Walking The Field

I would bet that if I organized and offered a shopping trip with Rob, it would fill up in an instant.  There would be a waiting list.  He has an eye for where to go, what to see, and what to commit to that interesting and beautiful.  His less obvious searches includes sifting through the debris and dried materials that tends to accumulate in vacant land.  This abandoned tangle of wire fencing and rotted posts may not upon first glance seem like much seem like much. But I would say the chances are excellent I will see this found object, or this combination of colors and textures and materials, or some semblance of this idea somewhere soon.   

Vacant land has a story to tell.  This grass likes the watery ground.  Other species only come so close, before conditions are no longer optimal.  Plants are very specific about what they want-this picture makes that clear. Given this picture, it is no wonder that lawn saturated with water from automatic irrigation thrives.  Other plants are not so crazy about it-they stay away, if they can.  I know him well enough to know this wild grass laying over is appealing.  Some spot or another in the shop will have this look.            

Wild asters have small and insignificant individual flowers, but large colonies of them can be very beautiful.  Weedy and wonderful, this.  Rob’s pictures are a harbinger of what is to come from him.   The other day Rob nailed a  twig bird feeder to a chestnut fence post, and set the post in a tall limestone cylinder.  Wedged into the cylinder around the fence post, a few wisps of weedy plastic grass.  The idea of plastic grass appeals to no gardener, but should you come in, take a look.  There is an utterly natural and believable look to the entire assembly.      

This vacant land is littered with giant logs, the remnants of their roots intact.  The goldenrod and asters have grown up around them.  The story that lies behind this picture is unclear.  They do not look cut, they look rotted off at the very base.  They look like they were dumped here. But perhaps this land was inadvertently flooded long enough to kill all of the trees.  I am just waiting for Rob to ask if I can send a truck and trailer after them.  They would be the perfect material for a stumpery. 

 I have no clue what thesese shrubby trees might be.  They have been dead long enough that the bark is peeling away from the wood from a long standing sun burn.  Spooky branches, he calls them.  Would they not be perfect for a Halloween vignette?  Rob is just as likely to find inspiration from spooky branches in a tract of vacant land as the library.  To put it mildly, he has an active imagination.  A genuinely original imagination.    

He and I both love asclepias tuberosa-milkweed.  Few wild and weedy plants have big luscious leaves like these.  The story of how milkweed seeds mature, and are sent aloft is one of the most delightful stories that nature has to tell.  When the pods mature, and crack open, the seeds are packed tight in that pod with the unopened parachutes attached, just waiting for a stiff breeze to send them all aloft. An afternoon sky full of milkweed seeds is one of the best visual pleasures of fall.   

Thistles are a pernicious weed in cultivated gardens.  They are almost impossible to eradicate; the roots go very deep, and are very strong.  Who would want to touch one?  But the seed pods are beautiful.  The seeds nourish many a goldfinch.  They look great in fall arrangements. If you know of any tract of vacant land in zone 4-5, there will likely be a thistle patch.        

There is a fall party going on here-undisturbed.  No one has had a mind to refurbish, zone, or organize this space for residential use.   Vacant land in no means implies a vacant space.  There are plenty of plant species thriving with no need for any supervision.  It may be that the most beautiful places on earth are places that are solely supervised by nature.   Every gardener appreciates this.  

Rob took all of these photographs-of course he spotted this giant thickly growing clump of asparagus.  Did it grow from a seed?  Was there a farmhouse here decades ago?  The mystery that is nature is alive and well on this vacant land.  A shopping trip with Rob to a vast tract of vacant land?  It might be better than you think.

Pastoral Landscapes

Rob’s shopping trip abroad for Detroit Garden Works is well into its second week.  He has attended some antique faires, as well as visiting dealers specializing in vintage or antique garden ornament.  His route from this country faire to that rural dealer has been dreamy to say the least.  I have gotten scads of pictures.  Many of them have a very painterly quality about them.  Boxwood Hill, with its path to the top looks like a scene from a Tolkien novel-a pastoral landscape fraught with history.  This photograph of surely trimmed boxwood, and a path up to the tree on top set in rough grass is heart stopping-can you imagine seeing this in person?     

These four terra cotta squares, made at the the Liberty Company in London at the turn of the century, look particularly beautiful displayed against the park like landscape.  These rare signed and stamped pots have a quietly classical and architectural presence that suits me just fine.  They have that chunky and solid English aura about them that rings true.  Any genuine expression I admire.      

