Fall Front And Center

Just think about it. The summer gardening season begins to wane, and every passionate gardener begins to fret. The letting go is not easy. I know I dig in my heels and ignore the obvious signs of the passing. Letting go is actually incredibly difficult. Just the thought that close to a year will pass before summer comes again is just cause for a gardener’s grief. But nature has a way of scooping up the remains of the previous season, and recasting them in a dramatic reinvention of the season to come. Any gardener who has observed the process of leaves abandoning their juicy green for a whole host of fiery fall colors understands this: The evolution of a summer season into the fall is an extraordinary pageant. The anticipation of a new and exciting season to come helps mitigate the loss of the old one.

We plant lots of containers in celebration of the fall season. I am often asked about how long they will last. That question always seems tinged with an unspoken belief that the fall is a shorter season than the summer. Just as the winter season is perceived to be longer than the spring season that follows it. How gardeners adore the summer and dislike the winter. What comes in between the two is short lived, and therefore inconsequential. Well in fact, each season lasts a full three months, which is certainly a long enough time to enjoy them all. Though a beautiful landscape matures and provides interest in every season over many years, planting seasonal pots and displays are satisfying in the moment to create and enjoy. Beautifully planted and tended containers enhance any given season in a very personal way. Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works had 2800 various cabbage and kale grown for our fall season-we have very few left.

For some, the fall season is a favorite. Hot sticky weather is a thing of the past. The air is crisp, and breathable. The play of long low shadows against the landscape is especially beautiful. And of course there is the color. The most gorgeous in full bloom perennial garden in June is glorious, but a landscape in full fall color is spectacular. There is vibrant color everywhere you look, from the tops of the tallest trees, to the hostas coloring up on the ground. The evergreens in the landscape stand out in strong and stoic contrast. The last hurrah is nature’s most beautiful opera. I hear trumpets, don’t you? We try to express the bounty of the harvest with lavishly constructed centerpieces, and a variety of cabbage and kale grown to enormous size. Overstuffed pots are a very good look this time of year.

David is every bit of 6′ 3″ tall. That gives you an idea of the size of his creations pictured above. We have added some cream colored faux seed head picks and orange preserved eucalyptus to the mix.  Bunches of bare sticks provide a framework to hold all of the other elements aloft.  I have no idea how much these pieces weigh, but they are too heavy for me to pick up. They will be secured in the container with steel rebar and concrete wire.

The centerpieces are scaled appropriately to the size of the container. Large containers can make a huge statement in the landscape, but to fill them takes lots of material.

The centerpieces that seemed so large in the garage shop just seem proportional to the pots.

Not every centerpiece is of such a grand scale, and some container placements are in more intimate locations. But a smaller scale does not need to imply less impact.

Once these Osaka Pink cabbage color up, this container will come in to its own. The centerpiece is constructed of mahogany colored curly willow sticks, and two kinds of faux picks. Rob takes great pains to order in picks that have some reference to the garden. Some have very natural shapes, and others sport reproductions of seed heads that are remarkably evocative of the season. It is entirely conceivable that the cabbages will look fine in to January, as they are extremely cold tolerant. An ornamental cabbage in full color and coated with frost is quite beautiful.

This centerpiece is much more fanciful. This is for a household with children who are all in for Halloween.

The Halloween decor will look great with these pots.

This centerpiece is comprised of a bluish green preserved eucalyptus, arching stemmed picks studded with blue beries, and some rather stunning picks in the center representative of clematis seed heads.

Even up close, all of the elements are convincing.

fall pots garnished with Ruby Queen cabbages

blue door

It is a tribute and a indication of David’s great skill that is is able to achieve great height from bunches of bleached willow twigs that come 4 feet tall. It takes lots of patience and careful construction. In spite of all of the technical issues, he is able to create fall displays that appear incredibly graceful and natural.

brilliant, this.

fall container with Rosebud cabbage

Not all of our fall pots have centerpieces. There are places where they would not add much to the mix. These contemporary Belgian stoneware pots frame the view of the landscape and the front porch from the sidewalk. Everything about the beauty of this pot has to do with beautifully grown material whose care is entrusted to Lisa. She makes sure that the plants get adequate water and food. And the careful placement and intertwining of very large plants handled by Karen and Natasha. The leaves of mature cabbage especially can crack if improperly handled. They make what is a difficult planting look effortless.

