Vernissage 2016

008Seven years ago, on April 1 of 2009, I published my very first post entitled Vernissage. As in a beginning-not only of the gardening season, but a beginning for my writing. How pleased I was to have a  a forum for my gardening journal!  I  revisited and revised this first post in 2010,  2012, 2014, and 2015. To follow is this year’s version of that first essay, Vernissage.

VERNISSAGE (15)Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years. She is an art collector. Our conversation over the years spoke a lot to the value of nurturing long term interests and commitments.  I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park.  Needless to say, the years flew by, from one project to the next.  I have favorite projects. An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant. A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later. Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new. I learned how to operate a bulldozer,  I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on part of the sculpting of the ground.  There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm. Deterring deer was nearly a full time job. Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new. All these years later, there is a body of work existing that I call the landscape.

May 11, 2016 006In a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening. The opening of the gardening season has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does.  But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Some springs are notable for their icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground. The snow that can be very much a part of the landscape in mid April.  This year, a different kind of drama altogether. A very warm early March, and then a stony silent cold we have yet to shake.  I usually associate spring with the singing of the birds. I hardly noticed the singing this year, until this past week. The cold that has been reluctant to leave means my experience of spring has been late. But every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently. To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature is a challenge I anticipate. This past winter was mild. Endlessly mild. That endless and mild cold is still going on. It has been hard to rev up. The last of this cold just about reduces my spirit to a puddle on the ground.  Spring is finally underway, in a chilly sort of way.  I may not like the lingering cold, but my spring plants are holding.  The daffodils are incredible this year.  The magnolias have been blooming for weeks. The hellebores have been in bloom for going on 6 weeks.  The leaves are beginning to emerge.  The perennial garden is stirring.

VERNISSAGE (1)Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea.  I put it to paper.  I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back. This is the most important part of my work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in. The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill.   The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure.  The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature.  I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery.  I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution of a garden seems to have ill defined beginnings, and no end.

VERNISSAGE (4)This spring will see an average share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs.  The winter cold and wind was neither here nor there. I am still wearing warm clothes. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, I get my spring.  I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my membership.  The birds singing this 11th day of May l means it is time to take stock.  And get started.

VERNISSAGE (3)I can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can coax or stake what the heavy snow crushed.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden. I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder. Rob’s spring pots of daffodils have been in uninterrupted bloom for weeks.

April 5, 2016 047This spring marks 24 years that Rob and I began working together, and 20 years that the shop has been bringing our version of the garden to all manner of interested gardeners. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden.  No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir.  The beginning of the gardening season we short list as the vernissage.

VERNISSAGE (14)We have begun to plant up spring pots.  Our pots feature hellebores, primrose, and spring flowering bulbs. What a relief to put our hands back in the dirt.

VERNISSAGE (9)My garden at home is greening up. A sunny but chilly evening brings me outdoors. Being outside today without a winter parka- divine. The thought that the entire gardening season is dead ahead is a very special kind of delight.

VERNISSAGE (2)Vernissage? By this I mean spring. I am so enjoying it.

Grape Hyacinths

Muscari_armeniacum2In my opinion, a drift of grape hyacinths in full bloom is one of spring’s  crowning moments. They may be small, but they pack a big visual punch. The muscari group is one of the most charming and most reliable of all of the small spring flowering bulbs. The tiny corm, planted only 3″ below the surface of the soil in the fall, will give rise to a pair of thin strappy white striped leaves, and a flowering raceme the most brilliant shade of cobalt blue.  That blue makes a spring garden worth growing.

grape hyacinths (2)From my  favorite on line horticultural reference for the Midwest, the Missouri Botanic Garden Plant Finder, I read the following:

“Muscari armeniacum, commonly called grape hyacinth, is an early spring-blooming bulbous perennial that is native to southeastern Europe (including Armenia). It features conical racemes of slightly fragrant, tightly packed, deep violet blue, urn-shaped flowers atop scapes rising to 8” tall in early spring. Each bulb produces 1-3 scapes with 20-40 flowers per scape. Each flower has a thin white line around the rim. Dense inflorescence purportedly resembles an elongated, upside-down bunch of grapes, hence the common name. Scapes rise up from somewhat floppy clumps of narrow, fleshy, basal, green leaves (to 12” long) that appear in autumn and live through the cold St. Louis winter to spring when the plants flower.”

