The Beginning of the Winter Season

Our winter/holiday season began the moment that our cut greens arrived. Why so early? The daughter of a long standing client is to be married this Saturday the 18th. Lots of family and friends from places far away will be attending.  I promised that her winter pots would be done before the first of their out of town guests were scheduled to arrive. On the face of it, that seemed easy enough. To say we carry cut greens is an understatement. Our west coast grown greens are premium length and fine quality boughs that permit us to provide the proper scale and density to our winter pots.

Those greens were scheduled to be delivered this past Monday. But on Monday, our driver was still in Nebraska. Shipping delays are not that unusual, but I had a deadline that had no wiggle room.  I talked to my client, and assured her that the moment those materials arrived, we would be on her project.  Tuesday morning we were breaking in to the 40 pound boxes of greens as they came off the truck. Wednesday morning first thing we were ready to install.

All of the work of our winter containers is done in the stockroom/garage at Detroit Garden Works. The materials for the centerpieces are arranged around and zip tied to a stout bamboo pole. That pole gets driven down into the pot with a padded mallet once we determine the exact location for that centerpiece. That long stake driven down into the pot provides ballast that keeps that centerpiece perfectly vertical.  Of course smaller pots get smaller stakes. The greens are cut to the length we need, and sharpened at the ends before they are inserted in thick dry foam forms.

Those double layered dry foam forms are cut to the interior dimensions of the pot in question. The bottom layer is inserted into the container.  The top layer stands proud of the rim of the pot.  This enables us to stick greats horizontally – a look which is graceful and natural coming over the edge of the pot. Once the greens in the form are wedged into the pot, and the centerpiece set, we add lights. Winter pots provide an opportunity to light that dark time of year.

We exclusively use Lumineo LED light strands available from Detroit Garden Works for our winter containers. The strands are so lightweight, and entirely flexible. I can easily hold a 110 foot long strand in one hand. They drape beautifully. The lights are shatterproof – stepping on them does no harm. You can count on 50,000 hours, or at least ten years of longevity. The dots of light are set on top of long black green stems. This design makes it simple to hide the lightweight wire, and have the lights proud of the greens. They come in a range of lengths and light densities. They also come is a classic warm color mirroring the color of traditional incandescent strings, or a warm white which is a clearer and brighter white.  These LED light strands do not have the fire power of traditional incandescent winter and holiday lighting, but they make up for that in longevity and economy. Interested in more firepower? Try the cluster lights, which are set very close together. They draw so little power, that they eliminate the need for timers. Detroit Garden Works has switched over to this lighting for its signature light rings.

Great technology can be incredible, and shipping can be delayed, but foremost, our first winter project was very personal. We chose materials that seemed celebratory of a very special event. My client was happy about those materials, and the lighting. I put all of my crews to getting the work done. I was so pleased about the look.  I fluffed this, and rearranged that, but by and large my crew did a terrific job of rising to the occasion.

This pot at the corner of the garage features glass drops attached to a weed tree much like what we did for her 9 years ago. She brought the box of drops to me a week ago.  We added some drops, given the size of a weed tree on our landscape property that we cut for this particular pot.

My client took me through her entire house so I could see the views out her windows. She explained to me how the views from inside to the outside meant so much to her. Seeing the landscape from inside out for the first time was a revelation. I have done lots of landscape work for her. Yesterday, I understood what she sees. What I understand from our first winter installation is that what is personal and important is precious.

 

The Holiday Preview 2017

I am chagrined, but not surprised that I have not managed to put up a post in the past 10 days. I have been racing against a November 9th deadline to transform Detroit Garden Works from the fall to the holiday winter season. No one disputes that signs of the winter and holiday in late October or early November is pushing it, but it takes an incredible amount of time to display thousands of small objects in some coherent way. We have to start early.  I have to be ready in advance of those gardeners who will want to assemble winter container gardens, and add outdoor lighting late in November. Designers who shop our store plan in advance too. Every person in all three companies of my companies pitch in. In July, August and September, boxes and more boxes get delivered. Scott checks in every item, and prices them all. They go back on the shelves, until mid October. All of those boxes are brought down, unpacked, and stashed in fiber pots. Out entire stock room is filled to the brim with materials for the holiday and winter. I walk up and down the rows, knowing the design for the display this year’s collection will be driven by the materials. What will we do?

