The Big House

A Michigan spring is a big fluid situation. We have cold days and cold nights. We have hot days and freezing nights. Every day is a new weather drama, with a new cast of characters. We have a glass roof over one room inside Detroit Garden Works. Once we start buying in seasonal and tropical plants, it feels like a little house. During those cold spells, we jam no end of cold intolerant plants under that glass roof, to keep them happy. For years we have moved seasonal plants in and out of our garage, given the night time temperature forecast. That in and out is a a huge chore. So late last winter we made arrangements to purchase a big house for our plants.  A 60′ long by 30′ wide gothic styled house that would put all of our seasonal plants under cover. The house got delivered on a flatbed truck.  Seeing the boxes and pieces on the ground made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This is a greenhouse?

Of course I asked Buck to take the lead. He was reluctant to take on the big house, but he did. The worst part of getting it aloft was the fact that we could not dig into the ground to set the posts. I suspect this part of our property was formerly a road bed. It was full of asphalt, big rocks, and giant pieces of concrete. It took a week, 4 people, and a jackhammer to dig all of the holes for the posts. The landscape crew took on that thankless job, day after day. The Branch crew saw to setting every post in concrete in a perfectly vertical position. This may sound easy, but it is not. I have never seen so many levels and so many measuring tapes in one place in my life.

Once the posts were set, we were ready to set the ribs aloft. We had willow branches in the way that had to be cut, and a lots of work to be done in the airspace. The willow that had to be pruned back provided material for a tool the Branch fabricators needed. I will say this tool took my breath away. I like simple solutions.

One person on the ground held the rib in the proper position with the willow tool, so the person on the ladder could bolt the support bars in place. The greenhouse came with directions that were very unclear. Given that this was Branch’s first greenhouse, they proceeded cautiously. But once the ribs were set, the structure was rock solid.

I had no idea how a 2000 square foot piece of 6 mil plastic would go over the house, and be secured, but it turned out to be fairly simple.  We had to wait for a windless day, with no rain. Apparently wet plastic is very difficult to slide over the ribs.  After laying out the plastic next to the house, ropes were secured to the edge of the plastic with the help of small rocks. Rocks? The plastic was bunched up over a rock, much like the paper wrapper over a tootsie roll pop, and then secured with rope. Of course it is done this way. The plastic would slip through a loop of rope, no matter how tight it was tied. The rock secured the plastic to the rope. This is how greenhouse people do it. Ingenious.
Each rope was thrown over the top of the house, and handed off to a person on the other side.

8 rope pullers and two wrinkle reliever people made quick work of getting this giant piece of plastic over the top. The plastic keeps heat in the house, and wind, rain, hail and other weather events off the plants.

Once the plastic was in place, it was secured on both sides in a channel with a locking cap that runs the entire length of the house. This was a very cold day. Instantly it seemed warmer inside the house than out. Seasonal plants hail from tropical climates.  They dislike cold temperatures, and cold soil even more. In mid May, the best place for annual plants is under cover.  Planted out in our cold soil too soon, they sit there. Inside, they grow.

The short ends of the house are rigid polycarbonate panels. We will install the polycarbonate sliding doors later.  Right now, the house is open to promote good air circulation, and to permit carts to come and go.

The final layer over top of the house is a shade cloth. It blocks 40 percent of the sun coming through the plastic.  This will keep the house much cooler when the weather gets hot.  This means less stress to the plants that are in small pots. And a more comfortable place for people to look at plants. The long sides have separate plastic panels that roll up, so when its warm, some of the heat is able to escape.

We are by no means a business specializing in seasonal plants. Nor are we a nursery specializing in trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers for the landscape. We specialize in pots, tools, ornament, sculptures, fountains, furniture and interesting objects for gardens.  Rob sees to making the Works a place friendly and engaging to those people who garden. And those people for whom the beauty of a garden is a way of life. Those objects around which a garden or landscape can be organized is just a part of the equation. Of course we treasure the plants, especially plants that can be grown in containers.


It seems fitting and reasonable to have a plant house. What I had not planned on was how much I would enjoy it. Thank you Branch for putting up a big house.



At A Glance: Blooming


Detroit Garden Works is ablaze with blooming plants-mostly of the annual and tropical variety. We do offer specimen boxwoods, dwarf apple trees, fig trees, blueberries, and espaliers.  But the blooming plants get a lot of attention.  Blooming lantana and abutilon standards.  Great ferns.  Bay laurel standards.   We had lots of gardeners shopping for plants.  The weather seems to have warmed up, and the danger of a killing frost seems behind us.  Good gardeners are planning and shopping.  Though the daytime temperature was a brisk 68 degrees, there was something in the air.  Sturdy and healthy plants coming in to bloom made the shop come to life. Our life revolves around the plants.

canna-yellow-punch.jpgYellow Punch canna has the most delightfully clear yellow blooms atop a large growing plant.  Said plant is handsomely endowed with large dark green leaves. Yellow Punch canna is aptly named.  They look great with the King Tut papyrus set in close proximity.  Most certainly, we arrange our plants with good design in mind.

dwarf-fuchsia.jpgMiniature fuchsia flowers are dainty and complex.  This pink bicolor version is sweet.  Paired with pale pink nicotiana – very sweet. The newer varieties of fuchsia tolerate hot weather.  Look to them to brighten a shady spot.

