The 2016 Garden Cruise

Detroit Garden WorksFor those of you who are not aware that we sponsor a garden tour every year to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit-here are the details.  The Greening of Detroit is an organization that has been planting trees, teaching good environmental practices, hiring young people with poor prospects for summer jobs to water and weed, and sponsoring urban farms since 1989.They have made a mission of the health of the environment, and the health of the people who live in the city of Detroit for 25 years.

the garden cruiseFrom the Greening of Detroit website:  “Between 1950 and 1980, around 500,000 trees were lost in Detroit to Dutch elm disease, urban expansion and attrition. Troubled by this deforestation of a great city, Elizabeth Gordon Sachs devoted herself to reforesting the city. She played a key role in the 1989 founding of The Greening of Detroit. During that same time, economic constraints prohibited the city from replacing those trees. The Greening of Detroit was founded in 1989 with a single focus in mind – restore the city’s tree infrastructure.”

DSC_7282“In 2015 Detroit successfully emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in the United States  and swiftly began the long journey toward financial stability. This is no easy feat, but a necessary one for survival and transformation. In its heyday during the 1950s, Detroit grew to accommodate almost 2 million residents. Today we are a city of less than 700,000 residents amidst miles of vacant land. Yesterday’s industrial urban center will become tomorrow’s model of a greener, cleaner city.”

DSC_7286“Our focus at The Greening of Detroit is to enhance the quality of life for Detroiters by repurposing the land to create beautiful and productive green spaces. We involve Detroiters in the process through community engagement, education and jobs.”

DSC_7285“The trees we plant, the gardens and green spaces we create and maintain, and the workforce training programs we operate all provide economic, environmental and social benefits to the communities we serve. But most of all, we inspire visitors and residents to imagine a new paradigm for the city of Detroit.”

DSC_7292“We are committed to building stronger relationships in the communities we serve. We assist neighborhood groups in forming block clubs; visioning green strategies for vacant lots; and coordinating neighborhood clean-ups, tree plantings and community gardens. We recruit Detroit residents for job training and work in green skill jobs.”  I can attest to the fact, given my association with them over the past decade, that they have worked tirelessly for the environmental health of the city of Detroit and its residents. I greatly admire their efforts. I more admire that they have worked towards their mission for 25 years. They are a serious group. Further interested?

thegardencruise.orgDeborah Silver and Company, our landscape design/build firm, Detroit Garden Works, a retail store that specializes in containers and garden ornament of every period and aesthetic persuasion, and the Branch Studio, which fabricates heirloom quality pots, garden furniture, and garden ornament in steel steeped in the midwest tradition of fine manufacturing – all three of my companies support the mission of the Greening of Detroit. We support their mission with words, but we also host a garden tour once a year to raise money for their programs. We have raised to date 93,000.00 to date in support of their mission.

IMG_9409Though I sit on their board, I am not so happy or useful attending meetings.  In 2008, I decided to sponsor a garden tour of landscapes of my design or influence, in an effort to raise money for them. 100% of the cost of the tour tickets goes to the Greening. A tour ticket is 35.00. A tour ticket including our after tour dinner and cocktails, and live music is 50.00. We handle the cost of that afterglow dinner party on our own. It is worth the price of admission to see what summer cocktails Rob has in store for this tour, in addition to his stellar gin and tonics.

IMG_9415We send the entire proceeds of all of our ticket sales to the Greening.  Any other expenses, we handle. If you are a local gardener with a keen interest in design, and have a mind to contribute to an organization that has the best interests of an organization devoted to the greening of Detroit, come tour with us. The entire price of your ticket will go to an organization whose mission is dead to right. We sponsor an afterglow dinner and drinks at Detroit Garden Works, starting at 4pm. Our garden cruise has a website. You can read about this year’s landscapes scheduled to be on tour Sunday July 17 here:  The 2016 Garden Cruise   Any questions about the tour that the website does not answer?  Call us.   Detroit Garden Works

IMG_9226 (3)Every one of the 6 landscapes on tour is worth seeing-I can promise you this. Our light dinner and drinks, replete with live music from Tola at Detroit Garden Works, is an event all of us enjoy. To those of you who came from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Minnesota last year-thank you.  I hope you all will come again this year. If you have not been on our tour, consider it. The Greening of Detroit, and our companies who support their work, will thank you. We have a city we love, and a city we support. Hope to see you July 17.







