Archives for October 2009

Staging A Display

Oct 10a 001Whether I am drawing a plan, arranging some flowers, building a topiary sculpture, or staging a display, my first move is to determine the order of events. The big gesture comes first.  In a landscape plan, I determine the center of interest, or organizing element, and place it.  If it is a pool, that pool is assigned a size and a location; any other design is keyed to and in support of that initial decision.  If the pool is centered in a space, I work from the middle to the edges of my paper.  If that pool is located on a wall at the far end of my space, I would work from back to front, in tandem with establishing the views.  As the topiaries that had spent the summer in these pots needed the shelter of a greenhouse, I had four empty pots in search of a reason to be. The idea of these pots overflowing with pumpkins squashes and gourds in some sculptural way had appeal.  As these pots are large, a center of interest at a height pleasingly proportional to their width needed to be set first. I used a trio of medium sized pumpkins to get my big pumpkin with its giant stem at the right finished height.   

Oct 10a 003When working with rounded forms, it rarely works to use a filler material for height. Someplace your filler will show, and give the impression your slip is showing.  Trying to cover up a not for viewing interior structure invariably looks like a cover up. Whatever portion of these support pumpkins might show in the finished piece, that portion will look like part of the arrangement.  I would not have the faintest idea about how to turn pie pumpkins into pie, but I do know how to use them to provide crooks and crannies to set my prized specimen gourds. I set these beginning pumpkins at an angle which makes their swooping stems part of the action of the sculpture. This helps to make the sculpture look graceful.  Every stem set straight up risks that soldierly, grocery store display look. 

Oct 10a 005As I am interested in placing the largest gourds next, and then, arranging with color in mind, I need to look at averything I have available all at once.  This can be quite a nuisance when building a stone wall, but I would not know how to construct it otherwise.  In designing a landscape, a lot of shapes, textures and volumes need to be available to your mind’s eye, all at once.  I am only good for a random thought that might be pertinent when I am tired; it takes energy to concentrate enough to turn off the daily noise and design. This is easy-get the gourds out, and spread them around.

Oct 10a 004My big beautiful squashes get placed next.  When I look at the four pots from the drive, I see that the pots furthest from my eye will need more emphasis than the pots close to my eye; bigger material is a good way to get what is far away to read better.  A small pie pumpkin enables me to tilt the squash out over the edge of the pot, and feature the stem.   

Oct 10a 007I finish placing all the large gourds, and stand back for a look. Though not so readily apparent in this picture, I have placed more of the pale or light colored gourds in the rear pots, and the darker colored gourds in the front pots.  Dark colors do not read well at a distance, so placing them up front makes the detail of their shape and color read better.  Pale colors read fine at a distance, and highlight dark colors placed in front of them.  The pots are ready for the little bits-the smallest gourds finish and refine the shape of the overall arrangement. In a landscape, I might be planting roses at this stage, or groundcover as part of the finishing touches.

Oct 11a 016The idea is suggest a casual and not too fussy an arrangement.  In fact, ordering the placement of sizes permits an arrangement where all the pieces are built sensibly from a large base supporting the fine detail-both visually, and physically.  In a large flower arrangement, the interlocking big stems under water provide a framework that will hold the smaller stems where you want them.  In a landscape, a long walk indicates how a garden is meant to be experienced-but it also provides weight and organization to the smaller elements you otherwise might not notice. All the elements of any composition need to interlock for a strong presentation of the whole.  This front pot features dark and intense colors, with dashes of pale colors here and there.

Oct 11a 028This rear pot set in a much darker environment relies on the interaction of pale colored shapes for good visibility. The varying shapes and colors of all the little noisy gourds emphasize the mass and grace of the shape of my starring pumpkin.

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Pots without much in the way of plants is a welcome change from the summer season.  There is a celebration of permutations which have occurred as a result of cross-pollination going on here. The visual explanation – a little feast for the eye.

Sunday Opinion: Willing To Work

Alan Armitage, the noted garden writer, teacher, and Director of the horticulture reseach gardens at the University of Georgia, spoke at the Independent Garden Center conference in Chicago this past August. Of most interest to me was his brief mention of a marketing trend he had detected in the nursery industry aimed at convincing customers that gardening was not only pleasurable and satisfying, but really not that much work, either.  He went on to emphatically state that gardening was indeed plenty of work, and any suggestion to the contrary was ridiculous.  Those advertising photographs depicting a smiling gardener, outfitted in white sneakers, clean socks and outfit unsullied by dirt or water, brand spanking new garden tool in tow, bear no remote resemblance to the truth of it.  Gardening is dirty, sweaty, buggy, and overwhelmingly hard work.  Backbreaking, and heartbreaking.  Gardening is work ad infinitum, until you could drop over from it.  I suspect he was partly referring to the Proven Winners brand of annuals and shrubs.  PW is a plant marketing empire based on the unspoken idea that if you buy this particular brand of plants, you will be guaranteed success.   The PW consortium has presumably tested, and selected, only the rugged, the beautiful, the carefree, and the foolproof. The final implication – it will be little or no work at all to have a lovely garden; these plants will virtually grow themselves. They even go so far as to market their plants in white buckets.  Some nursery people have commented about how difficult it is to keep those pots clean in an environment where soil, water and weather rule. White containers aside, he is right; if there’s gardening going on, there’s dirty work going on.