This description tells me that Muscari will grow well in my garden, but I would like to add that they are simple to plant. All you need is some decent friable soil, and a finger to push them below ground. I have seen corms left laying on the surface send a few roots into the soil, and bloom on their sides the following spring. They are willing.

grape hyacinths (3)Grape hyacinths will come up and thrive just about anywhere you plant them.  I would avoid soggy soil that would rot the corms, and dark places fit only for ferns. They come up through a lawn without complaint. They are incredibly hardy. I have never done anything to mine, except plant and enjoy. They are persistent year after year, and can make substantial clumps. The only difficulty?  You have to buy and plant them in the fall.  Preferably in 50’s or 100’s. If you are willing and able, they will be too.

DSC_5201A new landscape project I am about to install involves the installation of a fairly large partial shade garden. My clients are very fond of blue flowering plants, and especially blue spring flowering bulbs. The rustic stone walk was finished in late October.  The coast was clear to plant bulbs, which we did fairly late in November.  It was cold, but as long as the ground is not frozen, spring flowering bulbs can be planted. Since the planting would be late, we stored the bulbs in a cool place, so they would not suffer from being out of the ground so long. Muscari cultivars seldom grow talled than 8″, so planting them near the walk made sense.

DSC_5204We planted a variety of muscari cultivars, all the the blue and white range. We planted the tried and true muscari armeniacum, and  Blue Magic, Atlantic muscari, Magical Mixture, and superstar. Lots of cobalt blue, light blue, with a smattering of white. We also planted several types of camassia, and chionodoxa forbesii Blue Giant, to extend the blue spring bloom period. Later yet, there will be some smaller growing alliums.  These muscari blooming make a quite a statement, even though they are blooming in an ocean of bare dirt.

DSC_5199The planting of this woodland garden got a head start last fall.  The locations of these bulbs will direct the height and bloom season of what I plant with them. We will plant sweet woodriff and European ginger. Were the soil not so sandy, I would plant forget me nots. I will plant more Virginia bluebells to the patch that is existing, Jack in the pulpit, Dutchman’s britches, anemone sylvestris, campanula porscharskyana, lamium white nancy, and so on.

DSC_5197We also have planned for a few Venus dogwoods in the sunniest places, a few witch hazel, and a few Canadian hemlocks. Blue leaved hostas, big and small. If we plant any astilbe, it will be a loose and airy growing version. A stand of goatsbeard is a good choice for the back of the shady border. Like snakeroot,  they take some time to establish and grow – but they are well worth the trouble.

DSC_5196Right now, this is a garden of possibilities.  What a pleasure to be at that point, in early spring. If you are planning a garden in our zone right now, check out the Missouri Botanic Gardens opinion about your choices. And leave some spaces and places for grape hyacinths.

the Plant Finder

Galvanized

the branch studio fountain 2016Every winter, the Branch Studio fabricates a new fountain or two. Some years that fountain is classical in form. Classical garden fountain style interpreted in steel interests me, and our clients. Our fountains come ready to fill, plug in, and turn on. There is something about water in the garden that enchants, so I like to make it easy as possible to have. Some years our winter fabricated fountain is contemporary. We have in the past fabricated an elliptical and rectangular steel fountain with a congested steel rod surface. The rectangular fountain has over a mile of steel rods welded to its exterior, and weighs close to 4000 pounds. Have you seen it?  The elliptical fountain has been placed in a private garden. In the interest of fabricating a one of a kind fountain, our newest contemporary fountain is a shape we have never done before.
The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (3)This winter, our contemporary fountain from Branch is spherical, and features our signature stick like and prickly surface. A pair of steel hemispheres, 64 inches in diameter,  got welded together. We sliced the top third off that welded hollow sphere.  The remaining 2/3rds of a sphere became the armature for this fountain. Owen and Riley, with followup from Sal, spent a good bit of the winter welding sticks of all different sizes to the surface. Our group of companies, Deborah Silver and Company, who designs and installs landscapes, Detroit Garden Works, who retails just about everything beautiful and useful for a garden and landscape, and The Branch Studio, who fabricates whatever garden ornament a gardener or landscape designer might dream up for a project –  hope to help every gardener and landscape designer get where they want to be with their landscape. But in the dead of the winter, we just express ourselves, and keep our fingers crossed there will be a client who hears what we have to say.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (1)Branch created this fountain for the garden strictly on speculation. Why would I speculate?  All of the Branch fabricators, and the studio head, Buck, are very creative people. They need a project once in a while that allows them to stretch their wings, and fabricate something new. This is a breath of fresh air for our group. It creates excitement in the studio. And is is good for a client seeking a very unusual and one of a kind ornament for the garden.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (2)The Branch group handled the fabrication of this fountain like they were born to make it. Once the stick making had covered the surface, a decision was made to leave the 6″ wide return plain. The contrast of one complex surface to the other plain one is striking and pleasing. The fountain jet will be fabricated next. The jet pipe will mimic the spherical shape and construction of the fountain. Water from the jet pipe splashing over a rod steel covered sphere will be quite musical.  The sound of a fountain is a considerable part of its attraction.

