Archives for May 2010

Turning Loose


Fifteen years ago I engaged Madame Pellier from the Poterie de la Madeleine to make three number 0 classic anduze pots-for the front of my then new shop.  They number their pot sizes; the largest pot is a zero, the smallest, a number 8.  The 0 pot is their largest-plenty big enough for me to climb in, and be hidden from sight.  There might be room left over for the Corgis, and my most treasured possessions.  They are very big footed vases.   

Every six months or so, she would call.  She would tell me pots were breaking, during the cooking.  The third year after placing the order, Rob went to Anduze to select pots, and place an order. He told me the hillside above the pottery was littered with broken number 0’s-with my name on them.  At the end of the third year, she had three perfect pots.  Our shipper in London, Headlees, drove to Anduze, collected the pots, crated them in London, and sent them to me.

I remember the day they arrived vividly.  I thought they were surely the most beautiful three pots I had ever seen. They came with some 1’s, and 2’s of the same classic design, but those zeros were beautiful to the bone.  How I worried that I could never plant them beautifully enough.  The French-they edit everything in the garden in a way I could never hope to aspire to.  I imagine a French designer, placing them, and not planting them at all.  

I am an American designer through and through.  In my mind, I saw a garden in those pots, the shape of fireworks exploding.  Up, and out-graceful, lush-bigger than those beautiful vases.  The best dress that in my life I could ever design for those gorgeous dark green shapes.

After some years in front of the store, I took them home.  It could be I always wanted that. I placed two in the front of the house-dead center to the windows in my dining room, and our den. Having dinner, or relaxing with the dogs, they were right there-representing.  I placed the third vase in my side half lot.  This small garden came to life when this giant pot took the center; every other element revolved around it.    

I stuffed it with giant nicotianas, white angelonia, a vigorously trailing white variegated plectranthus-and petunias.  It may not be so sophisticated, but petunias deliver the goods-great color, great scent, easy care, and exceptional vigor. Fireworks.  The early days, creating a shop devoted to fine objects for gardens-there were none. No precedents. Early visitors to the shop often demanded an explanation-a shop devoted solely to fine objects for gardens?  I had none. Just a fire burning inside-every gardener can understand that. My love for landscapes and all that entailed was a very powerful engine that powered my ideas.  I am much better able to explain years later.   The commission of these pots fifteen years ago-I am amazed, and so appreciative of whatever fueled that audacity.

I could see that stately vase from inside in the morning, from the lower terrace, from the street as I drove by on my way home.  A pair of chairs in that garden made it possible for Buck and I to talk about the day’s events; close by a party of the first order going on.

I planted a path of herniaria, rupturewort, up to, and all the way around those pots in the front.  The pot was every bit as important to my garden as what was planted in it.  I wanted to be sure to devote the space to the celebration of that 0.   The hedge of dwarf Russian sage framed my view-for those days when I was just too tired to walk up close and say hello.    

Two years ago I returned the Anduze pots, and this Madeleine Faune pot to the shop.  I could not leave them out in the winter, and I so wanted pots that could stay in place over the winter; I wanted pots I could dress for the winter season. This was not an easy decision. The Faune found a loving home straight away. The zero trio-this is the second season they have been in the shop.  Only a few days ago, a client for whom I had specified a completely different series of pots, spoke for a pair of the zeros.  They were the vases she had been looking for.  She told me today she could not imagine that it would not be difficult for me to give them up.  Indeed it is. Her question alone tells me they are going to the right home. She and her husband are both crazy about them.  I will place them, plant them, and visit regularly.  I am pleased that those vases that for so many years so enchanted me are due to be passed along to someone equally as impassioned about them as I have always been.  Today was a very good day.

Sunday Opinion: Mother’s Day

The shop has been full of people all weekend, in search of something just right for a beloved Mom. You can tell the ones whom that perfect gift has eluded them so far; they have that worried look. Any offer of help was met with a smile.  I always ask if the Mom is a gardener.  Surprisingly many are not-so why shop a garden shop?  There is that instinct to buy a plant or some flowers for a Mom, gardener or not. This seems like perfectly right thinking; Mom’s and gardeners devote much of themselves to making something grow. 