I understand the impetus to characterize gardening as a benign and not too demanding pursuit.  It is hard to tell people that a landscape and garden is expensive to create and install, and in the next breath inform them that the work of it is only beginning and will likely go on indefinitely.  The orthodontist can divert your attention away from the expense, discomfort, tweaking and cleaning of your braces with the  prospect of the permanently lovely smile you will have when the work comes to an end. Anyone can bear anything-given a start and an end. Such gloom-broaching the topic of how everything in a garden quickly tends towards perennial dissolution; who wants that job?  The pots unwatered over a weekend, the grass unmowed in a May week, the perennial garden not weeded, the Japanese beetles not squished-any of these experiences can provide a rude awakening as to the reality of the work of a successful garden.  Though I watch over and coach, once I have laid up the stone, mulched the last tree, and washed the driveway, the work gets passed on.

I make no distinction between my clients that put the shovel to the ground, and those who hire someone else to do that job.  Some people are after all working at something else that enables them to hire out the gardening work. The work of gardening is not more demanding and difficult than any other kind of work. The noun work implies the committment, self discipline, and energy which results in that action verb, work.   The work of an elementary school teacher or police officer would flatten me far faster than shovelling dirt or pruning roses. Plenty of work is far beyond my capabilities. But I find people who know what work is, and  see to it day after day, have common ground with me.  Some clients take the baton that is passed to them with little effort on my part. Others I need to pick that stick up, and place it firmly in their hands.  There are those people who have too many other batons in their hands to even think of taking on one more; they have services of one kind or another.  I have to address the reality of the work from the beginning. At the first meeting I am likely to ask if they are a gardener, and all else that goes along with that question.  A client that handles the work successfully makes me successful at my work.  If they should go on and decide that the work of gardening is interesting, entertaining and supremely satisfying, the pleasure is all theirs.  This may be the best part of doing the work-owning the satisfaction.

I buy books and read as time and money permits; I make an effort to be educated. Design work that doesn’t work gets done over. I do my own drafting; even if it isn’t the most gorgeous drafting on the planet, it’s my hand.  When I finally go home, I water and tend my own pots.  It is such a good feeling, when they look good.  When I do not have one ounce of energy left at day’s end, I do the work of persuading Buck to help me out. (This is not much work, by the way.)  All of this makes me better able to appreciate the work of others.  I think I have a good understanding of what it takes to push a idea or project from one point to the next. 

I have met a very few people that seem to have little understanding of what it means to be willing to work. It may be they can’t or won’t make it work, or work it out.  It could be they don’t understand the importance of good works.  Perhaps a working knowledge of something doesn’t interest them. They might lack the confidence it takes to rely on their own work.  They may not appreciate the work of others.  They may have not found something worth working for.   Interestingly enough, not one of those few was a gardener.

At A Glance: Great Gourds

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Fall Fun

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The better part of fall is the harvest from the garden.  The pumpkins, the brussel sprouts and cabbage, the Romanesco broccoli, and the squashes are as delightful to look at as eat.  The gourds in irresistible shapes and intense colors make you want to decorate something.  I am glad to have something celebratory for the season.  As I mentioned before, the cabbages and kales top my list of great fall  plants.  The centerpiece in the above pictured pot is unabashedly fake-just a little fall fun.  This client owns a business set back quite some distance from the road.  These tall and brightly colored picks, wired into a post of  natural cedar whips, get some attention.  The store looks dressed for fall. 

2007 Payne Fall (17)Window boxes of size permit expression of size.  These boxes are viewed primarily from a garden room indoors, so big and striking, and not too tall,  is the order of the day.  As they face the south, and are somewhat protected from freezing winds and cold temperatures, these boxes prosper late into the fall season and through Thanksgiving.

DSC_0005Whomever it was who invented stick stacks, I thank them.  These 6 foot stacks comprised of wood cut into quarter inch by quarter inch squares are uniformly vertical when they go in a pot.  A piece of steel rebar is driven deep into the pots, and the stack wired to it.  This keeps the centerpiece from tilting.  Funny how an element askew has that air of neglect about it.  I like to see people keeping up the appearance of their homes from the street.  Stick stacks change in appearance with exposure to weather.  As the wood absorbs moisture from the air, they curve away from the center in a very graceful way.  The preserved green eucalyptus weathers just about anything.

Tender #2 (1)Tender is a fabulous dress shop that is known for its cutting edge fashion.  Their fall pots are dressy.  Maple leaves coated in copper shine, as do the pumpkins with a dusting of gold. Integrifolia dyed an intense shade of fall orange compliment the dyed pencil thin willow sticks.  Orange and white pansies complete the ensemble.

Dunker 2006 (1)This narrow courtyard, part of a condominium, is organized around four very large white concrete pots inlaid with bands of curved stainless steel wire.  Fiber pots painted white in galvanized steel stands are home to my client’s tomato plants in the summer; the tall kale, pansies, and creeping jenny compliment the cabbages and ivy in the concrete pots in both form and feeling. 

2005 Wasserman1005 (1)Lime integrifolia and diamond shaped moss pillows help create a clean and more modern look; not every client is enamoured of pumpkins and the like.  Bleached sticks and pods complete the look.

Seed pods from tropical countries have an exotic look that adds a lot of interest to a planting of pansies.  These stems are ruggedly weather resistant.  I am not really sure from what plant they come, but the stringy leaf stalks cannot be torn-they must be cut. 

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There are lots of materials available to spice up a fall planting. Any farmer’s market is a great place to find something that might suit you.  Bittersweet, rose hips, dried hydrangea, money plants, thistles and cattails from the roadside-nature provides plenty of bounty at harvest time.