Archives for July 2013

The Music In The Background


I have devoted several posts to Branch in the past week.  Over the winter, we designed and made a catalog detailing all of the products we made.  I had the idea to introduce our made in America ornament for the garden to a broader audience.  I felt we were ready.  The past 10 years has had its successes, and most certainly setbacks and failures.  Bringing a hand made object to market takes a lot of time.  There are mistakes made every step of the way.  Solving problems creatively is not about minutes.  It is about months, and years.  As Seth Godin said, “all boats leak”.  No matter the best of intentions, it takes time and effort to hone a design and a manufacturing process such that your product stays afloat, the majority of the time.


We were a new company that needed time to get our house in order.  Given that we are just about at 10 years sorting out who we are, and who we hope to be, I think we are ready to introduce ourselves to other people, in other places, who love the garden.  Most of that introduction via our print catalogue is visual.  But we printed a few paragraphs about who we are, and where we come from.  Much of that commentary had to do with where we are from-the rust belt.


Our work in steel is grounded our history and experience.  I grew up in Detroit. I rode my bike to JL Hudson’s downtown, now and again, for a chocolate soda, when I was 12. And again when I was 14, 15, and 17. The gritty city-everything about that bustling urban downtown enchanted me.  I biked it.  This means I was on the ground floor whizzing by every factory and shop for 22 miles from my home. Those experiences made a big impression.  There are many many things I cannot remember, but I do remember the city. So much to see.  So much energy. The growing I could see every place I turned-loved that.


I so admire and appreciate the sculpture produced by the automobile industry.  There was a time when Detroit made the issue of transportation an art.  I am not such a fan of horsepower and speed as Buck is.  I like the shapes.  I love that the design is beautiful, functional, and made to last.   Manufacturing is an idea that not only interests me, it is part of that music that plays in the background no matter what I am doing.   Buck grew up in Texas.  His grandfather was a carpenter.  His father was a riveter at General Dynamics in Texas, in his earlier years.  He became head of production some years later, until his retirement. If you are not familiar with General Dynamics, they were and are a huge defense contractor. They built the F-111, and the F-16 fighter jets.  His Dad supervised the building of jets.  Buck comes from a long line of makers, whose work involved steel and wood, and whose work involved great precision and exacting standards of construction.


The music in one’s background-what is that?  Simply stated, every person comes with an attitude, instincts, a history, a point of view, a skill set, a mind set, an aura that that makes for a particular music that plays in the background while they work.  The fabrication of the Branch boxes, Italian style vases, pergolas, and fountains are infused with the music playing in Buck’s background.

pergola-under-construction.jpgThis pergola involved making very thick steel tubing conform to a round shape.  The accumulation of a lifetime of fabricating skills, and a love of both geometry and industry is evident in all of the work he produces.  His spheres are riveted.  His pergolas are bolted together, so they can be broken down and shipped.  They also have that industrial aura about them that recalls the history of structural steel buildings and bridges.

Shinola-runwell-watch.jpgThe moment I became aware of the Runwell watch, being manufactured in Detroit, by Shinola, I knew I had found the perfect birthday present for Buck.  Everything about their philosophy, mission, and devotion to quality I knew would really appeal to him.  But most of all, the watch is a very precisely and beautifully handcrafted instrument-made by a company in Detroit.


Precision made, by hand, in Detroit.  This is music to my ears.

At A Glance: Recent Work

raised-steel-planter-boxes.jpgThis has been a very busy summer season for Branch.  To follow, pictures of a few of our early summer projects.  How pleased we are to have clients in our area.  And clients afar- northern Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, New York City, Long Island, California, Virginia, Louisiana, and Oregon.  This project in Grosse Pointe Michigan-raised planter boxes to be planted with cutting flowers.

