Archives for February 2012

Sunday Opinion: Garden Making

I know have I made more than passing reference to how a great garden makes beautiful music.  There are those natural notes volunteered from the birds, the water running, the bees, the kids, the thunder, the conversations with friends, footsteps crunching on the gravel, a shovel sinking deep into the soil.  There is rhythm and beat supplied by the repetition of plants, materials, or shapes. There are individual melodies created by a specimen tree or gorgeous pot that come into play.  There is movement- from the grasses, the dogs, from the seasons, from the weather.  The wind is an expressive instrument creating sounds not so unlike the music from a clarinet empowered by the breath of an individual musician. There is a gardener in charge who writes the score, and plays.   

I cannot remember the exact moment that I became a gardener, but I am sure it was not a particularly momentous occasion.  My Mom giving me a package of seeds?  A salesperson who persuaded me that I could in fact grow orchids?  A painting? A memory?  Who knows. I find those moments that really changed or influenced my life are barely worth mentioning-beyond the fact that I was ready to hear.

How I garden is my take on a constellation of events created from my exposure to nature.  My exposure to people, places and events matters much.  My relationship with the soil-basic, and visceral.  Musical.

Water from the hose-I love the sound; I like the taste.  My hose is a lifeline that stretches between me, and my plants, and makes for a gardening life. I cannot really explain this, but Linsey Pollak can.

I am afraid to try to grow vegetables.  The failure rate is high.  Vegetable gardens seem depressingly ugly and disease ridden.  Every bug on the planet would respond to the invitation to come to my yard.  But Linsey Pollak, he makes me want to try to grow carrots.  If for no other reason than to enable the music.  It is no mean accomplishment in this world-making something grow.  Linsey Pollack grows lots.  Put his info right next to your seed catalogues.  Be determined to make some music.

Still interested?



zinc watering cans

Courtesy of Wikipedia, zinc is a metallic/chemical element-the 24th most abundant of all of the elements as detailed on the periodic table.  It is an essential element to human health.  But its largest use by far and away is as a coating on steel which resists corrosion.  These watering cans are made of sheet steel, which is them submerged in a bath of molten zinc.  That thin coating prevents the steel from rusting.  Should you have an old metal watering can, chances are good that the zinc has worn away in spots, and the steel has begun to rust. Galvanized metal is a garden material common in watering cans, cattle and chain link fencing, chicken wire, tools, wheelbarrows-the list is long.     

This is a reproduction of an old French cabinet with zinc drawers.  This zinc has a decidedly bluish cast.  The sheet steel from which the drawers are made is very thin, and therefore light weight.  The distressed white wood frame and zinc coated drawers makes for a cabinet that is very light, good looking, and utilitarian.  What would I store in this?  Seeds, twine, replacement blades for my pruners, garden gloves-you get the idea. 

Zinc coated steel is such a familiar material in the garden.  This vintage English sink is kept company by a vintage handled bucket, and an oval washtub.  To the very far right, a vintage French wash tub.  The material is common in many cultures, for useful objects for farm, home, and garden. 

This very tall flat backed galvanized basket was originally used to gather grapes.  There are faint signs of rust where the moldings are applied over the body of the basket.  Imagine zinc heated to 800 degrees, transforming it from a solid to a liquid state.  A steel object is slowly lowered into this bath, and then slowly raised out and drained.  The coating is very thin, but thick enough to prevent rust.  Just about every activity in a garden involves water.  From the sky, from the hose, from the soil, from sweat.  Galvanizing greatly improves the longevity of steel outdoors.  Vintage and antique galvanized metal objects for the garden invariably show signs of rust.  Steel and water make rust.

The window boxes at the shop, and the boxes on the roof are made from galvanized sheet steel.  This year, I need to replace them.  After 11 years in service, the zinc has worn through in many places.  The failure of the zinc means a degradation of the steel.  In a word-rust.  The bottoms of my boxes are rusting out.  I need new zinc coated boxes.  These perforated zinc buckets show signs of rust, but not enough to worry me.  They look like they have had some use.  That vintage rusty look is a good one.

This is another reproduction of a cabinet from a French original.  5 drawers, and 10 cubbies.  Vintage style is easy to speak for, and assimilate.  My old buckets and watering cans-I would not dream of giving them up.  They have that comfortably worn look that reminds me of a favorite pair of boots-as does this zinc cabinet.       

