A Spring Mix

We plant loads of containers in April in celebration of the spring season. The length, depth, and breadth of that planting is informed and driven by those materials available that can tolerate the chill. Farmed twigs are shipped to us in early spring and late fall. They provide mass, volume and height to our container arrangements at a time when the spring season is just beginning.   I cannot express how intrigued I was, given a recent and unexpected gift of 50 stems of a new variety of pussy willow. P sent them unannounced, and I was pleased to get them. How gorgeous are these twigs? The white, gray and black catkins are quite unlike any pussy willow I know of. This variation was observed in their field, and the decision was made to propagate the plant. They sent me all of the rest of the stems they had available – 200 – with a promise there would be more available next year.

In asking for a potential name for this new cultivar, they adopted Rob’s suggestion. Spring Velvet it is. Aptly named, I think. My suggestion of Spring Sensation was the first thing that came to mind when I saw them. It is so rare that a new plant or cultivar becomes available for early spring containers. That small group of plants (I do include the cut stems of willow and dogwood in that group) that can handle the very early spring weather becomes larger as the weather moderates. April 1, my planting options were limited to twigs and cold grown pansies-provided the night temperatures did not dip below 24 degrees or so. Now, given that is April 15th, we will be able to expand our palette of plants.

Those first plantings rely on the mix, meaning the mix of colors. I would not have thought that merlot colored pansies would work well with pink wing violas and lavender pansies, but this mix turned out to be surprisingly lively. Does the variegated Algerian ivy get its leaves singed when night temperatures go too low-yes. But the risk is low enough to warrant planting them, and hoping for the best. This planter is on a covered porch, with walls on three sides. The Janet Craig dracaenas we plant here for the summer stay beautiful long into the fall.  As for the faux picks, I like what they add to the mix. Green fuzz ball picks and white deco ball stems are graphic and sculptural. They are also whimsical.

This series of boxes feature the straight and vertical stems of copper willow, and the horizontal layer of pansies. The faux grass picks add a transitional layer that softens that intersection between the copper willow and those pansies. Though the faux grass is faux, they have a relaxed look that is not only believable-it is welcome. Faux grasses have progressed from a stiff and painfully obvious imitation to a graceful and charming representation of what is to come. The signs of spring are still subtle here. Hardy ornamental grasses in my zone will just be waking up the beginning of June. These boxes speak to spring in a brash and sassy way.

This container features a tree hydrangea which we overwintered inside our unheated landscape building. It will be a while before there are leaves. The process of watching this shrub leaf out is an experience of spring not to be missed.  Three cultivars of pansies with closely related color make for a mix that is visually interesting.

Mixing colors is a way of making familiar materials seem fresh.  Once this planting grows in, it will be easier to see that the color in the pots is related to, but different from the pansies in the ground.

This contemporary spring planting features a color palette notable for its strong contrast.

This pot is entirely planted with lavender shades pansy.  The color variation is built into the cultivar. The night temperatures had improved sufficiently to permit adding white annual phlox and alyssum to the pansies. All around the contemporary centerpiece-lettuce. The faux grass is very short stemmed and droopy. The paddles are sections of palm leaves that are dried.

This box is in a very protected location. The birds nest ferns will readily handle the chill. The rest of the box is planted with white pansies and alyssum. The texture of the alyssum will soon provide a frothy foil to the broad leaves of the ferns.

The pansies we carry are sown in October, and overwintered in unheated tunnel houses. It makes sense that our grower has selected varieties that are well adapted to, and thrive under these conditions.  Though there are a finite number of pansy and viola cultivars, there are lots of ways in which those cultivars can be combined to achieve a distinctive look.  This client likes bold color, and strong contrast.

The plants in this box are pastel and pale in color. Once the phlox gets growing, the box will have a volume better proportioned to the size of the box. Looking over pictures of some of the pots we planted last week, they are indeed remarkably different from one another. It is a pleasure to have something to plant in early spring.

This basket is Rob’s planting.

 

Not only do spring containers represent a preview of what is to come in the landscape and garden, they will just be hitting their glorious best at the end of May and on into June.