Too Hot

elegant feather plantA very long run of blisteringly hot days is tough to cope with in mid June. No person or plant is ready for July weather this early. The elegant feather plant, a native of Texas, is wilting in this container. We have lots of seasonal and annual plants in small containers at Detroit Garden Works. Windy weather in the 90’s means those pots on the first bench dry out before the last bench gets watered. Rob and Amanda have been on the business end of the hoses non stop for days. When I turned 60, I told Rob I did not want to water any more. But I watered today. Patty Watkins, co-owner and waterer in chief at Bogie Lake Greenhouse, is ready to turn over her hose to her daughter Jessie. Patty is just about the kindest, most friendly, most helpful, and most even tempered person on the planet.  If you shop at Bogie Lake, you know this. But the heat in her greenhouses is taking its toll. She is really ready to drop that hose. I can’t imagine how she and Mark have been coping.

late June container garden (14)I had a landscape call this morning with a client. The three of us met at a table in the back yard at 10:30 am. The sun was scorching. It was a relief to all of us when the plan review was done. Sitting in the sun when it is 93 degrees is unpleasant to say the least. In the car on the way home, the air conditioning blasting, I was thinking about the sun. The light of the sun reaches earth via radiation. That light is translated into heat. I am hazy on the science, but I do know a shady spot out of the sun makes heat much more tolerable.

late June container garden (15)It is astonishing that the sun, some 93 million miles from earth, can send any gardener running for cover. How heat affects people is well known. Last week’s container plantings and landscape work made for a busy week. Hot weather we take precautions. We may start work early, and quit before 3pm. Or we schedule the hot spots in the morning, and the shadier work in the afternoon.

late June container garden (10) When the weather is incredibly hot, it is important to understand how that heat affects plants. Tropical and seasonal plants originate in climates known for very hot weather. My containers at home were planted only a week ago.  I know they have not rooted into the surrounding soil yet. Though tropical and seasonal plants have an incredible capacity to thrive in high heat, that capacity implies a root system that is well established. The short story?  I am watering every day.

late June container garden (16) The container in the foreground featuring zinnias, petunias and variegated licorice will be happy with a hot and dry summer, once the plants are established. Other heat loving plants include mandevillea, ageratum, trailing verbena and lantana. Lavender and rosemary, and other plants with needle like foliage are uniquely positioned to tolerate heat. Their leaves have very little surface area exposed to the desiccating effects of heat and wind. My butterburrs, on the other hand, with their giant thin leaves, will wilt at the first sign of high heat. Dahlias will react similarly. I did replant isotoma around the fountain. A tuneup to the irrigation means I will be able to give them the water they need. The Princeton Gold maples provide them with a little afternoon shade.

late June container garden (12)I planted my containers at home based on a prediction by the National Weather Service for a summer season that would be very hot and dry. And a request from Buck for “big leaves”. I have never been much of a fan of alocasias myself, the byproduct of which is that I have never grown them. It will be interesting to see how they do.  I did locate them in areas where they have bright light, and not so much sun.

late June container garden (13)This container always has lime nicotiana.  Both the attending New Guinea impatiens and begonias will be fussy in the heat. I always water rot prone plants at the soil line, and avoid getting the leaves wet. I only water when they are dry, and not when the air temperature is high. I do not give my plants a cool shower. Though I may find that a good idea on a hot day, what I like is not necessarily what my plants like. They need moisture in the soil to thrive. Moisture in the air is another word for humidity.  Humidity can foster mildew and other fungal problems.

late June container garden (5)No seasonal plant thrives in great heat more than caladiums. This dwarf pink variety with a green edge is beautiful.  The maiden hair fern you see is not a hardy variety.  It is a tropical variety which will handle our heat, given sufficient water. I do recall a summer in the 1980’s with incredibly high temperatures and little rain. A nursery we dealt with in Lake County in Ohio lost thousands of rhododendron and Japanese maples.  The soil temperature was so high that the plants perished.

late June container garden (4)I know that fuchsia thrives in cooler conditions.  I have tucked this fuchsia Ballerina standard close to the north wall, hoping that a lack of sun will keep it sufficiently cool. I have had good luck in the past growing this cultivar throughout the summer. Plants that experience higher temperatures than what they can tolerate will aestivate, or enter a mild state of dormancy as a survival mechanism.  This means they will quit flowering until the heat passes.

late June container garden (19)My  driveway garden is sunny for a number of hours, and shady for better than a number of hours. It is a good spot for New Guinea impatiens. No seasonal plant protests dry conditions more dramatically than New Guinea impatiens. They can wilt down an hour after they have gone dry, making the foliage look like braised lettuce. I try never to let them get this dry. The stress extreme stress from lack of water is so hard on plants.

late June container garden (22)The good part of the heat is that plants that have barely been in the ground a week are taking hold and beginning to grow.










