Archives for October 2010

The Dirt

Anyone who gardens has ideas about dirt; I am no exception.  I like friable soil that drains readily, and is heavily weighted with compost for good soil retention.  Though these two characteristics may seem to oppose one another, they in fact speak to a need for balance. Most plants need a regular source of water, but not swimmingly so.   Heavy clay soil stays wet.  Clay also makes a great material from which to make pots; when clay soil dries out, it is is so densely hard it repels water. In any case, if you are a root hair, either clay state sounds less than optimal.  Liberal amounts of compost can help leaven that soil, but choosing plants that like heavy soil is a very good idea if clay is what you have.  

It is is easy to establish plants in a sandy porous soil-provided you are planting grapes, succulents, lavender or rosa rugosa.  You will have a very tough time getting peonies or delphiniums to prosper, though it is easy to get them to root.  Determining your soil type is important.  Loads of compost can improve the texture of any soil, but you would be hard pressed to completely change its character.  I do have clients that cook up soil as if it were their most favorite thing to do-and their gardens reflect that.  But after you have improved clay soil, you have improved clay soil-not sandy loam.   

This older home had been completely redone on the inside.  The work was not kind to the soil. Pickup trucks, dumpsters and various equipment drove over and parked on that soil for months. Who knows what got dumped on it. Redoing a landscape from scratch requires at least as much time devoted to restoring the health of the soil as planting.   

Shoveling out the weeds and lifting and storing plants that will be saved is the first move. This phase alone is a whomping lot of work.  We are not ready for plants yet.  The front door of the home is not in front-is is actually located on the east side.  The design of the walkway will need to address the 90 degree change of direction, and the relatively long trip to the door.      

The process of installing the stone makes another kind of mess.  This phase always pains me, given all the clean up and out that has already been done.  But the process of creating a landscape is always quicker and more efficient if if all the hard structure comes first.  Working around existing plant material is difficult; inevitably something precious gets damaged.

The mess proved to be well worth enduring; the walk is beautiful.  At the juncture of the north leg and the west leg is a terrace. Though the views out the windows to the rear yard are beautiful, the property drops off precipitously.  As very little of the rear yard space is useable, this landscape will feature a terrace in the front yard. 

I do not often plant buxus Green Mountain.  Its 4′ by 3′ eventual size makes it a tall and narrow growing plant.  I wanted this small space to afford my client some privacy. So the plan is to plant tall.  Taller plants will screen the view of the drive from the garden, and make the terrace feel more secluded.

The beds on either side of the walk that will contain smaller plants.  The soil in these beds was excavated down some 10 inches; a our own plant mix that contains our own compost.  Steve’s long tenure as superintendent of grounds at Grand Hotel made him a compost expert.  Mackinac Island has very little topsoil, and bringing soil to the island was very expensive.  So we have a considerable pile of great compost available for projects. We mix in some sand, and some worm castings for good measure. 

The soil here is actually quite good.  I suspect the years the garden had been neglected and the leaves unraked contributed a lot of compost by default. Once dug, the soil had a good hand, and was crumbly. Our main issue was to try to restore some air to the soil.  I am encouraged by this-all of the new plants should thrive.

Sunday Opinion: The Bucket List

Buck rode his soft tail deuce Harley out to Harsens Island today with his friend Fred-the roundtrip trip took 5 hours.  Eggs Benedict for them at noon at a restaurant called Buck’s Good Food-how funny. A 120 miles round trip on a motorcycle-thank heavens I had to work. Twenty years ago, Buck had a dear friend and client with a cottage there; he would visit out there often.  The memories are good ones.  But today’s trip for him is more about what has changed in the past 20 years. There is a big house where Jerry’s cottage used to be.  The entire island looked much more tailored and city like-in a way, unrecognizeable. No more marshy fields and tiny cottages.   Only the Sans Souci bar and the marina look the same now as they do in his memory.  But he tells me he was glad he finally made the trip back, so he can take it off his bucket list.  Bucket list?

Apparently the bucket list, from the 2007 movie of the same name, is a list of those things you really want to do before you die. Everyone at the office knew of and had seen the movie-oh well, I do not get out much.  But I did love the idea of it. Some things I do throw myself at like I have 10 minutes to live; I get the concept. What do I want to do before I kick the bucket?  I have given this some thought.