We allocate a bit more than two weeks to remake all 10,000 square feet of the shop.  Every one of thousands of objects gets a hands on treatment. David and Marzela do the lion’s share of the actual display work. I do not envy them their job.  I may move something five times before I settle on something. But they both are good natured and tireless in their efforts to get everything arranged just right.  Both of them have an excellent instinct for good design-we three have worked together a long time. They know my process, and they are not afraid to say no. I treasure this about them. Yes, I have lots of bad ideas. They like me enough to save me from bad decisions.  These two are the stars of the get ready part of the holiday season. They have brought around many a display from ordinary to stellar – plenty of times. Once the big design gestures are complete, we pick out those materials that support this idea for this room – and that idea for that room.

We tackle the airspace first. It only makes sense that anything to be hung from the ceiling needs to be in place before we load up the ground plane with materials. The Branch crew comes on occasion to help with this.  After the airspace, we vignette the walls.  Both David and LaBelle from the Branch Studio hung all of our wreaths. Anything that needs screws or nails are displayed from the top of our walls down.

If there are big and heavy pieces that need moving, my landscape superintendent Dan and his crew come in lend a hand.  I try to be very organized about what I need, as they are still working on late fall landscape projects. Pots get moved up high, into the stock room, or outdoors. Their work clears the deck for the new season.  Just one day before our evening holiday preview, they installed a lot of our outdoor lighting.

The work involved in that transformation from fall to holiday/winter dates really back almost a year.  Rob and Sunne shopped in January of 2017 for what we have available for purchase now. Their work was months in the making.This list is not in order, nor is it definitive. Holiday and winter picks for containers, bulk sphagnum moss in a variety of colors, Edison style light strings and bulbs, state of the art LED holiday and winter lighting, candles of every description from the US and overseas, holiday ornaments and garlands, felt figures and lighted wood holiday villages, hand blown and painted German glass ornaments, garland of every description, ornaments for holiday trees, preserved boxwood wreaths, wood buckets, galvanized metal bread trays so perfect for a holiday table – the list of the materials we have available for winter is long and varied. Many thanks to Rob and Sunne. Their January shopping trip was every bit of 5 days. What they purchased began trickling in to the shop this past July. August and September were noted for holiday deliveries. October meant boxes and boxes delivered just about every day. This past week, our regular UPS driver was saying hello twice a day.

Our once a year evening winter/holiday preview event was this past Thursday night.  I am relieved to say that we finished the last of the display work 30 minutes before our opening. The Detroit Garden Works staff say it was our best holiday party ever. Rob’s lighting was in evidence everywhere. Fresh cooked pizza was available by the slice in the driveway.  Christine manned the bar as she always has. Snow flurries appeared as if we had called them up! Ha. Hooray. Those months of planning in advance helped to create a perfect moment.

To follow are an embarrassing number of pictures of our shop dressed for holiday and winter. Forgive me, but this is a time of the gardening year that I truly enjoy. The fact that the garden is going dormant is a bruising concept. I choose to brush that moment off. Every gardener has a winter season ahead of them that can be delightful. One has only to decide to garden on.

My favorite part of this early holiday/winter season is the challenge to make good design sense of an ocean of materials. Like the landscape, I am looking at architecture, style, mass, color, line, shape and form. My more than favorite part are those people who make a point of seeking me out to talk to me. They respond to work we have done, and make a point of engaging me. That talk, person to person, gardener to gardener, is the best part of every gardening season.

Should you be near enough to our shop, I would urge you to visit. You will not be disappointed.  I rather think you would be energized, and inspired.  If you are too far away to visit our shop, enjoy these photographs. From me, to you.

shop vignette

dressed for the winter/holiday season

leaf ornaments

rustic wood villages

stocked for the holiday and winter to come

gold

winter vignette

gorgeous velvet pumpkins

holiday ornaments

rustic wood boxes

German hand blown and colored holiday ornaments

winter picks for winter container arrangements

winter vignette

small glass balls in neutral colors

The shop

The winter and holiday season to come? The shop is ready to help with that.