The John Davis Roses

climbing roses (11)One of the many benefits of planting summer containers for a client that has had a landscape and garden designed and installed by us is the chance to see how that landscape is growing on. This client is 45 minutes away, so my visits are not all that often. I will drive out whenever there is a problem that needs some attention. But this yearly visit is never about trouble. It is about adding some seasonal plants to a garden that is the apple of its owner’s eye. She not only looks after it, she truly enjoys every bit of it. Planting her containers in June is a pleasure. The soil is warm, and the plants that have spent the early weeks of the summer protected from unpredictable weather in a greenhouse look great, and will handle the transplanting without issue. Though we planted 21 containers today, the big news of the day were the John Davis roses.

June 13, 2016 055John Davis is one of the Canadian Explorer Series of extremely hardy and disease resistant roses developed by Agriculture Canada in the 1960’s.  The goal was to hybridize garden roses that would not only withstand cold northern winters, but would perform beautifully in spite of it. John Davis is hardy in zone 3-think of that. There are quite a few roses in the series, all of which are good garden plants in my zone, meaning they are tough plants that shrug off the fungal diseases roses are famous for. They bloom as if there were no tomorrow. John Davis is a great choice for a not too tall climber that has the look of an old fashioned rose more often seen in England or California.

climbing roses (6)This is the 4th June for the John Davis climbing roses planted on each post of a pair of long pergolas that frame the view from the back of the house to the lake. Each was planted with a companion clematis, which range in color from white to dark purple. The clematis do not seem to mind the competition from these vigorous roses. Though John Davis usually tops out at about 7 feet, these roses are up 9.5 feet off the ground, and have started to grow over the roof of the pergola. I will be interested to see if they keep adding more height. I have planted John Davis in a number of gardens, almost all with great success.  This group has seemed happy from the moment they were planted.  The soil is heavy clay, and does not give its moisture up easily.  There is a constant breeze from the lake, which I suspect has something to do with the fact that I never see mildew or black spot on the plants. They get a yearly dose of rose tone, and extra water when they need it. All that remains is to stand back in June, and take in the bloom.

June 13, 2016 065The lax canes have had some support to attach them to the pergola poles, but that is not visible. The flowers are not particularly large, but there are thousands of them on each one of these plants. I am surprised that this series of roses is not more readily available in my area.   The roses we have available at Detroit Garden Works, including John Davis, had to be custom grown. I made arrangements for that almost a year ago.

June 13, 2016 047I understand the reluctance to grow roses.  They are ungainly plants that no one would have, but for the bloom and perfume.  They routinely fail.  I mitigate that tendency by planting the graft 2 to 3 inches below ground. No gardener wants diseased plants in their garden. Choosing roses with a clear track record of resistance to disease and hardiness is educated buying. The Canadian Explorer roses might be worth a look. I find that they are reliable in every regard.

June 13, 2016 110Roses in bloom like this is a garden experience like no other for a gardener who greatly values romance. Roses invoke romance like no other garden plant. I would go on to say that the big idea here is that any garden plant in the right place and endowed with the proper care will thrive. So much about the success of a garden depends on a thorough understanding of the horticultural requirements. I am rarely perfect in this regard. I have been known to short some greatly needed sun to sun loving perennials. I have placed my share of part sun perennials in shade that is too deep. I have exposed shade plants to blistering sun, in the hopes they will adjust.  I have planted perennials that require perfect drainage in soggy soil, in hopes I could skate by.  Suffice it to say that everything I have leaned about planting perennials has come from the plants.  Any plant that is unhappy will speak back to me, if I am inclined to observe, and listen.

June 13, 2016 080These John Davis roses in bloom are extraordinary. I can only claim that I somehow managed to put the right plant in the right place, in the beginning. What had happened over the past 4 years is a constellation of events attended by nature, and looked after by an extraordinary client. This does not happen so often. Thanks, Harriet.

June 13, 2016 053The day planting containers here was a moment I shall not soon forget.

climbing roses (10)June garden

climbing roses (8)Venus dogwoods in bloom

climbing roses (1)John Davis

climbing roses (7)The greater garden is just as beautiful.

climbing roses (5)oxeye daisies and amsonia “Blue Ice”

climbing roses (4)looking towards the lake

climbing roses (9)A June garden-what could be better?



