Archives for June 2012

More From Buck, At Branch

steel orangery boxes

tall lattice boxes

branch studio

tall lattice box

steel topiary forms

oil derrick topiary towers

steel tuteurs

oil derrick topiary towers, finished

steel containers

steel planter boxes

planter boxes

steel planter box, planted

planter boxes

planted steel planter box

steel pergola

steel pergola and planted tall Jackie box

steel fountain cistern

steel fountain cistern.  The steel grid positioned near the top of the water level is a safeguard- given very small, and very curious children. 

orangery boxes

Steel planter boxes

steel planter boxes

rectangular steel Hudson box, and associated steel Hudson planters


planter boxes

planted steel Hudson boxes

tomato cages

steel tomato cages in the form of classical obelisks

 auricula theatre

steel herb table, after the classic English auricula theatre. Buck has been very busy, churning out one fabulous garden ornament after another.  This plant table is proportioned exactly according to the golden mean.  No wonder it looks so solid, so satisfying, and so good.


What’s Buck Been Up To?


If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have a company, the Branch Studio, whose sole mission is to design and fabricate ornament for the garden.  It is a small company, but it produces some very beautiful pots, sculpture, pergolas-and fountains.  The opportunity for me to design garden ornament, and get it fabricated for specific projects adds a lot to my landscape design projects.   

contemporary steel fountain

Detroit Garden Works is a retail outlet for those garden objects that get made at Branch.  We make pots, sculpture, pergolas, plant tables, arbors-the list is long.  Buck, Salvadore, and Dan are responsible for the fabrication we do in steel, wood, and concrete.  Buck takes a sketch of mine, and creates an object.  A Saarinen scholar in architecture at Cranbrook in the 1970’s, and a previously practicing architect for 30 years means no project of mine daunts him.  Bowl shaped steel-really daunting.  He took to it without any protest.   

contemporary fountains

He has fabricated a pair of fountains similar to this one for a company in California that owns properties across the US-one went to Fort Worth Texas, the other will ship out to Florida in a few weeks.  Those steel bowl shapes enchanted me-could we not design a contemporary fountain that could be delivered, installed, and plugged in? 

In March, Buck was well on his way with this fountain.  He was sure he needed a new Miller tig welder-ok, Buck.  The details of his fabrication -ingenious, as usual.  The bowl sits on a pedestal of steel that can sit at grade, if there is a garden planned in concert.  That pedestal can be buried below grade, should a client with a contemporary landscape like to see the bowl sitting, appearing to float, just above the grade of a gravel or stone terrace. 

Though round steel is entirely stable and strong due to its shape, the steel in this fountain is thick.  We placed it at the shop with the help of a loader. Buck wanted to be sure that if a child chose to climb up the side, or an adult decided to sit on the edge, the bowl would not move, or tip.    

Four people and a machine were involved in placing it at the shop.  The process of setting a fountain level with the horizon is time consuming, and essential.  More than any element of nature, water is always perfectly level.  A vessel out of level-the water will describe that problem in clear and obvious detail. 

I could not have been more pleased about the look of this contemporary steel fountain.  It has lots of options for installation.  Buck plumbed it, and set a good sized pump in the bottom.  A valve controls the rate of the flow of water.  The electric cord comes out at ground level from the pedestal. 

contemporary fountains

Arrange for delivery.  Install at whatever height seems good, in whatever landscape that asks for a coolly contemporary fountain 60 inches in diameter.  Plug it in, or hardwire it.  Buck thought through all of the issues.  As usual, he did the lion’s share of the work.  He makes it really easy to commit.  This fountain brings a smile to my face every time I look at it.   How so?  He builds beautiful things.  

contemporary fountains
Buck and his group have been really busy-I need to catch everyone up.

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Speaking Of Texture


Texture refers to the quality or nature of a surface.  Any surface.  The texture of a marble sculpture might be described as smooth and voluptuous.  A china plate has a hard and shiny texture that repels water.  A lake might be as smooth as glass one day, and choppy the next. A woven fabric can be nubby and open textured, or silky.  This farfugium leaf is a study in contrasting textures.  The body of the leaf is smooth to the touch, and strikingly veined and shiny to the eye.  The edges of the leaves are markedly ruffled; the leaf edges are sharp.  Were I ever to eat farfugium, I imagine its texture would be juicy and crunchy.

panicum virgatum

Texture engages the senses. You can see a surface. This panic grass is primarily and busily vertical, with an occasional and beautifully draping stem. You can feel the surface.  Ornamental grass leaves can cut your hands-the edges of the blades are sharp!  Feeling that texture can be irritating.  Animals who eat grass-who knows how they would describe the texture.  I would guess it is chewy and stringy.  Raw carrots are as remarkable for their crunch as much as their taste.  Oysters and okra are slick, and slide down easily.  Bread can be doughy, or dense.  Or light, as in a souffle.  Texture can be tasted.  It can be seen.  It can be felt.  Heavy clay soil can be greasy.  Sandy soil is gritty.  Soil loaded with compost has such texture that air has an easy time finding a home in it.  I cannot imagine how many adjectives exist to describe various surfaces-it would be a daunting task to make a list.

Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of utterly unique and enchanting textures in plants.  Salvia argentea is notable for its felted leaves.  It is the devil to grow, but its surface, its texture, is utterly unique.  I have no luck with this plant in the ground, and only sporadic luck with it in containers, but I keep trying.  The texture of the leaves reminds me of fur and felt both.

