Part Three: The Pergola

If you  have been reading this series of posts, you will recall that my landscape design called for a rectangular cloister style pergola to be built off my client’s sun porch and garage. That shape was dictated by an L shaped space established by the sun porch, and the long back side of the garage.  The center of that cloister would be a fountain pool. My drawing, pictured in the previous post, was schematic, meaning that drawing was a generic structure, just holding a place on the page.  Once she indicated an interest in a pergola surrounding the fountain, I went to work to actually design that structure.

 

 

So what is a cloister?  A cloister is a covered walkway, frequently surrounded by a building or buildings on all four sides. Historically, it was an architectural feature common in monasteries and courtyard spaces in universities. The design for this pergola is predicated on a 6 foot wide covered walkway which would provide overhead structure to the fountain pool. The photo above shows Buck’s CAD drawing of the long side, which is almost 47 feet long. The design revolves around a series of elongated diamonds of different sizes, and steel spheres of 3 sizes. Buck added some figures to his drawing, so I could see what the relationship would be between person and structure. A good part of the reason it is 11 feet tall is its placement. Standing at the bottom of five steps from the sun porch grade, it was important that the roof did not appear too low from that vantage point. That height will also give it some presence from the upstairs windows, and the balcony which is on top of the sun porch roof.

This drawing of the roof panels makes clear the idea of a covered rectangular walkway. And that the interior space would be open to the sky. It was almost a year ago that we ordered the John Davis roses that would be planted on the pergola columns. I still have hopes of putting them in the ground yet this year, but if not, we can winter them over in our landscape building.

The drawings are useful to a designer, but maybe not so much to a client. Buck figured out how to scale the three drawings the same, and I built this model from sheets of copy paper. Buck drew the schematic for the pool on the roof plan. All of the white spaces on the paper will be open spaces.


This model came months after the presentation of the original plan. Once my client approved it, there would be much more work to come. Not only were there engineering issues to sort out, all of the dimensions would have to be coordinated with Mike Newman, as his steps and walls were an integral part of the installation. The following drawings were passed back and forth between Buck and Mike, so all the the locations and dimensions could be mutually agreed upon before anything was built.

This plan view of he steps, walls, and pergola show the relationships between the various elements. The walls would have 2  12′ wide openings that would provide access to the back and side yards. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, there would be 5 feet of open space before reaching the pergola.

These drawings do the best job of illustrating the fact that there are pairs of columns that would hold up the roof. There are 32 in all. And the columns are round.  I designed as much of this pergola to feature round shapes, as opposed to square or rectangular. The round shapes seemed less industrial, and more fitting to the period of the house. Buck said this decision made the engineering much more difficult, but I think it will prove to be well worth the trouble.

view from above

view from the far end

the view of both exits

Pictured above is a group of the roof panels, after the galvanizing process. The round rods are captured in a square steel channel. The solid steel spheres, welded at the juncture of every other diamond, will face down. There are 2000 of them, in all.

These fascia panels feature a larger gauge steel rod, and 2″ diameter solid steel spheres. These are finished panels in their raw steel state.

The pallet in the foreground is stacked with the pergola entrance panels. These have the largest diamonds, and 3″ diameter steel balls. In the background, pallets full of columns.

Branch limited the weight of every pallet so it would be easy to offload them at the site.

Prior to loading up the pallets, Buck had his guys pick random pieces from each stack of parts, and had them put together one 12′ by 6′ section. He wanted to be sure all of the parts would go together easily. Putting a pergola together in the field is a much different operation than putting it together in a warm dry shop, with a bridge crane overhead. The install will be lengthy, as it is a big structure. Maintaining the precision with which each piece was fabricated was a challenge. That precision is what will make the install go smoothly.

This view from the mezzanine at Branch shows a roof panel set in place.

Jackie arranged for a dedicated flatbed truck to transport the pieces to the job. Even so, there were 6 pallets left over that my landscape crews loaded in their trucks. None of the pallets could be stacked.

We had our loader on site, so we could offload once the truck arrived.