These galvanized steel finials are also reproductions.  They have a gently and convincingly degraded coat of paint.  The design is great-saucy.  The reproduction part means that a number of gardeners could have them.  I have no problem with reproduction pieces in the garden.  I only have a problem if they are not visually convincing.  This surface is entirely convincing.  The designer for this company-she understands how a piece should feel, and she works very hard to endow, and construct her pieces with that feeling. 

This sideboard is hers. The wood console has a zinc coated steel top, studded with rivets. The column legs are reminiscent of Moorish design to my eye, though her original is a French piece.  Spring at the shop will feature garden ornament in a wide range of styles and periods.  But it will have a decidedly French flavor.  Great French glazed terra cotta, and French antique sculptures, urns, and vintage French pieces.   These reproduction pieces appeal to my love of all things French, but they also appeal to my interest in a designer who has a passion she is willing to see through the construction.  Outdoors, the wood in this console would continue to degrade.  There are those gardeners who greatly prize what we call weathered.  So place this console in the garden, and deal with the consequences.  Indoors, or on a covered porch, this table would lastingly and clearly speak to the garden-with a French flavor.   

I did buy a number of zinc coated steel cabinets and cubbies from her, from the French originals.  I fell for the garden like look, the blue grey of the zinc, the vintage feel, and the possibilities.  What would you store in drawer number 7?  Old letters?  Embroidery floss?  Garden tools?  Votive candles?  Dog treats?  A flashlight?  You choose.     

This vintage English garden table with painted steel legs and a zinc top (yes, solid zinc is available in sheets) has some new company-8 new galvanized steel garden chairs.  These chairs just arrived. The wirework of the backs and legs is a great foil to the sheet steel zinc coated seats.  Steel, galvanized with molten zinc, in this case, would enable a seated dinner party in the garden.  I truly like this idea.  I even more like the idea that any ornament in the garden has a name, an idea, an aesthetic, a point of view.  Passionate gardeners, I belong to their group.

Rural France: The Gates And The Doors

rural French road

This week is all about the garden-French style.  Our first container stuffed full of glazed French terra cotta has been unloaded.  Our second container sailed through customs, and will be delivered Friday morning.  Though we represent the garden as expressed in many countries and periods, our spring will equally celebrate French garden style. Our first container of artisanal French glazed garden pots makes a big move in that direction.  The second container is chock full of French garden ornament both antique and vintage, most of which Rob sourced from small local antique markets.  When I say local, I mean to invoke the rural French two-track pictured above.  To describe Rob as a buyer is a bit of a disservice.  He is an afficianado of garden culture wherever that might take him.        

Dealers in French garden antiques and vintage ornament appreciate this.  His respect is sincere, and his efforts to be educated about another place-considerable.  He is incredibly observant and tuned into what he sees.  All of these pictures are from his trip to France last September, most of them from rural areas.  The garden is very much a part of French culture.  Like many other places, the roots of the garden are agricultural.  The production of olives and olive oil, lavender, cheese and bread have very much influenced the landscapes.  But the French manage to go on to represent the most utilitarian garden features with great style.   

French garden gate

Much has been written and photographed about the grand and formal gardens in France.  The photographs of Michael Kenna are especially extraordinary. But rural France-the buildings, the roads, the landscapes, the gardens, the farms-there is much to be learned about how French people celebrate their relationship with nature. 

Every picture he takes is a visual representation of his impression and interest.  I am quite sure he was enchanted by this carriage house entry, the white entry doors, the stone walls, the shingles, the lattice iron work on one side only, the robust and unpruned yews, the gravel surface.  This is well designed, but not overly precious.

gated garden

 Many of the walled gardens featured ivy of one type or another.  This garden gate features massive walls and gate piers with elaborate stone caps.  The shallow shingle roof and tall wood gates make for a friendly statement about privacy.  The vines on the walls are asymmetrical-they have been left to their own devices. 

This crimped wire gate based on diamonds is quite tall and narrow.  How the wire emerges from the top of the gate, is charmingly unfinished.

The boston ivy swept over one side of these pair of gates is lovely.  I am sure the ornament on the right gate is an iron door knocker.  On the left? The iron work on the doors is strikingly organic in design.

