Season’s End

winter lightThe close of the gardening season is coming up fast. This means I am trying to finish four landscape projects before the coming of the cold closes me out. An old client with a new project-just today we decided to push the envelope. There are bulbs still not in the ground.  Garden cleanups not finished.  Fountains to drain, leaves to rake, boxwood to protect.  An old pergola restored by Branch that needs installation.  A new pergola for the same client which will need to be assembled. The season’s end is unpredictable, and always too early. But my season’s end is a a beginning for a Rob.  Detroit Garden Works offers keen gardeners a way to celebrate the cold and dormant seasons.

nOV 4 2014 (11)His light sculptures are extraordinary.  They are engineered to be easy to install, whether you hang them in your trees, or  sink the free standing models into pots or the ground.  The coming of the cold foretells the coming of the dark.  Gardeners understand that the life of the garden is energized by light.  Once the sun sinks low in the sky, and the daylight hours are few, what gardener is not interested in lighting the landscape for the winter?

custom-lighting.jpgWe have only one event at night per year at Detroit Garden Works.  Our winter/holiday open house provides a chance to experience, and review our winter lighting designs.  I would not miss this night for anything, and I work right next to him day after day, and year after year.  I can bank on a look I have not seen before. Rob has made a mission of sourcing materials for winter and holiday pots-he has been long and strong in this regard for over a decade. Every year he manages to surprise and enchant.

merry-Christmas.jpg I feel confident that if you should pay us a visit at 5pm on Thursday, you will be treated to a warm and energetic experience of the winter holiday. Whether your taste runs to formal and elegant, or naturally rustic, there will be materials to decorate a holiday or a winter from a gardener’s point of view.


As much as I regret my garden going down, I would prefer to put my best foot forward.  Looking forward is sign of a gardener. Dividing perennials in the fall, seeds ordered for spring, the spring flowering bulbs that just went in the ground – planning for the season to come is fueled by hope. We have a holiday and winter season coming up. That season is as much cause to celebrate as any other. Most of our fresh cut twigs and greens will be here in the next week. The landscape crew will switch gears for a month, putting together and installing holiday and winter containers. Incredibly, we are as busy at this time of year as we are in May – and for good reason.  No one who loves to garden wants to give it up, even for a moment.

winter.jpgAnything light and light hearted will appeal to those of us who have a long winter ahead.

white-flocked-holiday-tree.jpgOur flocked Frazier firs, available by special order, are new this year.

flocked-tree.jpgThe French blue flocking is an especially sumptuous and elegant color.

holiday-open-house.jpgI hope you are able to stop by sometime this season-we hope to make the experience a good one.


Going For The Record

March-2014.jupgReally?  I didn’t really believe the forecast for 8 inches of fresh snow and 40 mile an hour winds, but that forecast proved dead to right.  The snow started about 7am, and never let up until the afternoon.  Long about 11:30 we were experiencing blizzard conditions.  Then the wind.  Howling winds, for Pete’s sake.  If you live in a northern gardening zone, I am sure this sounds like more of the same.  More of the same winter weather to my mind is just about intolerable, considering this is mid March.

March 12 2014 (8)We had 400 hellebores enroute from the west coast yesterday.  The trucker called an hour after his 8am ETA, to say he was having mechanical problems-he would be late.  Late meant that he and Rob were unloading the truck at 9pm last night.  Neither one of them wanted any part of unloading a truck today.  Though it took until 11:30 pm to get the plants safely stowed away in our greenhouse, we had three more deliveries today-all three at the height of the commotion.  Rob just rolled his eyes at me, as he and Steve were on their way outside for delivery number three.

March 12 2014 (15)The UPS truck in our drive summoned another UPS truck.  A boatload of packages were transferred from one truck to the other. What was up with that-I did not ask. This winter has tried each and every one of us.  I could not imagine being in the delivery business this winter. The weather was the top topic of conversation today.  Detroit is but a few inches short of a record snowfall that has prevailed since 1883.  As long as metro Detroit gardeners have suffered the misery of a vile winter that has gone on much too long, why not go for the gold?  Living through the most vile winter in over 100 years sounds better than a dispirited discussion of more of the same.

