Archives for September 2019

Water In The Garden


I suppose there are those moments when rain in the garden means trouble. A windy and strong downpour can knock the peonies and the delphiniums to the ground. Heavy rains can weigh down the flower panicles of hydrangeas in full bloom. A tree hydrangea whose flowers are stooped over from heavy rain – I avert my eyes. Why is it that the only time we have silly crazy and pounding rain is when I am trying to get Milo out of the car and in to the house at the end of the day?  I do not love being drenched. But in general, I am very grateful for that rain that nurtures my landscape and garden.

The garden after a heavy rain has a juicy and saturated look. Even the air seems freshly washed. The lichens on the backs of my chairs are a sure sign that those chairs have been watered. Our rains are more regular come the fall season. Given cooler temperatures, these pots will not require any water from a hose for a few days. What the picture above does not express is the action and sound of that rain, but this does:  pouring rain The sound and the action of water in the landscape is a benefit of another sort.

I may have told this story before, but in my mind, it bears repeating. My last birthday gift from my Mom before she passed was a stack of beach towels. Beach towels? I asked her why. I am embarrassed to say I was irritated by her gift. Mom’s have a different vision – don’t they? She replied that of course I did not have a use for beach towels. I was always working. She thought it might be a good idea for me to go to the beach once in a while. She left me some money when she died. I spent every penny of it on this fountain in my back yard. Every day after work, I go to this particular beach, and think of her. The sound of that water adds the element of music to the garden. The action of the water is both mesmerizing and relaxing. It is no surprise that many people feel that living on a body of water of some sort is a quality of life issue. My garden life is all the better for this body of water.

Years ago I had no interest in water in the garden. That was tone deaf. Sounds in the garden are so much a part of the landscape. The birds and bees-and the water. I routinely suggest to clients that a water feature in the garden is a good idea. Big or small – that makes no difference. A representation of water in a garden within earshot endows that garden with a special gift. Call that whatever you like-communing with nature, or enjoying blissfully relaxing white noise.

This recirculating fountain jar features a basin that can be installed above or below ground. The pump is in the basin, and is disguised by a layer of rock over a screen. The action of this fountain is very subtle, but unmistakable. Of course there is maintenance involved. The basin needs refilling occasionally, as water is inevitably lost to evaporation. At the end of the season, a trap door in the basin provides access by which the pump can be removed and stored for the winter. This pot is glazed stoneware, so it can be left out for the winter. I might be inclined to put a simple plywood cover over the top to keep snow out of the pot. The fountain jet passes through the drain hole, and is sealed in place, the pot no longer drains.

This 3 tiered fountain was forged in cast iron by an English artist Michael Hill. The fountain has been installed in a large pool, which captures the water coming over the edges. This fountain both streams and splashes water. It provides a very lively focal point for this part of the landscape.

This is the first Hudson fountain cistern the Branch Studio made many years ago. Subsequent to that time, we have fabricated and shipped them all over the country for clients and designers in search of a simple, rugged, and substantial fountain to place in the landscape. They have also made this fountain in custom sizes and versions. One very large fountain that went to California has a 1/2′ thick and 10″ wide steel return-suitable for sitting.

Some 12 years later, we have this Hudson fountain cistern running at the shop. Like the look?  See this for the action and sound: Hudson fountain cistern

This oval fountain with its angled handles was inspired by a vintage tub Rob brought back from France years ago.

Branch hemispherical fountain purchased and placed in the landscape by the design firm Reed Dillon and Associates.

small glazed fountain ensemble

This oval stick fountain was fabricated at Branch. The client who purchases it was sufficiently enchanted to have it craned over his house to it final location in the garden. Water sustains life for all living things. You and me, and the landscape. A fountain – a vessel for that water – can take no end of interesting and visually satisfying forms. Suffice it to say that if it lives and prospers, it has gotten sufficient water.