There was one part to the story we did not anticipate.  3.5 inches of rain fell in the area where the boom truck would be located, and those pallets would be staged.  We had not gotten to a finished grade in this side yard. The ground was very low here. Our original delivery and installation date came and went. I was not pleased with the prospect of having to waiting until the ground froze. I put in a call to my large tree contractor, and asked if there was anything he could do.

Ralph brought in 80 yards of sand, and 100 sheets of 3/4 inch thick plywood, with the intent of building up the grade such that we could access the site.

He built a road in that would be able to handle the weight of the pergola pieces, and trucks. Fortunately, this side yard is still so low, that all of that sand will eventually become part of the finished grade.  He is estimating he will need another 200 yards of soil to bring this space up to grade.

The boom truck is an incredibly heavy piece of equipment, featuring a large arm that will pick up each piece in the proper building order. That truck has huge steel arms that come out, and rest on the ground, to stabilize the truck.  Plywood and sand would not be enough to keep that truck stationary.  The construction mats you see in the above picture weigh 1000 pounds each. Ralph assured me that they would stabilize the ground for any truck we needed to get back there.

finishing up the road in

Sheets of plywood were all we needed to stash the various pallets.  The boom truck operator will be able to pick up any part he wants, when he needs it. It took 3 days to get the site ready. Templeton Building Company will do the actual installation. Buck will be there the first day, to advise.

Everything is ready. The boom truck is scheduled to arrive this afternoon. I hear the scaffolding is going up now. Each column will be bolted to the footings that Mike poured some time ago. The structure will be bolted together, one piece at a time. It could take a week, from start to finish. For now, I am just very happy to know we are in the home stretch.

The Branch Studio: Recent Work

It has been a while since I have written about Branch, so to follow are some snapshots of recent work. Pictured above is a 12′ wide by 8′ deep rose arbor.

rose arbor from the side

Custom made fountains with custom powder coat finish

rectangular fountains in place

Jackie box with a polar finish

custom fountain, shown in its galvanized state prior to a powder coat finish

garden arbor with traditional twisted steel bar

custom rectangular lattice box

custom table base for interior table. The vertical bars at the outside corners are support bars stabilizing the base while it is under construction. As a side note, the Branch work table top is a solid piece of 1/2″ thick steel, which is perfectly flat and level.

tapered box

custom pergola being assembled prior to galvanizing, to be sure everything fits properlyweathered Branch finish on the left box. Newly finished box on the right.

wood and steel gate designed by and fabricated for Zaremba and Company

round tapered Hudson pots for a rooftop garden

custom planter boxes

large scale custom Barry pot

custom pergola

quartet of low bowls

custom radiused set of lattice boxes

contemporary planter box

porch railing panels

 
custom obelisk

Four spout fountain

custom box and rail for the Foundation Hotel in Detroit, designed by, and fabricated for, Zaremba and Company

