As I write, Rob is winging his way towards Europe. He sent me this photograph from his seat on the plane as the sun was rising behind the curvature of the earth-breathtaking. The plan-a two week buying trip that will include antique shows, and visits to dealers in garden ornament with whom we have long standing relationships. He has not shopped for Detroit Garden Works in Europe for a few years-I have my reasons. The purchase price of any garden ornament in another country is only the beginning of what it costs to have that object in the shop. Rob has to fly over; he needs food and lodging every day. Anything he purchases needs to be collected, stored for a time, maybe crated for shipping, get shipped to New York or Montreal, loaded onto a train for Detroit, cleared through US customs via a custom’s broker, trucked to the shop, and unloaded. Everything that gets unloaded needs to be uncrated and inspected. All of the crating and packing material needs disposal. This is an arduous and expensive process. Furthermore, the currency exchange rate has not been so friendly the last few years. One year I had a container devanned in Norfolk Va. US Customs randomly picks containers arriving from Europe to be completely unloaded, and inspected. The expense incurred by this “devanning”-mine. In the process of offloading, and reloading, I had many objects damaged by fork lift forks, and careless repacking. Though I insure my European shipments, it took 2 years to negotiate a settlement for a fraction of the worth of the damaged load. Every time I shop overseas, I hope for smooth sailing over the ocean, and a lucky number in customs. We concentrated on shopping the US the past few years, with good results. But no matter the origin, that unique mix of antique, vintage and one of a kind objects is what makes the shop an experience unlike any other. Rob goes to a lot of time and trouble to insure that should you walk through the door, the odds you will find something you have not seen before are good. The odds of finding something that will delight or enchant your gardening self are very good. The only routine he observes is the change of the seasons. To that end, Rob is on his way back to Europe to shop.
Rob’s first scouting trip to Europe for me was in 1993. I wanted a shop devoted to interesting objects for gardens in the worst way, and for a long time. What was available to me locally to place in a landscape or garden-not so swell. Rob had a winter ski trip he had planned to Austria; to this I added a two week trip through France and Italy. Just to look around, and see what was available. To meet whomever he could who shared that interest in garden ornament. How excited we were about the arrival of 2 pallets of French pottery from the Poterie de Biot, and two pallets of Italian terra cotta from Mital- hilarious. I sold every one of those pots to landscape and garden clients. Three years later, when I bought the building that would become Detroit Garden Works, he had a plan in place for shopping and shipping from overseas.
That plan has changed dramatically in the past 18 years. No longer does he haul around articles from European design publications and travel guides in a briefcase. Monica and Jenny joined forces to produce a map detailing his intended stops- courtesy of Google Earth. A GPS gizmo called a Garmin into which he downloaded country maps and travel guides will get him where he wants to go efficiently and predictably. Gone are the days of winging his way through the Alps trying to find France.
Many of the relationships he made years ago are still in place. Though he will be seeing friends he has not seen in a long time, I am quite sure there will be new people, new places-the unexpected. The Monday morning update-he’s busy shopping some place he has never been before.