This pilea involucrata “Moon Valley” is noted for its markedly fissured leaves.  The leaf is rough to the touch.  It is interesting to the eye.  Designing a container, or a garden, or a landscape, asks for all kinds of attention beyond the horticulture. The design details can endow a planting with a special beauty.  There is color to contend with.  There is volume and mass.  There is line, and form.  And there is texture.


I do not grow vegetables to eat.  But I do grow them to look at.  This ruffly leaf lettuce satisfies my eye’s demand for interesting texture, just as much as I admire the color.

lime club moss

Selaginella, or club moss, has dimuitive leaves.  I would say it is very textural-the surface is lively.  But given that it is a very small plant that hugs the surface of the soil, I would describe its texture as densely uniform.  The idea here?  Small leaves have an entirely different texture than big ones.  The relationship of one texture to another adds another layer of interest to any planting.

On a stormy night, my boxwood read as a mass-the individual texture of all of those individual leaves is not so apparent.  The roses are a lot of fluff, a lot of stalky canes-the blooms are soft to the touch. The roof is smooth from this distance; the clouds have a lot of color, a little bit of volume, and a weighless appearance.  Many textures are apparent here. The relationship of one textural element to another is what makes for a design party.


A lanmdscape is comprised of many different elements-each of these elements have a surface and texture all their own.  The relationship between distinctive and individual surfaces is what insures an enduring visual interest in a landscape.

Every surface here is hard-as in impermeable, or shiny.  The textures are smooth and uniform.  My client is asking-what would you do here?  Perhaps, a contrasting texture!

This essay was written in conjunction with all of the other members of the Garden Designer’s Roundtable-be sure to check out all of their postings!


Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Leaves Other Than Green

Just like you, I understand that the green color of leaves has everything to do with the presence of chlorophyll.  There are those dark green leaves.  There are those lime green leaves.  I want to say the amount of chlorophyll governs the appearance of that green, but I may be making that up.  Some plants have leaves with color other than green.  This Florida Sweetheart caladium-the leaves are shockingly pink.  A clear pink.  The color possibilities that this plant enables in a shady spot are many. 

white caladiums

I am both surprised and not surprised that I do not see more gardeners using them for seasonal color.  I do have clients that insist they want flowers, not colorful leaves.  I have no answer to that-it is a matter of taste.  But from a design perspective, caladiums provide an opportunity for a big splash of color that is constant throughout the summer season.  I suspect another reason why I do not see them much is that they require a lot of heat to grow well.  This means that gardeners in my zone who plant in mid or late May may not see caladiums available for sale.  My grower’s caladiums are just getting good-this third week of June.   

green and white caladiums
Caladiums are incredibly tolerant of shade.  If impatiens or wax begonias make you want to yawn, caladiums are refreshingly different, and quite splashy.  4 plants in one of my deck boxes last summer were the size of a small shrub by summer’s end.  A 4th of July trip to see a friend in Kalamazoo last year included a trip to a greenhouse.  I bought a suburban load of caladiums, most of which were varieties I had never seen.  I did persuade my grower to try some this year-they are just now coming into their own.
 white caladiums

Any client who tells me they need white flowers, as opposed to the color white might tempt me to call school into session.  White is white-no matter whether than color is represented by wax begonias, non stop begonias, angelonia, cosmos, cleome, dahlias, -or white leaved caladiums.  Amazingly, I saw 4 giant planters full of this all white caladium-in full sun, on a city plaza.  There was not so much as a single scorch mark.  I have not had the nerve to try this at home, as many plants lacking chlorophyll will burn if exposed to too much direct light.  


I realize that almost all of the seasonal plants that are available for me to plant are tropical, as in native to tropical locales.  But some remind me of of their exotic origins more than others.  I have clients for whom I plant bananas, alocasias and calocasias, though I would not want them in my own garden.  They seem so blatantly out of place in my Michigan garden.  But caladiums are more subtly splashly, given their smaller mature size.   


 They have a cool, watery, and juicy look.  As they thrive in the heat, they always look fresh.  If they get too dry, they protest dramatically by falling over.  I like plants that do not make a mystery of what it is they need to be happy.

pink and green caladiums

Caladium leaves are medium to large, and beautifully shaped.  It seems to me that so many more cultivars are available now than what used to be.  But should caladiums simply not appeal to you, there are other seasonal plants with colorful leaves from which to choose.

polka dot plant

The polka dot plants-there are those green and white cultivars.  There is a pale pink, and a hot pink.  The plants are fairly short-they may grow to 12 or 15 inches tall.  They respond well to pinching.

coleus Freckles

There are many varieties of coleus.  I am especially fond of those whose leaves feature bright and clear color.

green coleus

This subtly colored olive and dark carmine variety whose name I do not know is what I cal a chamaeleon plant.  Its coloration changes in appearance depending on its neighbor. 

coleus and caladiums

coleus chocolate mint

Coleus Chocolate mint is aptly named.  It is great looking with just about every other color.

multicolored coleus.jpg

This multi colored variety I hear tell wants full sun.  When I run into a plant that I am not familiar with, I like to try it at the shop or at home before I plant it for someone else. 

We’ll see how it works out-bullseye geraniums, and this fingerling coleus.