Archives for November 2009

Dirty Little Secret

Nov 28 018Years ago Jonathon asked me to dream up a phrase that would describe my shop.  As we are in a tiny industrial district way off the beaten path, I thought “dirty little secret” would both reference the foundation upon which all I do becomes possible-and furthermore would encourage people whose curiousity was sufficiently piqued, to seek me out.  I try my best to have my three quarters of an acre ready for company every day.  This wreath, a warm, plain, and beautiful Douglas Fir wrap around a cast limestone dog, is displayed in the front of the house. The back of my house, stuffed with holiday materials scattered all over the place, is another story.  I know this is my second post about wreaths in a week, but these modest circles of green can so enliven your winter landscape-so bear with me.  No need to confine your wreathing to your front door either-a sculpture, a pot, a gate can be dressed in a wreath. Nov 28d 002  I am persisting with this discussion, as I think these modest circles based on green can endow a winter landscape with an impact vastly beyond their small size. They are a distinctly personal expression. My workroom is entirely given over at this moment to taking those green circles a few personal steps further-special orders.  There are so many materials-both natural and not, that can be arranged, wired or glued on the surface. I have made a lot of them over the years; they are miniature gardens that go together fast.  Rob meets with his clients; pictures of possible combinations follow via email.  Helping people put things together that they like individually is a big part of the job. 

Nov 28d 017The workroom, my dirty little secret , is home to the tools, the good light, and the space necessary to make things.  My only wish for my life-to be able to make, and go on making.  Landscapes, gardens, topiary sculptures, flower arrangements, paintings, essays-specific to a person, a time, and a place. Everything I make inplies the person out there.  These landscapes do not take weeks, or years to put in place.  Even a complicated arrangement rarely takes longer than an hour.  The trick is having all the materials and tools at hand, and ready. The rest-trying out whatever strikes your fancy.

Nov 28d 011My workroom is not particularly fancy.  A 4′ by 8′ painted plywood layout table holds all manner of materials and tools at a height that makes the work easy.  Underneath the top is space for plans, rolled up and labelled with a client’s name, and date-some of which date back 20 years.   Lots of flourescent lighting banishes shadows, and makes it easy for me to see the details. Every surface is put to use; if something is put away, I forget I have it available.  I collect bits of this and that all year long, for the wreaths.   

Nov 28e 005Shelves loaded with containers organize like materials-I need this level of organization, given that I am in progress with multiple projects.  I hate searching for the ribbon scissors, so it has a home. Things have gotten a little out of control, but I resist the impulse to clean.  I am so lucky to have a big space that needs no daily cleanup.  At the end of the day, I just go home-the litter can wait until I have time to clean it up. This is MCat’s favorite time of year-so many things that have fallen to the floor to play with. Some days he finds a spot on the table to snooze.

Nov 28e 002I like loading the layout table with materials that speak to each other.  I move things around, I add and subtract until I get a mix that seems to work. This can take a lot of time.  Once I come to some conclusion, the construction phase kicks in.    My industrial grade glue gun-an invaluable tool.  I cannot stitch, sew, or cook, but I can glue. I also take things apart before I use them.  One half a seed pod might work better than a whole one. Garlands and picks cvan be unwired, and their elements used individually. 

Nov 28e 010The dried grasses, the oregonia, the bahia pods, the magnolia stems, acorns, the bark wire-all of these materials seem just right for clients for whom I mail  out a slew holiday wreaths the Monday after Thanksgiving.    They love all manner of natural materials-they trust my mix, different every year. I photograph them, so they know what gets sent.

Nov 28d 013
The eucalyptus, acorns, magnolia leaves, pine cones and oregonia say hello and happy holidays to their friends and family.  The jute bows are a new thing.  Rob is so good at seeing the beauty of a raw material beyond its ordinary use.  This workroom is a gardener’s junk drawer on a big scale. Once these wreaths are hanging on a door, who would suspect the happy mess from whence they came?