Branch-Hudson-tapers.jpgmedium Hudson tapers

custyom-fountain-in-progress.jpgcustom fountain cistern under construction

Hudson-boxes.jpgHudson boxes

Drost-Landscaping.jpgBob Drost from Drost Landscaping in Petoskey.  He personally picked up 10 special order contemporary Branch boxes for a job last Sunday.

white-oak-and-steel-orangerie-boxes.jpgOak and steel orangerie boxes

elliptical-fountains.jpgA pair of elliptical fountains designed and fabricated for a landscape for a new house .

plant-stand-for-herbs.jpgLarge Branch plant stand for pots of herbs

custom-Hudson-fountain-cistern.jpgCustom sized Hudson style fountain with pump housing ready to be galvanized for a client in California

hemispherical-fountain.jpgUp side down hemispherical fountain, just about ready to be shipped to California

Hudson-boxes.jpgSteel Branch boxes and plant climbers-planted for the summer

large-Hudson-tapers.jpgLarge steel Hudson tapers ready to plant at a long lakeside country driveway

custom-curved-Hudson-planters.jpgHudson boxes custom made to fit a curve in a terrace

reproduction-Belgian-planters.jpgThese reproduction Belgian boxes in white oak and lead-we sent them to Florida a week ago.  Branch is busy.  Love that.

The Branch Catalog


Last fall I contacted Jonathon Hofley, owner of Motor City Publishing, about doing a project for Branch.  He has handled all of the print advertising for Detroit Garden Works, from the first day we went into business.  He is responsible for everything we do to speak and spread our story-from inserts in the New York Times, to the lettering on our trucks.  He maintains the garden cruise website, he arranges to have our landscaping company and garden cruise tee shirts printed. He answers me, even if I write him on a Saturday night.   If you have a business that needs an advocate, he and his brother Eric do an outstanding job.  For the record, they write and publish the Michigan Gardener magazine.  We pass out their free publication like crazy every month.  Both of them are serious gardeners.  The both of them have a mission to spread the good gardening word, which makes them an ideal partner.


But back to last fall-I had a special project in mind.   The Branch Studio has been producing great ornament for the garden for going on ten years.  Manufacturing anything takes an incredible amount of time to get right.  The Branch boxes, pergolas, and fountains underwent countless revisions.  Revisions in size and proportion.  Revisions in construction details.  We were at the point where I felt we had  beautifully made and weatherproof ornament for the garden.  I felt it was time to formally introduce ourselves to people who had both professional and personal interest in ornament for the garden.  To gardeners and designers in other places who were not in a position to visit Detroit Garden Works.



I told Jonathon that I wanted to imagine, produce and print a catalog for Branch.  I wanted a catalog with great pictures that would tell the story.   He immediately suggested we engage a photographer whose skills we admired.  I already had a photographer in mind, a local photographer named Roy Ritchie.  His photographs of Detroit are graphic, edgy, and beautifully composed.  I especially like how the raw image itself is a starting point for his work- and not necessarily the end result.  How he handles light and color makes him, in my opinion, an artist.


November last we began shooting the photographs.  Roy wanted to take a picture of a box, in a garden, in a way I would have never have imagined.  Though Roy’s ideas about this first picture made my head swim, we went with his recommendations.  We hired a photographer, an artist, and an expert. Once we spent enough time with him, explaining the history and the process, we got out of his way, and gave him the freedom to work without restriction or commentary.

the-Branch-catalogue.jpgWe have been making steel garden ornament long enough that I had lots of pictures of Branch objects in gardens, and in a variety of seasons.  Once Roy shot the major full page photographs, Jonathon took on the job of laying out each page, and arranging each of the photographs.  With the exception of a few paragraphs about the company and the products, the catalog is an illustration of who we are, and what we make.

Branch-catalogue.jpgThe back page is the back of of our house.  We show the sizes and styles of the stock pieces we build.  12 boxes, 3 vase shaped pots, 3 pergolas, and three fountains. Each piece is dimensioned.  Of course we have the capability to manufacture by special order.  We mailed out 650 catalogs the end of March.  We’ve been very pleased by the response.  Buck and his group have been busy non stop, producing both stock and custom pieces.  I especially like that all of the hard work and effort Buck has put into bringing this enterprise to life is getting some attention.
Branch Catalogue (14)If you are interested further, there are plenty of pictures, and a digital version of the catalog at


Branch? Buck?

