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.

Shades Of Gray


We are firmly entrenched in the gray zone now.  It’s February in Michigan.  Just about everything is one shade of gray or another.  The gray skies,  dirty snow, salted surfaces and relentless cold-an off key ode to gloom.  The trunks of the trees, the bare branches and the remains of the perennial garden have taken on that gray cast.  Relentless rain and fog for days gave way to temperatures in the teens.  I have leaks in the roof at Branch.  The backflow preventer at Detroit Garden Works failed-the leaking water was masked by the rain.  Now that it is 14 degrees, that water is transformed into a mountain of ice.  I can see every breath I take-great.  We lost power at home-what can be done for that?  We went to bed at 8:45pm, under a mountain of blankets.  The digital clock I have had since I was 19 was dead by morning.  The dogs want no part of going outside unless, much to my annoyance, I go with them.  This is by way of explaining that I have no gray walls, furniture or towels.  No gray car.  No gray boots, scarves, socks, dresses or sweaters.  But how this galvanized metal tray looks against the concrete floor in the shop-not bad.


Lead is another word for gray, as in the phrase “leaden skies”.  Lead garden ornaments are among the earliest ever made.  It is remarkable how many from centuries ago still survive.  Lead is a soft, very dense and heavy metal.  You can dent it with a pencil.  Not the least of its attributes is its longevity.  Many garden ornaments eventually succumb to the weather.  Wood rots.  Iron rusts.  Concrete cracks.  Lead however,  is forever.  This cistern is several centuries old, and bears many scars-the story of which I will never know.  But it still holds water-perfectly.


Lead has a very low melting point, making it an ideal metal for casting.  Lead toys were once common.  But now that the health hazards of breathing lead dust or ingesting lead are well known, its manufacture and use is confined to architectural materials and garden ornament.


This picture is a detail from a lead square from Bulbeck.  Bulbeck Foundry in England manufactures very fine quality lead objects.  Contemporary lead ornament is incredibly expensive.  The price of the raw metal is astronomical now; I rarely buy lead for the garden anymore-the price is too dear.  I have a small collection of lead ornament-my supply has been steadily dwindling.  The day I have no lead to offer will be a sad day indeed.  This particular shade of gray is softly beautiful.  A lead pot is an elegant and permanent addition to the garden.


Galvanized metal-just what does this mean, exactly?  Steel and iron rust from contact with the air, and with water.  Rust eats away at the metal.  Eventually, unprotected steel will disintegrate.  Galvanizing is a process by which a coating of zinc is applied to steel.  Galvanized metal has a characteristic gray color.  Galvanizing is a process commonly applied to buckets, farm tools, screws, troughs, screens, and garbage cans.  Farming and industrial objects were coated with zinc to make them more weather worthy.  I have seen countertops made from solid zinc.  While solid zinc sheeting is very expensive, this metal is inert and non-toxic.  Zinc coated buckets and troughs are reasonable in price and quite durable.


That gray color that is galvanized gray acquires a beatiful patina as it ages.  Rob is fond of those utilitarian objects that pertain to industry or agriculture that might find a new home in the garden.  Farm buckets planted with herbs enchant him in the same way as a galvanized trench drain might be repurposed as a garden shelf.  This old galvanized table top reveals its age.  Those places where the galvanizing has worn through are rusting.


Galvanized metal containers that have been always used indoors can be easily moved outdoors.  We have repurposed both steel chocolate vats and industrial tubs for the garden.  A galvanized container planted for the season is at home in the country as it is the most contemporary of settings.  This galvanized bakery box could hold tools, or be planted. I could see it filled with water, and home to a lotus. This shade of gray has possibilities.


I have a collection of galvanized metal flower buckets-they are very useful when I am conditioning flowers for a wedding or event.  This vintage bucket, graced with a brass tag identifying its origin, is a beautiful object in and of itself.  A collection of these buckets-yes, he spoke for all of them. Though I am not a fan of gray February days, gray as in galvanized is a good looking gray.


Every gardener is interested in ornament for the garden that is rugged, and easy to look after.  Galvanized metal is virtually maintenance free.  A large galvanized tub is relatively light weight-compared to lead, concrete or stone.  If I plant such a tub, I drill a number of holes in the bottom for drainage.  The zinc coating may eventually wear through to the base metal.  Some of the sheet metal window boxes at the shop will need replacing this year, as the zinc is worn through, and the steel is rusting out.  But those boxes were inexpensive to purchase, and lasted 15 years.


