at Branch make them, and install them. They do help a great deal with the winter containers, once those holiday garlands are done and hung. Once the first 6 garlands for clients were done and up, they made our shop garland. We had that garland, and not much else until 2 weeks ago, when Rob had a moment to dress this cast iron cauldron for winter. The spruce tips were a new green for us-of course he wanted to try them out. The hand wrought iron topiary form from England is wrapped with Lumineo LED string lights. Not so easy to see in this picture are a number of small scale pine cone picks that for all the world look like they are attached to those spruce tips. For weeks, a garland and a single pot were all we had to show for the winter.

So why wouldn’t I dress the store for winter early in the season? Lots of our shop clients would like to see what we have a mind for the season. Some of them might be inclined to take some aspect of our idea into consideration for their own winter holiday. There are plenty of good answers to that question. The strongest answer is that our clients come first. We did just shy of 60 projects between November 10 and December 24. Just about 200 containers. And two holiday parties. This is a lot of of work to do in a very short amount of time. Not every client can be first, but it is easy to do the shop last.

There is another reason why we dress the shop for the winter last. I consider it a personal challenge to design and install from the left over materials. If you were raised as I was, the meals featuring leftovers were not my favorite. Some were downright unappealing.  But as a designer, I have always been intrigued by the possibility that good design can take a rag tag group of the last of the materials, and make something worth looking at from them. I cannot really explain this, but metaphorically speaking,  making a beautiful meal from a group of leftovers is a challenge that is satisfying.

The greens in the window boxes at the shop were the leftover scraps from a busy season.  Even those scraps proved to be not enough. The day after Christmas we bought 6  Frazier fir Christmas trees at a tree lot for one dollar each.  It took four trees to produce enough greens for the window boxes at the shop. These were trees that were moments from being discarded-  I was happy to rescue them from the discard heap. The labor to cut up the branches was considerable. But the end result was worth it. The window boxes do not look like they were stuffed with a material that no one wanted. The spruce tips in the centerpiece came to us late in the season, so we had those left over as well. I was more inclined to try to put them to use, than pitch them.

It is impossible to tell in advance which twigs will be left over. Every year the twig overage is different. This year, we had curly willow left, and just about nothing of any other type of twig. So curly willow was destined to play a part in the shop winter pots. The sage eucalyptus was not so popular this year, but the color is striking with the curly willow, and the red berries.

I will admit we never have any bleached pine cones left over, no matter how many we buy.  So I did purchase 2 cases of them, just for my clients and the shop winter display. We put them in the garland, and in all of the pots and window boxes.  At the close of the season, we had 2 bags left. Detroit Garden Works has their only sale of the year between December 25 and January 7.  One of those bags of cones was sold yesterday, and I am sure the last one will find a home soon.

lighted winter containerWe also manufacture the most stunning lighted rings for winter gardens; I have posted pictures of them plenty of times. Both the hanging and spiked versions are just about gone now.  But we did have 4 steel rings that had not had lights put on them, so we used those rings as a base for a collection of curly willow wreaths that sit at the back of each window box. Those three foot diameter wreaths are properly scaled to our industrial sized windows, and that vibrant color reads even at a distance.

Lighting is such an essential part of any Michigan winter display. They gray days will vastly outnumber the sunny ones from now until April. We did use left over incandescent garland light strings in the window boxes and pots, as we are transitioning over to stocking only LED lights. The light strings on the garland are attached to the grapevine portion of that garland.  Those light strings are LED lights.  One string is 110 feet long, which eliminates the need to string light sets together.  As the LED lights have a 10 year lifespan, we can store the grapevine with the lights still attached for next year’s garland, and maybe the year after that.  The grapevine is a durable material.

Detroit Garden Works for winterI will enjoy being able to walk past all my leftovers every day all winter long.

winter lightingThat pot at the end of the driveway has some company now.

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Gifts For Gardeners

At this time of year I get a lot of queries from wives, husbands, associates, children and friends about what would be a great gift for the gardener in their life. I do the best I can to answer those questions. I can be good, and I can be off. Just saying that my gift guide is no better than my opinion. Like most people, I try to do a good job matching the gift to the person. So to follow is an 11th hour gardener’s gift guide, of sorts. A gift guide for those of you still stymied at the last minute by the gardener on your gift list. I want to preface my remarks with this story. Rob sent me the picture above of an antique staddle stone while he was in England this past September, shopping for the spring 2017 season at Detroit Garden Works.  The stone itself has an incredibly beautiful shape, and an equally beautiful reticulated surface. I loved the stone wall in the background, and the moss at its feet. The fallen green apples and the brown fruit leaves that litter the ground speak to the fall season in Britain. A section of an agricultural wheel in the right of the picture tells me where he was when he took the picture. He has a relationship with a dealer in Britain who farms, and collects fine objects for the garden – many of them with an agricultural history. I am keenly interested in staddle stones, as they are one of many antique or vintage ornaments for the garden that are saturated with the history of a long and strong intersection of agriculture, and the landscape. I like them. But this particular stone takes my breath and my gardening heart away. I of course expected that since Rob sent me this picture, that he had bought this stone. Not so, he tells me today. Dang.  But at least I have learned that objects for the garden redolent with history appeal to me the most.

