Up On The Roof

Those of you who make a practice of visiting Detroit Garden Works are aware that we have planter boxes on the roof. Eight rectangular heavy gauge sheet metal boxes span the entire width of the front of the shop. Designing and maintaining the planting for those boxes is a challenge. The weather conditions up there are extreme. It is always hot, windy, and completely exposed to whatever nature has a mind to dish out. Furthermore, whatever gets planted in them has to make some sort of impression from the ground. How are impressions made from afar? Light or pastel colors always read better at a distance. Large leaves are helpful. But the biggest impression to be made in this instance comes from the mass. This is 40 linear feet of boxes. The mass possible in these boxes is always in my favor, if I take advantage of it.

The design is not the only issue. Growing and maintaining plants on the roof has its own set of issues. It isn’t very practical to drag a hose upstairs, so we do have automatic irrigation in the boxes. You would think that would eliminate all of the water worries, but it doesn’t. The need for water changes all the time. Its very difficult to determine the moisture in the soil from the ground, although I personally can spot wilted plants from a long ways away. We have to get up on the roof to groom the pots, and feed them, so it is easy to check the water in person. Chelsea was up there to dead head the green and white plectranthus, and she noticed that the soil was bone dry in a number of places.  It was easy to figure out that some of the micro mist heads had become clogged. Once they were cleaned, the water was flowing again.

The box is planted with two rows. The back row is planted with bouteloua gracilis “Blonde Ambition”.  Commonly known as blue grama grass, or mosquito grass, this hybrid of the species has chartreuse flower heads which gives way to blond seed heads. Those seed heads that resemble mosquito larvae hang from only one side of the flowering stalk. This makes for a horizontal seed head that is as beautiful as it is unexpected. Hardy in zone 3, it is happy in dry to moderate moisture conditions. The seed heads hold through the fall, and in to early winter. For the full rundown, see the entry from the Missouri Botanic Garden website:   grama grass “Blonde Ambition”  Between each grass is the annual blue salvia cultivar, Cathedral Sky Blue.  Salvias are not especially showy, but the color of this cultivar is captivating. Mealy cup sage, or salvia farinacea, is notorious for sporting lots of foliage, and less in the way of flowers.  The grama grass is a perfect companion. It all but obscures the foliage of the salvia. The airy seed heads hover over the the more dense and static salvia flower spikes. I was not expecting the combination to be so appealing.

 The row closest to the street has green and white plectranthus, and white petunias, alternating.  The plectranthus has thick juicy leaves, so this plant is fairly well suited for drier conditions. Petunias, once established like the heat, and moderate water. The plectranthus is already cascading over the edge of the boxes, and hopefully the petunias will grow and ride the wave of plectranthus. We usually have our first hard frost late in October, which means we have almost 3 months more time to go with this planting.

It is easy to see in this picture that white flowers have the best visibility of any color in the landscape. That white will help to draw attention to the cloud of seed heads behind them. The salvia is tough to see from the ground, but it does read as a pale heliotrope blue haze.

The plectranthus is beginning to wind its way into the grass. We will edit that, if it seems to be smothering its neighbors. I do not anticipate much of that, as the front of the boxes faces south. But there will come a point where we let it all go, and watch what results from nature’s free for all. The 4th quarter of a container planting can be its most interesting phase. Once a planting reaches its mature size, its overall shape will have a sculptural element, in addition to the color and texture.

This may not be the most showy of my roof box plantings, but it is most certainly my favorite ever.  I like how loose and informal it is. I love the color. I have David to thank for these pictures up on the roof-I do not go up there. Climbing up to the roof of the Works on an extension ladder is not for me.  How it looks in these photographs makes me think I may want to bring this scheme downstairs somewhere.

There is something about this that makes me glad to be a gardener. And appreciative of the opportunity to plants these boxes differently every year. I suspect Rob really likes them too.    the roof boxes

 

The Garden Cruise, 2017

This coming July 16th will be the 10th year that Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Co have sponsored a tour of our landscapes and gardens to benefit The Greening of Detroit. The tour is a fund raiser for an organization behind which we put all of our weight. The Greening of Detroit? From their 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.”  Their goal was big and bold. In the past 28 years, they have made a mission of nurturing a stewardship of the land that the City of Detroit occupies. We are very interested in what they do.  If you are too, read on.  The Greening Of Detroit   Pictured above is Rob, manning his summer drink bar at the cruise afterglow dinner and drinks in 2008. We try to make it interesting and fun for gardeners to contribute to The Greening.

