Archives for November 2013

Stick Week


The lion’s share of what we offer gardeners for winter and holiday pots and decor are fresh cut natural materials.  The fall harvest includes any natural material which is a celebration of the garden, and a feast for admiring eyes.  Just today we took delivery of this load of fresh cut birch poles in three sizes.  A tree farmer far north of us waded into thigh high water to cut these birch poles for us-they have had a lot of rain this season. I greatly appreciate his effort. How thrilled I am with this picture.  Big numbers of hefty birch branches are stable and striking, represented in four hefty steel boxes from our company Branch.  This is a picture which tells our tale.  Want to be comfortable with nature?  Be exposed, learn-and understand.  Looking for beauty that goes beyond any human construct-study nature.

cut-branches.jpgThe arrival of the fresh cut twigs is a sure sign of the winter season.  We deal with a number of twig farmers.  There are those who grow oranges, tomatoes and avocados, but we do business with farmers that grow twigs.  The art of growing twiggy shrubs with the idea of harvesting the current year’s growth at the end of the season is a practice known as coppicing.  Coppice wood has a long and varied history, in both gardening and agriculture.  Twiggy and woody stems have been harvested for fencing for livestock and vegetable gardens.  Branched twigs provided the first plant stakes for lax growing perennials.  Woven twigs make great vine supports.

fresh-cut-branches.jpgThe nursery industry world wide is responsible for the breeding of shrub cultivars whose twigs have great and enduring color.  Spring Meadow Nursery, in our country, is both proactive and successful in breeding shrubs of note in stem, leaf, and flower.   In the late fall, I am happy to be able to offer fresh cut twigs that are enchanting in color and form.  Stick week-a favorite week of my gardening year.

curly-copper-willow.jpgCurly copper willow might be my personal favorite.  The glossy stems are cinnamon brown.  Just a bunch or two can endow a winter display with a volume, texture, and motion that delights the eye.  The striking color will persist in completely exposed locations throughout the toughest winter.

grapevine-deer.jpgLet’s talk about grapes.  A few vines some 15 years old cover the steel pergola at the shop.  The sinewy vines have been trained to wind round the poles of that pergola.  Grapes need a very strong structure on which to grow.  The leaves cover the pergola roof during the heat of the summer.  The clusters of grapes-beautiful in the early fall.  Those vines, once harvested, are the basis for these deer sculptures.  Our supplier owns a vineyard.  She makes sculptures from the trimmings of the grape vines by forming them over handmade steel armatures.

grapevine.jpgThe cuttings of the vines can provide a material focal point for a winter gesture.  Detroit Garden Works is stocking for this winter season rolls of muscadine grape vine-twigs in the round. These long rolls of twigs in a curled form is the focus of this year’s winter decor.  We interfere with the natural curves of these rolled vines as little as possible.  They have a life all their own, which we mean to feature.  The most beautiful celebrations of the winter season are about letting the natural materials shine.

When we dressed our linden trees with the grape vines, we following the vine lead.  Once the vines were round the linden tree trunks, we added rusted steel lead garlands.  This look to me is a good partnership.

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpgThe red bud pussy willow in the fall is strikingly beautiful.  I use it over and over again in winter and holiday containers.  More often than not, these cut twigs survive the winter, bloom, and leaf out.  Miraculous, this level of giving.

fresh-cut-twigs.jpgIt is stick week.  What sticks and twigs do you have in your garden that might provide a foundation for your winter garden expression? Looking to winter, those woody plants which have grown and matured might enlighten your winter garden.

The Holiday/Winter Preview Party


Detroit Garden Works throws one evening party a year.  It is, in part, a thank you for all of the gardeners that have or have a mind to shop with us.  It is, in part, the opening night of our winter and holiday season. It is, in every regard, a party.  We serve great things to eat, and a variety of things to drink.  We have spent weeks constructing the light sculptures that Rob designs.  One of them in a pot, or hung from a tree, or sunk into the ground lights up the night that is our gardening future.  Is there more to see?  Yes.

