Home For The Garden Cruise

Our 11th annual Garden Cruise this past Sunday July 15 was a success in a number of ways.  We sold a record 405 tickets, and hosted 150 people at Detroit Garden Works for our after tour bites and beverage reception. The fine dining part of that reception was engineered and presented by Toni Sova, the chef in chief of Nostimo Kitchen. Her idea to serve Froses- frozen rose cocktails –  was a big hit, considering the temperature was hovering around 90 degrees. A client who owns Argent Tape and Label sponsored that reception-thank you Lynn and Fred.  The Erb Foundation had pledged to match funds raised from ticket sales up to 10,000.00 I am happy to say we were eligible for the entire amount.  A generous donor wrote a check for 5000.00, meaning we raised 32,600.00 for the Greening of Detroit this year. A record. I am very pleased indeed to have sponsored an 11th tour. I am a member of the Board of the Greening, but I never go to their meetings. My contribution to them is to raise money for their projects, as they plant trees in our city. They teach people how to make things grow. Their garden at Lafayette Park is a vegetable garden that produces many hundreds of pounds of produce that is sold at the Eastern Market, or donated to those in need. It feels good, being a fund raising arm of an agency that benefits our city.  Will there be a tour in 2019-yes.

I have put my own house and garden on tour for all 11 cruises. That has become fairly stress free over the years. I the early years I fretted about every detail. But it became obvious that visitor gardeners were simply appreciative that I took the time and trouble to garden, and invite people to see it.  Visitors to my garden have seen all kinds of things that are not perfectly lovely, and some things that are downright bad looking. I have never had a tour visitor point those things out to me, or ask me what I had in mind to fix them. The 2014 tour, coming on the heels of a bitterly cold winter in 2013-14 that damaged boxwood and killed back roses, was taken by gardeners who had similar troubles of their own at home. What was to talk about? Every gardener had wreckage at home. Inevitably, some plants or spots are not at their best on tour.No stress, being on tour? I have a small and unruly perennial garden that looks its best later in the summer. The hardy hibiscus, phlox, platycodon and bear’s britches begin to bloom at the end of July. The roses will have a smaller flush then. On the tour, that garden is a tall tangle of green with not much going on to recommend it, but no one seems to mind. I also have a company that maintains my landscape. They do the worry and the work of making it presentable. My yard is what it is. Better some years than others.  I like to enjoy the tour too.  It is the one summer day I spend at home, and I want to relax and enjoy that day.

However, I do fret about my pots. People who have taken the tour multiple times like to see how I have done my container plantings. I do like to do them differently every year, with some sort of point of view in mind.  I might be interested in exploring a certain color scheme, or maybe texture is the organizing metaphor. Sometimes I will take a fancy to a certain plant, or a leaf size, and a scheme gets a life from there. In April, I start to think about what direction I might like to take. Well, April was bitter cold this year.  Unbelievably, we had snow on the ground for most of the month. My hellebores were buried in the remains of the snow until well in to May. I was not thinking about planting summer pots.

In mid May, the temperatures zoomed into the 80’s and 90’s. We were scrambling to plant our customers pots as quickly and efficiently as we could. The reality that it was spring was overcome by an emotional certainty that the summer had arrived to empty pots. Add a little anxiety to the process of planting pots in very hot weather makes for a planting season that takes even more focus and concentration than usual.  I wasn’t thinking about my pots at home then either.

My landscape super finally told me in June that maybe I need to at least get the pots out of the garage. Perhaps that would help push the process along a little. I went along with his suggestion. So for weeks I was looking at empty pots, and still having no thoughts about what to put in them. Fortunately, inspiration finally decided to make an appearance.  A client who would be on tour had asked me several years ago to plant birch trees in a pair of very large planters.  Amazingly they survived the winter. After under planting them with a mostly green and white annual scheme, I decided I really liked the look. Trees in pots?  Why not?

So I decided to forego annual and tropical plants in my pots in favor of trees, shrubs and perennials. At last, a decision. But the real work of it was to come. I still had plenty of landscape work to do, so David did all of the shopping. He is a great choice for that, primarily because he is as good a hort head as anyone I know, and he loves shopping for plants.  He also has the patience to text pictures and talk to me on the phone. But neither one of us really anticipated how difficult and time consuming this would prove to be. Planting the Japanese maple in a large terracotta pot on the driveway was easy. It had spent the last 2 summers in that pot. However, it did take 3 people to dig it out of the nursery and lift it up into the pot. The two large Branch pots on the driveway would also get trees.