Where Rob was when he took this photograph, I have no idea.  It looks to me like the junction of the road, and the road not taken- made famous by the poem by Robert Frost.  I will have to ask Rob which road he eventually took, as his camera recorded that moment seconds before he made his decision.  There is not a building nor a sign to be seen-striking, that.  This pair of two-tracks; each one holds promise. 

Like this antique curved iron bench or not, the combination of bench, lawn and light is beautiful.   

This country house is of a grand scale, but the attendant landscape is seems barely touched by human hands.  Field grass like this-full of all sorts of plants and infrequently cut or grazed is completely unlike what I would call lawn.   The grass adjacent to a wild garden I once had was overrun in the spring with every color of violet imagineable.  I don’t think I knew how good it was until it was gone.  A lawn overrun with violets;  what could be better? 

Many of the places that Rob shops have deconstructed landscapes such as this.  The look is lovely, natural and soft. In charming disarray, this landscape has a life of its own, with a minimum of interference from a human hand.  Though some may say this is evidence of neglect or poor housekeeping, I like how this space has been colonized. The natural landscape fringes and grows up onto the benches, gates, chairs, and ironwork-a natural, and beautiful relationship.   

This ancient limestone sculpture in a church yard cemetery is amazing.  The children seem to be praying for the immortal soul of the deceased-already firmly in the hands of an angel.  The expression on the face of the angel-no doubt he takes his job seriously.  Many lichens have grown up and over this old sculpture-not to mention the rough grass.    

A winding and narrow country lane high on a ridge provides Rob a great view of a herd of sheep, placidly grazing. This is a landscape of a time and place unbeknownst to me. There is eveything to be learned from landscapes that have evolved from agricultural, commerce, country, and community. There are no strident notes.  Nothing contrived, or trying too hard. What is hard- the work of a life. What gets done-a sign of a life well lived.     

This container may have had some hens and chicks planted in it a long time ago, but what you see here is a container planting gone wild,  and a moss lawn establishing itself-the handiwork of a hand far greater than mine. I cannot really explain why this photograph appeals so much to me, but I doubt I need to.

The Meadow Next Door

115Every year I plant the front of the store differently; this year I wanted the planting to feel like a meadow.  The big bed of violet colored verbena bonariensis and white cosmos is almost always in motion.  The marguerite daisies and petunias in the roof boxes are thriving,  sheltered by a hedge of Nero di Toscano kale that will be the star of the show by fall. The kale does for the daisies what the boxwood does for the verbena; their respective relationships are good ones.


We will be inundated with verbena seedlings next spring, but how I love how it looks right now.   It needs no staking, is drought tolerant, and doesn’t want much in the way of nutrition.  This is one of those large growing annuals that do not show well in flats, so few nurseries grow it.  I have always loved white cosmos-just not their ungainly habit of growth.  Sonata cosmos is a dwarf version, perfect for giving me color at another level.


We have a meadow of another sort growing in the lot next door – in which I had no hand. The property was once home to a dilapidated and abandoned concrete factory; the county tore it down. Though the property was offered for sale, unbeknownst to me, at a tax sale, and sold, it has been sitting unattended for many years.  The county is looking to recover the 90,000.00 it spent taking the factory down, and thus would be reluctant to approve a variance to build anything on a property that is too narrow to built on without that bill getting paid.  So it sits.

412However, as any gardener knows, nature never sits. Someone once put it to me like so-nature abhors a vacuum.  So this property is in phase one of its ecological evolution; disturbed ground is first colonized by grasses and other tenacious and vigorous plants, popularly known as weeds.

However, I think this weeded lot has plenty going for it.  There are not so many species growing here, and they all seem to share the space equitably.  The cream color of foliage gone dry, the dots of purple from the centaura and the white of annual clover is a beautiful color and texture mix.  A breeze makes it all the more beautiful.  The ground is completely covered with one big natural plant combination.  The appearance of this  meadow changes so much, given the weather, or the quality of the light.

612 Queen Anne’s Lace is one of my favorite flowers.  I buy bunches of it at market this time of year.  Its tap-rooted vigor makes it a poor choice for a cultivated garden, but it vastly dignifies the look of vacant lots like this one.  Its more civilized cousin, amni majus,  can be grown in a garden to great effect; it is grown routinely for the cut flower trade.  However, I am perfectly happy with this distant and unruly relative.

710Chicory is the devil to get rid of; it is perfectly capable of worming its way through a crack in a concrete road.  It is the most beautiful blue, a color not often seen in Michigan gardens.

88The mix of  colors, the uniformly wispy textures, the motion of it all – breathtaking. There are garden flowers that have a meadow-like habit-panic grass, hyssop, bee balm, boltonia and so on-but there is no scripted garden  that looks quite like this one.