Buck’s Charisse Box

I am so very pleased that one of our Branch boxes is featured in an article written by Marian McEvoy in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  Even though I have already written about it on the Detroit Garden Works facebook page, there is a story behind the design, development and fabrication of a container for a garden that might be of interest.      

First off you need a building-a studio.  That studio needs tools both big and little.  A few five ton bridge cranes have turned out to be very helpful.  But most of all you need people who can turn an idea into an object. I have always wanted to design and fabricate beautiful containers and ornament for the garden.  A container that can withstand any climate or season, from the salt air in Florida to the heat in Texas and the cold in Minnesota, is a container that can provide many years of service.  Given that lead, that classic material for garden ornament, sculptures and containers has become incredibly costly, steel with a finish that brings the color of lead to mind seemed like a good idea.  The Charisse box is not so easy to fabricate.  The frame and handles are made of both tubular and solid round lengths of steel.  Welding one section to another requires a lot of cutting and precise fitting.  Sal, Dan and Buck fabricate for Branch, but these were Buck’s to make.    

Each box is assembled from a lot of pieces that need to be cut fairly close to perfect.  Mistakes in the length and angles of a piece, times many pieces, can add up to a box that bears no resemblance to square. The only square stock in the frame is a diamond, welded from curved lengths of steel.  Buck’s other boxes have a simple and solid design.  I was interested in making one box that was a more graceful.  Making steel look graceful is not so easy. 

It took quite some time just to get the frame together, square and true.  Since the original Charisse boxes were made in 2005, changes have been made.  Though Buck does multiple CAD drawings for everything he builds, the finished box tells the tale.  Certain dimensions have been altered.  It takes more time than I ever thought it would to get the size and proportion of a box just where it should be     

The scrolled steel handles and diamonds came next.  The tops of the tubular steel has small steel shperes welding to them as a finishing touch.  Steel straps are welded to the bottom of the frame, to hold the steel box that would slip inside the frame.

The legs have an inverted flower detail.  Each leg has several of them welded together, for strength.

The bottom of the leg has a sleeve of thicker and larger steel, for stability.  This is a very heavy box, supported by very slender legs. 

There are plenty of details, and lots of curves. 

handle detail

snail scroll handles

the Branch Studio tag

The article is a very interesting and well written discussion of containers in the garden, and garden containers that will withstand fall and winter weather.  Containers filled with plants in the landscape in all of the seasons sounds appealing.  Something in the landscape to look at besides snow on the ground and gray skies is a good plan.  That Buck’s Charisse box would be on her list of beautiful and weather-worthy containers -all of us are really thrilled about that.  

WSJ.com – Hot Pots For the Chilly Lot




The Lattice Box

Lattice refers to overlapping strips of wood or metal joined on the diagonal.  That placement produces diamond shaped air, or empty spaces; the steel or wood forms a continuous series of X’s.  How hard it is to describe in words a shape any gardener would instantly recognize in the garden.  Lattice patterned fence panels, screens, and trellises have graced many a garden.  That diagonal construction is strong.  The large open spaces make it an ideal home for vines that benefit from having places from which to grow in and out.  A lattice screen lets air get to the air conditioner while shielding its bulky steel from view.  A lattice fence provides a kind of privacy that is casually airy.  Why box yourself in, if you don’t need to?  Of course I had a mind to design a lattice box.  My first try featured a button medallion set in a solid diamond.  Should you look carefully at this diamonds, they are perfectly scaled for the size of the panel, and perfectly constructed-all of that is Buck’s doing.  The liner is made of extira board-that water repellant rot proof composite material from which signs are made.              

I know, that first box has something of the look of a Brownie camera-a steel framework around that Brownie camera brown board.  The next boxes featured painted extira board.  We always use Porter paint for any ornament outdoors-their 100% acrylic paint is tough as nails.  The plain rectangular shape at the top did a good job of featuring the lattice pattern, without it becoming visually overwhelming.

This client changes the color of his liners every few years.  The ability to easily and entirely change the look of a container is appealing.  I have one client who had us paint the reverse surface of her liners cranberry red-for the holidays.  The liners are actually 4 separate pieces that drop in behind the lattice.  A finished frame at the top covers the raw edges of the board, and makes for a completely finished appearance.     

Years later, I have moved the plain rectangular planter to the bottom.  I cannot explain why I like this so much better, but I do. These tall boxes look grounded, not top heavy.  They have an elegant air, to my eye.  We make square lattice boxes, but some gardens ask for a little height.  This picture records the first four all steel lattice boxes Buck has made for the Branch Studio.  He just finished them 2 weeks ago.  There is a way in which these four boxes have been 7 years in the making.  I can only say thoughful design takes time; the design and construction of this container has evolved over time.    

Buck welds what are called squashed ball feet to the bottoms of these boxes.  The squashed balls give the visual impression that the box is very solid and very heavy. Those ball feet gone flat are one of my most favorite features of this box.  They are what they appear to be-in the business of beautifully and strongly supporting the life of citrus trees, topiaries, or flowers.     

Once the box gets its final finish, I am pleased to be thinking about how they will outlast me.  They will last my lifetime, and others beyond me.  The fabrication of this box gives me the same pleasure that I get from planting a tree.       

Buck did fabricate a number of steel lattice boxes with copper liners.  All I can think about looking at this picture is a copper lattice box with a steel liner.  How would that look?  The very best part of gardening is how a garden evolves.  The best part of the creative process is that the process is never finished.   

Buck made this steel pergola for the Branch Studio years ago.  I am sure it looks much the same today as it did then.  Sturdy and enduring objects for the landscape enchant me.  I like any garden ornament draped in some kind of story, or history.  My respect for the history of gardens and their ornaments fuels my design.  I am always wondering where I might go from there.   

Buck went there,  all on his own.  He had a mind to construct a series of lattice spheres.  They are amazing and beautiful structures.  How he imagined and fabricated a lattice structure in the round-way beyond my ability.       

Since the fifteenth century, fruit trees have been grown in a two-dimensional lattice known as a Belgian fence.  I sold and planted this group of five latticed pear trees two years ago.  One cannot see the lattice structure at this moment-every tree is studded with pears.  My gardening life-equally studded with pears.