Vernissage 2017

Eight years ago, on April 1 of 2009, I published my very first Dirt Simple blog post, appropriately entitled “Vernissage”. As much as it was the ordinary beginning of my gardening season, it was a very special beginning of my writing a journal style blog focused on garden and landscape design. To date I have published 1560 essays. Some are good, some are OK. Some are fun, and others I hope are challenging. You decide. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of organizing my thoughts, and writing them down in some in some coherent form. Every moment that I have spent photographing gardens, landscape projects, and plants for this column has been time in the garden that has made me slow down, and observe.  More recently, my posts are longer, and more detailed-and fewer. I write when I think I have something to say. To follow is a revisited, rethought, and revised version of my first post in 2009, annotated in 2010, 2012, 2014,2015, and 2016.

Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word 23 years ago from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years. She is an art collector. Our conversation over the years spoke to the value of nurturing long term interests and 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 the disposition of every square foot of her 8 acre park. The years flew by, from one project to the next.  I had favorite projects. An edited collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th and early 20th century was exciting to research and plant. A grove of magnolia denudata “Ivory Chalice” came a few years later. Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and regrassed. I learned how to operate a bulldozer, I so wanted to be an intimate and hands on 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 became nearly a full time job. Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new. All those years later, there is a body of work generated by the two of us that I call the landscape – that living and breathing discussion about nature that draws every gardener closer to the knowledge that life is equal parts mystery and miracle.

She sold this property 7 years ago.  Change comes sooner or later to people and gardens alike. The landscape of her new and much smaller property was and needed to be designed by her. That new landscape was all about letting go of what had brought her so much pleasure, and embracing the challenge posed by beginning anew.

In a broader sense, vernissage does refer to a beginning- any opening. The opening of the gardening season has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does. Every spring opening has its distinctive features. Some springs are notable for their icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground-this is not so unusual. Snow can be very much a part of the landscape in mid April.  This year, a different kind of no-drama altogether. A very warm February, and then a stony March cold we have yet to shake. Loading trucks this morning for our first spring container planting job, the temperature was 37 degrees.

I usually associate spring with the singing of the birds. I hardly noticed the singing this year, until this past week. The cold that has been reluctant to leave means there has been much more anticipation than experience.  I see the signs now. The snowdrops are in bloom, as are the crocus. The magnolia stellata is still silent. Perhaps there will be no flowers this year, but perhaps there will. To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature is a challenge I usually anticipate. It has been hard to rev up. The last of this persistent cold just about reduces my spirit to a puddle on the ground. A client suggested yesterday that February had been steady at 60 degrees, and March seemed to last 60 days. How well said!  Spring is finally within sight, in a chilly and miserly sort of way. Everywhere I see fat buds, waiting for that signal to proceed.

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. This is the most important part of my 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 years or more-the recovery. I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution of a garden seems to have ill defined beginnings, and no end.

VERNISSAGE (4)This spring will see an average share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs. The winter cold and wind was neither here nor there. I am still wearing warm clothes. But no matter what the last season dished out, sooner or later, 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 interest. The birds singing this second day of April l means it is time to take stock.

I can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can coax or 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. A week ago I removed 100 Hicks yews that have been in my garden for close to 20 years.  They have been ailing for years in a way that defied any remedy. Now what?  I can sit in the early spring sun, and soak up the possibilities. 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?

April 1 marked 25 years that Rob and I began working together, and 21 years that the shop has been bringing our version of the garden to all manner of interested gardeners. That relationship endures, and evolves.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention from the two of us that reflects the length and the depth of our mutual interest in the garden. In 1996, our shop was a one of a kind. We plan to keep it that way. No matter how hard the winter, once we smell spring in the air, we stir. Rob’s 2017 collection of hellebores and topiary plants is a delight to the gardening eye.

We have begun to plant up spring pots.  What a relief to put our hands back in the dirt. Being outside today without a winter coat- divine. The thought that the entire gardening season is dead ahead is a very special kind of gardeners delight. Vernissage? By this I mean spring.





  1. Mary of Geneva, IL says

    You. Have a blog to book idea. Work it. Well done.

  2. Linda Gallinatti says

    Your postings are inspirational and motivational! I am ready to visit the nurseries for Spring potting.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Linda, shopping the nurseries in the spring is the best fresh moment. all the best, Deborah

  3. jeanne durfee says

    We have 3 feet of snow on the ground here in Maine. I plan on spending every dollar I have to purchase every flower and shrub that catches my fancy when the snow is out. I can hardly wait to smell the soil.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jeanne, 3 feet of snow on the ground right now would just about finish me off. You very northern gardeners impress me with your buoyancy. And your determination. I understand spending every spare dollar on the garden-we share that. all the best, Deborah

  4. Among your many fabulous posts, this is your Best. Ever.

    “… the landscape — that living and breathing discussion about nature that draws every gardener to the knowledge that life is equal parts mystery and miracle.”

    That sentence, alone, took my breath away.

    Thank you for sharing your countless talents so generously, and count me among the many who will be in line to buy your book when it’s published.

