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


Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers 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.

vernissage.jpgIn 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,  and 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.  This past winter was the coldest, snowiest and most miserable I ever remember.  It just about reduced my spirit to a puddle on the ground.  Spring is not so close to being here yet, even though it is April 1.  But I see the signs.

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.


This spring will see more than anyone’s fair share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs.  The winter was that bad. 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, and renew my membership.  The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock.  And get started.

vernissage-4.jpgI 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.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden.  Later, I can celebrate the shade.  I can sit in the sun, and soak it up. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder.
April 8 2013 (9)
Today also marks 22 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  We are celebrating our 22nd spring.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention that reflects the length and the depth of that relationship. Vernissage.  We are thinking about spring.




  1. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart..

  2. Starr Foster says

    I love the word “vernissage,” which rolls off the tongue and sounds so, well, French. Congrats to you and Rob on your 22 years! It’s always been a pleasure to see what new and beautiful plants and accessories you come up with.

    I have enjoyed reading your blogs all winter and not really minding this winter so much as you. I enjoyed the chance to read and to get inside chores done. But the past 2 weeks I have been going stir-crazy, hemmed in along the front of our house by the mountains of snow, which impeded our view from both outside and in our home, and ice everywhere we want to walk. The last 2 days we have been able finally to start to clean up outside. Also my snowdrops, winter aconite and crocus are all up and blooming. Life is good!

  3. Missy Grenell says

    Thank you, Deborah, for the reminder that we can compost our mistakes. All is not lost!

  4. “Vernissage”–a wonderful word. I am struck by how consistent and edifying your voice has been throughout the 5 years you have been treating all of us to your observations and advice. Thank you.

  5. A lovely story…thank you for sharing! Happy fifth anniversary on your blog! Happy 22 years with Rob! Gardening is a wonderful path in life. I really enjoy all your post very much. We are well into spring here…and our unusually cold winter, nothing compared to yours, has brought beautiful flowers from our plants that love a bit of cold.

  6. This morning. I received my first issue of the year of ‘Michigan Gardener’ and noticed right away your column on spring pots. What a great way to begin the nicest spring day so far this year in central Michigan. Hope you will be writing in future issues……you are the best!

  7. Congratulations..You make a wonderful team!

  8. Reading your blog posts has made the winter a little bit more bearable! I look forward to many more! Thanks!!

  9. Randy Cone says

    I absolutely love you, discovering you a year ago ,I think I have read and have seen everything you have put on the internet.I truly feel that I know you, I love the way you put plants and words together.I am far north in Alberta, I was through Detroit several years ago.You have a way of brightening my days always leaving me with a smile. I can barely wait to see what you and Rob have come up with this spring .With great success I copied Robs Selaginella surrounding different ferns last season. I also used several flowers in my mixed planters that I had not considered until I saw how beautiful they could be . ( your mixed planters). Debra you are a gift and one of a kind,so generous with your talent ,such an inspiration. Thank you Randy

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Randy, I appreciate your letter-thank you. It will be great to get back to gardening after this long winter. We have had a few 50 degree days-what a pleasure! Best, Deborah

  10. Jo Ann Marsh says

    This has been my first season to follow your blog, though I have been coming to the Garden Works for a while. Thanks for getting me through the long winter with your vision, words, and photos. A move is planned…leaving a yard for a small patio will be a huge adjustment for me, but following you will make it more bearable. Pot planters–that’s my plan. I’m looking forward with hope.
    All my very best.

  11. Kathe Koja says

    May we all compost our transgressions, and allow the new to flourish! So beautifully said. Thanks for this, and for hearing the birds.

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