Archives for September 2010

It Is So Easy

There is only one thing in this world that is easier than planting spring flowering bulbs-that would be not planting spring flowering bulbs.  I have never really been able to determine why. I know it is hard to believe those brown orbs will ever amount to anything. Granted planting in cold and blustery weather is not my favorite.  It is true that all you have to show immediately for your work is what appears to be disturbed ground.  But from the first eranthis in March to the June blooming Globemaster alliums,  any spring is all the more gorgeous for the bulbs.  The muscari mix in these two troughs-a Christmas present to Rob.  When I saw them in bloom, I could have kicked myself for not planting a single bulb at home. I had the better part of three months to regret my omission.  I was determined not to make that mistake this fall.   

As I hate having no recourse given what I forgot to do the previous fall, I plant pots with spring bulbs for the shop.  There is no end of information about forcing bulbs, but forcing refers to tricking the bulb into growing and blooming before its natural bloom date.  I like flowers in season; I do not want Lily of the Valley in December.  I just like the option of moving a pot of bulbs around to the front porch, if that suits me.  So I pot up bulbs, and winter them in our unheated garage.  I am careful to get them right outdoors whenever things seem to be stirring.  

Crocus can be up out and done in a blink of an eye, but that is no reason not to have them.  I have had my litlle patches come up and bloom faithfully for 15 years.  That counts for a lot right there. I like getting down on the ground, so I can see the flowers.  Having the soil so close, I can smell the spring coming out of the ground.  It is a fragrance that defies description, but if you are a gardener you can probably conjure up that smell out of thin air. Crocus bulbs are little; you can practically push them down 3 inches with your thumb.   

Planting spring bulbs in little pots means I am able to use them in bigger spring combination pots.  Grape hyacinths are a great choice for this, as they last so long. In a perfect spring, all the flowers on the bulbs go into the fridge each night.  The only enemy of the spring bulbs is early and relentless heat.  I prefer to be optimistic; I have 5 varieties and mixes of muscari on order.  What you see above is John Sheepers Muscari Magical Mixture; it is well named.     

The species and various hybrid tulips make it possible to have tulips in bloom for at least 2 months.  10 tulips all planted in a bunch makes a great in ground bouquet.  It takes 2500 tulips to fill the beds in front of the shop.  We use a planting technique that works well for planting large numbers.  We lay out four or five rows. Each spot for a bulb gets stabbed with the trowel held backwards.  We open that slot slightly, drop the bulb in the slot, and firm the soil.  We do not dig holes six inches deep, and place the bulb in the bottom, nose side up.  This takes way too much time to no better end.  Daffodils like to be really deep.  I have a team of two handle the planting; one person pushes a shovel- blade flipped backwards and held exactly perpendicular to the ground- all the way into the dirt.  When he pushes the shovel handle away and pulls up, a slot is created.  Person 2 places the bulb in the slot; person 1 tamps the ground.  This is much quicker than digging a hole.

The most arresting and spectacular bulb display I have ever seen was in Chicago on a University campus this past spring.  Some brilliantly obsessed bulb afficianado had planted many hundreds of dark purple, dark red violet, and lavender hyacinths in a mix-shoulder to shoulder.  It was breathtaking, and romantic-all those flowers so close together.  It was a display I feel compelled to recreate for myself.  Hyacinths are beautiful at every stage of their development.  This makes them a good choice for a container bulb planting.    

I usually plant 3 or 4 tulips in a mix in the shop garden. I like to vary the heights of the flowers, and the bloom time.   I like the informality of the mix.  The garden has more than enough formality going for it in the boxwood. I like the flowers up and down, rather than aitting on top. This Darwin tulip, Pink Impression, was the first to bloom.  It lasts unusually long for a Darwin.  The garden is beautiful at this stage too; the color and texture of the leaves and buds is a lot to look at.    

The red Darwin Oxford, and the single late white tulip Maureen are both on the way. Barely getting started are the white flamed red and cerise single lates-World Expression.  It might be my favorite tulip. There would be a moment when I would have tulips as far as the eye could see.  Well, pretty far, for sure.  Before your fall gets away from you, you might want to put some of those brown knobs in the ground.  You will be happy you did, come spring. 