March 12 2014 (16)I haven’t been able to much walk my garden in months.  The rose garden has been buried in deep snow.  The staircase up is a snow ramp.  The corgis have been confined to the deck.  Did I mention that it is perilously icy everywhere? These pictures are from the inside looking out the windows.  Looking out from the inside has been a way of life for longer than I would like.

March 12 2014 (27)I do have questions, as this is a winter of a length and a breadth that I have never experienced before.  What will happen with my crocus?  Will they stay below ground until all of the snow is melted and the ground unfrozen?  Will they come up late, and bloom as usual, but late?  Will they pass on making an appearance this year altogether?  Once the winter is by, will they emerge bloom and flop over in one day?  Will the forsythias and magnolias bloom?

March 12 2014 (25)Will my shrub roses have die back from the extreme cold?  Will their blooming season be delayed?  Will the June garden be all the poorer for our extremely cold winter and deep snow?  The garden rarely provides answers in advance.  There will be a garden this spring, the shape of which I cannot predict.

March 12a 2014 (5)I am still interested in the fact that we gardeners in this zone have not experienced a winter with this level of extreme cold and extreme snow in 130 years.  This could mean that weather patterns are much bigger and longer than a human life.  As I have always suspected, nature is at the center of life.  People experience a piece, a chunk, a part – maybe just the second act of a much bigger play featuring five acts.  Maybe the past 20 years in which I have been cultivating my garden happened during an intermission.

March 12a 2014 (7)Late in the day, the storm passed, and the sun came out. The winds moved on.  The clear sky and the still were remarkably beautiful.

March 12 2014 (36)Nature?  It is a cornerstone of my life, no matter what.  There are no promises.  Sometimes the outcomes are not happy. Most times the outcomes are unexpected.  Sometimes the outcomes are deliriously enchanting.  Sometimes the outcomes are dreary and unclear.  Am I along for the ride?  Sure thing.


In The Pink


The dark days are here.  The needled foliage of the yews are not spring or summer green.  They are black green.  The colder the weather, the darker the color.  By contrast with the snow, the boxwood foliage is dark too.  I don’t mind it, really.  Not now.  But as the winter drags on and on, that brown, black green, black, gray and white can get to be tiresome.  Not that I envy gardeners in California.  I wouldn’t trade how one season gives way to the next for a warm and sunny winter.  Having grown up in the midwest, a warm and sunny winter would just seem wrong.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgBut I won’t have to worry about coping with a limited and severe color palette.  My winter garden in front of my house will be in the pink-dreary winter month after dreary winter month.  Does the pink in this pot seem implausible?  Not to my eye.  The curly copper willow looks great with the brick.  The gold sinamay has enough orange and enough mass to look like a party. The pink eucalyptus has a lavender cast, set against the cinnamon brown willow.  Pink is by no means a traditional holiday color, but why not?   How a color reads has everything to do with its relationship to neighboring colors.  Color also reads so differently in daylight, or night light. Suffice it to say, we will have an abundance of gray days the next few months.  I like the idea of unexpected winter color.

holiday-garland.jpgThe holiday garland features pink bits.  Funny how what seemed in the studio to be overwhelmingly pink looks so much more reserved outdoors.

evergreen-garland.jpgIt is hard to make out the individual elements from the street.  There is the dark green of the evergreen boughs, punctuated by a color and forms that attract the eye.  Pink may be out of season in the garden, but it is in season in my holiday garden.  Of course anyone who comes to the door gets a clearer view.  That is the point, of course.  My landscape has a street presentation-neat, simple and well kept-and not especially given to the personal details. Those details are reserved for people I know and expect.  For a guest that arrives at the front door, there is an element of surprise.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgI would call this a juicy look.  In contrast to the austere look of the overall winter landscape. I favor juicy, no matter the season.  As in hellebores in really early spring, tulips in the late spring, and roses in June, and the hibiscus in late summer. I like flowers in the landscape.  Clematis in bloom is quite unlike the color of any other green plant.  As much as I like boxwood, yews, hosta, lady’s mantle and Princeton Gold maples, I like colors other than green-no matter the season.