Many of the places he visited, the garden outbuildings and walls were utilitarian. The low and massive wood gate is more about invitation, than closure.  They are working buildings.  The color of these barn doors is a variation on what I call French blue. I find it very hard to make blue work in a landscape, but here the color seems so the color seems so perfectly right.   

I was so struck by the proximity of the road, to the buildings. In our country, we have very wide roads, turn lanes, and curbs.  Our buildings by zoning law are only allowed to be built far off the road.  This photograph-all about intimacy.  The traffic bollards-useful, and beautiful.  The road and the building-close.         

It would take some discipline for me to live with this front door landscape, but I am very sure I would be the better for the experience.  Knowing what needs editing, and what doesn’t may be more of a gift than a skill.

Rob visited places in rural France I am unlikely to ever visit.  How he travels the backroads and the small French villages means I have a better understanding of French garden culture.  And a better idea of how to cultivate a garden.

This French door with an iron grille drenched in sunlight-beautiful.  The vine swagging over the door isn’t bad either.

This simple weathered wood front door, and its attending boston ivy-just as beautiful.

 A blue front door, casually attended by a climbing rose on the right side-this is as much about living and breathing as it is about gardening.

A Particular Planting

A friend much more tuned into the 21st century than I let me know that this container planting of mine from 2005 was getting considerable interest via Pinterest.  Pinterest?  I was curious.  Based on my recent research, Pinterest is an on line venue by which anyone, any invited anyone, can post images they fancy, in personal albums organized by subject matter of their own choosing.  As for who posted this collection of photographs from my blog that had been pinned by lots of different people, I have no idea-it was not me.   This picture of a container planting I did in 2005 has gotten a lot of interest.  Though the Wedding White zinnias from Burpee, the petunias and the lime licorice are easy to identify, I am embarassed to say I have no idea what the center plant is.  I am almost certain it came from Landcraft Nursery.  For several years we bought unusual and exotic tropical plants from them.  A quick scan of their plant list did not ring a bell.  If you can identify this plant, will you please write me?    

I am very pleased to see an annual container planting generate some interest.  Gardeners are happy to share-I am no different.  This was a new house, with a landscape design and installation imagined by my clients and I from start to finish.  Once I was close to that finish, there was the matter of selecting and planting containers.  The pool terrace was an obvious choice for containers.  My clients planned to spend a lot of time there.  The pool deck of concrete aggregate with bluestone detail was part of the original landscape plan.  My client chose the furniture all on her own-and did a great job of it.  The French flavor of the landscape asked for simple and spare choices in plant material, lots of pleasingly simple geometry, and a largely green palette for the plants in the pots.   

This pair of tall Belgian zinc planters in contrasting heights are kept company by one low simple English lead square.  The star of the show in the tallest pot-datura metel “Belle Blanche”.  In the shorter, melianthus.  The low lead box features a fistful of white geraniums.  I like green plants.  Datura, melianthus and geranium are eminently attractive in leaf.  The flowers are welcome, when they come.  

In keeping with what I would call a landscape with a French flavor, the plant choices are simple, and edited.  Lavender, white and shades of green.  Simple, elegant, spare. 

Dahlias do not come into their own much until September and October.  But during the summer, the dahlia plant has significant stature, great texture, and presence.  A little in the way of Verbena bonariensis and scaevola, and tufts of a grass whose name I cannot remember makes for a container planting that is much about form and mass-stature-, and not so much about flowers. 

Simple and serene, this.  The containers stand proud, but not too proud.   

My favorite part?  A border of Panicum Virgatum, faced down with a tall salvia and verbena bonariensis.  A rhythmic and subtle planting that spills over the edge of the pool terrace. 

A good landscape does a lot of things.  Trees get planted, where there were none.  Spaces get created that are friendly to people.  Plants of visual interest to people and of vital interest to butterflies and birds get added.  Everywhere you look, there is green.   

 In April I will have been been posting essays about gardens, landscape, and the design thereof for three years.  As a matter of course, I post lots of my own pictures in support of what I write.  Generating those images takes every bit as much time as the writing.  An image can no doubt be very powerful, and compelling.   This is what is interesting me so much about Pinterest.  What we see matters much.  An image speaks in a way all its own.