Planting Spring Pots

My penchant for planting containers for spring is based on several factors. At 30 years old, it seemed like an infinite number of springs were ahead. If I skipped planting fall bulbs, or spring pots, or a rose or a tree, there would always be next year. Or the year after that. In a blink of an eye, 30 became 50.  And with it, the dawn of the realization that though spring will probably roll around ad infinitum, my springs that had a beginning in 1950 would eventually come to an end. This is not gloomy talk. It means I am more interested than ever in observing and participating in every phase of the gardening year. I especially do not want to miss one moment of the spring season. Given that every plant in the landscape will break dormancy and grow, there is a lot to see over the course of that 3 month period. There are lots of ways to experience the spring season-why miss out on any of those opportunities?

Planting containers for spring seems even more attractive in cold weather zones like ours. Winter leaches out of our ground slowly. When that ground does thaw, it is wet. Milling around a garden when the soil is sopping wet is ill advised. My shoes, backed up by my weight, do a great job of squeezing the oxygen out of the soil, and compacting it. Compacted soil can be quite brick-like. As I like my plants to have friable soil that encourages good root growth, I stay out of the garden in very early spring. Spring containers make it easier to resist getting in to the garden too early.

It used to be that a vast majority of seasonal plants were of the summer season type. Now a gardener can find plants suitable for containers in every season. The most obvious choice is spring flowers bulbs.  Forced tulips, daffodils,hyacinths, grape hyacinths and crocus adapt very well to pot culture. The tulips in the shop garden are but 2 inches out of the ground. It will be at least a month before they start to bloom. A pot of emerging tulips faced down with violas already in bloom in a container is a sight for winter weary eyes. The best part of spring flowering bulbs in containers is how beautiful they are in every stage. It is a pleasure to be able to watch a hyacinth at close quarters come out of the ground, bud up, and bloom. The leaves and buds are juicy, and every bit as beautiful as the flowers.

It used to be that most seasonal plants offered for sale were only suitable for summer containers. That has really changed. Great plants, and lots of them, are available for container planting in every season. Right now at the shop, Rob has hellebores, pansies, violas, alyssum, primrose, rosemary and lavender topiaries, sweet woodruff, and sweet peas.  In short order, spring vegetables and herbs will be available for pots. Pansies, lettuce and parsley can be planted up to stunning effect. A hydrangea on standard can look a little bleak in a spring container, but the buds will swell soon, and the spring leaves are beautiful.

Fresh cut twigs can provide a lot of color and scale to spring containers. This straight copper willow not only has vivid color, that color is lively.

Pussy willow is a great twig choice for pots.  The fuzzy catkins covering the stems are charming.  Cut pussy willow twigs will often root in a spring pot, bringing leaves after the catkins have faded. Pussy willow would be a poor choice of a shrub for my garden, as it grows so large. Having the cut stems in a container is a way to enjoy them without making any commitment to a long term relationship. And speaking of long term relationships, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to try something new in containers every spring.

We will be starting our installations of spring pots this coming Monday. It will feel good to be gardening.

faux grass and Belarina series double primrose

white hyacinths

sweet woodruff and faux grass

tropical ferns and pansies

maidenhair ferns and Belarina primrose

grape hyacinths, primula denticulata and oxalisspring pot with helleborus, grape hyacinth, violas and sweet woodruff

spring pots with eucalyptus centerpieces

pansies and violas

lettuce and pansies

Tomorrow, the last Saturday of our hellebore festival will feature Rob’s collection of topiary plants – his best ever, I think. Thinking spring containers, we are.

Spring At Detroit Garden Works: An Addendum

As I was writing about the spring opening of Detroit Garden Works, it occurred to me that what the shop does best is reflect the taste and sensibilities of a wide range of gardeners. I have Rob to thank for that. Many years ago I made a landscape design call to a client whose house and art were of a contemporary ilk. On his rear terrace was a classical and traditional Smith and Hawkins teak bench. That disconnect made me blink. I suggested that he find some terrace furniture that more accuratetly represented his aesthetic.  So called contemporary garden ornament has been available for commercial projects for a long time-if you equate simple and functional with contemporary. I am thinking urban trash receptacles, bike racks and giant fiberglass cylinder planters. What was readily accessible to private gardeners was meager. Times have changed in that regard.

