A Distribution Challenge

Aug 12 005When I first opened Detroit Garden Works in 1996, my only clients were my landscape clients; they were all so great about supporting my new venture.  Fourteen years later, the shop has clients of its own, many of whom are not aware that I offer a full range of landscape services from design through installation.  This client shopped the store this past spring, and invested in this pair of English lattice work boxes. Rob referred her to me; planting advice and installation comes from the landscape company.  I have a concern that anyone who purchases containers from me gets coached such that their experience with the gardening part of their ownership is a good one. A beautiful pot does not necessarily imply a beautiful planting; I arranged to meet with her.  

Aug 12 002She told me she liked hydrangeas, simple plantings, and white, so we planted her new boxes with limelight hydrangea and lots of variegated licorice; they looked great.  I accompanied the crew on the delivery, as she had several possible placements in mind.  Once placed, I could see her landscape was struggling with what I call a distribution challenge.  Her lakefront home had little flat land upon which to build a house, and a pair of garages necessitating a large drivecourt. What little land she had left over from all this hardscape dropped precipitously on each side.  Properties where the hard surfaces dominate make it tough to design a landscape that can hold its own.

Aug 12 019Uncertain about what to do, she had planted hydrangeas on either side of the front door, and groundcover in the narrow strips of land between the drivecourt and driveway. The house wanted for a more robust green companionship, but had little room to make that happen. 

Oct6aa 003Her love of simple arrangements worked in her favor.  In a very small space, using one plant in big numbers adds impact.  I persuaded her to move the hydrangeas to outside the drivecourt; their eventual height would put them up over the ground floor entrance window near the front door in a not pretty way.  Two beds planted solidly with the tall growing Green Mountain boxwood were punctuated with a pair of Venus dogwood.  This airy growing large flowered dogwood would get some green into the airspace.

Aug 12 009This wall was the first view of the house driving up the street; it needed a strong landscape element that would feature something about that wall other than its sheer size.  The land dropping away at the corner of the house was awkward visually.

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A dry laid L-shaped section of stone added the corner back to the front of the house; the hydrangeas and shorter growing Green Velvet boxwood made a long flat horizontal run, pleasingly counter to the strong vertical element of the house.

Oct6aa 005Five sections of  Belgian fence, a style of espaliered trees, read in sharp green relief against the massive brick wall.  The arborvitae will be pruned flat on both the top and the sides, as they grow in. We can grow both high on this wall. Once the boathouse is finished, we plan to plant a corresponding but free-standing run of arborvitae and Belgian fence on the lot line opposite the wall.  These two plantings will frame the view to the lake, as in allee. 

Oct6aa 008The limelight hydrangeas will grow fast, and billow out around the foundation of the house.  As my client did want some flowers in front, we decided to construct window boxes that would sit at grade.  Flowers at eye level would make them a more prominent part of the landscape.

Oct 28a 002The opportunity and ability to construct garden ornament for a specific place gives me lots of options as a designer I would not otherwise have. These boxes were made specific to a length and height for her windows. These raw steel boxes would be galvanized, and acid washed, producing a virtually maintenance free finish reminiscent of the color of lead.

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We will plant these boxes for the holiday/winter season; this will give a brand new landscape a welcome lift. There are better days to come, for this committed client, and her home.


  1. What great solutions. That’s a massive house to have to work with. I especially like the BElgian espalier (I have one too, against my garage). I anxiously await to see what it will look like with the hedge grown out and trimmed flat. Love, love LOVE the window boxes that sit on the ground. They add architectural interest where there was none.

  2. Great solutions, simple and effective. Love the idea of the planters and will file that one away.

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