To follow are a few pictures of some of our fall container arrangements. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoy creating them. There is no need for containers to sit empty, once the summer season wanes.

Bewitching!

A Color Scheme

I like to cart watch. During annual planting season, I am interested to see what plants people choose. I try to imagine what it is they are going for, as evidenced by the plants in their carts. Light and airy? Tropically intense? Textured? Moody? Exuberant? I could spot Rob’s cart in a greenhouse chock full of of them from four aisles away. There will be herbs, perennials, annuals that look like perennials, ferns, subtle colors, a touch of peach and pale limey white or pale yellow, grassy elements, self effacing shapes and unusual micro-textures. His cart will look much like a cross between a more measured version of road side weeds, and ingredients common to Mediterranean style cooking. If this sounds complicated, consider that I have been exposed to his work, and the evolution of his work, for decades. I know it when I see it. Some people shop plants with no rhyme or reason that I can determine. I am not a fan of no rhyme or reason, so I will skip over that.  Other gardeners shop plants with color as a primary organizing element-I would be one of those. Determining a color scheme for a collection of pots is one of the season’s great pleasures. I am embarrassed to say how much time I spend going over a color scheme for my pots at home, and the plants that can represent that.   We do on occasion get a request for a very specific color palette. In this case, a special event slated for August came with a request for pink and white flowers. Making that work is more difficult than you might imagine. There are many shades of pink, ranging from peachy pinks to blush and on to rose pink and carmine. Some pinks are dirty, and others ring clear as a bell. I am thinking of that classic medium pink petunias, “Cotton Candy”. The upshot is that there are many shades of pink to choose from. Take your pick. Shades of white are common in the house paint industry, but not so common in annual flowers. Porcelana roses, common in the cut flower trade, are quite creamy. Some white zinnias are creamy. White marigolds are decidedly on the yellow side. But most white seasonal annuals, from mandevillea, snapdragons, trailing verbena, supertunia white, New Guinea impatiens, and Boston daisies, are a fairly bright white. The variety will be driven by the shapes of the leaves and the growth habit of the plants, and various shades of pink. It certainly is easy enough to vary the volume of pink and white in a given container, but to plant a series of containers that stand out individually while guided by a restricted color scheme is an intriguing challenge.

No matter whether the planting project is big or small, I furnish my crew with a photo of the pot or area in question, and a planting scheme. Those sheets go in a waterproof envelope. That is their invention. A job site is known for equal parts of dirt, water, hands and boots. Those sheets provide some order and direction. A road map, as it were. There is no discussion of the shades of pink or the volume of white.  All of the design comes ahead of the planting. Years ago I used to accompany my crew to the job, and go over all of my design decisions in real time. To the last, my crew hated that. They made it known that I needed to make a call, and sign off –  so they can do their part, unimpeded by any hand wringing on my part. They want to go and fill pots with soil, grab the sheets, assemble the plants, plant, clean up and water. Do I have any empirical evidence that suggests that my second guessing myself resulted in better design? No.

I never go to a container installation anymore. I am unwanted, and my angst about the design is a huge bore.  Just ask my crews. So now I play my cards, mark up the sheets, hand them over, and stand pat. Of course I will not know whether my pink and white scheme will be beautiful, dynamic and enchanting for quite some time. The plants need to grow. But the pictures that come back to me via multiple cell phones during the installation and at the end of the day are a clue to the future. In my favor-it is hard to go wrong with plants. Those unloved plants can shine, given some inspired companionship. Rob is able to make marigolds look fresh and beautiful, despite their stiff plant habit and ball shaped flowers.

shrubby pink mandevillea and twister pink trailing verbena

planted container

shade container

kingwood coleus, pink and rose pink polka dot plant

planting

variegated Algerian ivy topiary under planted with pink solenia begonias

This planting was beautifully executed. The ivy at the base of the topiary has been integrated in to the planting of begonias.

placing the plants

close to the finish

terrace planting

planting

At day’s end, Birdie is watering. I have a theory that plants resent and are set back by the transplanting process. I think a good shower helps to wash some of that insult away.