My Mom was a microbiologist, virologist, teacher-and great gardener.  She grew most every tree on our 50’s suburban lot from seed.  And mind you, no maples; we had gingkos. Yes, I am bragging.  She was, however, a reluctant Mom.  I actually think she would have lived a long and happy life had she skipped the children thing-but she didn’t.  A shy and retiring scientist, we three appalled her in most every way.  I never slept, and never shut up; her gift to me was teaching me to read when I was three. Though I am sure she did this in self defense, I have had a lifelong love of reading, and most likely always will.  She read to me long after I was able to read on my own-this was quality time.  She saw to it that I was well educated, and then went on to entertain each and every one of my hairbrained schemes seriously.  I did try to be like her-thus my split college degree in biology-and literature. My gardening is very much like her; my designing is very much like me.  I can only recall her being completely exasperated with me a few times.  She could make anything grow-including me.

I guess this makes me a fan of Mother’s Day; in my parallel world, this holiday would also be known as Gardener’s Day. When I stop to consider the collective effort to plant and nurture that been my privilege to observe and or participate it-I am struck by the volume and passion of that effort.  There are many other gardening people out there, busy raising vegetables, planting trees, growing flowers, teaching gardening to their kids, weeding, deadheading, pruning, planting, moving things around, dreaming and scheming what would make the landscape a better place to be.  The sheer physical work of it is enormous; the sheer delight in the process and results of it even more so. For fifteen years I owned five acres of property in Orchard Lake-my purchase of that property and house in an advanced state of neglect was one of the few times my Mom lost all patience with me.  Though I would never want to repeat what it took to make that ruin of a house liveable, and plant three acres, that work enabled me to start my own landscape design and installation business.  Years later the sale of that property enabled me to buy the building and land that is now home to my shop.  Sometimes on a lark, I will drive by. A new house went up over a field of some 300 peonies-who could have enough peonies, if they had the room? They are one now, but not my memories of them-glorious. The wild garden is more than wild now.  But the orchard is still there, and the little trees are now big trees.  I am satisfied that I left that property much better than I found it. 

This Mother’s Day weekend was a very special one for me.  A dear friend that I had lost track of, and had not seen for 20 years appeared at the shop on Saturday.  My Mom so loved Denise; I feel quite certain that she had an invisible hand in her decision to get in her car and drive up here from Kalamazoo to see what I was up to.  I recognized she and her husband instantly-funny how that works. I was shocked to tears to see her after all these years. We spent no small amount of time talking about the trip that she and I took with Julia to see the lotus in bloom in Monroe.  Nelumbo Lutea is native to Michigan.  A sizeable stand of it is owned and protected by the Ford Motor Company, this just one of countless things that Ford Motor Company nurtures. Denise is a well known artist, and was keen to paint those lotus.  Julia, in her signature denim jumper and keds, waded resolutely into that slimy marshy water in search of some good photographs. As Denise said-it was the biologist in her coming to the fore.  No muck or snake was going to stand in her way.  She was so careful to step around each plant. I vividly remember that denin jumper floating around her like a tutu.  Thanks to Denise, I had my Mother’s Day visit with my Mom.   But even more importantly, Denise reminded me how important it is to nurture those things that matter.  She made that effort.         

Julia passed away unexpectedly and quietly in early May of 2002; few days go by that I do not think of her.  I am quite sure she has a rocking garden where she is now, and that she keeps up with what I do.  Sometimes I can feel her questions-but I always feel her approval-her hand placed quite squarely and resolutely  over my shoulder.  Should you have an interest in seeing Denise’s work-including a pochoir of that lotus from so many years ago, click on the link.

 I hope your Mother’s Day was as wonderful as mine.

