Still Sleeping

stillsleeping1stillsleeping2stillsleeping3Nothing in a northern landscape wants to come out of hibernation, and find itself face to face with a gardener, mucking about. Tromping on saturated soil drives the air out of it, and makes for footprint- shaped slabs difficult to break up later. Plant roots need air, and drainage, among other things-so keep off. Likewise, keep your fingers off, and your pruners and rake in the shed. Better yet, build a shed for your rake-it will keep you busy long enough for a proper day for gardening to finally arrive. Should someone else maintain your property for you, be sure they don’t come too early.  Nothing looks more forlorn than a garden bereft of all its natural winter coverage in an April snowstorm, windstorm, ice storm, or any of a thousand other kinds of storms common to transitional weather.  Wait; you will know when the light turns green.


spring_05_9spring2Today spring seems like a highly overrated season.  As much as I relish the chance to write about the idea of renewal, second chances, opportunity, and new beginnings, spring in the Midwest generally stinks, and regularly fails to deliver.  Sane science would point to persistent and predictable years of late freezes, regularly cold temperatures in March and April, ice storms, a winter’s worth of trash in the yard that the winter snow mercifully hid. One could black out from it.  The worst day of winter arrives here in March, and that worst day continues relentlessly way into April.

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Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage speaks to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years.  This speaks a lot to the value of nurturing long term commitments.  I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park.    Needless to say, the years flew by, one project to the next.  I have favorite projects.  A collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant.  A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later.  Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new grass.  I learned how to operate a bulldozer,  I so wanted to be an intimate part of the sculpting of the ground.  There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm.  Deterring deer was nearly a full time job.  Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new.

Vernissage means beginning, or opening-this has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I expect the winter season to turn to spring,  as it always does.  But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Last year’s spring was notable for its icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground.  This year, a different kind of drama altogether. My first sign of spring was the birds singing, early in the morning.  It was a bit of a shock, realizing how long it had been since I had heard the birds.  Why the break of my winter this year is about hearing the singing-who knows.  Maybe I am listening for the first time, or maybe I am hearing for the first time.  Every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently.  To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship.

Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea.  I put it to paper.  I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back.  It is my most important work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there.   The weather, the placement and planting final exam tests my knowledge and skill.   The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure.  The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature.  I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery.  I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution seems to have a clearly defined beginning, and no end.

But no matter what the last season dished out, I get my spring.  I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, renew.  The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock.  Start new.

I can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can stake what the heavy snow crushed.  Spring can mean opening-the opening of the garden.  Later, I can celebrate the shade. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, move, and renovate.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound like a life? I can hear the birds now; louder.

Vernissage. Think of it.  Spring



Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986.  She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996.  In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media.  Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983.   A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design.  Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design.  Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener.  She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.