Sunday Opinion: Thirteen Thank Yous



snow crocusMarch


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June 11 006June

July19 007July

Aug 17 034August

sept5 056September

Nov 3 004October


Silver Holiday 2005 - night (11)December

friends and family

At A Glance: The Library

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The Heavy Lifting

Nov 26 015

My contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner is next to nothing; I set the table, keep everyone’s glass full, and try to stay out of the way.  Cooking this dinner is an intense business.  We did a joint dinner with friends; Fred delivered a fresh 25 pound turkey, which he had brined and air cooled for the previous 24 hours, for Buck to cook.  I can’t tell you one thing regarding this process, except to say that dealing with twenty five pounds of turkey involved a lot of heavy lifting. 

Nov 20a 021In my business, there are machines that are engineered to do the heavy lifting. Though my crew can handle a lot, there are those projects which could not be done efficiently without the help of machines. Two landscape projects of considerable scope and size need finishing before we loose our working weather. The first phase of this project-the installation of a new driveway. The original drive, set much too low, flooded with every rain.  The drivecourt was set some six inches above grade; water draining off the drivecourt was finding its way to the basement of the house. 

Nov 16b 003Given that a new driveway was a necessity, I suggested an alternate location that would provide a great view of the lake and property, and gracefully deposit guests at the front door.  A large tree in very poor condition would come down.  As the driveway would come through this area with eight inches of road gravel and decomposed granite, an oversized stump grinder was used to remove the top 14 inches of stump. There is no digging out the stump of a tree this size; nature intended that the forty feet above ground would have a solid foundation. This large four wheeled machine is designed to power a giant blade, that sweeps back and forth over the stump, chewing up and spewing out the bits.   

Nov 14 047The original drivecourt, partly hand made brick pavers from the early twentieth century, and asphalt, needed complete removal, so as to lower the grade around the house. This excavator makes two days work of this big job.  A front end loader collected the intact bricks, so they could be stacked on pallets for use in the new drive, and later dumped the asphalt into a truck for removal from the property.  Was I fascinated by steamshovels as a child-absolutely. 

Nov 16b 002At some point concrete was added to the existing drive.  As the house is a long distance from the street, any guest parking had to be provided for on the property. As a driveway is not something one takes out on a whim, and redoes, if there is a need for more parking, the add on was just that-an add on.  This machine cuts concrete; as the blade turns, a spray of water keeps the blade from overheating.  I understand little about how machines work, but how this works made a monumental job possible.   

Nov 20a 009In conjunction with a new driveway, an asphalt go-cart track.  I will admit, this is my first.  I had my clients drive the proposed drive and cart path many times.  Once any driving surface is done, its not easy to make changes. Over a period of four days, we tuned up the final design.  This machine, rolling back and forth over the freshly laid asphalt, is solely intended to compact the oily mixture into a tough and durable surface.  You can tell from all the steam we are in a race aginst the cold weather.  Asphalt plants typically close the end of October; our late fall weather has been unseasonably warm.

Nov 20a 030The particulate asphalt is hot, and set with this machine.  I have no idea what drove the design, but it enables the two operators to lay out a layer of asphalt in the desired width, at a consistent thickness.  Bush Brothers Asphalt is just that-five brothers who quote, install and finish driveways, parking lots, roads-and in this case, a driving course.

August 13 pictures 158Buck builds things from steel; much of what he builds is impossibly unwieldy and heavy.  He has another pair of hands that enables him to position and move material, how, where and when he needs it.  A bridge crane, affixed to an overhead track, can pick up 5 tons worth of any material he needs moved at a time.  A control gauge at the floor level enables him to move materials up and down-and finally out.  His eyes are always on the object he is moving, not on those buttons.  An object of great size and weight he moves with great attention and respect.  Machine operators are as much a marvel as the machines themselves.

August 13 pictures 164
It would have taken an army to move this steel sculpture from the shop onto this trailer-another machine that enables us to move big things big distances. I have utmost respect for those people who identify what work needs doing, and  design and build the machines which accomplish that. I greatly appreciate that these people- the designers,  the manufacturers who make machines, and the operators who drive them, make it possible for me to work.