They describe their mission loud and clear. “Our focus at The Greening of Detroit is to enhance the quality of life for Detroiters by planting trees, repurposing the land to create beautiful and productive green spaces and helping communities rebuild their neighborhoods one lot at a time.  We involve Detroiters in the process through community engagement, education and jobs.” This is a simple and succinct description of what they do, although the reality is much more complicated and labor intensive.  I know first hand how hard each and every one of them works to create green spaces, and how they teach that a respect and an association with nature makes for a better life. I have participated in their events at the Eastern market in Detroit, specifically geared towards growing vegetables at home. I was knocked out by the numbers of people who attended my talk. Every vegetable pot I planted had a Detroiter willing to take it home, and grow it on. That experience will always be with me. Putting on a garden tour is the least I could do to help make my city more leafy. I am pictured on the far right of the picture above, sitting close to my good friend, extraordinary gardener and supporter of everything green, Judy C. She has attended 9 years of cruises, just like me. Gardening can be a fairly solitary occupation. But over the garden, we are close. A love of nature makes it possible for The Greening of Detroit to carry on their work.

I sit on the board of the Greening, although I do not attend their board meetings. I am much more effective as a doer, than a discusser. So I made a commitment to raise money for them. To date, we have raised over 107,500.00 in support of their programs. A tour ticket is 35.00 per person. A 50.00 ticket gets any tour attendee a swell supper, and summer cocktails mixed up by Rob at Detroit Garden Works after the tour. Be advised that his signature gin and tonic this year will feature The Botanist Gin.  Every cent of the money raised from ticket sales goes to the Greening of Detroit. Whatever it costs us to put on the tour is at our expense. This is our donation to a cause we believe in. What you spend for a ticket to tour goes to fund their employment, educational and planting projects. This year’s tour will be terrific, I promise. 6 landscapes and gardens that are well worth seeing.  For more information about the tour, visit our website:  the 2017 Garden Cruise  Our treasured client Jane C has brought as many members of her family to the cruise every year as she can. This picture taken in my yard in 2014 still makes me smile. Thanks so much, Jane!

I have another good reason to smile. I am very pleased to announce that Garden Design Magazine has agreed to co-sponsor our garden tour in support of the Greening of Detroit. Thank you, Garden Design!  Their quarterly publication features the best that American gardening and landscape design has to offer. They deliver an ad free publication that you will savor and save.  Chock full of anything and everything that would interest a gardener, article after article are accompanied by astonishingly beautiful photographs.  Should you not be familiar with their quarterly ad free magazine, I would urge you to become acquainted, here:  Garden Design Magazine  Any reader who subscribes to Garden Design via this Greening Of Detroit tour special offer will get their first issue the summer issue which has just come out, absolutely free. In addition, Garden Design Magazine will donate 12.00 from your paid subscription to the Greening of Detroit. This is an opportunity for any gardener and reader of this journal to enrich their gardening life, and donate to a cause very close to my heart.For subscription information regarding this special offer, click on the cover picture above, or

click on this link:      special subscription offer         Subscribe and support, yes please.

Sunday, July 16. 9am to 4:30 pm, rain or shine. The afterglow light supper and Rob’s garden bar begins at 4:30 pm.

From the cruise last year, a bowl full of zinnias and snapdragons.

From the current summer issue from Garden Design, one of many gorgeous gardens.

From the Greening of Detroit website, a group of volunteer citizen foresters, planting trees. This is a very good look. Tickets to the cruise are available now at Detroit Garden Works, or we can take payment for tickets or donations to the Greening by phone:  248  335 8089. We can mail or email your ticket to you. Many thanks.

 

 

 

 

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At A Glance: Rob’s Pots

To follow is a very lengthy collection of photographs of Rob’s container plantings, but I think the numbers are justified, considering how beautiful the work is. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

French fountain planted with fernsgold sage, gold marjoram, and a glass float

lavender and violas; lettuceWasabi coleus, pinched into a broadly oval shape, and myrtle topiary

bird’s nest fern, lobelia, and creeping jenny in one of his grow spheres.

rosemary, pink marguerites and cream alyssum

herbs with a tilted Russian sage

This galvanized pan with rosemary and herbs got wheeled in and out of the garage on a cart until it was safe to leave the basil outdoors.

tree fern with streptocarpella

coir lined wood crates with verbena bonariensis,  dahlias, marguerites, cream zinnias, angelonia and sweet william

collection of lemon cypress pots and herb pots

eugenia topiaries with yellow petunias

Who knew lettuce could look this good?

pennisetum, yellow celosia and yellow petunias

variegated lavender, marguerites and alyssum

tomatoes and herbs in twig boxesrosemary topiary, lavender and lobelia

coral bells and streptocarpus

containers designed and planted by Rob

ferns and streptocarpus

bok choy, marguerites, osteospermum and cream alyssum

bird’s nest fern, lime selaginella, hosta Sum and Substance, green selaginella

succulents and herbs

tomatoes and weeping rosemary

shade planting at the shop

lettuce, parsley, and violas

rosemary and alyssum

meadow flowers in a wood trough

Strawberries in a moss lined galvanized wire box, looking good.