We have spent weeks tearing apart the remains of our summer garden vignettes to make way for the winter season to come.  It could be 10 years ago that we began stocking materials for gardeners-for winter containers.  What seems so logical now is what was uncharted territory then.  We live in a gardening zone with a fourth quarter than can be really daunting.  Gray skies give way to the dark-early.  Morning skies are gray and dark-late.  The landscape goes dormant.Why not offer materials for winter container plantings?  Some garden based materials to make the winter a little easier to bear?  Materials for winter containers include fresh cut twigs and substantially hefty and lengthy greens.  Preserved natural materials and remarkably weather resistant and visually compelling picks.  Landscape lighting-how do you plan to handle the need for light in the dark season?


The big idea is that the love of the garden can be represented in a celebratory way over the winter.  The big sleep freeze that will chill every plant in my landscape into utter dormancy does not apply to me.  People do not go dormant.  I will experience everything that the winter has to offer, every day, day after day.  Though the winter is no longer than all of the other seasons, it can feel longer.  I have options about how I want to live through that time.  I can construct containers at my front and back door with cut materials from the garden.  I can light those pots in such a way that they light my way. I can festoon this and decorate that-outdoors.  It is a choice- to make the winter landscape cozy and inviting.


The shop is not quite ready for our opening tomorrow night.  It takes a lot of time and thought to create an atmosphere that engages gardeners when the garden has gone quiet.  Rob has done a perfect job of sourcing great materials and lighting, and arranging for them to be delivered in time for our opening night.  We shop together for the following holiday in January, while the season is still fresh in our minds.  Our entire company numbering 21 people have worked long and hard to make the transition from the joy that is the summer landscape, to the steadfast belief that even the winter season is worth treasuring.


Should you decide to attend our once a year night time winter season opening on Thursday night, we will park your car, provide you with something good to eat and fun to drink.  We leave the rest up to you.  How the materials we have chosen might inspire or intrigue-that’s the fun of it.  We like throwing this yearly party.  The preview party and holiday open house which runs through Sunday is a lot about giving thanks to all of the gardeners that have enabled Detroit Garden Works to stay viable for going on 18 years.  It is just as much about a community of gardening people determined to make a stand-for a beautiful winter.


I so look forward to this night every year.  We try our best to make the anticipation of winter an extraordinary experience.  Interested?  Our winter/holiday open house runs from Thursday night the 7th from 5 to whenever.  Yes, we provide valet parking for our Thursday night party.  As for the weekend, Friday through Sunday, 9 to 5 all three days, we have a coffee pot fueled by Starbucks coffee, and plenty of treats.  Our idea is to make the prospect of the winter season seem all good.

battery-operated-lights.jpgRob does plenty to make this season happen.  He sees that we have fresh cut twigs, fresh cut greens-and spectacular winter lighting.  He is the most creative person it has ever been my pleasure to know.  He is an ace in the hole-should you need help designing or constructing a winter display.

ribbon-and-twine.jpgWe do try to cover all the bases.  Winter containers.  Holiday decor.  Parties and events.  Wrapping and packaging.  Gifts for gardeners. Fresh cut twigs and greens.  Lighting.  Design.  Coaching.  Holiday decorating both inside and out.  Give us a call.


Tomorrow night, I hope to make the experience worthy of attention.  Everyone I know has a busy life.  I would not be writing this post, but for the fact that I believe a visit to our shop would be well worth your while.

holiday-tree.jpgWe view the winter and holiday season from a particular point of view.  The garden funds and fuels all of our efforts.  Every move we make is with the landscape in mind.  Winter gardening-oh yes.  The holidays?  Any cause for celebration is a cause we support.

light-rings.jpgIf you have a mind, pay us a visit.  We promise to make your winter season a season in which you can survive better.  Have the prospect of winter blues dead ahead?  You have lots of company.  You and all of your company-we hope to help make your winter a better winter.



Sunday Opinion 24 Hours Late: Fall Back

When I opened my eyes this morning, my first thought was that today was the day I needed to fall back.   Fall back, as in daylight savings time.  I think the big idea is to save, preserve, or otherwise ensure more daylight by changing the time.  So when I woke up at 5am old time, it was really 4am new time.  4am is really too early to get up-even for me.  So I laid in bed, eyes wide open, until 5 am, the new time-which would have been 6 am yesterday. In bed at 6 am-the thought horrifies me.  How will I ever be ready to face the day with so little time?  I fed the dogs at 6am-they were fussing, as they usually have breakfast by 7am.  I left for work shortly after the new 7am, which was now shortly after the old 6am.  It was indeed very dark.