custom oak and steel boxes

The shop

The Branch Studio In Philadelphia

Jackie A is the outside sales manager for both Detroit Garden Works, and The Branch Studio. If you have ever inquired about getting a light hoop shipped out to you, or a custom pergola built, you have probably had occasion to talk with her. A talented landscape designer in her own right, she has a particular interest in sourcing and placing fine objects for the garden and landscape. In addition to handling a steady stream of sales and arranging for shipping for those sold items all over the US, she is currently managing the payments, collections and shipping to the US of several containers packed with goods purchased by Rob in Belgium, Germany, France and England during his September buying trip for the spring of 2019. She is a very capable member of our staff, and we are lucky to have her representing us.   We made a decision some time ago to exhibit at the ASLA 2018 trade show, which closed yesterday in Philadelphia.  The American Society of Landscape Architects sponsors a yearly meeting for members which includes seminars and tours of interest, and a trade show. Branch is one of 350 exhibitors at this show. It is worthwhile to take Branch products on the road, so designers can get a look at them in person. Pictures don’t tell the whole story. There is something about being able to see the design, material, construction and finishing up close.
Jackie planned every detail of the trip, from deciding what objects she wanted shipped out to Philadelphia, and how she would arrange them, to a lighting scheme for the booth. As she and David would fly out, a computer loaded with a slide presentation featuring custom work previously fabricated at Branch, catalogues and brochures would also have to be shipped. She gave herself several months to pull it all together. As she is meticulous in her attention to detail, everything arrived as scheduled. As is typical for most convention centers, the uncrating and set up was done by Pennsylvania Convention Center staffers. I was especially pleased about Jackie’s decision to take a fountain to the show. I am sure there was plenty involved in putting a working fountain on display. It had to be reviewed and approved by the convention venue. Planning the electrical was an issue. It was a very good idea, to include a fountain in our display. Branch manufactures a number of styles of fountains. They come equipped with a pump, so once the fountain is leveled and filled with water, one only has to plug it in to enjoy it. In recent years Branch has started fabricating covers for the pumps, so the interior of the fountain is as finished and polished as the exterior. Branch fountains are substantial, and can make a big statement in a landscape or garden. Our fountains are not inexpensive, but clients see the value of them. The action and sound of water in a garden cannot be overestimated.

Once all of the major pieces were unpacked, Jackie and David were able to fine tune the display. A bank of LED lights was attached to the underside of the Stuart dining table. That light made it easy to see the steel base and Ipe feet. The boxes of Branch catalogues, brochures and cards all needed a place to be. Jackie did a great job of designing this small space. She made sure there was plenty of space for people to linger, and engage. Our galvanized steel containers, pergolas, fountains and ornament are unique in the garden ornament business. I am not aware of any other company that hand manufactures heavy gauge steel planter boxes, pergolas or fountains such as these. Each piece is painstakingly finished in a two step process involving commercial hot dip galvanizing in a molten zinc bath – with a lifetime of service in mind. Our steel ornament is weatherproof, and virtually rust proof. A little spot of rust where the galvanizing did not take can be put to bed with a dot of cold galvanizing compound. The design and manufacture of fine ornament for the garden was a dream of mine that the Branch Studio has fulfilled, one beautiful garden heirloom at a time. Not familiar with what we make at Branch?     the Branch Studio

By Friday afternoon, our Philadelphia popup shop was ready for company. This is the fourth time we have exhibited at the ASLA show, and if the previous shows are any indication, it will take some time before we see inquiries. It can take a while before the right project comes along that would ask for our boxes or ornament. Designers have a lot of questions. Jackie was prepared with lots of answers.

Exhibiting on a national stage at a trade show attended by landscape architects was a meeting I welcomed. Branch is a grown up company, just barely hitting its stride. Ornament in the garden can endow a landscape with atmosphere. The Branch finish is very reminiscent of the look of that classic garden material, lead. Each Branch box comes with a reference to the history of garden pots, standard issue. That said, we have shipped out Branch products in their galvanized state, for those clients who favor the more contemporary finish that the powder coating process offers.

By no means is Branch an overnight sensation. We have 15 years behind us. 15 years getting our process, and our product line in order. This year, our lead times on custom orders have been at times 12 to 16 weeks out. Would that we could fill custom orders faster, but we work one project at a time. Branch Studio is busy. I am so happy about that. As for our pop up shop in Philadelphia, I thank both Jackie and David for their work putting the Branch Studio on the road. They will be packing up this morning, and heading home tomorrow.

And of course, many thanks to all of those people who have both expressed interest in the work, and spoken for it.

 

The Wilson Foundry and Machine Co

Rob recently posted a photograph to his instagram of the urns and planter boxes in the front of my house. You can see that photo here:  Rob’s instagram page  A reader asked for more detail on those urns, and the story behind them. You can barely see one of the four in the right hand side of the picture above, just about buried in petunias.  As it happens, there is a story behind those pots, that dates back 88 years.

