At A Glance: The Branch Fountain

April 19, 2014 (49)To each and every one of you who left a comment about this new fountain from Branch, my sincere thanks.  It was a sculpture that was months in the making. So much conversation.  So much thought.  So many members of the Branch group stepping up.  All of us fell for this fountain.  We are pleased that you like it too.  This morning my colleague, friend, and director of landscape services for English Gardens, John Collins, brought an operator in on a Saturday, who drove his Volvo 6000 pound capacity front end loader several miles down Orchard Lake Road to Detroit Garden Works.  Our front end loader could not unload and place this fountain. We needed help, and our good friends at English Gardens responded.

April 19, 2014 (55)Branch spends some of the winter building containers, pergolas and fountains outside of our usual product line. The best part of a fierce winter at Branch is the opportunity to go beyond what we have already done.  Imagination is like an ocean, water charged with energy washing up on the shores of what has been before.  Branch manufactures a stock group of garden boxes, fountains and pergolas.  But in the winter, we go off course, we dream, and we make what we have never made before. This winter work gets all of our blood moving, in spite of the cold.   But my lame attempt at a poetic description of the creation of this fountain lags far behind the story and reality of moving an object that weighs close to 2 tons.    April 19, 2014 (60)John, and his Volvo,  handled it with ease.  I truly value the relationships I have with other companies in my field.  English Gardens has many garden centers in our area.  They speak to a broad spectrum of clients via their retail locations.  They also offer and deliver thoughtful landscape design and installation.  They are friends and treasured colleagues.  I so appreciate that they would lend me a hand.  On a Saturday, of course.  All of us are busy working during the week this time of year.  And especially busy, given how shy spring has been to make an appearance.

April 19, 2014 (64)Once the fountain was in the general vicinity of its home, we set it down with the loader forks.  We picked it up again with straps slung over the forks, to place it true and square to the wall.

April 19, 2014 (72)Once in place, Buck and Sal saw to attaching the jet.  The jet pipe was threaded by hand, and screws into the base plate welded to the fountain floor.  The jet needed a secure installation, as it weighs close to fifty pounds.

April 19, 2014 (76)Any fountain demands a perfectly level placement.  Water levels itself with the horizon.  A fountain out of level -not good.  The water will talk about any mistake.  We spent a good bit of time with a pallet jack and a level.  Any fountain asks for as close to a perfectly level placement as possible.  Leveling is the most time consuming part of a permanent installation.  When filled over the top, the water should flow over every inch of the rim equally, and at the same time.

April 19, 2014 (78)The Branch fountain has a rectangular housing for the pump.  It has a jet in the same style, shape, and proportion as the fountain itself.

April 19, 2014 (79)The rectangular pump cover encloses all of the workings of the pump.  No one needs to see this.  The fountain could be hard wired with a remote location for the pump, if an installation warranted that. But for now, it can be fired up by plugging it in.

April 19, 2014 (80)This steel nest jet breaks the water falling from a very powerful pump.  The music that a fountain produces is important.  I could not be more pleased with the sound.  It is musical, not at all metallic.

April 19, 2014 (81)The fountain filling and the pump running – a moment I will not soon forget.  There is such pleasure in bringing the construction to a close, and attending opening day.  We have 3 other fountains just about finished at Branch.  More on that when they are actually here and running.  Buck says we will have them within two weeks.  It has only been within the last 10 years that I have seriously considered water as a feature in the landscape. Now I would not want to do without it. No matter the size or scale, water in the garden is a pleasure.  Bring on the ponds, birdbaths and fountains.

the Branch FountainThe Branch fountain is now on display at Detroit Garden Works.  Thanks again for all the comments and calls-we all appreciate every one of them.  Should you live nearby, we invite you to stop in and see for yourself.





The Morning News At Branch












bon-voyage.jpgbon voyage.