winter-pot.jpgWhite in the winter is a regular feature.  Snow is snow.  In this picture, the orange and pink looks companionable to the remains of my hydrangeas.  The color scheme fits right in.  The snow makes its own demands visually.  Everything snow touches turns their color close to black.  Snow that falls on temperature darkened ever greens is all about the contrast between black and white.

tree-in-the-side-yard.jpgMy pot in the side garden has a cut Christmas tree in it, strung with 7 strands of mini lights. At night, the glow is visible from the street, and from the south side of my house.  I find that warm light comforting.  Appropriate to the season.  The lights add another color to the winter landscape-a warm color.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgLest you think there is no pink in the Michigan landscape in the third week of December, I invite you to give a look at my Parrotia.  It is the very last tree in my yard to change color.  The leaves are a brilliant yellow in late fall.  This tree has yet to give up its leaves.  They might stay stuck the entire winter.  The dry leaves are pink – granted a muddy subtle brownish pink.  But pink,  nonetheless.


Let It Snow

Snow-just what is it?  Water, high in the atmosphere freezes, forming very small ice crystals.  These ice crystals, in the form of individual snowflakes, fall to earth, blanketing your garden and mine with a white granular substance we call snow.  Frozen rain, if you will.  Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of the snow.  It is cold.  It is difficult to walk and drive through.  Worst of all, it is a sure sign that the growing season has come to a close.  Once the garden goes to sleep, the snow usually comes, and covers all until the weather turns.

Snow can be just the thing-for people who sled or ski.  My appreciation is a little less visceral.  I love the white of it.  Snow makes such a stark and crisp contrast to our relentlessly gray winter skies.  Even the softest light will make it sparkle.  Fresh heavy snow is visually dramatic in form, texture, and mass.

 Snow falling on a windless day emphasizes the shape and configuration of everything it touches.  Flat surfaces build up snow collars.  A chain link fence catches the snow in a way that beautifully describes its texture.  A perennial garden cut back to the ground gets a softly undulating and sleepy shape.  The snow will detail every vertical blade of ornamental grass left standing.

 In my zone, a winter blanket of snow protects many plants from dessicating winds.  Though it is hard to believe that ice crystals could offer any protection, a blanket of snow insulates.  The frozen ground will stay frozen.  Ground that freezes and thaws can heave plants out of the ground.  Insulation is a preventative against all kinds of loss.  Heat loss from the roof or the hot water pipes.  My down jacket-insulation against the cold.  The snow keeps everything uniformly cold. 

 A winter with no snow cover worries me.  I like all of my plants buried in snow.  Comforted and protected-this they need.  The winter temperatures and winds can kill.  As much as I treasure what nature provides, winter can be a formidable enemy to living things without protection.

As for the snow falling today-I welcome it.  Our summer was very hot, and very dry.  In the back of my mind, a worry about the lack of water.  Snow is water in an alternative form.  As every living plant depends on water to survive, I welcome this version.  Once the ground thaws, a bit of that water delivered via snow will be absorbed into the ground.

Last winter was an anomaly.  Warm temperatures throughout-no snow.  This weather deprived me of plenty.  No flowers on the magnolia trees.  Poor bloom on the roses.  Garden disappointment-I hope to not have this next spring.  Today’s heavy snow comforts me.  It is so beautiful.  It is so expected. 

My good friend MK writes me today that the snow is uplifting his spirits.  Discussion not needed- I understand his feeling.  The snow feels right.   Basic to the psyche of any gardener is instinct to protect.  The snow blanket is an essential part of the natural order of things.

Bring on the snow!  I am enchanted as much by its beauty as I am by its utility.  Though I will never enjoy it to the extent that Milo does, I appreciate this particular season for what it is. Quiet, and beautiful.