Recent Work

fall container plantingsThough we were focused on finishing a landscape project last week, we did manage to get some of our fall container plantings done. Though I have said it before, I will say it again. A celebration of the season at hand in containers is an opportunity to make an expression of the garden that is no only personal, it is immediate. The daffodils I planted yesterday are months away from their spring flowering. The trees I planted a month ago will take 10 years to get hefty. The vision I have for my landscape may be many years away from that perfect moment. I can be patient. But I can be road ready, too. Fall container plantings are a delight the minute they get finished.  They do not need to much in the way of water or deadheading.

fall container plantingThey celebrate the materials of the harvest. My trip to my local farmer’s market this morning was an education in what is available for containers for fall.  Chrysanthemums, asters, and grasses seeding were abundant.  Ornamental cabbage and kale-they are so beautiful right now. Cut broom corn, millet and sorghum-how I love how our history of agriculture informs and enriches the garden. Rob’s pumpkin collection on display at the shop right now is a delight to the eye. George is 2 hours away from us. But his breeding for tall and thin pumpkins with beautiful stems is a look we admire. The summation of  Rob’s relationship with George is a collection of pumpkins that speaks to any gardener’s love of anything garden.  Rob’s collection of pumpkins and gourds-don’t miss it.Tomorrow is the second day of our pumpkin fest.  If you are a gardener who delights in the garden, come if you can.

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We have had a very hot and very dry summer. The watering was endless. The coming of the fall, with cooler temperatures and torrential rains is a relief. Planting seasonal containers is a lesson about how the seasons change, and that joy that is all about a gardener’s participation. I would encourage every gardener to participate in the seasons.  I do. That seasonal work enriches my gardening life.

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fall containers with broom corn and cabbage

fall-container-deborah-silverfall container with a centerpiece, purple cabbage, and creeping jenny

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2016-fall-containers-2fall pot with a hydrangea on standard, white ornamental cabbage and creeping jenny

fall container arrangement
fall container with dried ladder branches, preserved eucalyptus and peacock kale

Detroit Garden Worksfall container in front of Detroit Garden Works that includes an elegant feather grass at the center

fall planting Deborah Silverfall in the round

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fall container

2016-fall-containers-1fall container arrangement

fall containersdeck pot planted for fall

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The fall season in Michigan – sublime.

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Beautiful Materials

beautiful-fall-materials-3A project in the garden asks for a lot of everything from a gardener. An interesting concept, and a design that clearly communicates that concept comes first. Anyone who has grappled with a design project knows how much work goes on behind the scenes. An idea about how to accomplish that design – an approach to the work – takes that much more time and thought. An installation may take two days, two weeks or two years. But any landscape project surely asks for beautiful materials. Beautiful plants are healthy plants. Doing a proper job of siting a tree, and digging a proper hole for that plant takes time.  It only makes sense to be sure the plant that is going in that hole is worthy of all the work it took to plant it. The cabbage pictured above is not only a healthy well grown plant, it is extraordinarily beautiful to look at.  The color is complex, and borders on iridescent. To my eye, the shape, texture, mass and color, is riveting. Beautiful plants are incredibly exciting, and make gardening such a pleasure.

fresh-cut-broom-cornBeautiful fall materials for containers are not only a pleasure to work with, they can inspire, inform, and direct the work. A landscape plan for a client may indicate a certain species of tree, but the final decision always rests with finding that specific tree that not only fulfills the design intent, but is beautiful.  There is no hard and fast standard about what constitutes beautiful. Everyone has their own idea. My projects are a a dialogue between a committed client, and my commitment to a great outcome for them. Sometimes the road is bumpy, but we get there.  I like it when clients fall for what I install for them. When I plant fall containers, I am very much focused on the beauty of the materials I have available to me. Broom corn is a staple in my fall pots. The stems droop gracefully, they are so loaded with ripe seeds. The corn-like leaves twist as they dry, and add another textural element to an arrangement.

unusual pumpkins A beautiful collection of materials from which to choose is an easy idea to grasp, but what it takes Detroit Garden Works to get to that collection is a process that is a full time job for my partner, Rob.  He travels all over this country, and in Europe, as he has for the past 20 years, to collect beautiful materials of all kinds. He shops locally, meaning he may travel in excess of two hours to a particular hybridizer’s pumpkin field.  I can count on his determination to put together a collection that inspires my work, and the work of our clients. We have had calls for weeks about the arrival of his pumpkin collection.  The fall container arrangements and plantings we install are all about the beauty of his choices of materials. He is the source for great materials for me.