A Michigan Gardener, Part 2


You may remember this photograph from a post I did a few weeks ago called ” A Michigan Gardener”.  If you knew my client, you would understand how until he could have the entire landscape, he would have nothing.  The design had been drawn and presented for quite some time; out of the blue, they were ready.  

They have a unique situation; their property backs up to a golf course. They are able to take their golf cart out of their garage, and drive to the first tee.  Their love of golf is another story all together; preserving their view of that course was my main concern. I wanted a very strong foreground element that would hold its own against all that golf course acreage,  and a landscape that would frame, and not obstruct those beautiful views out to the course.  Central to the design, 4 Bowhall columnar maples, which would be inset in a picture frame of decomposed granite.  In the center, a fountain.

A fountain-this sounds so simple.  It is, once every dimension is carefully thought through.  Once all the proportions and construction are sorted out. Even the smallest most simple self contained fountain is a great addition to a garden.  A fountain of this size would be a place to congregate, and entertain.  My clients are young, and appreciate modern design.  But they did not want to be limited by a “modern” definition-they wanted a landscape which would please and suit them.  This means a landscape that allows them to easily entertain outdoors.      

The fountain footprint is 10′ by 10′.  My clients have 2 young children and very busy lives-I insisted that this fountain be constructed and cleaned as if it were a swimming pool or spa.  When I make much of a central landscape feature, it only makes sense to cover the maintenance. My client contracted Gillette pools to construct this reflecting pool; Buck built the acid washed steel surround.  Transporting that welded box to and from the galvanizer, and to the site-at which point 8 men carried that 900 pounds of steel box and dropped it over the concrete shell-a big deal.  Once the surround was in place, the frame of decomposed granite was installed. 

I played with no end of possible dimensions for the fountain, as did my clients.  I envisioned the limestone cap at seat height.  The kids in the fountain on a hot day.  A coping wide enough to accomodate a plate and a glass of wine.  The limestone cap-two inches larger than the walls, inside and out.  A low profile.  The golf course, and everything that park- like view represents to my clients-keep that intact. There would still be a wide expanse of lawn.  That large lawn space visually melds their property to the golf course property.  Most of the formal landscape is close to the house, and off to to the sides.       

The attendant landscape is clean and crisp.  It provides privacy from the adjacent homes.  Perennial gardens with a limited plant palette will provide interest throughout the summer.  White Knockout roses, dwarf Russian sage and shasta daisy “Becky” will be easy to maintain; this is my client’s first foray into perennial gardening, and I want him to be successful.  My client tells me he did not exactly know there would be perennials.  I did label certain areas on the plan as “garden”.  I will admit I did not discuss that much with him.  I am not only sure he will be able to handle it, I am even more sure he will really enjoy it.  His interest in landscape and garden is genuine-that is always easy to spot in someone.  The maples, the granite picture frame, and the lawn celebrate the fountain still under construction.  The work should be complete by week’s end. 

In my opinion, a big measure of the success of this landscape has to do with the views from the golf course.  I had an interest in my clients sustaining privacy from the course.  Sometimes privacy has less to do with walls, and much to do with invisible.  Every element and plant hugs the ground, but for the maples. Ros of yews on either side are punctuated with Venus dogwoods; someday those trees will be spectacular for 6 weeks in the spring.  Fot the rest of the year, they will gracefully provide screening from the neighboring homes.  

We brought in soil, and graded away from the house. The lawn always comes at the end of the landscape project, but it is very important. Lawn describes the shape, drop and drift of the land. The lawn plane is to my mind, beautiful.  Those trunks of the Bowhall maples bring the golf course landscape up close.  The fountain vase-coming up.     

Venus dogwoods, yews, boxwoods, and sparsely furnished perennial gardens round out the landscape around this fountain.  A formal landscape concept has a decidedly modern execution. Always on my mind is how I can apply and go on from the history of design to projects from real people who engage me. The fountain will have its vase and jet installed this week.  More to follow.

Sunday Opinion: Cheap Tricks

Mow the grass to perfection.  This will make your landscape look well cared for, even if the garden has gotten away from you, and fungus is running rampant in everything from the maples to the sweet woodriff.  

The sweet woodriff might need a little more room-cut the bed 6 inches bigger.  If it has spread into a spot where it is not so happy, move the edge back.  Mind your edges in general.  Compositions, beds, properties, views, walkways-they all have edges.  The effort you put to good edges, as in deep verges, edger strip, brick edges, stone walls-all of this will result in less maintenance, and a better look that costs nothing more than your attention and your timely intervention.