Venus-dogwood.jpgThese blooms of from a Venus dogwood I have at home.  The flowers are every bit of 7 inches across.  They are just coming in to full bloom.  A cross between the pacific coast dogwood, cornus nuttallii,  and cornus kousa, this tree blooms it heart out. It is hardier than either of its parents, and grows lustily in full sun.  I plant them every chance I get.

planted-clay-pots.jpgWe plant lots of annual pots at the shop.  As soon as we have a group available, they are gone.  The early summer blooming is irresistible.  The dirt under my nails and on my hands will survive for another 5 weeks.  How great is this?

oregano-Kent-Beauty.jpgThe ornamental oregano Kent Beauty  is tough to grow, early on.  Professional growers shy away from it.  It looks lame in a 4″ pot.  Once it is planted, it thrives.  The foliage and flowers never fail to attract attention.  Have a planting planned for sun and dryer conditions?  This oregano is a beauty.

sky-blue-cathedral-salvia.jpgThe Cathedral salvias have my attention this spring.  They have substantial flower heads in a variety of enchanting colors. Having never been a fan of victoria blue salvia, I am giving this plant a second look.

cleome-spirit.jpgIt is not the best move, buying annual plants in bloom.  Flowering annuals in flats will take to transplanting reluctantly.  If I plant flats, I plant green only.  This is why I carry few flats of flowers.  The soil mass of a 4 inch pot buys a little time.  Time for you to organize your planting scheme.  Time for the grower to realize their investment.  The late spring season is really short.  The time and expense getting ready for a spring season-enormous.  The health and vigor of the annual flowers, at the mercy of the weather.  Of this, I am sure.  If you grow for a living, you have a very hard and demanding job.  If you garden, you have a lot of work on your hands.  The spirit dwarf cleomes have all the blooming beauty of the species, less the size.  Look this cleome over.  The blooms are so beautiful.

bok-choy-blooming.jpgThis planting with bok choy is about to go down.  The pansies are unhappy about the heat.  Alyssum is a supporting cast plant that will at best need to be cut back after a flush of bloom.  At worst, alyssum will rot and die out  with too much rain.  But the main issue here is a vegetable bolting.  Cool weather vegetables will go to seed, once the weather gets really warm.  Should you grow vegetables to eat, the vegetable flowers are not of much interest. The food value aside, this blooming container is really beautiful right now.

orange-begonias.jpgThe begonias love the hot weather.  They also love a prudent and reserved waterer.  Their blooms are breathtaking.  They are so worth learning how to grow.  We have them in our greenhouse still.  They do not love so much the transition from spring into summer.  They are summer born and bred.  Once we have really warm weather, try them.

agapanthus.jpgAgapanthus is not native to our zone.  But we sell them, anyways.  The form, that blue, so enchanting.  They are not so hard to winter over, in a garage.  Jut about every blooming is a garden is ephemeral. The annual plants-they soldier on.  I love them for this.

cathedral-salvia.jpgSo many things are blooming now.  The alliums.  The early clematis.  The scilla hispanica.  The bearded iris and the poppies.  The azaleas and rhododendrons.  The horseradish.  The early annual plants. The nepeta.  It’s an early summer bloom fest.  My delphiniums and roses are budding.  Are you not in gardener’s heaven?  I am.


At A Glance: Memorial Day Weekend

We did start our container plantings last week-tentatively.  I was not planting coleus, begonias, lantana, basil, sweet potato vine, caladiums, angelonia, and a whole host of other plants with zero tolerance for cold.  Just two days ago, the temperature at 5:30 am-34 degrees. whoa.  A friend at the farmer’s market told me she lost half her field of summer cut flowers that she had already planted.  What a heartache.  But Erma Wiegand, one of the group of brothers and sisters that own Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb told me 6 weeks ago that the possibility of frost in our area was a real possibility, until the May full moon.  The May full moon?  Two days ago.  She has the heart and skill of a farmer-and she was dead to right.  The weather this spring has had my back-I do not like to plant containers too early.

lavender-bacopa.jpgCold soil is bad for tropical plants, and annual plants native to warmer climates. I drag my feet, getting going, until it seems like the weather is really warming up. I am happy getting the container planting going on come Memorial Day-it is the right time for our zone.  Memorial Day is a national holiday, as well it should be.  But we have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time.  We were working.  Lots of people came into the shop today-they are planting too.  There is a special and particular spirit attached to every holiday.  Memorial Day weekend-a favorite of mine.  We honor the troops.  We hope for the future, and plant.