At A Glance: Shop Ready

Packing It All In

 My shop is stuffed to the rafters with all manner of ornament that I hope will enchant some gardener, given that they have already enchanted me. This seems to be working-we are busy.  Packed into this picture, a vintage handmade Italian pot, a French oval wine cask, and a mossed golden retriever.  Not that I would put these three even remotely near one another in a garden. I try to appeal to gardeners of all kinds.  No two gardeners look at anything the same; this is part of what interests me about gardening so much.  I try to represent lots of points of view. The plants-they apply equally to everyone.  

The ornament aside, the shop has some very new additions.  The glass roof room has become a temporary home for those plants that have no defense against weather turning for the worse-like these giant leaved farfugium.  Given that the overnight temperature tonight is forecast at 34 degrees, I cannot think of a better time to discuss the proper planting out of tender, marginal, or tropical plants.  “A primer on proper timing for planting out” could be the title of a discussion that could just as easily be described as “How to know when you are suffering from early planting derangement anxiety, and possible treatments”.  Should you think a lecture is looming, you are right.       

I am interested in each and every plant that it my good fortune to meet.  Cold tolerance has nothing to do with my interest.  Bring on the streptocarpus, the great looking pepperomias, the lotuses, the bananas, the Australian tree ferns, the Solenia begonias and the coleus standards.  But discretion is the better part of valor where bringing on is concerned.  

Michigan is famous for its late frosts; any Michigan gardener can recall snow on Mother’s Day-not to mention Memorial Day. Our balmy spring dating back to late March has the power to make all of us act stupid now.  Not that we needed any encouragement; I am so ready-aren’t you?  I have cleaned too early, smashed emerging shoots, disturbed what was not really awake, been so far ahead I was actually behind-I am a person who is eminently capable of bad moves, who happens to have a passion for gardening. 

I bought flats of short dahlias a few days ago-I could not resist. No doubt they are 3 weeks from a safe planting date.  So I have them stashed in a warm place. They are a new hybrid with better rebloom. Who could resist their cheer?  My longing to plant them out-roll your eyes, as you should.  From May 5 to May 15, I use the no word more often than any other time of the year.   

All of those plants that need weather protection clog my shop right now.  No matter how excited I am to get them integrated into the garden, nature rules the day. People walk through the front door of the shop in shorts and flip flops all the time when it is but 37 degrees. Fine for those people; they have legs to get them someplace warm.  The plants-they depnd on you.   The plants depend on your accurate timing and placement.  Should you think that the weather applies only to your neighbors, or some other community, or not to you at all-be prepared to be disappointed.  

My friends in the garden center industry can document sales of vegetable plants-twice a season.  What they sell too early, they sell again.  Though I am not shy with the no word, I am an advisor, not a parent. Should you need to have a spring garden, engineer one.  Plenty of plants tolerate mid April to late May conditions. Spring flowering bulbs-make friends.  You gain nothing from a too early planting-you may in fact be set back in such a way that ends up discouraging you.  I am very committed to every person who walks through my door being encouraged to try, grow-and be successful.    

Cold sensitive plants are all about soil temperature, not air temperature.  Should the dirt be freezing to your fingers, back off.  Ignore the air temperature; it takes time to warm the soil. At what date is the soil temperature 50 degrees-much later than you think.  Ignore the daytime temps-watch the nights.  Below 50 degrees-stressful to annuals and tropicals. My belief-any cold sensitive plant planted into too cold soil too early, languishes, and never really recovers. Annual plants planted too early burn out early.  Wait a May week in spite of your readiness to leap out of the box; reap your gardening pleasure way long into the fall.  Patience early will reward you in the stretch.      

The sun in the the glass roof room late this afternoon-beautiful. Indoors, there was no hint of the high winds, and the cold.  Just the rays.  I do not plant my pots until the second week of June every year.  The two weeks I wait makes me months ahead. My advice-wait until the rays warm your soil.  Wait for the rays.