A Structure

steel-lattice.jpgEvery project, no matter whether it is big or small, begins with that first step. I had several months of communication via email from a design firm in Florida.  Could we build a pair of large scale pergolas for one of their clients?  The emails flew back and forth regarding the design and dimensions.  8 weeks ago we had a call.  The principal in this design firm would be flying up the following day to see Detroit Garden Works, and our operation at Branch.  We were happy to oblige.  Our design client was charming and discerning-that part was obvious.  As a result of that meeting, Buck had 2 very large garden structures to build.  A project of this size started with the first step.  The cut steel stacked on a pallet pictured above represents some 960 pieces of flat steel that would form the lattice pattern for both structures.

steel-pergola.jpgThe pergola roofs would be curved.  Gracefully curved. Curving substantial tubes of steel involves a process that is anything but graceful.  The proper tools and a measure of brute force more accurately characterizes the work.  Any big project that comes along asks for a person in charge who can imagine, and engineer-that would be Buck.  I sent this progress picture to our client early on.  These 8 pieces of steel would become a pair of roof structures.

steel-garden-ornament.jpgSo much engineering precedes the actual construction.  Buck figured out how to build these large garden structures such that they could be shipped.  As few pieces as possible means that the reassembly on site would be straightforward.  The frame of this short side panel is actually 3 pieces which would be unbolted for crating and shipping.

lattice-panel.jpgThe leg and beam panels were finished in a lattice pattern.  Three Branch fabricators welded the side panels lattice in tandem-from the ends to the middle.  The order of events, and the community action of an associated group of welders, is more critical than you might think.  The tremendous heat generated by welding can stymie the most careful design and planning.  Happily for this project, Buck had it all in hand.

finished-panels.jpgThe side panels for this pair of pergolas have been done for a few weeks. They are beautifully and precisely made.

pergola-roof.jpgThe construction of the roofs came last.  Those curved pieces of steel contructed weeks earlier were welded into place.

steel-garden-structure.jpgPrior to the finish of the roof, Buck put one structure together.  He needed to be sure that everything fit true, square and tight.  The orange apparatus you see on the ceiling in the picture above is a bridge crane.  The arm of the crane can move the block and tackle of the crane from one end of the studio to the other.  And up and down.  This makes it possible to handle the construction of very heavy objects.

finished-structure.jpgThe weight of this pergola?  Close to 2800 pounds.  I did take lots of pictures yesterday, as this may be my only chance to see this all put together.  I can imagine that once placed in a landscape, these structures will be stately and beautiful.  We are always appreciative when a client sends pictures of the things we make at Branch in the garden, but we don’t always get them. These will go to a private garden.

steel-pergola.jpgThe first day I walked into the building that would become the Branch Studio, I worried that I had bought place much larger than I would ever need.  Yesterday it occurred to me that the size of this building had not only inspired the imagination of our group, it enables us to take on large projects. The ability to produce work on this scale doesn’t come fast or easy. We had to grow up into it. There is an investment to be made in equipment and tools.  But more importantly, there are those talented and hard working people who are able to work together as a group towards a common end.  There’s lots of listening, and lots of teaching.

steel-roof.jpgOnce the pergola was all put together, I saw cellphones come out.  There were a lot of pictures taken.  A sense of accomplishment and pride was in the air.  As for Buck?  Once he saw what he had designed, engineered and built go together perfectly, he was one very happy man.

the second-roof.jpg
The last roof was finished yesterday. Are all these guys at home relaxing? No. They are at work today for a half day, building the steel cradle/ crates that will hold the pergola roofs during transport.  The crates are necessary, as the roofs are too wide to ship flat. It won’t be long now when a 48 foot long flatbed truck will back into the studio, be loaded, and haul these structures to Florida.  Well done, Branch Studio.

