Archives for June 2013

Sunday Opinion: Until It Hurts

rosemary-topiaries.jpgGarden?  Landscape?  These are single words which describe what I call a big fluid situation.  A landscape and garden design is utterly dependent on a series of conditions that is not always so easy to make sense of.  A design I love may not enchant a client.  A tree, shrub, or perennial may not like my placement-contrary to my best and experienced effort.  The plan I have in mind for a spot in my garden may fail for 100 reasons-all of those reasons may be good reasons. The perennial of my dreams may not like any of 10 different locations in my yard.  A vicious winter can kill marginally hardy plants a gardener has worked so hard to establish.  A tree can succumb to fire blight, girdling roots, or old age.  A planting scheme for pots can peter out the end of July.  What has taken 20 or 200 years to grow can be lost in an instant in a storm.

French-glazed-pots.jpgEvery gardener knows what it means to give to their garden until it hurts. The planning, the buying, the planting, the tending- may be for naught.  My internist told me once that a great doctor needed to be a good scientist.  But really great doctors are gifted diagnosticians.  They review every test, every measurement, every symptom, and make a decision about what is fueling the problem.  Diagnosis is as much an art as a science.  I am a middling gardening diagnostician.  Given that, I have had to learn when it is a good idea to let go.  Or try again.  Or sleep on it.  I do not have a laboratory.  I just have a garden.  But giving to anything until it hurts has very special rewards.  Every gardener knows this.

potted-rosemarys.jpgI agreed some months ago to donate centerpieces for a fundraiser for Mott’s Childrens Hospital in Ann Arbor.  The Event on Main, a fundraiser established to raise money for the CS Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospitals, an affliliate and member of the University of Michigan Hospital system, has raised over 1 million dollars to support building and research in just the past 3 years. This fundraiser targeted the U of M food allergy center.  This is the largest center of its kind which provides both clinical care and research into food allergies that afflict children. Ann Arbor based interior designer Jane Wood, a client of the store, and a member of the design committee, asked if I would donate 26 centerpieces for this event.

Our primary community event is the garden tour we sponsor to benefit the summer employment programs of the Greening of Detroit.  But I felt that we could lend a hand to Jane’s project.  We potted up 26 gorgeous rosemary topiaries in a variety of sizes of French glazed terra cotta pots.  The invitation was designed and printed in white, gray, and pale yellow.  I knew the tent would be large.  I knew our French glazed pots in pale yellow and green, planted with rosemary topiaries would look good.  A portion of Main Street in Ann Arbor would be closed for the evening for this event.  Angie, Olga and I got all of the pots planted up, the rosemaries staked, and tied up with raffia.

A van operated by a volunteer driver arrived at noon the day of the event. Scott helped pack all of the pots in boxes with reams of bubble wrap.  We loaded the van, and sent it on its way.  We did not want any accidents in transport. Jane wrote me a day later about the centerpieces.  She was not expecting the level at which we contributed.  I told her that gardeners have an instinct to give to the garden, any garden project, until it hurts.  We committed to helping her, so we did.  Just like we commit all of the energy and experience we have to the garden.  The CS Mott Children’s and Women’s hospital at U of M may not mean much-until you need them.  Should you need them, a lot of private individuals in Ann Arbor gave their all to make them available to you.  We were happy to help-that part felt really good.  Interested in more information about the Event on Main?

At A Glance: Olive Jars

French-glazed-olive-jar.jpgI would not begin to presume to write a scholarly essay regarding the history of the process of extracting olive oil from the fruit of olive trees. That history is long and involved.  Both the fruit, and the oil, have been agricultural staples dating back 6000 years.  Suffice it to say that I have read that the cultivation of olive trees is one of the earliest signs of civilization.  Thousands of years ago, the precious, delicious and healthy oil was stored in jars.  These jars were high shouldered, and short necked.  Every country that makes pots produces its own version of the olive jar.  In my own collection of hand made Italian terra cotta is an olive jar which dates back to the 17th century.