Suffice it to say we looked at a lot of trees. David found a pair of black gums -nyssa sylvatica – that featured a full head of leaves, and root balls small enough to fit in a 30″ diameter pot. That shopping trip involved 3 nurseries, and plenty of conversation.

David and I were talking non stop for better than 3 days about the plants for the pots. Of course none of the plants I used were available at the shop. It was vastly more work to pick the plant material, as the size of the root balls was as big a concern as the plant itself.

birch and carex

Do I like my pots planted with trees, shrubs and perennials? Oh yes, I do. I am actually surprised how much I like them.


Planting shrubs and perennials in my containers brought the landscape onto my deck. Though I was certain none of the plants would grow, they have. Maybe they have just settled down into their environment. The planting seems appropriate and natural to a Michigan garden environment.  Almost everyone was curious about what I would do with the plants come the end of the season. I will plant the trees and shrubs at my landscape yard-we have 7 acres of land there. The perennials in ground in the driveway I will leave, and see if they winter over. Perhaps that hort head who was so instrumental in getting these pots planted before the tour will take some of the plants home to his own garden. A good bit of the fun of planting containers is the opportunity to do it differently every year-so all of these plants will need to find good homes. And for those of you who are too far away to have taken our tour, I hope you enjoy all of the pictures.

tour morning



  1. Christy Ohlmann says

    Thank you so much for sharing your lovely gardens. I, someday will get to attend the garden tour I hope. While I’m only 2-3 hrs. away it’s a long way for me !! All your gardens are beautifully done and I’m sure even more stunning in person….maybe some day. So happy for the amount you were able to donate to such a good cause for revitalizing Detroit. Accolades to you.

  2. good morning Deborah. being Monday, I should be hitting the books but saw this post and had to stop, and linger, enjoying your words and images. my lack of oomph this morning is due to readying & hosting a garden walk at my home last weekend, not nearly as clever as yours by a mile!
    love the purpose of the cruise, and all the successes, kudos to all. your garden is lovely, and vastly interesting, but your pots! I too love seeing what you do differently from afar. this years compositions are compelling.
    on a side note, a woman from Detroit came to my walk, and we spoke of you, and my desire to come someday, she of course raved. I was sharing our similarities; our name, career, no children, cardigan corgi’s, and now Bergere P’s. I told her how mine was in training to be a shop dog, and had an “incident”…… he is banished, she shared Rob’s story. we must meet

  3. Lynn Taggart says

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for letting us peek into your garden and your process. I am especially delighted by the pictures of your deck, with its enormous variety of pot shapes, sizes, and textures, all unified by the soft terra cotta colors.

  4. nella davis ray says

    Loving the Allium Millenium in the container. I will have to try that next year. Glad to hear that you’ve already committed to Cruise 2019.


    What a special thing you do. It’s a beautiful thing when people with gifts give back to their community. If more people did imagine the world we would live in. Thanks for the post. Will start my work week off right after being away for two weeks! Time to get back to the dirt.

  6. Your containers are lovely. I really enjoy the use of trees! Glad that inspiration finally struck.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for showing us your garden tour! I love trees and shrubs in containers. It is a classic! Some light color flowers with greenery is perfect! I live in eastern NC so my trees and shrubs stay in cast iron urns year round. The only problem I have is squirrels digging the soil out to plant a nut…..errr…always putting soil back in urns. Do you know a solution to keep squirrels out?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, I do not know how to scare off squirrels-I never see them on my deck. best, Deborah


      Years back I had squirrel problems and someone recommended using moth balls. Just remember if you are going to be doing any entertaining hold back as the fragrance does permeate the area.

  8. Your trees in pots really look lovely and your patio dining area filled with beautiful plantings and pots must make dining there very special. The garden cruise is a great initiative and so successful. Greening the community is an outstanding cause. All communities should commit to this. I collect Japanese maple trees, Korean fir and various deer resistant pines.. I have had to reduce all other plantings due to a big deer problem. (Basically, I was feeding the deer.) Are there any trees that would survive Winter in large pots in Massachusetts? I would love to put some trees in pots on my patio. As always, thank you for the inspiration.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I would hesitate to recommend anything,as getting trees to live in pots over a winter is hard. Amelanchiers are reputed to be pot hardy, but I have no idea what conditions you have, or the size of your pots. Bigger is certainly better. You might be better off to cut some holes in your terrace, and plant them in the ground. best regards, Deborah

  9. Michaele Anderson says

    I love your use of the trees and perennials in your containers this year. It communicates a relaxed elegance and sophistication and creates a very welcoming ambiance. I would say that the hand of some unavoidable procrastination served you well.

