Green, please.

A client with whom I have had a relationship spanning many years-how can I describe her point of view about the landscape?  She was never interested in showy, always in stately.  Her color palette-quiet.  She oversees an amazing collection of old yews, and older trees. Her landscape, gardens, and containers clearly reflect her understated taste. Many years ago I added touches of pale pink, blue and lavender-and of course the white.   

In recent years her taste has evolved such that I plant her containers with green plants of all different textures and habits. I store her collection of green topiary plants every winter; many have considerable age.  The agave of hers pictured above is many years old.  We plant it in a Bulbeck lead egg cup every year.  Each and every one of her garden containers have a history of note.  It took no small amount of time to put that collection together. Her plants-a collection of considerable age. 

This years annual planting of course involved the planting out of her topiary collection. The underplanting this year-green, more green, white and grey.  The triple ball eugenia topiary pictured above on the left I underplanted with parsley.  The Bulbeck egg cup-a king Tut papyrus, and white nicotiana alata.  The lead square is home to a cardoon, and some blue pencil succulents. 

The thriple ball eugenia on the shady side of the terrace gets a ruff of ferns.  The big Belgian oak box-a mass of farfugium.  The small lead square-a mass of white datura and variegated sage.  The empty Bulbeck egg cup-waiting for the old agave.

White datura-spectacular.  Though every part of the plant is poisonous, I plant it whenever I can-with strong instruction.  When you touch this plant to deadhead it, wash your hands afterwards.  Gardening is all about the work-is it not?   The underplanting of this double white petunia-this I like.  They grow long and lanky-I am hoping for sideways growth under the datura.  The pairing of simple white datura flowers with ultra double white petunia flowers-this is my idea of an interesting conversation. 

These old eugenias-I will need to replace them next year. In an effort to keep the grime off the painted porch floor, we replanted them, and underplanted them with lime selaginella on a tarp.  A dirty business, gardening.  No small amount of what I do is to be efficient about the cleanup.    

We planted the playhouse for the first time this year.  White nicotiana, white Christmas caladiums, white polka dot plant, white impatiens.  As this area is some distance from the rear terrace, I called for lots of white.  White-what it does I could write a book about-but not this week.  Ask me later.  White reads beautifully from a distance.  My idea here is to connect the playhouse visually with the rear terrace-so lots of the white that will bring the two spaces closer. A second pair of triple ball eugenia topiaries flank the front door.  I try never to treat a space on autopilot.  So many shady annual plantings- routine.  Who needs routine? 

We have big boxes to plant, and small containers to plant.  Each and every pot may have its planting, but the existing landscape, the relationship of the big planter boxes to the small containers-everything needs to work with the neighbor. My idea-be friendly.    

These single ball eugenia topiaries are but 2 years old.  I am pleased about how they are coming along.  I underplanted them with white new guinea impatiens; come August, these pots should be more than beautiful.  Patience-you and I know all about this.  My client-she knows about patience better than anyone else I have ever met. 

The long troughs planted thickly with lavender-they will be incredibly beautiful with some time. The walls we built to enclose the terrace have a considerable space to plant-on top.  My work is not so much about the actual, physical work.  It is much more about the evolution, the building, the communication and interaction.  When I wake up in the middle of the night anxious-it is not about her.   My green please client-she is a keeper.


  1. What elegant plantings, and what a great client. I wish I lived near Detroit so I could apprentice with you – I feel I have learned so much from reading this blog! So, do you have a giant space at Detroit Garden Works to store topiaries and the like during the winter months? I’m interested in how the process works…..

    Thanks again for my daily dose of garden inspiration. Do you have any words of wisdom about hanging baskets? I’m so tired of the plastic hanging basket filled with one plant. I’m thinking Victoria, Canada…..I’m thinking Deborah Silver style.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Trish, we store topiaries at the greenhouse that custom grows a lot of our annual material. It is a hibernating storage-around 40 degrees-not a growing storage.
      I am not so crazy about plants in the air-but if I had to, I would get some big iron baskets, line them with chicken wire first, and then florists moss, and plant at least three different kinds of plants, if not 6. As in blue wave petunias, scaevola, and variegated licorice-this cound have Lanai white trailing verbena, euphorbia diamond frost and heliotrope added to it. I tend to use things that like to be on the dry side, as baskets dry out so fast. My grower wants me to design his basket combos for next year-I know I will like that project. Deborah

  2. Nancy LaMotte says

    You are beyond inspiring. Here it is, 12:05 PM and I just can’t quite shut it down without reading your blog. I long for the warm days and cool nights you enjoy, bt I wouldn’t trade for the 30 days of misery we call winter. Thanks for endless inspiring blogs… you make my day, over and over.

  3. Deborah: Thanks for the idea for a hanging basket. I have a friend with a front porch that is just begging for some gorgeous hanging baskets. They completely fit the heritage house on a lovely block in Chicago. I’ll do a blog post about it when I’m done so you can see how you’ve inspired me to (hopefully) greatness! And thanks for the info on offsite storage. I’m going to have to check and see if my local garden shop offers such a service.

  4. Jennifer in Toronto says

    That was AMAZING. The creativity in the choice of plant material, the beauty of the site, the elegance of the planting vessels – WOW.

  5. marybeth says

    I have been reading your blog for a while now just trying to learn a thing or two. In this post behind the agave plant is a row of trees or shrubs I have been trying to figure out what they are with no luck. Could you tell me? Thanks for all the lovely images and what I can only imagine must be such hard work.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary Beth, you are seeing a row of Limelight hydrangeas-which will bloom late in July. Deborah

  6. marybeth says

    Thanks so much for the response. I just love this property so much. You and your client have such wonderful ideas and taste.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mary Beth, My client believes that I understand her taste, and that it is first and foremost on my mind to represent that. Her confidence in me, and my response to that confidence makes for a design relationship that is a solid one. This is why it is so important to find a designer you feel confident in. It is just as important to walk away from a designer about whom you have misgivings-before there is any time or money betweeen you. The walking away-not rude. Just good sense. I have been very fortunate to have her as a client. Deborah

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