20160419_124028 (2)Clients considering the purchase of Branch containers are concerned about the longevity, and the durability of their resistance to rust, and rightfully so. Everything we manufacture is meticulously hand fabricated with heavy gauge hot rolled steel, with a lifetime of service in mind. The cost of them reflects this. What we do to prevent rust is considerable. All of our containers, fountains, and garden ornament are sent out for galvanizing after it is fabricated. Our galvanizing company has a zinc tank  6 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and forty feet long. This shape has everything to do with the fact that most steel that comes here for galvanizing are steel beams using in the construction of building, bridges, and so on. The plant manager was dubious the day we arrived with our first load of garden containers. 13 years later they know we are as serious about rust prevention as we are about beauty. We pay for galvanizing by the pound.  Our scale at Branch only weighs objects up to 2000 pounds.  This fountain went over the 2000 pound mark.  We won’t know what it weighs until after the galvanizing is complete. The fountain is lifted with a bridge crane via steel straps in preparation for the dip.

20160419_124120This tank holds 824,000 pounds of molten zinc, heated to about 900 degrees. The galvanization process completely immerses the raw steel object in molten zinc, very slowly.  The shock of the heat to the steel is considerable.  Steel which is not thick enough can be damaged by the plating process. The molten zinc coats every surface with a skin of zinc. How much of a skin?  This fountain will weigh 20% more once it is galvanized. This means that a 3000 pound object will emerge with 500 pounds of zinc coating its surface.The fountain was lowered into the tank ever so slowly.

20160419_124757 The shop foreman made a trip up to Branch to inspect what we had a mind to galvanize, before we took the fountain to them. An object of this size and complexity is a once a year project for us. There are logistical issues that need to be addressed in advance. There was plenty of discussion about what it would take to get the fountain to sink slowly and evenly. An object that floats on top of the molten zinc is a problem object. Our big spherical fountain had lots of holes drilled in it, which will be repaired with galvanized steel discs once the galvanizing process is complete. Our garden boxes have loose galvanized plate steel bottoms which are added after the boxes are galvanized. A box with no bottom sinks in the zinc bath.

20160419_124729The fountain took as long to emerge as it did to descend.

20160419_124500A molten zinc tank always has floating hardened zinc and impurities floating on the surface.  Prior to and during the galvanizing of this fountain, the surface of the molten zinc got raked, so those impurities would not be deposited on the surface. Occasionally a glob of something will stick to an object.  If it is chipped off, or ground down too hard, the integrity of the galvanizing might be breached.

20160419_124541If a galvanized object from us develops a small rust spot, it will do so within 2 weeks of being outdoors. That spot can be repaired with cold galvanizing compound. A breach in the galvanizing is a rare occurrence.

20160419_124549The moment any steel object emerges from a zinc bath sports a shiny as silver color. Once that object comes in contact with the air, that shiny surface begins to oxidize, and will become that dull gray color one usually associates with galvanized metal.

20160419_124649The process by which Branch fabricates, finishes, and sells their garden pots, fountains, pergolas and ornament is all about beautiful design and fabrication, and a thoughtful and serious finish that is unlikely to need any maintenance. My thanks to the plant manager for taking these pictures for me.

spherical Branch fountain (2)Back at Branch, the fountain is awaiting our final signature finish, which will give the steel that blue gray patina which is reminiscent of lead. Heather, who handles all of the Branch Studio inquiries, came with me for a look see today.

spherical Branch fountain (1)I am sure this fountain will be up and running soon.

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?