Sunday Opinion: Until It Hurts

rosemary-topiaries.jpgGarden?  Landscape?  These are single words which describe what I call a big fluid situation.  A landscape and garden design is utterly dependent on a series of conditions that is not always so easy to make sense of.  A design I love may not enchant a client.  A tree, shrub, or perennial may not like my placement-contrary to my best and experienced effort.  The plan I have in mind for a spot in my garden may fail for 100 reasons-all of those reasons may be good reasons. The perennial of my dreams may not like any of 10 different locations in my yard.  A vicious winter can kill marginally hardy plants a gardener has worked so hard to establish.  A tree can succumb to fire blight, girdling roots, or old age.  A planting scheme for pots can peter out the end of July.  What has taken 20 or 200 years to grow can be lost in an instant in a storm.

French-glazed-pots.jpgEvery gardener knows what it means to give to their garden until it hurts. The planning, the buying, the planting, the tending- may be for naught.  My internist told me once that a great doctor needed to be a good scientist.  But really great doctors are gifted diagnosticians.  They review every test, every measurement, every symptom, and make a decision about what is fueling the problem.  Diagnosis is as much an art as a science.  I am a middling gardening diagnostician.  Given that, I have had to learn when it is a good idea to let go.  Or try again.  Or sleep on it.  I do not have a laboratory.  I just have a garden.  But giving to anything until it hurts has very special rewards.  Every gardener knows this.

potted-rosemarys.jpgI agreed some months ago to donate centerpieces for a fundraiser for Mott’s Childrens Hospital in Ann Arbor.  The Event on Main, a fundraiser established to raise money for the CS Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospitals, an affliliate and member of the University of Michigan Hospital system, has raised over 1 million dollars to support building and research in just the past 3 years. This fundraiser targeted the U of M food allergy center.  This is the largest center of its kind which provides both clinical care and research into food allergies that afflict children. Ann Arbor based interior designer Jane Wood, a client of the store, and a member of the design committee, asked if I would donate 26 centerpieces for this event.

Our primary community event is the garden tour we sponsor to benefit the summer employment programs of the Greening of Detroit.  But I felt that we could lend a hand to Jane’s project.  We potted up 26 gorgeous rosemary topiaries in a variety of sizes of French glazed terra cotta pots.  The invitation was designed and printed in white, gray, and pale yellow.  I knew the tent would be large.  I knew our French glazed pots in pale yellow and green, planted with rosemary topiaries would look good.  A portion of Main Street in Ann Arbor would be closed for the evening for this event.  Angie, Olga and I got all of the pots planted up, the rosemaries staked, and tied up with raffia.

A van operated by a volunteer driver arrived at noon the day of the event. Scott helped pack all of the pots in boxes with reams of bubble wrap.  We loaded the van, and sent it on its way.  We did not want any accidents in transport. Jane wrote me a day later about the centerpieces.  She was not expecting the level at which we contributed.  I told her that gardeners have an instinct to give to the garden, any garden project, until it hurts.  We committed to helping her, so we did.  Just like we commit all of the energy and experience we have to the garden.  The CS Mott Children’s and Women’s hospital at U of M may not mean much-until you need them.  Should you need them, a lot of private individuals in Ann Arbor gave their all to make them available to you.  We were happy to help-that part felt really good.  Interested in more information about the Event on Main?


  1. Your generosity is only outdone by your never ending creative talent. These are so beautifully done, they had to be the talk of the event. There was no hurting in this gardening effort, all for such a good cause. Kudos to you and your staff!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Elvera, the point at which it hurts is different for everyone. I have seen people take a worn dollar bill out of their wallet at the holidays for the Salvation Army. That dollar means a lot. We tried to do the best possible thing we could do-and we are all the better for it. Giving feels really good. Thanks, Deborah

  2. Mackenzie Carpenter says

    As I work to establish a small new garden after bidding farewell to my beloved old one after a divorce, your blog steadies me and makes me feel I’m not alone. I may not be a landscape designer/architect, but your common sense advice is guiding me as I try to make sense of the small square space behind my new little house and in front of it.
    Thank you!

  3. completely lovely! Beautiful!
    and it made ME feel good!!



  4. Your work is beautiful and reflects a creative and loving heart! As a home gardener in Ottawa,Ontario,Canada, I always look forward to your photos and commentary on your current observations and undertakings. My garden brings me great joy and it’s wonderful to read your thoughts on the beauty available to us all around in the garden if we only have eyes to see! Your generosity is reflected not only in the beautiful donation to a worthy cause shown above but also in the sharing of your creative life and talent as a landscape designer. Thank you, Deborah!

  5. Beautiful post and so inspiring!
    I’ve struggled for 13 years in the desert southwest to figure out a garden that works — one that isn’t just wild cactus but figuring out (an ongoing task!) a design that has low water requirements. Beautiful pots make all the difference. And I’ve gotten so many ideas from your blog.
    Also, thanks so much for highlighting the need to support medical research. There are so many different ways we all can contribute.

  6. They look fantastic! The CS Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospitals are very lucky to have such beautiful pieces and I hope they raise tons of money, Thanks for sharing!

  7. I’m still trying to figure out what will and won’t work in my garden here in Indiana. I’m learning as I go that’s for sure! I love your centerpieces and plan on doing something similar for my front porch. Thanks for the wonderful idea!

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