Angie was scheduled to come in today-we have a lot of work to do before our holiday open house this coming Thursday.  The old 9am is now 10am-it felt like she got to work in the middle of the day.  By 4pm the new time, the dogs were overdue for their 3pm afternoon dinner.  They both came to my desk, staring and glaring as if I had violated their routine.  It is very hard to explain daylight savings time to a pair of corgis.  By the 4pm Sunday close of the shop, which would have been 5pm yesterday, I was tired.

If you are having trouble following this train of thought, you have company. The one hour change in the time will dog me for several weeks, before I adjust.  Don’t hold me to anything I have said in the past few paragraphs.  I have a hard time adjusting to even a small change of pace when I am busy.

Why would I make such a fuss about this?  The beginning of our gardening season is not solely about temperature.  Day length is a trigger for many plants.  Growers schedule their work around that biologically driven clock.  A biological clock?  A biological clock is set to record metabolic changes, sleep cycles, or photosynthesis.  The aforementioned-from the dictionary.  I have an internal clock set in tandem with the time.  When the time changes arbitrarily, I am thrown off course.  The loss of that hour in the fall-an adjustment that is a rude imposition.

Rob travels all over the globe to shop for Detroit Garden Works.  He does not buy on line.  He shops in person.  Whether it is Los Angeles, or London, or Impruneta, Italy, or Brazil or Belgium,  he routinely flies back and forth across multiple time zones.  He spares me the gory details of the personal cost of giving a few hours up here, and the consequences of adding a few hours there. He manages to make the travel look manageable.  I know better.  Traveling across multiple time zones takes courage and time to resolve.  He is unwilling to give in to the disruption of his internal clock.

Today I have abandoned the fall, and anticipate the the beginning of winter. By this I mean the coming of the dark time.  The winter season in Michigan is notable for its gray days, its early nights and its late mornings.  I have a few weeks ahead of waking up at 4am instead of 5am.  I will be tired at 5pm, as my biological clock will insist it is 6pm.  What a shocking difference an hour makes.  The little details-they matter much.

This coming Thursday night is the opening of our winter/holiday open house weekend. This is the only evening event we host all year.  The following Friday, Saturday and Sunday we will have lots of guests start to finish.  We serve treats and coffee.  I love that lots of clients bring their kids-they are the gardeners of the future.  Gardeners for the future-I support this.  What began 10 years ago as a modest campaign to get Michigan gardeners to fill their containers for the winter season , rather than leaving them empty and forlorn for our winter six months in length, has grown.  Our winter season is every bit as big as our spring season.  What I love the best-the camaraderie generated by the coming of the cold, the waning of the garden, and the prospect of the holidays.  This is the most good natured season of the gardening year.  Everyone knows the stakes are high, and the winter time will be tough and long.  All of us gardeners share that.

We have scheduled our open house a week early this year, as Thanksgiving falls as late as it can possibly be.  There are boxes everywhere-waiting for someone to unpack them.  We have gardens to clean up, the terra cotta at the shop to put into storage, and company coming in 3 days.  The 20 of us will do the best we can to bring a good end to the garden, and be ready to embrace the coming season.  Exciting times, yes.  As for daylight savings time-we are chasing the clock.  Gardening-the best venue for drama that I can imagine.