 

Berried Treasure

It is not hard to believe that we will be beginning our winter and holiday containers and decor in another week or so. The past 10 days have been an intense effort to unpack and display in the shop all of the materials Rob purchased almost a year ago for this season. Our kickoff open house begins November 7-just a few days away. I like this moment. It requires looking at countless individual materials with the idea to put them together in a way that makes visual and emotional sense. The beginning is always about fits and starts, with a liberal dose of hand wringing. What seemed like a good idea on Monday gives way to another idea on Tuesday. But eventually we all settle in to the job at hand, and the work of it evolves and gets done. It is the very best way to become familiar with what is available to include in winter arrangements. As I most likely was a gardener from the first moment I took a breath, of course I favor natural materials from that garden for the winter pots. Rob addresses that basic need with an incredible collection of fresh cut farmed twigs in a variety of species and sizes. They come from all over this country of ours. Densely branched bunches of lustrous alder branches-we carry them. Sumac and poplar branches harvested from our collective properties are so sculptural. The glossy cinnamon gold colored flame willow branches both straight and branched always arrive first, as their leaves are the first to drop. Soon to come are the pussy willow, the copper curly willow, and the red and yellow twig dogwood. The premium cut greens of all types are equally as juicy and lively. Pairing those branches and greens with berry stems for winter containers is a natural. The fresh cut branches of Michigan holly, ilex verticillata, are drop dead gorgeous. However, they come with a steep price, and require some serious prep, if they are to survive the season. The ilex berries above, zip tied to a stout stand of fresh cut first year growth red twig dogwood, need a thorough soaking with VaporGard prior to their installation. This agricultural grade natural anti dessicant formulated from pine resin will keep the berries attached to the stems, and plump – for months. The centerpieces pictured above went to a client willing to go the distance to have fresh cut berried stems in their pots.

There are alternatives. The quality of the appearance and manufacture of faux berry stems has improved at an astonishing rate over the past 10 years. What used to be an embarrassing imitation of the real thing has become an entirely convincing expression of the beauty of berries. This new generation of faux berry stems are manufactured as much for durability as beauty. The color can be true enough to fool the eye. Or unabashedly dramatic. The stems do not disintegrate or discolor outdoors.

There is an astonishing artistry that is evident, both in the design and construction. Though these stems are faux berry stems, the evidence of the human hand is obvious. These materials make it possible for me to construct winter arrangements that can handle gale force winds, endless snow and relentless cold. Packed away for the summer, they will be equally as beautiful in year two or three. Many of them that Rob purchases are tall enough to be seen from a good ways away. The berry picks pictured above are unabashedly cheery – the prefect antidote to the landscape going dormant.

There is much to love about having choices in stem length, branching, and berry size. Choosing materials that are a proper proportion to the overall size of the arrangement is important. Do all picks need to be inserted into the soil or a dry floral foam base? No. If the perfect stem is not tall enough, they can be discretely zip tied to a neighboring natural branch. Picks with flexible branching permit an arrangement that is graceful.

Berry beautiful.

Red berry picks destined for outdoor pots need to be completely weatherproof. It only took one time seeing red berries disintegrate and run red on the sidewalk to drive that point home. We test all of our picks by soaking them in water, even if we have been told they are weatherproof.

44 inch long red berry picks in concert with a mass of cut red twig dogwood branches will make a statement in a container all winter long. That red will be strikingly handsome set in a landscape renowned for its gray and brown. It could be I enjoy the winter pots better than any other season. They most certainly last the longest. I will take my own apart in March, mostly from the embarrassment of seeing the snowdrops and the berry picks at the same time.    Red berry picks are the norm, but they are not the only game in town. It is great to be able to take your pick.

black and white

blueberry picks

golden ochre

green

cream berries with brown stems

fuzz ball style berry picks

short blueberries

I have yet to see a winter container that had too many berry picks, but even just a few adds a lot to the mix.If a project calls for lots and lots of berries, sticking them individually is a better strategy than attaching them to the twig centerpiece. Once a centerpiece reaches a certain weight, keeping it perfectly upright will require additional ballast. Hand sticking berry stems is more time consuming, but it can provide a welcome intermediary layer between the vertical and horizontal elements. Winter pots can be the most challenging to create, as nothing will grow or fill in. The day they are done, they are done.

Looking forward to the berries.