Flowers For A Wedding

When I was young, I did a fair number of weddings. The cut flower part, that is. It is a job for a young person. It is a do it right and do it now  situation.  Bridal floral work come in all sizes and shapes, but all of it comes with a substantial dose of angst and anxiety. There is a deadline. Despite the best care, cut flowers can wilt and go down at the most inopportune moment. Every florist has opened a box of roses of a color other than what they ordered. Floral work is not especially conducive to learning on the job. It is physically demanding work. Moving and carrying buckets and vases full of water and cut flowers takes strength. Arranging flowers has its creative and romantic aspect, but there is a lot of just plain hard work. That backache has to be from standing and holding flowers aloft for hours at a time. Most of that work has to be done last minute. This is all by way of saying I am reluctant to take on a wedding now. But this was a client I have known for years. She lost her beloved to a lengthy, terrible, and cruel illness. Many years later and just a few months ago, she came in to say she had met someone she planned to marry, and would I do the flowers? I met with her at the venue of both the wedding and reception, and tried to dissuade her. I made several suggestions about where she might find a good florist. She wasn’t having that. She wanted me to do the flowers, would I?  Her only request was for hydrangeas. And that she would leave the rest of it up to me. How could I not say yes?

I ordered in a selection of flowers that I thought would be beautiful weeks ahead of time. I wanted to show her my selections, and I wanted to make a test run.  Hydrangeas are notorious for wilting soon after they are cut. I ordered the hydrangea “Florists White”. This cultivar is grown for the cut flower trade, as it holds better than most in a vase. 100 stems of white hydrangeas does not seem like that many, but each one had a water bag on the stem and an acetate hat that needed removal. Each stem got a fresh cut, and an immediate immersion in a bucket of clean lukewarm water. The flowers and leaves were sprayed with AquaFinish Clear – which hydrates and seals moisture in to both flowers and foliage. One of the miracle products of modern floristry. I could have skipped that step, but I would have needed to order more flowers. The flowers then have to sit, untouched, until they dry. Only then can they be placed in a floral cooler. This prep work is known as conditioning. I like to condition them overnight before I arrange them.  Lots of work is required to get cut flowers ready to arrange. Amni majus “Green Mist” was a wild card, but the airy texture of the leaves and flowers would be a great addition to the flower selections. As much as I love the reference to the late summer garden, it was a worry if they would hold. So I ordered extra bunches. The mini calla lilies would provide great curves and mass, and were a favorite of my client.

Of course I ordered in white lisianthus. This long stemmed multiflowered cut stem is the best antidote to wedding florist worry that I know of. The large flowers stay fresh for days. They are happy out of water for better than the duration of a wedding. The petals survive anxious handling. The buds are a gorgeous greenish color. They are a beautiful foil for the open flowers. The long stems make them suitably versatile for both tall and compact arrangements.

My client thought a wedding bouquet for her was not necessary. I thought differently. Once she told me her dress was olive green, I ordered in a clutch of green and white slipper orchids. I would capture these 25 stems with some olive green silk ribbon. As delicate as they are, they all held up perfectly in water. The bouquet would be kept in water until the last second. She had but to pat the stems dry, and go. I hoped that when it came time, this simple arrangement would appeal to her enough to carry them. At least she would have the option.

Weddings ask for flower arrangements here and there, but garlands can do a great job of knitting all of the individual pieces together. There were a number of places the garland would look great. Though baby’s breath is a traditional flower, en mass it can have a fresh and contemporary look. I bought in 4 kinds of baby’s breath garland, and tested their width, density and holding power. I ordered in the best quality of these garlands, and kept my fingers crossed. They arrived 2 days before the wedding, at Sunne’s insistence. If FedEx failed to show on Thursday, a Friday delivery would be in time for the Saturday wedding. We opened the plastic, and let the garlands air out. A local florist agreed to let me park these garlands in their cooler until I needed them on Saturday.

On Friday I did all of the 14 arrangements save two. As much as I like everything done before an installation, it would be so much easier to arrange the hydrangeas on site, and put them in place.

The packing up, transport, and installation is the second part of the job.  They boxed all of the arrangements, with an eye to protecting all of the petals. They laid the baby’s breath garlands flat on the truck shelves, as they had been stored rolled up. This is a very low tech delivery system perfect for a once in a great while florist. Three of my staff did the packing, driving, placing, tying, fluffing and cleanup. Most of my work had been done the previous two days.

Three tables got moved outdoors at the last minute. Cut flowers arranged in water can handle this sunny exterior location.  I like to arrange flowers in water as much as possible.

The garland needed a good shaking, and a little fluffing, once it was in place. The lisianthus on the mantle were kept in water until it was time for them to be added to the garland.

This was a small wedding – a perfect size for having the time to attend to all the details.

The wedding took place outdoors, between this pair of pillars.


The pillars needed to look dressed up from both sides.

a simple arrangement for the dessert table

I did hear from my client about the flowers this morning. She thanked me for all, and for insisting she have a bouquet. She thought it was beautiful and it was perfect with her dress. Happiest of all about this.