Shopping European markets has also made a big difference in the style of ornament we are able to offer.The Belgians, Dutch and French have been of a contemporary mind in the garden for quite a while. The containers pictured above are made from recycled tires from a manufacturer in France. They would look very disconcerting in my garden, but my client with the contemporary art collection would feel right at home with them.

I probably have said this before, but it is worth repeating. Any idea about period or style that you express indoors is fine to take outside. And advisable. A well done landscape does have an aura- an aura of genuine expression of some kind or another is unmistakable. A judicious selection of garden ornament is a strong and vibrant way to indicate an aesthetic point of view in the landscape.

A tree is a tree, with its own aura. That same species planted in a random grove in tall grass creates a different aura, driven by the aesthetic of the gardener in charge. A collection of that same tree planted in a grid could have a very formal aura-or a contemporary one. A garden ornament added to any one of these landscapes can organize and make the intent of that gardener clearer. This room at the shop is interesting, in that it takes traditional objects, and by association with more contemporary ones, gives those traditional ornaments a more contemporary aura. In the above picture, vintage French galvanized metal seed pans were lined up and stacked on a shelf against the far wall. The overall shape and grid has a very contemporary feeling, though I am sure the pans were originally used as a simple growing tool. The traditional glazed French jarre with a cream rim in the foreground is a very traditional shape. Paired with a vintage modern teak garden furniture set, the clean lines and simple shape of the container becomes its dominant visual characteristic.

On the walls in the background of this picture, a pair of antique French conservatory windows look at home in a more contemporary setting.  Their visual meaning is about their simple geometry, and not about their history. I would imagine the conservatory they came from was probably of a traditional sort.

The birdbath in the above picture is an antique piece from England. It is easy to imagine it in a classical English garden. But I suspect it could be right at home in a more austere and modern garden. To determine whether a classical piece might work in a contemporary garden, I try to ignore where or how the piece might have been used, and concentrate on its overall shape. The short version is to appreciate it in the abstract, and without preconceived notions.

The urn pictured in the opening above has a very traditional connotation and shape. Its visual aspect is in strong contrast to the concrete bowl planters placed on top of the wall. Each asks for a specific kind of garden.

I have seen lots of fish ornaments for gardens.  Some are whimsical.  Others are accurate to a specific shape and color of a kind of fish.  These French made steel sardine garden stakes have a sleek and contemporary look. They represent in the abstract the rhythm and sparkle of a school of fish in water. Rob has used these in contemporary container arrangements to great effect.

The vintage containers on this shelf have a decidedly modern feel.

This grill bears no resemblance to the Weber of my childhood. Contemporary fixtures for kitchens have been around a good while.  It is so great to see them becoming available for the outdoor kitchen. This Ofyr grill uses wood as a source of heat, and the top rim is a cooking surface as well as the grate.

This collection of grape gathering baskets have quite a history, but attached to a wall and planted in an architectural way, they could be a welcome addition to a contemporary garden.

This contemporary version of birds on a wire come from the same French company that makes our sardine stakes. They come with one, two, or three birds wide at the top. Oh the possibilities, for a contemporary garden maker.

Spring, Detroit Garden Works Style

Rob decides when we will have spring. Ha. He knows just like every other gardener that the arrival of spring is attended by many false starts and deceptive signs. And at just that moment when you feel you might black out from the last of the miserable weather, nature switches on the light. But when you have a shop devoted to fine, entertaining, antique, vintage, contemporary and irresistible ornament for the gardening season to come, you do what makes sense. You pick a date, and be ready.  We go on hiatus mid January to fix up, repaint and restyle. March 1 is our first day of spring. Containers from Europe jostle their way in between a steady stream of freight shipments from all over the US. The spring collection takes weeks to display. Rarely do we dot the last i and cross the last t in time, but we are ready for company.
Nature takes her own sweet time deciding when to finally pull the plug on winter. Nature is the queen of false starts. The change of the season-a big fluid situation.  Every gardener I know stays tuned in to that station. We are having bitterly and unseasonably cold temperatures this week. But Rob says spring is here, and we believe him. Not to mention all of our clients that have braved the cold to come in anyway, and shop.  We have a greenhouse chock full of gorgeously grown hellebores in bloom. David and Karen took a trip south in February to load up plants from a number of growers. They are perfectly happy in flower in our greenhouse at 50 degrees. Their blooms are a sure sign that early spring is nigh. They handle the cold and blustery March and April weather with aplomb. Until it is safe to plant outdoors, they are perfectly happy on a sunny window sill.