French-glazed-olive-jar.jpgThere was that long length of time when olive oil was not processed for export, bottled, and shipped.  It was stored in jars, the design of which helped to keep the oil fresh.  Countless varieties of olive trees means that many people all over the globe enjoy olive oil of different flavors.  Today, 99% of all of the olive oil produced comes from those countries that ring the Mediterranean sea.  If you have not had the pleasure of soaking a piece of handmade bread with a great olive oil, I would encourage you to do so.  The oil from the olive trees, in my opinion, is a food group well worth including in any diet.

Italian-terra-cotta-olive-jar.jpgOlive oil is not stored and shipped in jars anymore.  But that jar shape is a shape that persists.  Jars make great garden containers.  I have an abiding interest in how agriculture came to include ornamental gardening.  Those moments when a landscape refers in a strong way to the history of agriculture is of great interest to me.  This means I like jars.

French-terra-cotta-olive jars.jpgI have no olive trees.  I do not grow vegetables.  I do not have an orchard, or fields to plow. I am not a farmer.  But I am a gardener whose roots has plenty to do with agriculture.  I have an olive jar which I plant with flowers every year.  A great planting that thrives is a joy.  But equally important is a beautiful container whose shape dates back centuries.

American-concrete-olive-jar.jpgAn olive jar is a shape any gardener recognizes.  Every culture, every country has pots of this distinctive shape.  High shoulders, and low necks.  Though I may buy all of vegetables from a farmer’s market, or grocery store, that shape that I recognize as an olive jar never fails to please my eye.

large-French-glazed-huile.jpgFrench glazed huile

concrete-olive-jars.jpgconcrete jars

French-Glazed-Oil-JarsFrench glazed olive jars

Italian-terra-cotta-olive-jar.jpgItalian olive jar

olive-jar-from-Ctrete.jpgOlive jar from Crete

Italian-strawberry-jar.jpgThis Italian made strawberry jar from Mital, a pottery in Impruneta, Italy -this is a beautiful jar.  There are many beautiful ways to plant it.  I do think that the containers that are home to annual and seasonal plants are an important visual element in a garden.  Olive jars make great containers for the garden.  Every one of them is soaked in the broth we know as history.



The Spheres For Thomas Hobbs

Southlands NurseryThomas Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie own and operate a nursery in Vancouver British Columbia called Southlands.  I first became aware of their nursery via an article in Gardens Illustrated magazine years ago.  As this publication only rarely features gardening places and people outside of England, I knew this place had to be extraordinary.  It is.  Rob made a point of visiting Southlands a few years, as I was so keen to know more about their vision of beauty, their love of the garden, and their love of the gardening trade.  Thomas has written several great books.  Both “Shocking Beauty” and “The Jewel Box Garden” are well worth reading.  His chapter about “bell’occhio”,  literally translated as “beautiful eye”, was an influential read for me.  We struck up a friendship after my first blog essay about him some years ago.

June 24 2013 (5)What has Buck been up to?  Making his steel garden spheres, among a lot other things. If you are not familiar with them, they are a classic style garden lattice re-imagined and constructed in the round.  Buck knew exactly how to make them, but could not draw them.  After much discussion, I finally told him to just make one.  The CAD drawings could come later. The first strap steel sphere-not welded, but riveted together-was big, light, and gorgeous.  Never mind the drawings.  We now make them in both strap and rod steel,  for clients both local and distant.

delivery of the spheresIt was a good thing that we had some spheres on hand, as Thomas decided he wanted 6.  3 strap steel spheres.  5.5 foot in diameter, 4.5 feet in diameter, and 3 feet in diameter.  He wanted the same number and sizes in the rod steel-sent to Vancouver in time for an event.  Buck crated each sphere with the same care he exercises when he makes them.  They had a big journey ahead of them.   Exportation to Canada involves a lot of paperwork, and a customs broker.  The spheres are manufactured in the US, and are made from steel that comes from Canada.  We verified that to satisfy the requirements of our trade agreement with Canada.  The truck that picked up all six spheres was a dedicated truck, meaning no other freight on board.  From Pontiac Michigan, to  Vancouver, British Columbia took two days.

deliveryThe  spheres arrived in time for the hardy plant study group that was to visit his garden in June.  He told me he felt like the the spheres had been crated by the Louvre.  Buck did crate like the Louvre.  We wanted those sculptures to travel from our hands to his-without a hitch.  Happily,  they arrived without so much as a scratch.

uncrating the spheres
Thomas and I have never met.  We may never meet.  But we have a strong relationship over the garden.  I am thrilled that 6 of our spheres are part of his new meadow garden.