The Branch Studio-in business for ten years now.  The first year, we made faux bois garden ornament and furniture-in the garage at Detroit Garden Works. Our first year in business-pretty quiet.  We had the winter season to design, experiment, and build.  None of us had any idea where our passion for ornament for the garden might go.    Several years later, we were looking for our own building.  A 7 acre property with 30,000 square feet between two buildings seemed like a good idea.  That good idea ran along the lines of producing finished steel garden ornament and containers for the garden.

Branch.jpgBranch Manufacturing had grown considerably.  As has the landscape company-Deborah Silver and Co Inc.  There was no room to house the landscape vehicles, plants and tools any more at our retail location-Detroit Garden Works.   Deborah Silver and Company needed a new home.  As for Branch-a company newly emerging-what they needed were bridge cranes.  I can explain.  When you work in concrete and steel, you need tools that enable people to move very heavy objects from one place to another.  A pair of 5 ton capacity bridge cranes sealed the deal for my purchase of the Sanford Street property.  We bought a big property, with close to 30,000 square feet of buildings.

the-Branch-Studio.comWe have 7 acres there.  This means plenty of space to house plant material for a landscape installation.  It means plenty of space to store compost, and decomposed granite.  Plenty of space to store tools, box trucks, and loaders.  Room to store brick, stone, mulch, and plants.  The 7 acres at Sanford Street is shared between the landscape company, and our manufacturing subsidiary- Branch.  Branch has 13,500 square feet of studio space.  Though this space seemed really large when I bought the property, today I am happy for the room.


I bought the property. Some ten years later, Branch is humming- producing garden ornament, boxes, pots and fountains in steel.  Our finish is the closest thing to rust proof and maintenance free of any finish I have ever seen on steel.  Painted and powder coated steel eventually succumbs to rust.  Our signature finish looks a lot like that classic garden ornament material-lead.  Our finish is not perfect.  Perfect only applies to moments and diamonds.  If a rust rust spot develops, it can be fixed.  Given that the price of lead has tripled in just 5 years, we feel our steel ornament is a lead substitute of merit. And a vast improvement on painted or powder coated ornament.  I would go further to suggest that our products are lighter, more versatile, and more reliable than lead.

Branch-boxes.jpgBuck and his crew of four spent the better part of last winter churning out boxes, pots, pergolas, and fountains that would be available for the spring season.  Though Branch does a considerable amount of custom fabrication with a lead time of many weeks, we were ready with our stock styles and sizes for the spring.  We manufacture planter boxes, fountains and pergolas in three styles.  Branch features 4 planter boxes in each style.  A small cube.  A large cube.  A tall cube-and a rectangle.

lattice-boxes.jpgTen years ago, we were a very small group with a very big idea in mind.  That said, we were a bunch of kids with a more passion than expertise.  It has taken every bit of ten years to grow up.   Get better. The garden ornament that Branch produces now is level, square, and true.  Heavy-as in heavy duty.  Frost proof. Maintenance free.  We had the idea that every garden deserved pots, fountains, and pergolas that would not require much work.  Every true gardener understands that a garden needs a serious committment.  The garden ornament and planters from Branch-an investment in the lifetime of a garden, and beyond.

Branch-cistern-fountain.jpgThis cast iron fountain face-the face was a purchase Rob made in Kent, England, in the fall of 2012.  Branch designed and built a fountain around this mask-in the spring of 2013.  I am happy to say this fountain found a home, early this spring.

Branch-3-spout-cistern-fountain.jpgAnother Branch introduction for the 2013 gardening season-this 3-spout fountain.  The spouts were machined from solid blocks of steel.  The pump-we researched what fountain pumps were the most quiet.  A fountain cistern needs to display the splash and sound of the water.  No humming from the pump, thank you very much.  A fountain cistern that you can take home and plug  in?  The Branch fountains- including this 3 spout fountain- are road ready.


Though Buck and his crew fabricated stock boxes, pots, pergolas and fountains over the course of the winter, Branch Studio is swarmed right now with custom work.  We are not complaining!  We are happy for all of the interest in what Branch might create for a garden.

Branch-Hudson-boxes.jpgThe Branch Studio, a subsidiary of Deborah Silver and Co, is a manufacturing company devoted to the making of fine pots and ornament for the garden.  The Detroit Garden Works website details everything Branch produces.  Should you have an interest in something we make,  or an idea you’d like to explore, contact us.