Some 23 years ago, my good friend Frech knew I was looking to move closer to a building and property that I had purchased that would become Detroit Garden Works. He called and insisted that I go look at a house for sale just 2 miles from the shop. I made an appointment with the sales broker, and arrived 20 minutes early.  I had a lot of time to look at those cast iron urns. I had never seen any urn quite like them. There were two at the front door, and two more at the driveway entrance. I fell for them head over heels. I am embarrassed to say that I had decided to try to buy the house before I ever set a foot inside. I loved those pots.

I have spent some time since then, researching them, as I have never seen any garden urns quite like them.  There was a long ways to go from the inquiry to an answer. I knew from the seller that the house was built by the owner of a foundry in Pontiac, which would eventually become a foundry for General Motors. I was able to determine that the Wilson Foundry and Machine Co, was established by A. R. Wilson. He was actually a huge help to Willys, helping to pull them through an economic down turn that threatened to bankrupt the company. He was a manufacturer amply endowed with vision.

His foundry would become the largest major supplier to Willys International, of cast iron engine blocks and parts. None of their parts were welded together from individual pieces of steel.  Each part was cast from molten steel poured into a sand mold. That process is complicated, and astonishing.

Though I am not a historian, I did find that Mr. Wilson had a son, Charles E. Wilson, who was the assistant general manager of the Wilson Foundry and Machine Co. A University Of Michigan publication from the 1920’s, part of which is pictured above, confirmed that a Charles E Wilson, who graduated in the U of M class of 1923, at one time lived in my house. I purchased my house from two men who had done an incredible job of keeping up a house of great age. They did give me lots of materials they had collected on the history of the house, all of which were lost during a flood in my basement.  But I do remember them telling me that the father, A.R. Wilson, built my house as a wedding gift to his son and daughter in law. The house is solid concrete block, finished in brick, copper and limestone.  The construction was commercial grade. Though I live but a block off a major roadway, my house is quiet inside. It stays cool well into the summer, and stays warm well into the winter.

The old paint on the pots was peeling, and faded.  I decided to have Buck media blast them, to remove all of the paint. I was shocked to see that the bare steel was gray. Raw cold rolled steel is dark. Literature from the Wilson Foundry speaks of their castings being “gray metal”. Once I saw them in their stripped state, I knew that the Wilson Foundry designed and cast them specifically for his son’s home. I have searched high and low for any cast iron urn that resembles mine. I have never found anything like them. They are incredibly thick cast iron, and incredibly heavy.

Once the countless layers of old paint came off the urns, the stamp of Wilson Foundry and Machine Co was easy to see.  Of course I believe that my four pots were more than likely the only garden urns ever produced at this foundry devoted to engine blocks for Jeeps. The urns and the planter boxes were powder coated 30% gloss black.  The finish should last a very long time.

My house is registered with the US data base of historic homes. But it was pure instinct on my part to speak for the house that was a home for these urns.  24 years later, I am happy for my decision. The Branch Studio made 8″ tall square steel bases for the urns, so they would sit up and stand out in the front yard landscape. They also made me almost 60 feet of planter boxes in between those urns  in which I could plant whatever I fancy in all of the seasons. The assembly is a container designer’s dream come true.

The boxy Branch base was set under the hexagonal urn base, and on top of the original brick and limestone pillars. A few weeks ago removed an old scraggly hedge of taxus densiformis, so my planter boxes could be seen from the street.

In place of the yews is a short but deep hedge of Green Gem boxwood.  A lower layer of landscape is so much better in front of the planter boxes.  I am so pleased that those gorgeous urns have become a major feature of my front yard landscape.

urns and boxes

the view from the sidewalk

The urns float just above the old boxwood flanking the front walk. I like the look. The boxes are planted with nicotiana mutabilis, nicotiana alata lime and petunias. No fancy plants – just a fair number of them.

Those urns and boxes read just fine, even from across the street.

Every day, I come out this front door with Howard.  He is not able any more to navigate the stairs to the basement. So I put him on the front porch, drive the car around to the front, and pick him up. It takes him a while to get to the curb. I don’t mind this. I have the Wilson Foundry and Machine Company urns to look at. The landscape here has a history. It has evolved significantly over the past 88 years, and these pots are part of that.