Putting Together A Collection

Creating and arranging a collection is a passion known to many, not just gardeners.  Even the most hard line minimalist collects their empty spaces as if empty spaces were on the endangered list; yes?  Gardeners collect seeds, tools, hellebore cultivars, rocks, birdfeeders, trees-you get the idea.  I have amassed a collection of books in the past 25 years that must number over a thousand volumes by now. It is a long standing coherent collection documenting my adventures as a gardener. Putting together and arranging a coherent collection for my shop is a big part of being able to advise people about how to design their gardens. 

Every year’s collection for Detroit Garden Works is different.  It might be based on one particular object whose size, surface, shape or style or aura proves to be a magnet for Rob’s attention.  Alternately, his  basis for a collection might be triggered by a place he has visited or an idea that’s surfacing.  We made a conscious effort to shop the US for antique, vintage and new things a few years ago.  Thus the collection always has a strong American element. An organizing metaphor-we like these. His point of view about what is beautiful is a catalyst for a constellation of pots, sculpture, prints, garden furnishings, fountains-any object which might evoke a little magic for a garden.   

These clay cylinders are all about what Rob calls a chamaeleon surface. In addition to their gritty texture, the color changes given the light.  After last night’s rain, the color was saturated and rich-different than their dry color.  Mineral surfaces exploring color and texture such as this will be friendly to no end of different kinds of plants. Pots of simple shapes makes the color and texture the most important element.  These pots will take on the atmosphere of its placement, and plants, and play a serious supporting role in big visual scheme of things.  

These rectangles made from thin slabs of volcanic rock are close in color, shape and size to these oval galvanized tubs.  Their differences give the eye a workout.  I am seeing his idea become tangible.   A collection of objects of simple and varied shapes distinguished by their interesting surfaces are what I would call a visual variation on a theme.    

A pair of very old and fine American urns and pedestals dating from the early twentieth century focuses my attention on their shape and surface-and away from a historical label.  In another context, I would see them as very traditional American garden ornament.  In Rob’s context, kept company by a family I would not have imagined, I am looking at them in a different way.  The impossibly wide and low shape of the urns, the simple swirls indented in the pedestals-I am thinking about the universality of beautiful objects for gardens-never mind their age, period, or label.     

Volcanic rock in its natural state-this I am used to seeing.  Volcanic rock slices are a product of modern technology.  I have not seen this before.  The intersection of ancient materials transformed by modern technology-Rob has gotten my interest. This I admire about him so much; he posits lots of questions to whomever might be interested- without fanfare.  He assumes that gardeners are a group in touch with the physical world, and provides them beautiful choices.  Alternative choices.  

This Austin and Sealey sculpture from  19th century England was minutes from being moved as I took this picture. I liked the old hand carved stone backed up by a contemporary Belgian elm barrel-why would I go there?  I am looking at shapes and surfaces without regard to the sentiment of a given period-many thanks to Rob.  It is the best of what I have to offer as a designer-a gardeners point of view, without any predicatable baggage.

A major reconfiguration of the shop is a major effort.  We do this every spring.  Spaces get emptied, cleaned-raked and ready to redo and live new- a dream come true.  Every new gardening season warrants new thinking-we try to oblige. The driveway is congested with things from this show or that, that source or this vintage shop in Virginia-if you have an interest in how Rob spent his winter, come and look around.

I do not have to do that much work to figure out where Rob is going; not really.  No one could possibly love their I-phone as much as he does. The internet/photo capability of that phone has set him free.   I get indundated by the photographs he takes-everywhere he goes.  client’s homes.  trips.  vacations-ok, busman’s holidays.  buying expeditions.  random thoughts. By the time the winter is coming to a close, I have a huge photographic record of his collecting.  He prints and posts the pictures he has sent me on a big wall in the workroom.  I have advance warning.  But this does not truly prepare me for what gets unloaded here in the spring .  The evidence and impact of his collecting-it will take me a season to absorb.


  1. Those clay cylinders are fantastic. I was already envisioning what you could design with them, just at first glance. 🙂

  2. your container options are wonderful! you both have great eyes and appreciation for the objects. tom

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