The Roundabout

new-house.jpgBig houses on very small properties-a given, in urban areas.  A very small property that is hosting a very large house presents a special set of design considerations.  The entire space is  instantly visible.  This makes it very difficult to create a sense of mystery, or discovery.  There are few opportunities to create “rooms”, each with their own distinct atmosphere.  There is a single view, and few options to generate other views.  It is easy for a large structure placed in a small space to look uneasy or unsettled.  Big buildings loom over small spaces.  They block the light.  They are the dominant landscape feature with a capital L.

concrete-aggregate-driveway.jpgThis particular property is very narrow.  Critical to a successful landscape design is an assessment of how the house sits relative to the grade.  This house is set very high, given that the client wanted window wells that would add light to the basement level rooms.  This meant that a retaining wall and curb was necessary to create a driveway which is level.    A driveway would necessarily be a big feature of this landscape.  There is no room to make it a secondary feature.  Given the stone on the house, I designed a concrete aggregate driveway with a stone curb.  Why so much fuss over a utilitarian feature?  When the driveway occupies a big part of the front yard landscape, that driveway needs to be functional and beautiful.


landscape-design.jpgI like a front walk which begins at the sidewalk, and ends at the front door.  That route may be direct, or meandering.  It is also nice to have a walk from the driveway to the front door.  This is a matter of convenience.  The idea of pair of walkways in this small space seemed overpowering.  I was thinking about a landscape which would be based on an ellipse.  Much like a roundabout that enables traffic to flow, without stopping and starting.  Though I am nervous approaching a roundabout, I find the process goes smoothly once I am in it.  A gravel ellipse would touch the concrete aggregate drive such that a path from the drive to the front door would be visually unobtrusive.


The gravel ellipse would be bordered on each side by garden.  This would help to keep the gravel surface out of view from the street.  The elliptical ring with the blue handled  flat shovel pictured above would have a gravel surface.  The innermost ring would be grass.


The property had been overrun with trucks over the course of the construction of the house.  Given that the soil had been compacted to an extreme, we dug into it with pick axes and shovels.  We would eventually work some compost into the soil, but I subscribe to the idea that plants will thrive if they like the existing planting conditions.

elliptical-fountains.jpgA pair of half elliptical fountains would be installed in the center of the garden. As much sculpture as fountain, they provide a focal point for the landscape. They could be planted with water plants, or not.



The big gestures are strongly horizontal, in contrast to the strong vertical lines of the house.  Once the arcs of Hicks yews adjacent to the house have a chance to settle down and grow in, they will be maintained at a height below the ground floor windows. The gravel path from the drive to the front door is already invisible from the street. The yew, boxwood, and a pair of DeGroot Spires arborvitae will provide evergreen interest over the winter months.

lawn.jpgThe garden adjacent to the lawn features plants that grow three feet tall, or less.  This garden will be dominated by peonies.  Beautiful in bloom, the make compact and glossy leaved shrubs that look good all summer.  The plants are spaced such to permit the additional of taller growing annual plants.

landscape-design.jpgThere is a mix of plants. The outside garden will be taller, once it grows in.  The Little Lime hydrangeas grow 4-5 feet tall, as will the roses. Russian sage and shasta daisies are bordered in the interior by stachys hummelo and Visions in Red astilbe.    This garden will provide a sense of privacy and intimacy for the inner fountain garden.  Adjacent to the sidewalk, a buffer of lamb’s ears and moss phlox. On the lot line, a single Vanderwolf’s flexible pine, a few magnolia stellata, and a grouping of fothergilla gardenii.  A few lilacs, a favorite of the client, were placed where they would have room to grown.  The lilacs are faced down with lespedeza.   Euonymus “Moonlight” is planted behind the yews.  A stand of “Goldner’s Bouquet” daylilies were planted on the south side of the house.

elliptical-fountains.jpgBordering the fountains, a frame of sedum John Creech will help to keep the lawn mower at bay.  Interestingly enough, it is remarkably tolerant of the overspray from the fountains.  This landscape has only one organizing idea.  But rather than a beginning and an end, there is a roundabout.

schematic-=landscape-plan.jpgA schematic landscape plan is a simple series of shapes that indicate what goes where, and how one travels from one place to another.  If the landscape plan works well on a structural level, then the additional of the plants will bring a sculpture to life that is pleasing to the eye.