A room full of hellebores does more for the winter weary spirit than anything we can think of. So our spring opening is marked by the coming of the hellebores. But a look at Rob’s spring collection is a close second. As I have been arranging what he has purchased for weeks, I know what is there. The best part of this work is watching someone see it for the first time. For those that read my essays that are too far away to experience our spring collection, I took pictures.

The dovecotes and bird houses are English made in a classical English style, and are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes.

The skylight environment is home to plenty of pots that Rob has planted up featuring hellebores, cyclamen, primula denticulata and obconica, and the Barnhaven series of double primrose.

A new collection of lead sculpture and fountains and English stone spheres are kept company with a group of classical urns in stone and iron.

Three English handmade and hand painted pears would be terrific on a covered porch. Iron urns stuffed with faux grasses are destined for spring pots.

I did have to spring for a vase chock full of ranunculus for our opening.  How so?  Hellebores are a member of the family ranunculaceae .

White tulips seemed appropriate for a room that features more contemporary garden ornament.

This stack of stainless steel drawers is just waiting for that gardener who has a mind to make them a feature of a contemporary garden. The very large pots are vintage fiberglass. The swallows welded to a 1/4″ thick steel rod come in a five foot, and 11 foot length. Birds on a wire. They are fabricated in France, and come with the mounting hardware.

We paired round mirrors with garlands comprised of heavy duty fish line and stainless steel spheres. The chartreuse faux grass is a welcome punch of spring color.

The French company Perigot is known for their iconic buckets. These buckets, available in three sizes, are perfect for a wide range of uses, but I am most fond of the shape, and that beautiful chrome surface. It was a project, hanging them from our ceiling.  They are so heavy that we had to thread concrete wire through galvanized pipe to provide a hanging mechanism that would not bow from the weight. The Belgian made teak tables come in four sizes. The zinc framed mirror is a very strong design, and is well made to a fault.

Vintage zinc grape gathering baskets are a favorite of Rob’s.  We have a beautiful collection of them on hand. The smallest of the Perigot buckets look great stuffed with faux grasses. The miniature white painted metal butterflies only require a small nail to hang.

These wood presentation trays are a perennial favorite with our clients.  Fashioned from vintage French wine barrel tops and hand forged iron handles by a company in the US, they speak to the idea of the garden as a place to entertain.  Our better than life size vintage fiberglass cow came with a name.  Rob named her Lucy, after a French dealer who was not so interested in letting her go. Rob’s first clue? She was situated in a thriving bed of stinging nettles. How he persuaded Lucy to part with this incredible sculpture is beyond me.  How Lucy and her husband got her out of the nettles is unknown to me too.

But we are very happy to have her.  This is an example of an ornament for the garden that is eminently capable of organizing an entire landscape around her watchful eye. Lucy has an aura. I did fill a collection of spherical vases whose spouts are set on an angle with white stock. Lucy had a fragrant meadow at her feet for our opening.

Vintage English chimney pots and milk buckets have beautiful shapes and surfaces.

Big baskets woven from thick rattan have a great texture, size, and presence.

Pardon this poor picture! Serviceable English made bootscrapers are a contrast in form to the hedgehog bootscrapers. Both are made by the same company. If dirty boots are a way of life for you, we have choices.

Danish designed pots made in Italy-these are beautiful. The creamy peach color of the clay is beautiful.

This is just part of Rob’s collection from his shop fest in England. The vintage bootscraper with a stout stone base and rusted iron scraping mechanism-a one of a kind.

These locust wood casks are made in Belgium. They come in four sizes.  Impervious to weather or rot from water, they invite any gardener to plant away. For now they are home to a collection of English made iron garden stakes in various sizes set with glass globes at the top. I predict we will not have these for long.

The orange table and chairs are manufactured in Portugal.

Though the winter weather still has all of us in its grip, there is a taste of spring available at the shop.

cut pussy willow stems for spring pots

strikingly beautiful and tall fan willow

Yes, the spring branches have snow at the base of their pots. They are weathering this late winter blast as I expected. They shrug it off. We can too.