Archives for October 2016

All About The Boxwood

a-contemporary-landscape-13My clients own a contemporary home situated on a compact property in an urban neighborhood. The house (not visible in this picture) sits a good three feet above the sidewalk.  Though I had helped with the landscape design in immediate proximity to the front door, an L-shaped planting of yews mirroring the sidewalks of their corner property predated my work with them. The above picture shows part of a collection of yews planted on that slope, that had suffered from years of too much irrigation water, and poor pruning. Too much water can be deadly to evergreens – especially yews. The massed planting meant that I did not have a clear picture of the grade or the dimensions of the area to be landscaped. I told my clients that I would have to remove all of the yews prior to having a redesign of this part of their landscape. They agreed to the removal, with no clear idea of where we would go next. They indicated that they had trust in my eye, and that I should go ahead.

a-contemporary-landscape-5The yews that still had decent root systems had been pruned within an inch of their lives. The above picture is telling. Pruning spreading yews (taxus densiformis and its associated cultivars)  flat with a power operated pruning tool results in a shallow but dense layer of top growth that denies air, light, and water, to the branches below. Every pruning cut produces a multitude of breaks in any woody plant stem. This yew, like every other one we removed, had an uppermost skin of green supported by a thicket of bare branches. Yews need to be pruned casually, and irregularly. Like a shag haircut. If you are interested in an upright and formally growing yew, choose one that has a naturally formal habit that approximates what you need-as in taxus media “Moonii”. But I digress. Any yew branch, no matter how thick or old, will sprout needles given enough light. These lower branches lost their light a long time ago, and would take many years to re-needle.

a-contemporary-landscape-6 I understood my client’s interest that this slope be planted. Their property is across the street from a busy city park.  They loved overlooking the park, but they wanted some small measure of privacy. Once the yews were removed, I got a good look at the lay of the land.  The grass on the upper level had an irregular edge, and sloped downward to the corner. The slope itself sagged in the middle. The yews that had been planted next to the foundation of the house-we got rid of them. Those Hicks yews obscured the beautiful stone foundation of the house, and had grown up over the bottoms of the windows. Any element in a landscape that is overgrown says untended loud and clear. My clients were ready to redo. We did the best we could to level the upper lawn plane, with a plan to grass up to that stone foundation.

a-contemporary-landscape-16Just prior to my client’s call for a landscape renovation, I had a call from a supplier about a field of 40″ diameter Green Gem boxwood available for sale. I sent pictures to my clients.  They were indeed interested. All three of us could see that these beautiful plants could could go a long way towards a sculptural landscape for this property. I arranged to have the boxwood delivered.

a-contemporary-landscape-8We did a lot of work to restore the upper level surrounding the house to a reasonably flat plane. That took in excess of 20 yards of soil. Many yards of that soil went to that low corner in the center far right of this picture. We laid down a roadway of plywood. We had no idea to damage that upper level grass, but we had heavy plants to move. The first row of these giant boxwood were planted with an eye to celebrating the newly leveled plane up top. Thought these boxwood were remarkably uniform, there were subtle differences. The arrangement of the plants in a row took a little time to get right.

a-contemporary-landscape-7The early view from the street was chaotic. Several iterations of previous sprinkler systems, and a complex drainage field was hidden underground. Rearranging and adding to pipe and drainage stone was a tedious but necessary part of the project.

a-contemporary-landscape-14This first row of boxwood took the longest to set, as it would establish the direction and height for all of the other plants to come.

a-contemporary-landscape-15The boxwood placed on the opposite side were were set very high, to maintain the level established at the top. The root balls of the second row to come would act like a retaining wall that would permit back filling around the plants in the first row. Each of these boxwood has a root ball 28″ in diameter.  Those root balls would act like a wall, and would help prevent soil erosion.

a-contemporary-landscape-10It took the better part of an hour to face and plant each of the boxwood. The weight and the bulk of each plant made them difficult to handle.

a-contemporary-landscape-9The original slope was dishy and rolling.  Prior to planting each row, we regraded the soil so it was dropping down towards the walk at a uniform rate. Each succeeding row of boxwood dropped down a corresponding amount. Or as least as close to a uniformly corresponding as was possible with boxwood of this size.

contemporary-landscapeThe yews on the far south side were not only healthy, they were beautiful. They occupied a very large area on both the upper and the lower level. We kept them.  We would snug the south side of the rows of boxwood up tight to to these existing yews.

a-contemporary-landscape-17Once the first two rows were planted, it was time to set the corner. The flow of the rows depended on establishing the corner plants. My rough sketch to my client is not my usual presentation. In lieu of accurate drawings, we talked.  One row at a time.

a-contemporary-landscape-11Each arm of row three began at the corner, and radiated out. Once we had four rows planted on the west side, and three rows planted on the north, we were ready for edger strip. A drip irrigation system was installed by Ian Edmunds Irrigation to insure that each boxwood would get water directly to the roots. He is the most thoughtful and thorough irrigation contractor it has ever been my pleasure to work with. The edger strip?

a-contemporary-landscape-22This oversized steel edging would allow us to back fill the bottom row of boxwood with soil, and mulch the front row of boxwood with gravel.

a-contemporary-landscape-1The tall steel edger strip solved a multitude of problems that were presented by this steep slope.

a-contemporary-landscape-21The grass to come on this slope would connect visually with the grass in the tree lawn.

contemporary-landscape-1the view from the park

dsc_9634the finished project from the intersection

dsc_9641The north side part of this landscape renovation looks good to me, and my clients. This very sculptural landscape is all about an incredibly beautiful collection of boxwood. Sometimes the plants drive the design.