container-planting.jpgWe were not at the shop-we were on the road, planting. In the background, a fan palm underplanted with Wasabi coleus.  The white streptocarpus with a purple throat will be added on the edge tomorrow.  In the foreground, a pot located in a patch of sun.  White mandevillea, lime nicotiana alata, creeping jenny, and silverberry petunias.

tropical-ferns.jpgBroad leaved bird’s nest fern, lemon cypress, and angelina.  I am still thinking about what to do in the front/center.  Do I leave blank spaces if I am not sure what I want to do?  Yes.

summer-planting.jpgan asymmetrical planting of angelonia, Millet Jester, silverberry petunia, supertunia lilac and scaevola.

white-caladiums.jpgKentia palm with white caladiums

pink-mandevillea.jpgPink mandevillea with Cathedral salvia in 2 colors, and white angelonia.  The little pot-mystic spires salvia surrounded by scaevola.  Angie at the helm.

summer-planting.jpgA twisted trunk hibiscus belonging to my client is underplanted with millet Jester, red Caliente geraniums and lilac supertunias.

container-planting.jpgRed mandevillea, red zonal geraniums, millet Jester, and misty lilac wave petunias.  In the background, Cathedral dark blue salvia, euphorbia Diamond Frost, white supertunias, and red potunias

\apple-espalier.jpgsky blue petunias under an apple espalier

laqvender-and-lime.jpgpurple and lime green

annual-planting.jpgplanting for summer

lime-and-purple.jpgWasabi coleus and scaevola

variegated-boxwood.jpga variegated boxwood sphere, lime and green plectranthus, and lime licorice.  This planting will come from behind, and be really good by the end of July.

end-of-the-day.jpgAngie plants-but she is also in charge of the numbers.  Her clipboard has her name on it-everyone knows that they touch that clipboard at their peril.  Angie, Rafael, Lucio, Matt, Amparo, Owen and I planted a lot of plants this weekend.  It feels good to get started.

The Super Nova Stage

In 1996, I had a shop devoted to fine and fabulous objects for the garden- newly opened for business.  Of course I had lots of ideas, not the least of which was a scheme for a landscape out front. Gravel paths, and a slew of buxus koreana from Canada.  Marv Wiegand gave me 6 months to pay for these boxwood-this was a huge help to a business just underway.  This 1997 view of the shop-the word gawky comes to mind.   

This past week tells a different, more recent story about the shop garden.  The years of work show.  Time is a enormously important design element in the landscape.  You may be able to cut in line other places , but any landscape needs some age to represent well.  Some new landscapes may be charming and bright at first-this is a super nova stage.  But how they look fifteen years later tells the design tale.  Great landscapes are about the long vision, and faithful maintenance.         

 Unlike a landscape, annual pots are a celebration of a single season.  They start with small plants that take hold slowly-the spring weather in Michigan can be cold and unfriendly to plants native to tropical climates.  It seems as though every plant is the same size, no matter whether it will eventually stay small, or grow 6 feet tall.  New plantings are almost always out of scale with the container. 

This same pot in late September is just about as good as it will get.  The fall equinox-tomorrow.  Cold nights will have an adverse effect on the coleus and sweet potato vine.  But just before the cold weather begins to bring the annual season to a close, the plants seem to take on a robust appearance.  Perhaps the cooler weather, or the sun lower in the sky, makes the color appear more saturated.  

In any event, the annual season is brief and sweet. It takes no time at all to find out whether an experiment in color and form is satisfying-or not.  Better yet, there is a new season ahead-for those containers that need a better idea.

This is my best effort ever in these two small pots.  It took years to figure out one simple thing.  Large growing plants do not prosper in smaller pots.  Plants that mature at a size proportional to the size of the container put on the best show. 

I am always pushing that size restriction with these two urns.  One year I grew nicotiana mutabilis in them-hilarious, the outcome. Last year’s coleus-much too big a grower for the volume of soil in this pot. 

Today the plantings are as lush as they will ever be.  That lush look compliments the urns without overpowering them. The succulent in the front never grew large enough to obscure that Italian goat face.   

This Tuscan square was vastly larger than its plantings in June.  The steel plant climber that keeps the red mandevillea aloft is a major feature.

Yesterday, the lemon grass was every bit of 7 feet wide-all this from 4 4″ pots planted the first week of June.  I have taken lots of pictures of all of my pots this summer-I like keeping a record of how they do.  But I will not photograph this one again.  This is as good as it gets. 

3 6″ pots of swallowtail coleus were planted in this pot.  It’s a bushel basket full of green and yellow highly textured leaves today.

This pot might be my favorite of the year.  The plectranthus is falling over from the weight of its branches.  The variegated miscanthus grass in the center is emerging in a way I never anticipated.  The community which resulted from my planting is courtesy of mother nature. 

I am very much enjoying this moment.