Maintenance is key to a beautiful garden, so do not buy plants on impulse.  Read the literature, visit any trial garden within driving distance, decide if a plant meets your aesthetic or practical criteria for inclusion in your garden-before you plant.  If it does not, there will lots of extra maintenance trying to get it to deliver, or work visually.  I do not mind hard work.  What I mind is hard work to no good end.  Nine times out of ten, I own my own troubles. I try to think before I buy. 

Buy plants on impulse. Your impulse comes from you and you alone; your unique point of view is what fuels the success of your garden efforts.  Having something the way you want it is fun. Make everything you love work together, as in move things around until they are in just the right spot.  You are after all the President and CEO of your garden.  Exercise your executive power, and then your executive shovel.

Shovel out those ideas you believe to be true without having looked at them with a cool eye. Take photographs of everything you do, and look at the pictures. Your relationship to your garden is emotionally charged.  Step back-get that dispassionate lens looking at what you have trouble seeing clearly.  Cell phone cameras-fine.  You need to see the big picture-not the details.

The details could not be more important. Stake those things you know will go over. Water when you need to, even when you don’t feel like it. Deadhead, divide, weed, grow from seed. Be good natured about the fact that the work will never be finished. The difference between a successful garden project and a so so garden project has everything to do with an energy that starts out big, stays big, and finishes bigger.

 Big, broadly conceived moves will draw, engage, and delight the eye.  Express your design clearly. Should you need to write an explanatory outline of your intent and post it at the entrance to the garden-go back to square one. Figure out how to make that garden look like what you intend.  Arrange plants and spaces coherently.  What do you have going on in the air space?  What is going on underground?  Are your social surfaces level? 

Level headed-there are those times when it is a good idea.  I pay my bills, pass by the potato chips in the grocery, and get a yearly checkup.  There are times when this mind set applies to overseeing the garden.  If you plant a tree, will you hand water it until it has rooted in?  If you add a perennial bed, will you mulch weed and water until it fills in?  Plant only what you will look after faithfully.  Make a plan to get where you want to be, one step at a time.  Plan.

Plan and re-revise your plans every season.  A great landscape and garden takes many years. The years that represent hat time is equal to the time it takes you to mature as a gardener.  Take the time.

Time is not on your side.  Make a move-now.  Plant a tree or 3. Redo.  Hire a professional.  It is ok to ask how hiring someone could possibly be a cheap trick. If you buy and plant and don’t get a garden you love, a good professional could save you lots of time and money.  Expose yourself to places that can inspire you.  Beautiful gardens both public and private, books, a garden club or association, a local garden center may have something that enchants you.

What enchants you?  This is the cheapest trick of all, sorting out what seriously interests you from what mildly amuses you.  Take the time to understand what matters to you about the garden.  This might be a complicated topic, but the more you think about what you love and need from your landscape is like is two aspirin and a beer for your design headache.  Any knowledge is a good thing, and it can be had for nothing more than your effort to obtain it.  An inspired landscape and garden of your own will energize and enchant you. 

I like to talk to people who visit my shop. I am in an out of the way location, so I know people come for a reason. They will tell me why the came, or what they are looking for, should I ask.  So many tell me they come here to be inspired, to get ideas, to feel better, to add or change something in their garden. They happily complain that there are too many beautiful choices. They may tell me that something they see makes them change their mind about what they thought they wanted. I like hearing this.  I intend that anyone who comes here gets visual access to my ideas about gardening, beautiful ornament, and design. The store display gardens, how we choose and arrange what we buy, our willingness to talk things over, coach and care-how we put it all together, makes for an experience.  Take advantage of anything or anyone out there that strikes a chord.  

  People do hire me to design and install landscapes and gardens for them-thanks heavens they do.  People who shop at Detroit Garden Works have kept me in business for going on 15 years; I so appreciate this. It is my idea to keep working, keep evolving.  Lots of people have a hand in this-thank you all very much.   We are in the thick of redoing the shop for the fall, and the upcoming winter season. We have a few tricks up our sleeves. Given what lies ahead for gardens and gardeners alike, we are running a special on enchantment this fall-you’ll see.

At A Glance: The Super-Nova Stage

Does it not seem like the colors of all the annual flowers intensify with their first brush with cooler weather?