More Fun Than I Bargained For

carving-pumpkins.jpgI will confess that I look forward to Halloween. Though it is first and foremost a low budget fright night celebrating demons, devils, and the walking dead, it is also a garden party.  The worst horror for me-after the harvest, the garden season is done until next year.  Halloween, by contrast, is an angst free celebration of the coming of the dark time.  Though no childhood celebration of Halloween of mine was complete without carved and lighted pumpkins, every year I consider foregoing this ritual.  The pumpkins are incredibly heavy.  Gutting them is a messy and slimy affair.  The carving takes more time than you think.  No one lights pumpkins for a week or two-it is a one night delight.  Are you in?

carved-pumpkin.jpgYes, every year I relent.  I carve pumpkins.   Prielipp Farms at my local farmer’s market has someone load my choice of carving pumpkins into my car-they are really swell about this.  Rob carts them from the suburban to my workroom.  There they are, looking at me.  My carved pumpkins come last-after I carve them for clients. So they day before Halloween, I have 6 pumpkins to carve.

carved-pumpkins.jpgI have no use for patterns.  What fun is that, to follow a pattern that someone else has imagined? I make a few marks on the surface with a marker, and get cutting.  Every pumpkin carving evolves from the first cut to the finish.  Like most other garden projects, one move suggest another.  A big idea sketched out, a plan for the placement of walkways, porches and trees will eventually come down to the closing details.  Once a carving begins, all those other issues clamoring for my attention fade away. It’s just me, a vague idea, and a knife.

carved-pumpkin.jpgThis pumpkin carving began with a drill-and ends up looking like it was drilled.  It may be a foolish pleasure, but I highly recommend carving pumpkins for Halloween.  It is the last event of the fall.  How I enjoy it.  Enjoyment of the garden is rarely an academic exercise.  It is a shockingly sensory loaded enjoyment of nature, in all of its forms.  The sound of wind or the cicadas, the smell of the roses, the sounds of the birds, the tulips opening the first really warm day of spring, watching the Boston Ivy change color, the geese flying south, cutting the lids off the pumpkins-I call this experiential and primary source material for a life appreciative of nature.  Halloween is just the right dose of mock horror I need at the end of the season.

Halloween-garden.jpgI do get lots of visitors on Halloween.  I want to make it worth the while of the both of us.  Once my carved pumpkins were set, I was pleased.  I had company coming.

Halloween-night.jpgOur Halloween was perfect.  Rainy and ominously windy.  I only worried for a moment that no one would come.  Of course they would come.  Halloween is but one night every year.  And come they did.

Halloween-night.jpgI was so worried that my votive candles in my pumpkins would blow out, considering the gusty winds and rains.  Rob sent me home with 6 Belgian made candles whose claim to fame is their willingness to burn in adverse conditions.  The wind does not blow these candles out.  These candles not only stayed lit in the wind and rain, they blackened the insides of the pumpkins-to great effect, I might add.

Halloween-pumpkin.jpgEarly in the evening, I could see that my pumpkins were cooking, given the strength of the Belgian candles.  At my request, Buck vented all of the pumpkin lids with florists picks.  Who knew those Belgian candles would provide another dimension to my Halloween garden!  The carved pumpkins promptly blackened-this was a horrifying event I had not anticipated.  The smell was rather delicious, and the steam rising was dramatic.  I was scrambling to make sure they wouldn’t collapse before the end of the evening.

Halloween-pumpkin.jpgTrick or treaters coming up my walk were treated to the smell of cooking pumpkin, and the visual experience of superheated pumpkin in the rain steaming from every cut.  Rob and I spent some time observing the scene from the sidewalk.  Every little visitor was talking about the pumpkins.  Which one they liked the best. There were lots of questions at the door about who carved them.

fiery.jpgMy garden design life is a serious life.  I see it that way.  But there are those moments in the garden that are memorably and simply great fun.  I suspect that I enjoyed my Halloween at least as much as my guests.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe only time I see this group of kids who live in my neighborhood is Halloween night.  They don’t have an appreciation of my yellow magnolias, or the shapes of my boxwood.  But they do respond to what I have carved from the fruits of the harvest.  Every one of them says thanks.  The very youngest children say thanks too, prompted by the parents accompanying them.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe hauling and heaving around of my big pumpkins in the process of carving them-it took its toll.  I have the old lady backache, and my hands are still sore.  So be it.  This Halloween was more fun than I bargained for.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe garden’s most memorable moments seem to revolve around that surprise I did not see coming.

Halloween-night.jpgOnce it was dark, these faces took on another dimension, given the interaction of rain, wind, and fire.

trick-or-treater.jpgThis Halloween visitor could not have been more than 3 feet tall.  I would guess he was 9 years old.  His costume- sensational.  We were all having fun.