Green And White

green and white (9)Green and white in a container garden can be spectacular. I have more than a few clients who request this cool and collected color palette. Summer in the mid west can be cruelly hot. A white garden always looks cool and crisp; white shrugs off the heat. White flowers read well from a distance, and are startlingly beautiful at dusk. When they are well grown, white flowers are stunning.  Among my favorites?  White hardy hibiscus, Visions in White astilbe, white anemones of any genus, white daffodils, white roses, need I go on?  Green is what gives a garden or landscape a living context. Living green is vastly different than green paint. Light endows green and white in a garden with as much visual energy as serenity. Odd, that. This client has a decidedly contemporary point of view, and a big love of white. I try to give that white to her with both reliable and unusual plants. The diminutive white and purple streptocarpus, the big leaved white caladiums and the white streaked watermelon pepperomia set the stage for this very shady set of boxes.

green and white (13)Birds nest ferns and variegated licorice provide the supporting cast. The white New Guinea impatiens are the most astrikingly white of the group, and they are thriving here.So happy to see them tolerating such a low light level.  This is the shadiest of my green and white containers for this client. I deliberately split up the white plants, to establish a lively rhythm.

green and white (8)The window boxes in front-I have no need to trick them out. A contemporary expression asks for simple.  White New Guinea impatiens in all of the boxes-perfect. Once they have a little time, and some more heat, they will thrive.

green and white (11)The rosemary standards were part of the spring planting.  There is no need to replace them.  The are growing.  I under planted them with scotch moss, just to give the trunks a little space. I have my fingers crosses that the water the moss wants will not be too much for the rosemary. Every container planting has its drama. The key will be thoughtful watering. The XXL dahlia series is the best medium height dahlias it has ever been my pleasure to grow. The stems are sturdy.  They are disease resistant.  They flower heavily early on. They are oh so showy.  White petunias in the front-ordinary as can be.  But paired with showy oregano, the relationship is a little more complicated and interesting.  green and white (14)My crew fusses that I post pictures during a planting.  They would rather I take pictures at the end, when everything is thoroughly watered and cleaned up.  I like the pictures with the dirt. I cannot really explain this, but I learned from my Mom that good friable soil that is loaded with organic material and drains well is clean. The dirt inside my socks and under my nails this time of year is a comfort.  It means all is right with my world.

green and white gardenThose dahlias laid out in a block awaiting planting are so incredibly beautiful. Showy white plants have their place in pots.  An ordinary container cannot hold enough Queen Anne’s Lace to make a statement.  Those airy blooming relatives of the common carrot belong in a field. Selecting white flowers for containers?  Try white dwarf cosmos or cleome, white angelonia, white New Guinea impatiens, Lanai white trailing verbena.  white geraniums-if you must. White zinnias, both dwarf and tall are great in containers. As a centerpiece, white mandevillea cannot be beat. Vinca vine-as ordinary as red geraniums. But skillfully used, it is a beautiful white accent in a container. We have on occasion wound it upwards on a plant climber.

green and white (6)This rosemary topiary did not ask for much fuss.  A collar of white petunias is enough.

green and white (2)I planted a tall cylindrical pot in deep shade with one of my favorite green plants-pepperomia. Trailing down the sides, the garden variety vinca vine, and a white variegated tradescantia. Once this grows out and up, it will do justice to this gorgeous contemporary Atelier Verkant container.

green and white (3)The mix of classical and contemporary containers here is striking.  A green and white planting is a great way to focus on the mix of container shapes and materials. In a month, the relationships the plants forge from one pot to the other will be much clearer.

green and white (10)This pot features a rosemary topiary surrounded by a giant collar of lavender.  I am quite sure that given some time, each of these elements will grow in to each other in an interesting proportion.  I do not mind the lavender in this green and white color scheme. A green and white rule is better when that rule is broken.

green and white (12)Should I ever plant a spike or a phormium in a container, Lucio ties up that cascading centerpiece, so he can plant all around it.  This is a picture not so much about design, but about how my crew and I work together. All of them to the last have a gift for planting and growing plants. This is his signature, which I greatly respect.


green and white (5)Every plant has a face. That face needs to be forward.  Every center plant needs to be perfectly placed in the middle. Every center plant needs to be oriented to the primary view. Some center plants need to be planted at the back of the container, depending on their placement. Some plants need to be pitched over the edges of a container. Others need to be planted vertically.  This is not so much about color, texture or mass as it is about planting technique. My crew never rushes a planting.  Watching them plant from a plan is the best part of my good life.

green and white (4)I am very pleased about this day’s work.

green and white (1)

green and white (16)Green and white. Pure delight.