beautiful-fall-materials-4He spent quite some time developing a relationship with a small company that produces dyed and preserved eucalyptus.  We carry their entire range of colors. This is a relationship going back 15 years. Preserved eucalyptus is a natural material that can sustain a container planting throughout the fall and the winter. The variety of colors available provides another element to any fall arrangement.

containers for fallThese centerpieces for a pair of fall pots involve a combination of gorgeous materials of all kinds, and my design for this particular client.  I owe a lot to those growers who made this possible. And of course to Rob, whose collection of materials make an expression like this possible.

container materials for fallPlanting pots for fall takes some of the sting out of the gardening season coming to a close.

fall pot by Deborah Silver This finished fall container warms up the architecture. It is a personal expression that documents an interest in nature. It will be a pleasure to look at throughout the fall. The next pair of fall containers we plant will look entirely different. That is the beauty of a collection of seasonal plants and materials that is wide and deep. There is no need for any pots to sit empty and silent at the close of the gardening year. Every gardener can shop their own garden as well for dried materials, branches and seed pods.

dsc_9454A little late day muted light adds yet another element to the mix.

cabbage at the side doorInto every gardener’s container life, a little fall is a good thing.

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Generous

fall-planting.jpgThough we have had some very warm weather lately, our the fall gardening season has begun.  There are telltale signs.  Shorter days, a decidedly cooler quality of light, and the the chilly mornings are all signs that summer is coming to a close.  But the end of summer is by no means the end of the garden.  The abundance that results in the harvest season is one of fall’s great pleasures.

fall-container-plantings.jpgThe grasses are maturing.  Our farmer’s market is overflowing with squashes, greens of all kinds, pumpkins,  cabbage and broccoli, gourds and tomatoes.  Many vegetables need our entire season to mature.  Locally grown fruit of all kinds-especially apples-are available at market.  Similarly, there are lots of beautiful materials available to the avid container gardener. I like for the fall containers we do to have a generous and abundant quality to them. A fall centerpiece for a container is usually comprised of harvested goods.  Millet, dry twigs, broom corn, eucalyptus, milkweed pods and dried perennial stems are all natural materials in a harvested state.

planting-for-fall.jpgWhen the temperatures begin to drop, there is not so much growing going on.  We rely on large material to give containers the scale they need right from the start.  The centerpieces have large stout bamboo stakes at their center.  These stakes go deep into the soil, keeping a big heavy centerpiece not only aloft, but straight up and down.

fall-container.jpgThe cabbages and kale are the mainstays of our fall plantings.  We are indeed fortunate to have growers that supply them in one gallon pots this time of year.  A container this size represented in a generous way makes a visually pleasing statement.

fall-plantings.jpgThis material will persist and look good long into the fall.  The cabbage and kale will shrug off the frosts in November as if they were nothing more than an annoyance.  The dry and preserved material is very happy outdoors in cool weather with great air circulation.  All it takes is a willingness to scoop up what materials are available that interest you, and make something of them.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThis Friday past we planted 24 pots in downtown Detroit-we will finish up the last 7 on Monday.  Assembling the materials for a planting takes a lot of time and planning, especially if the pots are large.  My group has worked together long enough to have established a working routine.

fall-container-plantings.jpgAhead of the planting, the pots need to be designed.  Once I put that on paper, Steve will coordinate the installation.  Everyone has a job such that the work can be completed with dispatch.  All of the summer material needs to be removed and put on the truck; that material will be added to our compost piles.  The new material is sorted, and distributed where it needs to go.  Assembling centerpieces on site take 2 pair of hands.  We try to clean up as we go, to keep the mess at a minimum.

planting-for-fall.jpgThe centerpiece goes in last, and is firmly secured.  The construction of fall pots is entirely unlike planting pots for summer, and more like planting pots for winter.  There is more arranging going on than growing.

fall.jpgBittersweet stems are zip tied to bamboo stakes, and set in the pot at the very last.  Bittersweet is not a plant I would want in my garden-it is highly invasive.  However the dried stems and berries are very durable and beautiful outdoors in fall pots.

generous.jpgThe dried and dyed yellow twigs provide lots of color at a time of year when color is at a premium.  Preserved eucalyptus is another great source of color.  The plum eucalyptus in this arrangement is subtle, but it picks up the dark carmine pink of the cabbage and kale.

fall-planting.jpgI like fall represented as a celebration.