 

Recent Work

We have but a few fall container projects yet to plant. It takes about 6 weeks to do them all. We have landscape projects that are on going, but planting up containers is a part of our service that we take seriously. The conversation generated with clients over containers is an important one. If I have been involved in providing a garden or landscape project, there is that moment when that project ceases to be mine, and they take ownership. I prepare clients for ownership as best I can. I specify plants that are proper for the conditions in which they are planted. I provide the terrace they requested with the shade of a tree, a pergola, or an umbrella. A discreet spot for the trash cans and bikes will earn a thank you. An irrigation system can make the maintenance of a planting easier. How new plants get watered is a critical requirement for new landscapes, so I spend more than the requisite amount of time to address that. Correcting drainage problems directly influences the longevity of all of the plants-both big and small. We install drainage, and we take great pains to address why it is such an important part of plant health. There are clients for whom I plant large gardens. I know that they know what will be required of them to maintain them. Other clients are relieved when I suggest that a well structured landscape of trees and shrubs will be enough. I do not have enough time left in my life to pass on my knowledge and experience with plants, but I certainly can pass along what I know about the specific plants I have planted.

Inspiring confidence in a client is one way of speaking to ownership. But I am not particularly a fan of pep talks. They are exhausting to give, and can be too much information all at once to absorb. It can be unsatisfying for all parties. Providing for success is a long term effort that goes beyond a design that is good and solid. Clients know the work we have done comes with a responsibility on their part. But there is another step beyond offering the counsel and information they need to nurture a landscape. Beyond ownership is a state of engagement with the natural world.

Very few of my projects do not specify and include containers. I have a reason for that. They are a bridge over which a client and I can meet, and forge a relationship over the beauty of plants. Containers stuffed with robustly flowering summer annuals, tropical plants, green plants of interesting shape and texture or favorite perennials at the front door or on a rear terrace stand out in the landscape. Container plantings are personal, in that they express the taste in color and style of the owner. They make a statement about what constitutes beauty. A beautifully planned and executed container is easy to fall for. A client who is able to be successful growing plants in containers becomes engaged in the process of making something grow.

A discussion of the value of the landscape and garden is, at the end of the day, a discussion. Anyone who comes to take that that value to heart over the process of making something grow in a contained area is more likely to evolve from an interested observer to a committed participant. I have seen this happen over and over again. In the course of planting containers on the roof deck of a local restaurant, I was approached about selecting and planting containers by an owner of a similar business nearby. Though it took some time to persuade them that the investment would be a good one, they took the plunge. Many years later, we are still planting their containers at their business. Their customers are vocal in their interest and appreciation. The care they take with the outside speaks to what one can expect to find on the inside. Later we went on to supply and plant containers at their home for every season.The landscapes in both places have evolved and grown. All of the plantings are beautifully maintained, as they have gone beyond ownership to stewardship. A primarily green landscape in October pictured above just a welcome dose of fall color and cold tolerant seasonal plants. This client called and talked about the beauty of her pots and annual plantings over the summer, and how much pleasure she got from them. They grew prolifically. Her friends and family talked about them all season long. We planted plants we felt would succeed, and provided her the bright color she likes. They were designed and planted specifically for her. Our conversation about summer containers was the prelude to a discussion of planting for fall. This client had a sincere interest in the landscape from the start, but the conversation has changed. The pots and the landscape have value.

This client has one pot on her front porch. It plays an integral part in the appearance of her home from the street. Though the landscape is slowing down and will eventually go dormant, this pot planted for fall and later for winter is an expression of the garden year that will persist. Her interest in the planting of that pot is a symbol of an interest in the greater landscape.

A lush fall planting is a way to celebrate the harvest that comes at the end of the season. It anticipates all of the fall color soon to come from the trees, shrubs and perennials in the ground. Those who design and garden for themselves always seem to have some pots under cultivation. I like the fact that I can look at the container work of others, as I am able to get a glimpse of how they see the natural world. I am embarrassed to say I almost never plant pots for fall. That is 100% due to the fact that my crews rarely have time to plant them for me, given the work on deck to bring the landscape season to a close, and the winter and holiday season just a few weeks away. It is one thing to choose material, and design. It is quite another to make that happen.   To follow are more pictures of our recent work.

Welcome to our fall.