Recent Work

fall container plantingsThough we were focused on finishing a landscape project last week, we did manage to get some of our fall container plantings done. Though I have said it before, I will say it again. A celebration of the season at hand in containers is an opportunity to make an expression of the garden that is no only personal, it is immediate. The daffodils I planted yesterday are months away from their spring flowering. The trees I planted a month ago will take 10 years to get hefty. The vision I have for my landscape may be many years away from that perfect moment. I can be patient. But I can be road ready, too. Fall container plantings are a delight the minute they get finished.  They do not need to much in the way of water or deadheading.

fall container plantingThey celebrate the materials of the harvest. My trip to my local farmer’s market this morning was an education in what is available for containers for fall.  Chrysanthemums, asters, and grasses seeding were abundant.  Ornamental cabbage and kale-they are so beautiful right now. Cut broom corn, millet and sorghum-how I love how our history of agriculture informs and enriches the garden. Rob’s pumpkin collection on display at the shop right now is a delight to the eye. George is 2 hours away from us. But his breeding for tall and thin pumpkins with beautiful stems is a look we admire. The summation of  Rob’s relationship with George is a collection of pumpkins that speaks to any gardener’s love of anything garden.  Rob’s collection of pumpkins and gourds-don’t miss it.Tomorrow is the second day of our pumpkin fest.  If you are a gardener who delights in the garden, come if you can.


We have had a very hot and very dry summer. The watering was endless. The coming of the fall, with cooler temperatures and torrential rains is a relief. Planting seasonal containers is a lesson about how the seasons change, and that joy that is all about a gardener’s participation. I would encourage every gardener to participate in the seasons.  I do. That seasonal work enriches my gardening life.


fall containers with broom corn and cabbage

fall-container-deborah-silverfall container with a centerpiece, purple cabbage, and creeping jenny

2016-fall-containers-3fall containers

2016-fall-containers-2fall pot with a hydrangea on standard, white ornamental cabbage and creeping jenny

fall container arrangement
fall container with dried ladder branches, preserved eucalyptus and peacock kale

Detroit Garden Worksfall container in front of Detroit Garden Works that includes an elegant feather grass at the center

fall planting Deborah Silverfall in the round


fall container

2016-fall-containers-1fall container arrangement

fall containersdeck pot planted for fall


The fall season in Michigan – sublime.




Beautiful Materials

beautiful-fall-materials-3A project in the garden asks for a lot of everything from a gardener. An interesting concept, and a design that clearly communicates that concept comes first. Anyone who has grappled with a design project knows how much work goes on behind the scenes. An idea about how to accomplish that design – an approach to the work – takes that much more time and thought. An installation may take two days, two weeks or two years. But any landscape project surely asks for beautiful materials. Beautiful plants are healthy plants. Doing a proper job of siting a tree, and digging a proper hole for that plant takes time.  It only makes sense to be sure the plant that is going in that hole is worthy of all the work it took to plant it. The cabbage pictured above is not only a healthy well grown plant, it is extraordinarily beautiful to look at.  The color is complex, and borders on iridescent. To my eye, the shape, texture, mass and color, is riveting. Beautiful plants are incredibly exciting, and make gardening such a pleasure.

fresh-cut-broom-cornBeautiful fall materials for containers are not only a pleasure to work with, they can inspire, inform, and direct the work. A landscape plan for a client may indicate a certain species of tree, but the final decision always rests with finding that specific tree that not only fulfills the design intent, but is beautiful.  There is no hard and fast standard about what constitutes beautiful. Everyone has their own idea. My projects are a a dialogue between a committed client, and my commitment to a great outcome for them. Sometimes the road is bumpy, but we get there.  I like it when clients fall for what I install for them. When I plant fall containers, I am very much focused on the beauty of the materials I have available to me. Broom corn is a staple in my fall pots. The stems droop gracefully, they are so loaded with ripe seeds. The corn-like leaves twist as they dry, and add another textural element to an arrangement.

unusual pumpkins A beautiful collection of materials from which to choose is an easy idea to grasp, but what it takes Detroit Garden Works to get to that collection is a process that is a full time job for my partner, Rob.  He travels all over this country, and in Europe, as he has for the past 20 years, to collect beautiful materials of all kinds. He shops locally, meaning he may travel in excess of two hours to a particular hybridizer’s pumpkin field.  I can count on his determination to put together a collection that inspires my work, and the work of our clients. We have had calls for weeks about the arrival of his pumpkin collection.  The fall container arrangements and plantings we install are all about the beauty of his choices of materials. He is the source for great materials for me.

beautiful-fall-materials-4He spent quite some time developing a relationship with a small company that produces dyed and preserved eucalyptus.  We carry their entire range of colors. This is a relationship going back 15 years. Preserved eucalyptus is a natural material that can sustain a container planting throughout the fall and the winter. The variety of colors available provides another element to any fall arrangement.

containers for fallThese centerpieces for a pair of fall pots involve a combination of gorgeous materials of all kinds, and my design for this particular client.  I owe a lot to those growers who made this possible. And of course to Rob, whose collection of materials make an expression like this possible.

container materials for fallPlanting pots for fall takes some of the sting out of the gardening season coming to a close.

fall pot by Deborah Silver This finished fall container warms up the architecture. It is a personal expression that documents an interest in nature. It will be a pleasure to look at throughout the fall. The next pair of fall containers we plant will look entirely different. That is the beauty of a collection of seasonal plants and materials that is wide and deep. There is no need for any pots to sit empty and silent at the close of the gardening year. Every gardener can shop their own garden as well for dried materials, branches and seed pods.

dsc_9454A little late day muted light adds yet another element to the mix.

cabbage at the side doorInto every gardener’s container life, a little fall is a good thing.