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The Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store.  Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade.  An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website    Boston ivy    I  have copied and posted the following:    “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an invasive plant species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken notice. Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful energy saving plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow.  It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.  The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored.  The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Gardeners have a complicated relationship with their gardens. The balance of power goes back and forth, much like any other serious relationship. A treasured plant/child that fails to thrive-whose fault is that? Exasperation is as prevalent as passion over a garden. A death in the garden, as in a major tree, is tumultuous, and instantly redefines that relationship – for better or for worse. Failure can hang over a garden, and thus a gardener, like a black cloud. A love for the garden can smooth over no end of resentment regarding the day to day difficult details – to a point. Gardeners and nature come face to face just about every day. The outcome is rarely a compromise. The status of most gardens is, to this gardener’s eye, more about win and loose, than a meeting of the minds.  Nature bats last.  I have gardened long enough to know this to be true. Poor soil conditions, light, water, and unfavorable weather can drive the most devoted gardener to the brink.

The intensely stubborn gardener who comes face to face with an overpowering, spectacularly uncaring, and uncompromising nature eventually come around and understands that nature is not a partner. It is an independent force to be reckoned with. There is no reasoning with nature. Those gardeners who believe they can negotiate a relationship with the natural forces that affect their garden have my sympathy.

Truth be told, every gardener is on their own. Some give in. Some give up. Others ignore trouble. Still others take hold of trouble, and address it, one shovel full at a time. I know so many hands on gardeners-the work they do to keep a garden and landscape healthy and viable is amazing. I admire all of them. Some who love their landscape ask for help from me, once trouble bubbles up beyond a quick fix. Some troubles need a helping hand.

Why this essay? A client came to me in despair that his landscape on the front side of his house was beyond repair.  Could I please remake it? Could I start all over again? He was happy for me to strip out everything in this steeply sloping landscape, and begin anew. My visit confirmed that a large area of ground cover had been overrun by weeds. That said, he had a king’s ransom in groundcover, well rooted in, that would not need replacing. I told him that I thought this marriage could be saved.  We just needed to root out the weeds, establish crisp boundaries, restore and create a consistent grade, and add some plant material that would establish a simple and strong design. As much as I love beautiful and thriving plant material, I am in favor of good design organizing the planting. This slope is very steep.  It would be difficult for me to maintain. My idea was to restore a relationship. I did not see the need for a new one.

This simple sketch illustrated how I planned to make some sense of a weed infested steep slope.  My client was dubious that he could restore order to his landscape. I think he was right in that regard. This restoration needed a group effort. I was sure that my group could bring this landscape around. He did like the drawing, and gave me the go ahead. The weeding part would not be overwhelming, as we had four people on that tedious problem. Our weeding process involved tools- all of my staff have their own hori-hori knife. For especially difficult weeds, we had garden forks, and spades. Our process is neither tentative nor dainty. There are times when a tough intervention is a good idea.

This was a marriage eminently worth saving. We removed and rebuilt all of the rock edges of this bed. A strong curve on the house side would be contrasted with a straight side rock edge on the road side. We added soil behind the new rock wall to unify the and simplify the slope from the road to the garage. A landscape bed with a deliberate shape and volume is visually satisfying.  We removed a next to dead dogwood, and replaced it with a columnar beech.

I had no problem having a crew go over every square inch of this bed, and remove weeds. We filled the low spots with new soil. We grubbed out and lowered the high spots. We added more ground cover, densely planted, in the bare areas. We added boxwood to bolster the existing boxwood. We rebuilt the rock edges. We dusted the entire bed with a few inches of ground hardwood bark mulch. And we put him in touch with our irrigation contractor, with the idea of installing a low tech watering system that could deliver the water needed. The restoration was vastly more cost effective than a start from scratch approach. And vastly better looking.

There were a number of Japanese forest grasses existing in this bed that were thriving. We replanted them in a dense circle around a treasured sculpture, and added more. The idea was to make the sculpture a more strikingly prominent feature of the landscape.

In my opinion, the outcome of this renovation is good. The revised landscape features a beautiful steel sculpture.  The ground plane is simply curving, weed free, and plant covered.

My client is pleased by the outcome of this project.  I am especially pleased that we were able to save so much of what existed here. What we added was little. What we rearranged was a lot. The few additions and the considerable subtractions transformed this landscape.

The difference between a landscape gone awry, and in sore need of some restoration, and a strikingly beautiful landscape can be not much more than a few degrees this way or that. Every garden marriage can be saved. I believe this.

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