Sunday Opinion: Vernissage

Three years ago today, April 1, 2009,  I published my first post. To follow is a reprint of that post, entitled “Vernissage”.


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.  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.        

In a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening.  This has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely 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 ice coated and 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 with nature.

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 client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in.  The weather, the placement and planting final exam test 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 beginnings, 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


The client I spoke of in this post April 1 of 2009 is moving to a new house, a much smaller property the end of this month.  Her passion for one garden is coming to a close.  A new garden is waiting.  No spring that came before will be quite like this one.Though I have published 987 essays in 3 years, the most important one is the next one.  And the next one after that.  Today also marks 20 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention that reflects that relationship.  Vernissage?  This 20th anniversary is most assuredly a spring moment.  The both of us, in concert, and individually,  have plans for the next twenty.  Yes we do.


  1. Congratulations, Deborah!

    Three years online, with your words of wisdom and reflection, along with your stunning photos- you have much to be proud of.

    And Detroit Garden Works- dare I say it must be one of the best in the country?

    I am lucky to have discovered Dirt Simple.

    • Deborah Silver says

      many thanks Ann. Hopefully a few of those posts and a few of those pictures amount to something-as in, encouraging people to garden. I can’t tell what the shop is-I am not very detached in that regard! But we make a sincere effort. I published some pictures of the renovation of the store 1995-1996 on the shop’s facebook page today. I am glad I am not dealing with that now! But who knows what we might decide to build next. I am lucky you read Dirt Simple-that fact is what keeps me writing. Deborah

  2. Congratulations. Yes, you do inspire. I am inspired by you to try more containers this year. I love to garden but find containers challenging. The ones you do are so beautiful and unique. I hope to use yours as a model. Thank for taking the time to post so often.

  3. That was a beautiful post. Onward and Upward!

  4. Deborah,
    First, congratulations to you and Rob! I don’t know either of you personally, yet from the way you eloquently describe and depict your complementary points of view and skill sets, yours appears a business relationship many only dream of. Not perfect maybe, but close. And by the way, thanks for letting us get to know both of you, even if from a distance, through your 987 — and counting — essays. You feel like friends to so many of us.

    Second, your comment, “hopefully a few of those posts and a few of those pictures amount to something – as in encouraging gardeners to garden”. Oh my, do you ever! That and SO much more. You open up lines of communication and stir interest and excitement you aren’t even aware of. I live in TX, my sister in Michigan. We are both avid readers, yet novice though willing, gardeners. Would you dare to guess how many phone or email conversations we’ve started with, “did you read Debborah today?” Let’s just say we’re both trying Limelights as but one small example of your inspiration, encouragement and coaching.

    We “silent readers” and “non-commenters” don’t tell you often enough what a blessing you are to us. Please know how much we appreciate what you create and execute and so generously share. And of how much we look forward to the next 20 years!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Anne, thank you so much for this letter! I am looking forward to the next 20 too. Deborah

  5. Thanks for reprinting this. I am a more recent reader and, though I’ve gone back through many posts, I guess I did not go this far. Congrats on the anniversary and I hope your client is excited. It’s hard to leave a beautiful landscape behind but there is something to be said for starting over — and smaller. We only have half an acre and somedays it feels like too much; other days like not enough.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Linda, I go hot and cold on everything in my garden-just about daily. But I cannot imagine being without it. Sounds like you feel the same way. This was a big anniversary for me-it was plenty of fun to sort through the memories, and think about what comes next. Thanks for reading, Deborah

  6. Thomas Hobbs says

    I have found my kindred spirit in you – I just know it. I love your writing, your posts and your entire gesture of retail and design. If we weren’t so far apart, I know we would be BFF’s.
    I’ve never been to Detroit- I have to admit that until you showed me your beautiful area and client’s gorgeous gardens and homes I would have been very afraid to ever go there ! Too much watching of ‘COPS’ I guess.
    I own/operate Southlands Nursery in Vancouver, BC. and we have a similar product range and taste. Like you, if I don’t like it, we don’t have it.
    Thanks for being my ‘go to’ read when I am hiding in the office at work !

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Tom, Just a little more than a year ago, I wrote a Sunday Opinion post about you I can assure you that my feeling for you and what you have accomplished with your nursery, garden design and gardening life has enchanted me since I first saw the article about Southlands in Gardens Illustrated 9 years ago. I so hope one day to get there. Thank you so much for this letter-I treasure it. Your long distance BFF, Deborah

  7. This is my favorite Sunday opinion of yours that I’ve read. Just lovely. Congrats on 20 years and yes, 20 more please!

    This is my go-to site for garden inspiration and I can’t thank you enough for bringing it to your readers.

    In fact, with the early spring, I’m already starting to think about containers and, as you know, I love all your containers. I was wondering about your process for containers … are you already planning what you’ll do for containers this year, or is that something you’ve long ago started and have a notebook full of ideas on? I know in the past you’ve been inspired by a particular color or plant; is there something new striking your fancy this year?

Leave a Comment