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Pansies and violas are great in small pots, or as a accent in a large pots.  These bowls are 6 feet in diameter, and take a lot of material.  The contemporary shape benefits from the repetition of materials.  Each of the 11 pots we planted for fall has the same overall design, but features different and alternating materials.

moss-dog.jpgThe fall planting for all of the dogs at Chase Tower have a center of dusty miller and cut green millet.  The silver and light green help the dark moss sculptures to stand out.  The pots are located under a very high overhang, so they are always in the shade.  The cabbage and kale will tolerate this for the several months they will be planted here.

moss dog.jpgThe moss dogs add so much visual interest, and they can be retained season after season.  The moss can be be sprayed with moss food coloring once it fades.  When the time comes that the moss deteriorates, the steel frames can be re stuffed.

moss-dog.jpgThre dogs themselves are welded onto steel posts that are 30″ tall.  This keeps the sculptures above the top of the plant material.

1001-Woodward.jpgOur last stop-the stock tanks at 1001 Woodward. The espalier pear trees will spend the fall season here, and then be moved into storage for the winter.  The redbor kale and frilly purple cabbage look great with the black tanks.

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This small urban park is as friendly as it is stylish.  The stock tanks are an unexpected choice for containers.  The artificial turf is just plain fun.  It was a gorgeous day to be downtown planting.

Constructing The Centerpiece

No matter what season is in question, a centerpiece in a container planting can organize the planting, and enrich the visual experience.  Fall in my zone means a limited selection of plants grow at a vastly reduced rate.  My summer pots have nicotiana mutabilis topping 6 feet now-none of my fall plants will grow like this.  I have no objection to creating a centerpiece in a fall pot from natural materials that have already grown up, and been harvested.  A case of really beautiful bittersweet arrived a few days ago-I could not wait to use it in some fall container plantings. 

Other natural materials are from places far from my home.  Bahia spears-I have not the faintest idea what plant produced these stems.  They are stiff and woody; these chocolate and gold stems look just like fall.  Dried natural materials are an element that can spice up a fall planting. I love each and every one of my living plants, but the ability to create a shape from natural materials, and integrate that into a planting is great fun-try it!      

The base of this centerpiece-a pair of broomcorn shocks.  Broomcorn-yes, this plant has been widely grown for for brooms.  This means the stalks are stiff and weather impervious.  The seed heads come in a range of colors from cream to red to black.  I zip tie several bunches around a stout bamboo stake.  That stake will keep my centerpiece straight up and down, no matter the weather.  Zip ties-love them.  They hold the heaviest centerpiece together.  I use lots of them, in the early stages of construction.This centerpiece is ready; there are three layers- all zip tied to a stake.  The lower tier-10 faux grass stems.  Fault me if you will for the fake statement, but anything that pleases my eye is ok.  The long portion of this stake will be set way down into to soil of a pot.  This stake is an anchor, and a rudder.  A centerpiece gone out of level is not a good look.  The centerpieces need to stand up straight.  The beauty of any design depends on what your eye can believe.  This centerpiece has a ways to go, before I would call it finished.    

This three tiered centerpiece gets some air from the bittersweet vine sections, and a welcome shot of fall color. I cut the stems on an extreme angle, and work them under the zip tie.  These wild and curving stems will start to loosen up that strictly zip tied affair.  I use lots of zip ties in the construction of a centerpiece, as it will need to travel to the job.  Should you be constructing a fall centerpiece for a treasured pair of pots-go large, go tall-be loose. The ties you do not really need once the entire container is finished can be cut off, for a looser yet effect. 

My centerpiece made the trip to the job without any damage.  It is very heavy, but easy to handle.  My crews handle anything I send their way with aplomb.  The fabric you see draped over the edge of a pot keeps the pot from getting dirty on the rim.  The tarp on the ground is there for the same reason.  A little care keeps the cleanup part fast and easy.  The Redbor kale are the center plants.  These we plant first, so its easy to tell exactly where the centerpiece goes.  Getting the centerpiece in the center is as important as making sure it is perfectly upright.         

Levelling the centerpiece takes some time-and at least four hands.  Once that centerpiece is set, level, and solid, we tweak.  The top most zip tie-we cut that off.  We move this element up, we move that element down.  We deconstruct what we constructed. This is the most important part.  A centerpiece has to be strong and securely made.  But how it gets loosened up is what creates a very natural look.   

All of the elements of the centerpiece gets adjusted after it is installed.  I try to integrate it with the living material in such a way that it all looks lively, and of a piece.

Fall  plantings are all about some cabbages, some mums, some late representing grasses, the pansies-those plants that tolerate cold temperatures.  But fall container plantings are greatly about that gardener that has a mind to represent fall in a way they think is beautiful.    

What is in your yard, drying, now?  Sounds like a centerpiece to be, to me.

If your yard is light on materials that might work in a container, your local nursery or famer’s market is bound to have something. There are lots of possibilities for fall pots- make the most of having a choice.  Your fall pots have lots of possibilities.  Make much of the fall plants that tolerate the cold.  Make more of putting it all together.