Thomas Hobbs 12He has been sending me pictures. This new garden of his is young, but he has a vision for this space that is timeless.  I can see that as this garden grows, those spheres will be a sculptural element  that will keep pace with the passing years.

Thomas Hobbs 6I imagine that he has been moving them around since the day he uncrated them.  He is testing them in this spot, or that spot.  From the pictures, I can see that he is interacting and responding to them.  Sculpture that graces a garden is much about the gardener in charge.  As a designer,  I rarely presume to suggest a sculpture for a garden.  I can never predict what a gardener, an individual, will find appealing.

Thomas Hobbs' spheresBut given the pictures I am getting every day from Thomas, I think these spheres touch and reach him in a very personal and serious way.  My advice?  Only commit to art that truly moves you.  Any sculpture you place in your garden should enchant you every time you pass by.

Thomas Hobbs 3Judging from the pictures, I would suggest that Thomas Hobbs is perfectly in touch with what enchants him.

Thomas Hobbs 4
Hobbs spheres

Thomas Hobbs 2
days end

Thomas Hobbs 5The visual news from Thomas Hobbs.


The 2013 Garden Cruise

June 24 2013 (32)I am a member of the board of the Greening of Detroit.  Michael Willoughby, an architect of note in my area, persuaded me to join their board 6 years ago.  I am 100% behind the work they do.  This organization, some 23 years old, plants trees, sponsors urban farms, and teaches both young and old about how to grow food, and how to treasure the environment.  They work in favor of the city of Detroit.  This one sentence encompasses a world of good, and an extraordinary amount of effort. Not having the time to attend meetings, I wanted to make my membership on the board somehow beneficial to them.

perennial garden.jpg6 years ago I organized a garden tour-the entire proceeds of which would benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit.   Much of what they do is funded by private donations, or grants.  But their program to hire young people to look after and water trees and community gardens-this is an expense not covered by any grant.

container-planting.jpgI have heard stories about these young people.  And their experience having a job, and having a garden to protect and nurture.  The instinct to nurture is not so far below the surface in any person.  The money we raise helps to try to convert a flicker, or an instinct into a life choice. In the past 5 years, we have raised over 60,000.00 for the employment program for the Greening.  100% of the cost of the tickets to attend the tour goes to their fund.  We donate all of the rest that it takes to put on a tour, and maintain the tour website.

landscape.jpgThis year’s tour features 7 gardens-each of them are striking and well worth a visit.  Beautiful landscapes on both large and small properties. Extraordinary gardens-both big and small.  Two of these gardens I had no hand in whatsoever.  They were designed, planted and tended by two very talented and creative gardeners.  I am pleased that the people who take this tour will have a chance to see them, they are that good.

boxwood-in-pots.jpgThis is all by way of saying that the tour is well worth the price of a ticket to anyone who has a keen interest in gardening. This year’s tour is Sunday, July 21st.  A tour ticket is 35.00.  The tour begins at 9am, and ends at 4:30.  A ticket has the addresses of all of the gardens, and a suggested route. For those who are interested, an additional 15.00 includes our cocktail/light dinner reception at Detroit Garden Works.  This reception starts at 4:30, and goes on as long as we have guests.

belgian-fence.jpgOver 400 people took the tour last year-I am very pleased about that. As everyone is free to visit the gardens in whatever order they like, and at their own pace, the gardens are never too crowded to enjoy.  All of the gardens are attended by volunteers of the Greening of Detroit, in the event you have any questions about their organization.  Many gardeners whose gardens are on tour are there and available to answer questions.

rose-of-sharon-espalier.jpgI always put my garden on tour, and spend the day there.  I like having the chance to talk to, and thank everyone who has taken the time to attend.  Interested in more information?  Tickets are available now at Detroit Garden Works. All of these pictures were taken yesterday-in one of the gardens that will be on tour.  Hope to see you on the 21st.