    Congratulations to you and Rob on 25 years!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Anne, we will see about a book. I like that a blog journal has no rules. Rob and I together 25 years-we both are happy about that. A little history never hurt any relationship, or any garden. I think we will keep on. best, Deborah

  5. I have enjoyed and learned from your postings from the beginning. Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Tom, My sincere thanks that have been reading from the beginning. I appreciate it. best, Deborah

  6. I so agree! Spring is such a time of new beginnings and embracing the season! I love your posts and am continually encouraged and inspired by them, and even though my garden space is much more humble than most of your fabulous photos, I love every square foot of it and love its never ending evolution and challenge! Bring on spring and garden season!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carol, every garden, no matter the size, has a gardener in charge so keen for spring. I am with you. Bring on the spring. best, Deborah

  7. cynthia woodyard says

    Wow, so well said! So true! Thank you for saying this so very well for many of us ‘long in the tooth’ in gardening and garden design!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cynthia, It has been my privilege 50 times to be at this moment – spring’s Eve. I can say this year is just as exciting, maybe more so, than the first year. best, Deborah

  8. “Then I wait for an answer back.” Oh, the joy of anticipation. Thanks for your informative and lovely thoughts, I always look forward to reading them.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Chris,one never knows what the answer back will be. But the anticipation is intense, isn’t it? Thanks for writing. I appreciate it. best, Deborah

  9. Well written, and a good read. I am happy to say that I had the opportunity to share some of this gardening history with you. I too am looking forward to spring! Keep planting, and growing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Eddie, we do have some history, don’t we? We share a big love for the garden. all the best, Deborah

  10. It love love love your blog! Every word you write, I drink in. I’m so ready to get out in the garden, and get my fingers In the morning soil! Thank you you for all you beautifuly written posts and great photos. You make us think about the possibilities we have never thought about!! It’s ok to change the vista! Come on spring! Thank you Deborah and Rob for all your sharing of your talents!

  11. congrats on all your anniversary’s and thank you for starting your blog!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear CC, when I worry that I have not written in a while, I remind myself that there are 1500 essays already published. I am amazred and pleased that so many people who read go back to read what is in the archives. best, Deborah

  12. What is the name of the blue flowering plant that is shown in the 4th from the last slide?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Allison, that is a violet. I think it hitched a ride with a perennial I bought. Many people think they are weeds; I like them. best, Deborah

  13. Roger Boeve says

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your blog. I hope you continue writing for many more years. Thanks

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Roger, thanks for taking the trouble to write. I have no plans to quit writing. all the best, Deborah

  14. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Congrats on your blogaversary. I found your blog only this year. It has been a pleasure to read all you care to write. this time of year is truly the time when my gardening juices really ramp up. So fine to step out and not be knocked back by bitter weather with only the thoughts of projects and flowers to come.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, the end of winter is so much more aggravating than the beginning. The end seems to go on forever. And once spring gets here, it goes too fast. In my next life, I will have a winter job. best, Deborah

  15. Rob Beebe says

    These were the words that captured me as a fan forever: “Spring will scoop me up. Does this not sound good?”
    It sure sounds good to me. Save me a place!
    Gracias, y muy bien.

  16. Donna McKittrick says

    Congrats on yours and Rob’s 25 year anniversary! I just celebrated my 30 year anniversary at my job.
    When I check my e-mails and see yours, I automatically go to yours first and take in every word and every picture.
    Just love your blog!
    Never thought of visiting Detroit before seeing your yummy shop, but now Detroit is on my bucket list!
    I live and garden in Victoria, B.C. Canada, home of Butchard Gardens.
    Spring is arriving here at last as it has been a cold winter here on the West Coast.
    Thank you!

  17. Janice sisson says

    Déborah, i look forward to your posts and very much enjoy soaking up your wisdom for gardening. Question…I live in Windsor, when is the best time to transplant Endless Summer Hydrangeas? They need to be moved into a shadier location in my yard.

  18. Amy Reese says

    I always look forward to your posts. I particularly enjoy your honesty about the process of garden making – success or try-again. They reassure me that I am not alone in my business or in my thoughts! Thank you for writing!! I hope someday to visit your shop.

  19. Always enjoy your perspective and knowledge. As ever, thank you for sharing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diana, I enjoy the writing. And the fact that there will be much to write about soon. best, Deborah

  20. Ty Thornhill says

    What a great post, thank you Debora. Happy Spring to you and everyone at Detroit Garden Works

    Ty from St. Louis, MO

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ty, happy spring to you too. We are ready for some fresh news from the garden. best, Deborah

  21. Nanci Kallaus says

    I stumbled onto your blog completely by accident. Since I do not usually follow any blogs, I consider this find serendipitous! I enjoy how you put your thoughts and heart into words. Your postings have informed me, made be smile, and helped stretch my imagination when it comes to my garden. Thank you so very much!!!

  22. dan mcaskin says

    As always my favorite day is when you post to your blog…..thank you for keeping me well connected to the Michigan gardening seasons. I am anxious to see what you create with the opportunity those yews gave you. Please say hello to Rob and Gary for me!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dan, Ha! I have been fretting for a week about what to do now. I look at it at least twice a day. best, Deborah

  23. I so love to read your blog posts! Although my gardening space is slim compared to yours, I can always learn something from what you’ve written. Spring has arrived in Maryland and I look forward to what pleasure my garden will bring to me this year! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Enjoyed reading your post. You express yourself so well. I have not yet gotten to Detroit Garden Works this Spring, will do so soon. Hope you will have some Hellebores left for me to enjoy.
    The third photo in this post shows beds with ground cover. Do you remember what it is? It looks wonderful and I am considering decreasing my lawn area and making deeper beds using ground cover.I live on a sand ridge and will be installing irrigation.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lenore, that ground cover is nothing fancy, but pachysandra is vigorous and forgiving of all manner of insults. I am a fan. best, Deborah

  25. Garden Outdoors says

    What a great post, thank you Deborah…

  26. Candice Hill says

    Lovely!!!!! 🙂

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