6:56 AM

Rob’s plane headed for Paris took off from Detroit at 3:30 yesterday.  At 6:56 am our time, he was about to land in the south of France. This picture-via his iPhone. This view of the coastline-magnifique.  I am sure he has plans for the rest of the day that do not include sleep.  Shopping like this is not for the faint of heart.  His very first buying trip to France in 1993 he managed without a phone, or any help from a computer or a Garmin.  I think he was in France for 3 days before he found a phone he could use to call me.  The connection was so poor all I got from the conversation was that he was in France, and ok. 

The trip was loosely planned around what I read in books, and what I could glean from French design magazines.  There was so little information readily available pertaining to European sources of ornament for the garden, that these early trips were as much about exploration as they were about buying.  He had dinner with what he could find at a gas station, and hoped to find lodging when it got dark.  In his 3 weeks overseas, I may have talked to him two or three times.  I knew next to nothing about what he bought, until the container was delivered, and opened.  That first collection-stunning.

There would be pictures, once he got home, and his 35mm film could be developed.  Many of them related to his experience and exploration of the French landscape.  He travelled extensively, absorbing as much as he could of what he saw.  Garden ornament represents the culture, environment and landscape from which it comes.   

There are other stories from those early trips.  It was a month later that he told me he was lost in the Swiss Alps in the middle of the night, trying to drive from Italy to France.  There were almost no road signs, and the major road had a large tunnel that was permanently closed;  it had collapsed.  This he did not discover until he was 100 feet from the tunnel entrance.  He saw no one else travelling that night; somehow he managed to get to France. Like I said, he is an explorer of a very special sort.

As poor as our clues were, Rob took the situation in hand once he was there.  There were poteries producing garden pots the likes of which I had never seen, save in Cote Sud, the French magazine.  Once there were names and places put to the few pictures we had seen, he was ready to shop.  That he spoke not one word of French, he did fine.  Rob has a way of making friends first, and doing business later. 

Though the landscape and culture of France is very different than ours, the history of their gardens is very much part of the language of ours. Gardeners value that history.  A garden table of age and presence such as this one can organize an entire garden. If you are an afficianado of classical landscape, a table such as this would enchant your eye.   

There are many poteries in the south of France, each producing its pots with native clay, and distinctively regional designs.  Many of the poteries have been producing pots for hundreds of years.  Ancient gardens were very much about utility.  Olive trees and citrus were grown in pots, not to mention  herbs.  Olive jars were just that; containers for olive oil.  But the French have a way of endowing the every day business of living with great beauty and style.   

At this end of this first trip to France, Rob did manage to reach me by phone.  He was interested in a sculpture which had been exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1883.  The cast iron sculpture came with a stone pedestal that had been hand carved especially for the sculpture.  It was breathtaking in more than one way.  The purchase of this sculpture would take more than half of our entire budget.  When he told me that, I hung up on him.  Three days later he called back, did I wish to speak to the dealer about the provenance of the piece?  Needless to say, he persuaded me to buy the sculpture.  It took 3 years to find a buyer, but the three years it sat just inside the front door of the shop said everything about our point of view about the landscape.  It was a defining purchase in a lot of ways.  

Not everything he bought would be that costly, but shopping overseas, and shipping from Europe is complicated and expensive.  These French pots are handmade, not made by machine.  They had to be crated prior to shipping.  That became part of the price.  Lots of things enable Rob to shop more efficiently now.  Making beautiful things available to keen gardeners is a passion of Rob’s; visiting the shop makes that clear.  

I have no idea what Rob will speak for; this is what he does, and he does a beautiful job it. I have nothing to add to this, except my interest and support. I do not experience the shop how my clients do; I come here every day, and have done so for 15 years. I have worked with him for almost 20 years now.  But when he leaves on a European shopping trip, I look at what is already here with fresh appreciation, and great anticipation for what he will bring to the shop next.

Small Spaces


The dowager queen French vase from yesterday’s post has a home waiting for her-but not the home I expected.  An object of this size would need an even bigger space, wouldn’t you think?  What evolved was anything but.    

My clients bought a house that had never really been finished.  The landscape was much the same; unfinished.  My client referred to the property on the side of the house as “the music room mulch garden”.  It was bleak.  This very small space functioned as a transition space between the front of the property, and the rear-a sheer 8′ foot drop in grade. A boulder retaining wall at grade barely visible in this picture was punctuated by a staircase down with 16 stone steps-maybe more.  This left the area with an edge that was in fact a precipice.  At the base of the precipice, multiple air conditioning units, and a collection of meters apparent in this picture.     

My first design, they flat out rejected; I had missed some important information. My first design did not take into account that they spent their summers at a home on the East Coast.  OK, my plan for a cutting garden and whatever went with that was way off the mark.  Plan 2-a landscape that would function and look beautiful early and late, and especially over the winter.  A small landscaped area that would have big impact. A healthy hedge of Thuja Nigra sporting one lone out of place Thuja Pyramidalis was a starting point.  

Three linden espaliers of great age would form a backdrop to this small garden.  The green wall they would provide would take up little space, and would screen the clunky boulders and grade changes from view.  Enclosing a small space makes for a feeling of intimacy.  And the room would need some furnishing.  

Three linden espaliers, each about 10 feet wide, completely covered the back.  It would be up to my client to decide whether to maintain the horizontal pattern of the branches, or let the the twiggy growth make a solid wall of leaves. Green velvet boxwood organizes the ground plane.  The precipitous drop to the rear yard is shielded from view by a hedge of Thuja Nigra that matched the hedge already in place on the street side.  Flat and safe spaces are friendly to people. As for the mulch pile we had scraped up-that would be used to mulch the new plantings.  

Decomposed granite walkways make it easy to navigate the space. The color is easy on the eye, but provides strong contrast to the green elements.  There is no reason a small space cannot be a lively and interesting space.

A simple arrangement of plant material and gravel finishes the landscaping portion of the project.  Now what? 

From inside the house, a generously proportioned bench makes the space look inviting. The placement of the bench implies there will be something of interest to see.  I thought that old French vase might be just the thing.  

The colors of each compliment one another. The placement of a large element in a small space can be dramatic.

The view from the bench side is in scale with the size of the house.   Should I plant very tall? Short and wide? With what? It will take some time and thought to get the planting just right.