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March 1

Detroit Garden Works retreats into a semi-closed state from January 15 until the first of March.  During that time we do repairs, repaint, clean, and rearrange. An over simplified outtake on of law of nature we call entropy posits that everything tends to fall apart. Anyone who has ever had a garden, a washing machine or a favorite pair of boots understands how true this is. So every winter we take on a building maintenance project of one sort or another. 10,000 square feet and everything we have in it is a lot to keep clean and in working order. Once that is done, we rearrange every room to include all of the new things for spring that have been coming in since last September. That is an incredibly labor intensive and time consuming job, but by March 1, the shop will have that spring fresh look to it. I know we are just about ready for opening day when Rob is out photographing.

The landscape crews forego the lion’s share of  their winter off to participate in re-imagining the shop for the coming season.  This involves lots of patience moving fragile items, lots of sheer manpower for those incredibly heavy and awkward things, and plenty of attention to detail.  I will confess to asking to move some things around multiple times until I feel the design of it reads right to me. In better than 20 years, I have yet to hear a complaint. At that moment when I am too worried that a direction I have chosen will not work out, Marzela has been known to tell me that that we have it all in hand.

Detroit Garden WorksIt is hard to describe the process by which we turn over a past season to a new one. It is a big fluid situation. Every year, I am surprised by how a small group of people manage to transform the atmosphere of a big space from what was past to the present. The entire process from the patching and painting to the finish runs between 3 and 4 weeks. My job as a designer has a yearly winter project that goes on in my own house.

Detroit Garden Works has been in business going on 21 years. We are in the midsection of the country, 30 miles north of Detroit. That geography may define what plants we are able to grow, but it by no means defines or confines our vision of the garden to the midwest. This means that a gardener who plants herbs in a vintage wood crate is just as likely to find something for their garden as the person who values the clean lines of a contemporary  garden pot. Gardeners are a very diverse lot, and what Rob buys for the shop reflects that.

This group of stone troughs, sinks, and staddle stones that Rob purchased in England this past September are all better than 100 years old, and are covered in lichen colonies that speak to their great age. The large stones with iron rings in the center are cheese stones, that were used to squeeze excess water out of the cheese by virtue of their sheer weight. Though their history is agricultural, their effect in a garden is sculptural.

A collection of English made wood birdhouses in a traditional style are as whimsical as they are utilitarian.

A collection of baskets, chimney stones, wood grape crates, galvanized buckets and steel bird and dog cutout sculptures complete one part of the 2017 collection.

Another room is full of classical antique and vintage urns, benches, tables, sundials, and sculpture.  Any of these garden ornaments would compliment a traditional garden.  It is just as likely that any one of them could organize or define the mood of a garden.

Objects for the garden can set a tone, create a mood, or organize a space. It only takes a gardener who is interested to take their garden to that level. A garden ornament may be dear, or not.  What gives it an aura is the selection and placement of a gardener who who has something else to express about a garden that means much to them.

pussy willow

Of course, our shop would be incomplete without plants.  At this very early stage of thje season, we do have fresh cut pussy willow twigs, both straight and branches.  And a collection of fan willow. The stars of our March season are the hellebores.  By far and away, they are the mainstay of the early spring perennial garden. Our collection this year numbers close to 1500 plants, in various sizes.  We carry named varieties, and a large collection of the justly well known Pine Knot Farms hellebore strains.  How pleased we are to be able to offer these hellebores for the first time.

For those of you too far away to see our collection in person, we can take pictures, and we do ship. And by all means enjoy the following pictures that Rob has taken of individual plants. It is just about impossible for me to pick a favorite. That could account for the fact that I have lots of them in my garden. A hellebore purchased now will be perfectly happy in a light and cool spot until it can be planted outdoors the beginning of April.  This early dose of spring is so welcome. It could be that the best part of the winter landscape is the beginning of the end of winter.

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