The bottom of this large vintage galvanized tub has a beautifully aged surface.  It is large enough to provide a home for a sizeable herb or flower garden.  Hung on a wall, it would be a visual discussion of what can be beautiful about gray.



Galvanized Metal

I know that last week I was waxing poetic on the subject of garden urns, but the most recent deliveries to the shop are about another point of view altogether.  Rob’s winter shopping reflects his attraction to galvanized metal in just about any form. Galvanizing is a process by which iron or steel is coated with a thin layer of zinc.  This protects the steel from rust and corrosion.  Garbage cans, fencing, horse troughs, car frames, I-beams, farm buckets, baking pans, guard rails and gutters, mailboxes, ductwork, light poles-lots of every day objects are created from galvanized metal.  I think Rob is especially interested in how a ubiquitous material can be transformed into an ornament great for a garden-such as this fanciful wire playhouse made from galvanized fencing.      

Though a galvanized watering can is an iconic garden ornament, the same could not be said for these vintage industrial storage barrels.  Tall and thin, they have a great shape and a beautifully weathered surface.  I could see them planted with morning glories on a very tall tuteur-the blue flowers would be so beautiful with this blueish metal. A country garden would welcome a look like this.  Alternately, planted with giant blue agaves, they might be just the thing for a contemporary garden.  

Containers421[1]Galvanized buckets and troughs have graced many a barn and farm garden.  It’s no stretch to plant them with vegetables, flowers or herbs.  My favorite pot compositions of Rob’s are his “roadside weed” plantings.  Loose, grassy and verging on scraggly, they are charmingly natural and unstudied.  A bucket is a perfect container.  A sizeable pail can be an unexpectedly handsome home for a lotus.  My brother had a garden party once (Petey most assuredly is not a gardener)-he used a number of large pails as burn buckets once the light started fading.  I must admit it looked great-his casual grouping of fires in buckets. 

C1191[1]This large galvanized steel cistern is English in origin. The pitted, highly textured surface is indicative of some age. A tomato garden with herbs would be smashing.  It would be equally as attractive as a fountain.  It is also the perfect height to accomodate a large thick stone top-a perfect dining table base for a contemporary garden.  Galvanized metal is a chamaeleon garden material-it seems to adapt and make itself at home in a variety of settings.

I am not a watering can person.  I am a fan of hoses right where I need them; I dislike carrying water from one place to another.  I use my vintage watering can as a vase for lilacs, or whatever else seems to be blooming in my garden.  I might plant it.  Or I might collect them, and hang them on a wall. They are among the most friendly on the eyes of all essential garden tools-they look good, just being there. 

Zinc itself is a bluish white metallic element-atomic number 30, should you care to know.  It is a brittle metal at room temperature, but malleable when heated.  Exterior ornament of all kinds has traditionally been made of zinc.  Zinc work tops are prized in some kitchens. This piece which we outfitted with mirror could have been a decorative surround on a dormer window. Very old zinc pieces can have considerable damage, as it is a fragile material as metals go.  

New galvanized metal is shiny and bright.  This surface will rapidly weather once it is outdoors, but inside it is luminous, lovely, and yet sturdy looking.  It is anything but reminiscent of your Mom’s sterling silver. 

DSC04106This old French water cart would be my nemesis-I cannot imagine filling it with water, and hauling it to the garden, many times over.  But parked in one spot, I could come to appreciate its form, and its history.  Not everyone loves classical garden sculpture; it’s a good thing they don’t need to.  Though it would not be my choice, I have seen gardens where vintage tools are displayed as sculpture to beautiful effect. 

Are you wondering what you are looking at here?  So did I, when I first saw them.  A number of very narrow panels of extruded metal, some of them 12 feet long, showed up here last week.  He shrugged.  Industrial metal shelving?  Regardless of their origin, he sees them as objects with possibility.  A narrow garden shelf attached to a brick wall?  Trellissing on a wall, or free standing and in ground? Three or four lashed together might make a swell flat bridge over a stream bed.

Taubman 0021
This vintage flower bucket, and its companion biscuit tin make vases of a different sort on this table.  Looking at objects sometimes is much more about our idea of the function of the object, than what is there to see.  I am used to seeing galvanized metal ductwork; sheet metal window boxes take that idea one step further, to good effect.  I have made them, and painted them.  I have made them, left the surface as is, and installed them in this natural state with with black iron supports.  They are a very smart looking and economical vehicle for a planting.  A modest material that gives back plenty visually-this I like.