sneeboer garden toolsThat story told, a stellar holiday gift to the gardener in your life will depend on how far you are willing to go to understand the particular nature of their love of the garden.  Some gardeners are very hands on. The grime under their nails and dirty clothes that have real dirt on them is a clue. The shop carries just about the complete line of gardening tools from the Dutch company Sneeboer. A  hand digging and weeding gardener would love one or a collection of these job specific tools. This company goes so far as to manufacture a left and a right handed trowel.

hori hori garden knifeIf your dirt gardener has no interest in a collection of tools, they might like one tool that does just about all.  Barebones has created a hori hori inspired tool that digs holes, uproots weeds, and incidentally takes the cap of a bottle of beer at the end of a long day in the garden. This tool is hefty and useful.  It can do a job it was never meant to do, and not break.

dibbers and dib dabsIf your gardener likes to grow plants from seed in an orderly way, a dibble or a dib dab is a great choice. Neat gardeners are not so ordinary, but if you have one in your household, it should be apparent. Tools get cleaned off and put away at the end of the gardening day. Dirty boots get scraped, or get left outside the back door. These beautifully made beech wood planting tools may enchant the organized and methodical gardener.

flexi-tieIf your gardener goes so far as to stake wayward perennials and shrubs, a spool of flexi-tie is a great gift.  This chocolate brown stretchy plastic tie is harmless to plants. If the plant grows, the tie stretches.  I have staked big annuals, roses, and the wayward branches of my arborvitae with this tie. Flexi-Tie is English made-we are their only US distributor.

French made black soap with olive oilIf the gardener on your list gardens barehanded, this entirely natural, vegetal, and scentless French made black soap loaded with olive oil is an end of the day treat. Combined with a nail brush, the wash up will make a clean and refreshing ending to the gardening day.

mud glovesOn the other hand, some gardeners prefer gloves. There are plenty gardening gloves out there, but Mud Gloves are inexpensive and durable.

flower press
A flower press is the perfect gift for that gardener who believes that gardening is an art that should be recorded.  It is also a great gift for a young gardener who is just becoming acquainted with the beauty of nature, or an older gardener who is not doing so much digging any more.

vintage watering cansThe container we had delivered from England just this past week features an incredible collection of vintage watering cans. Your gardener may water select plants by hand, or they may be equally happy for a beautiful watering can to ornament their garden. We have a client whose garage has shelves for his collection of vintage watering cans – no kidding.

grapevine topiary formsWe manufacture steel topiary forms in a variety of shapes.  These forms have had grapevine added to them.  If the gardener on your list admires anything formal or topiary-like in the garden, these forms could be a hit. The four prongs at the bottoms make them easy to insert in the soil, or in a container.  They would be good looking planted with a small growing vine, or not. Sunne would be able to figure out how to gift wrap these, and Rob would be able to figure out how how to get them in your vehicle. The rest is up to you.

amaryllisSome gardeners focus on the plants. Detroit Garden Works does carry seasonal plants for those gardeners for whom what is green is everything.  We have just about to bloom hellebores, frosty selaginella ferns, and amaryllis.

amaryllis vaseThe gardener who loves the green, but is not so happy handling the dirt would appreciate an amaryllis vase. An amaryllis bulb can be brought in to bloom by filling the bulb portion of the vase with water, and setting the bulb down so only the roots are in water. The high sides of the vase keep will those tall and heavy bloom stalks aloft. This vase makes keeping the garden going in the winter so simple.

hand made terra cotta vase from EnglandThe gardener who loves fresh cut flowers would appreciate this contemporary garden style vase. This hand made English terra cotta vase imprinted with a fern frond is beautiful. Think how great it would look filled with cut flowers.

holiday ornamentSome gardeners would appreciate a quirky gift far afield from the ordinary. Rob’s holiday arrangement featuring vintage bottles, an English vintage tray, and a silver wire string of lights – different. A one of a kind gift.

citrus and herbs scented candlesOther gardeners like to bring the warmth of the garden indoors.  The citrus and herbs candles would make a thoughtful and beautiful gift. The orange and basil scent is my favorite. Any one of this series of candles might make a great gift to the gardener on your list who has had to move indoors.

Garden Design MagazineStill not so sure what the gardener on your list would be so happy to receive? A gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine is perfect for all manner of gardeners. How so? They cover in great depth a wide range of topics sure to interest every gardener. There are gardens from all over the US to see and read about.They write about plants, garden makers, tools, cut flowers, garden ornament and more. This publication is more book like than most magazines-they do not accept any advertising. The articles are thoughtful, and incredibly well written, and are season specific. The photography is stellar. I am so happy to hear they have a winter issue just about to come out. Jim Peterson and his staff have recreated Garden Design Magazine such that any gardener on your gift list would be thrilled with a subscription. I am so impressed with what they have accomplished. I feel sure this would be a great gift to just about anyone with an interest in the landscape and garden, but there is no need to take my word for it. See for yourself. They have made a short video about who they are, and where they hope to take their publication: Garden Design

I am equally happy to oblige with a link to their subscription page:   a gift subscription to Garden Design Magazine

I know this is all last minute, but help at the last minute can be quality help!

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