I spent the day of the Greening garden tour at home, talking to people about my landscape, but I also fielded a lot of questions about Rob’s. From “which garden is Rob’s?” , to “what was his idea here?”-and so on. Apparently the store was so busy he was unable to get to his own garden, and talk about it with people. What a shame. As he is such an integral part of Detroit Garden Works as manager, buyer, and dreamer, people are naturally curious about what his personal landscape is all about. I’ll try to tell the story as best I can, as I think it warrants telling.
He is a formidably talented designer. More and more he consults with clients about the placement of ornament, pots and the like. He has a gift-you just need to ask him to put that to your project. Until you lay eyes on what he has done with this very small piece of property, you don’t really understand the extent of that talent. I have over the years installed this terrace when he would be in Europe, or snapped up that collection of nyssa sylvatica (his favorite tree) when I ran across it. He spent no small amount of time designing this landscape for himself, consulting with me, and reinventing the design; he finally, reluctantly, signed off. I knew I had to wait until he was out of town; one fall while he was shopping in Europe, my crew installed it.
It’s important for clients to see a designer put themselves in the same boat a designer might ask a client to row. Making things grow, and pulling a landscape together, can be much like rowing upstream. If you are to entrust your garden and your money to a designer, you want to feel confident they know what they are doing, and that they have been in a boat much like yours. This spring, the bones of his place looked great. Simple strong gestures from a sure hand. No matter how he fretted, the result was confident. If it appears a design is in place on this the bleakest day of the spring, they you can be assured it will only look better as the season goes on.
It’s a very tough thing to go home and garden, when you eat, breathe and sleep it for other people, most days of the week. He told me two things were paramount. He wanted to make much of his view of the lake, and he wanted something along the lines of cohesive lake cottage style. This may sound vague, but he had no problem putting it together. And he wanted it manageable; its pure torture to have something in a garden that needs attention, when you have no energy to answer. He likes having no back yard.
This very old French faux bois tree trunk planter is home to a thriving colony of laurentia; that pale heliotrope blue is a rare color in an annual. So light, so delicate-everything that the planter is not. The side terrace garden is a mirror image of the shape of the driveway. The terrace itself is screened from the road just enough, by a wing wall, backed up by giant boxwood in a stocky Belgian wood planter.
Two chairs in the front yard are front and center to the lake view. A quietly beautiful vintage American birdbath from Ohio is kept company in the sunken oval of grass by a gracefully swooping pin oak. This tree, his specific choice. The simple Italian pots stuffed with ferns, heucheras, selaginella and the like have that strong woodland mossy feel.
The wing walls are a distinctive feature of the architecture of the house; the placement of these two pots make note of that. The placement of the collection of pots direct the eye around the entire space, and suggest what is yet to come.
I discovered while installing this landscape that the exterior walls has been buried in soil berms. The house is actually quite tall coming out of the ground. The collection of pots counterbalances the height of the steps, and sets them down visually. The architecture of the house and steps can be seen all the way to the ground. This gives the landscape a European flavor. Years of travelling Europe to buy for the store has much influenced him.
Rob knows how to place an object in a garden such that it will give you pause-quietly. Thus this planter, half on the gravel path, half off. Though the volume is turned down to a murmur, this landscape has a very distinctive voice.
The story of these steps says everything about the fire he has burning. These giant bolted panels of railroad ties have been lying in the abandoned railway two track next door for the past 14 years. He finally wheeled a ball cart, rated to carry 1800 pounds, over there, loaded these 8 foot wide fragments onto the cart-horizontally- and ran them up hill all the way to the store-in the incoming traffic lane, no less. He told me he had no plan for what he would do, had a car appeared. He tells me he had to lie down for 15 minutes once he got them here; he was rode hard and put away wet, getting the steps of his dreams home. What kind of heart for gardening do you have to have to do this? A very big one.