 When I turned 50, it occurred to me that my own garden and landscape had taken a back seat to my work.  And that if I had the idea to make a garden of my own design, I needed to get going.  Nothing happens overnight in a landscape except the weeds.  Deciding  to take on my own landscape in a serious way implied a decision to stay put.  I have read no end of home and garden improvement columns that advise never to put any money into a property that cannot be recouped at sale time.  I have no interest in sale time-who knows when that might be.  I am interested in ther substance and quality of my life-every day, day to day.  I have no expectation that some other person should bear the financial burden for what brings joy into my life. But I understand how young people shy away from a substantial committment to a property that they may not recoup; more than likely, they will move out, up, or away.  But at 50, I knew if I wanted to bask in a garden I had given my heart and soul to at 80, I needed to bust to move.  Of course my bucket list is topped with a landscape and garden of my dreams-that line item on the bucket list is in progress.

What else would I really want to do before I kick the bucket?   OK, I would like to grow some decent stands of columbines, and have them come back lustily the following year. I would want peonies lined out and grown in rows like crops-every variety ever introduced that suited me.  The single rows, the double rows, the anemone flowered rows.  On my bucket list, an acre of fertile land devoted to raising peonies-just for me. 

Next on my list, a wildflower garden like I had 30 years ago.  How I miss that garden.  Violets of every description, anemone nemerosa, double bloodroot, the hybrid trout lily Pagoda, variegated solomon’s seal, scads of hepatica, trillium of every description, celandine poppy, European ginger,  and cyprepediums-the yellow, and of course, cyprepedium reginae-the queen of the slipper orchids. Thalictrums of every species, mayapples, hellebores, virginia bluebells, sweet woodriff, anemone blanda, -the whole and the best of those wild plants whose ephemeral beauty makes my heart beat faster. 

My bucket list has not much more on it, beyond this.  I have no need to climb Everest, appear on Oprah, or set a world record for speed.  Buck’s explanation of the bucket list made me realize that my list is wide and deep, but short and modest.  I have no need to be in Monaco for the formula one race, or climb Everest, or invent a reasonable process by which sea water could be converted to fresh water.  My bucket list is really pretty simple.  Any landscape in which I have a hand is my bucket list.

At A Glance: Market Saturday

Everyone Loves The Lamb

While shopping last winter for our holiday 2010 season, Rob found a company that imports Italian paper mache and plaster figures from Italy. He knew I would fall for this pair of goats.  Everyone who sees them insists they are lambs, so I give.  I love these lambs.  The origin of the art of cartapesta dates back to the fifteenth century in Italy.  Do my lambs not look so Italian? 

The art form found expression originally in figures and ornament for Catholic churches.  Overscaled hand carved stone statuary used to ornament the churches were incredibly expensive and time consuming to produce. An affordable method of producing large figures that had the appearance of stone at a fraction the weight and cost fueled an art form. Cartapestra.  Plaster over paper mache.     

By the 1700’s, Italy was known throughout Europe for these lovely and affordable stone look alikes, fashioned from straw, steel wire, silk string, hand made paper and plaster.  Each figure would be polychromed, or painted, by an individual artist. 

The plaster layers are sun-dried; this part enchants me. If your life is in any way like mine, having the time to let the sun work its magic sounds swell.  Each figure is hand sanded and the surface burnished before it is painted.     

I spent some time this morning hauling one of these lambs all over the shop.  Why would I do this?  I had sent a picture of them to my landscape superintendent Steve.  He wrote me back- everyone loves a lamb.  I decided to test out his theory.  MCat took an immediate fancy to them-he has been sleeping peacefully, snugged up next to them for the past four days. Milo took no offense to the lamb.  He actually went right back to sleep. 

Monica is my assistant-hers is a position the seat of which glows.  Her switchboard is perpetually lit up.  She handles everything with exceptionally and unfailingly good manners.  Her genuine concern and attention to detail is astonishing. The lamb placed on her printer made her laugh first, and made her speak secondly to her appreciation for the whole idea of a peaceable kingdom.  No matter the issue, her kingdom is about maintaining the peace.  I may need to get her a lamb of her own.

Paper mache hand plastered over is not a good candidate for a garden ornament exposed to the weather. Stone stands up far better.   But this does not mean this Italian sculpture is not at home outdoors for a moment. Sun drenched and 75 degrees it was- a beautiful day.    

Landscapes, and their gardens, benefit the people who take them on, and tend them.  Much of that benefit has to do with providing a sense of serenity.  I get that same feeling when I look at this Italian lamb face.     

My pair of Italian made paper mache goat-lambs- no doubt they made my day better.  What will I do with them?  They are for the moment in residence and looking good on my drafting table.