  10. Amy Lent says

    I have always planted shrubs and small trees in pots. Boxwoods, weigela, bay, and smallish evergreens like dwarf thuja. Surprisingly, even in coastal Maine where I live, many of them overwinter in the pots for several years at a time. The only one I bring inside is the bay tree; some years I drag the boxwoods inside the garage. Otherwise, I plant them somewhere, give them away, or treat them as an annual.

  11. carol stahnke says

    Hi been reading your post for 6 mo now love it. I live in mn zone 4 and I have been growing aborvite (sp) in pots for yeas I buy then at about 2ft and it is now 6ft. This summer I bought a dogwood for about $14.00 and trying it in a pot and I let these plants outside all winter .So far I have been lucky.

  12. Julie Brooks says

    Deborah- thank you for sharing your yard with all of us! We drove up from Columbus, Ohio and this was our first time. It definitely won’t be our last! We look forward to seein the ‘Corgi corner’ next year.
    It was such a pleasure to visit with you.
    I’m still trying to figure out where I can put your ‘walking’ pond on my property.
    It was a lovely day and thank you for greening up our world.

  13. janet hopper says

    Wish I could have gone. Unlucky me will keep wishing and dreaming of better days to come our way.

  14. janet hopper says

    WOW such beautiful flowers and gardens.

  15. Ann Hackett says

    I looked forward to your cruise for weeks! It didn’t disappoint. Driving down from Traverse City was well worth the time. There was a wonderful variety of design, style and plantings. It is special now to know what your own landscape looks like having seen it in person. The posts of your personal terrain and pots will be all the more interesting. Upon exiting the front yard, my daughter and I caught sight of some tall thin stems with pale pink/lavender blooms. They were planted in some troughs, I believe. What were those plants? Thank you for all the good work you do.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ann, my front troughs are planted with lime green nicotiana alata. And nicotiana mutabilis.I so love both of these plants! best regards. Deborah

  16. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Oh yes, I love it! What an impact. Better than straggly annuals that seem to show this time of year. Your pots themselves are art to behold. Well done!
    Your city is blessed to have you as an advocate. Well done once again!

  17. Marguerite says

    Dear Deborah, thank you for sharing all this loveliness with those of us who live far away. Your community is so lucky to have you as a member who contributes so much to its beauty in every way. I hope you will let us know the date of Garden Cruise 2019 well in advance as I would like to try to make a pilgrimage next year from CT. Your home garden looked terrific and I loved Milo chilling in the shade and the green duck on the table. I especially loved the long low planter in front of your center door on the deck. Was that a baby umbrella pine in the center? What were the pretty variegated plants in the front? I so love that planting combination. Thank you again for sharing this Sincerely, Marguerite

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, the conifer in that planter is Sciadopitys verticillata, or Japanese umbrella pine. Planted with it is variegated Jacob’s ladder-polemonium “Stairway to Heaven”. We will do a cruise in 2019-the third Sunday in July. best regards, Deborah

  18. In a way I like this best of al you’ve shown us in the last five yearsl. By toning down what’s in the pots you give us a look beyond, to what lies behind – both physically and spiritually.

    Perhaps something only a Californian would say. Sending qi;).

  19. Jennifer Taylor says

    Dear Deborah,
    I postponed opening this post until today because I wanted to open it when I had time to savor it. Memories of touring your garden during the 2017 Cruise have stuck with me all year, so I was looking forward to touring it again, if only through your words and photos. It sure was worth the wait! These photos are fantastic. What a treat. I love the story about finally getting the pots out of the garage and finally being inspired about what to do with them this year. Your garden is a rich, dreamy, artful, special place — very reflective of its very special owner. I hope to see you in 2019. All my best.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, I am always happy to hear from you. Truth be told, I did look at those empty pots for weeks, before my crew finally insisted that they get them out. Hooray for them-I am enjoying them so much now. all the best, Deborah

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