Archives for March 2015

March 29, 1996

Detroit Garden Works opening 1996
It was nineteen years ago tonight since Rob and I were hosting an opening party for GazonUA and Company’s new venture-Detroit Garden Works. My landscape design/build firm, GazonUA and Company, was founded in 1986- 10 years before this special moment.  Though the vast majority of my landscape design works since 1986 revolved around the sculpture of the ground and the horticulture involved in designing landscapes and gardens, I felt like a certain element was missing.  An interest in art and sculpture meant I had an interest in ornament in the garden. What do I mean by ornament for the garden?  Any object which represents an important memory, a point of view about what is beautiful or emotionally important, which can imbue a landscape, or a portion a landscape with atmosphere.  A landscape with atmosphere is all I would ever hope to create.   Though I was keen to include this layer in my landscape design, precious little was available.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 Rob joined the landscape company in 1992, after completing his degree in landscape architecture at Michigan State University. It became clear early on that his landscape design work was austere, low key, and unpretentious.  Years later, he knows how to mix up and make believable a certain deliberately casual and subtle look better than anyone else I have ever known. He is a champion of a sparse look that always hovers just over and on the right side of weedy. That early mix of modernism and mess confounded me, and drove me crazy. No design project of his ever came to a definitive close. Clients wanting direction that had parameters in mind got his tinkering with no boundaries. How did we resolve those early years, co-designing ?  He had a romance going on with the garden like no other person I had ever met. I reserved judgment. This is one of the better decisions I have ever made. I truly admired his point of view. That commitment took me a long way. The idea that we would open a shop devoted to fine quality ornament for the garden was an idea we shared.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionIn the fall of 1992, Rob had a winter trip planned to Czechoslovakia to ski.  I financed a side trip, a very casual and weedy trip, to scout European ornament for the garden.  I should say that I am an advocate of art in the garden, and I was trying to push that idea along.  And that my definition of art in the garden is very broad. Skillfully placed garden ornament can imbue, even organize a landscape with meaning. An antique garden ornament saturates the immediate environment with a sense of another time and place –  history.  Vintage farm troughs recall that time when agriculture was so much a part of life.  Vintage ornament of an agricultural history satisfies that longing for connection.  Contemporary sculpture in the garden can evoke an appreciation of form, mass, and texture in a very direct and abstracted way. I wanted the perfect bench, the most striking container, and topiary forms that would work while they were being beautiful-for my landscapes. I knew that Rob would take this on.  Now, Rob buys for Detroit Garden Works.  He attends the flea markets, fairs and factories. He has relationships with garden antique dealers, both in the US and abroad. He makes it a point to meet the people who make things for gardens.  He gives them the time and space to speak to their craft. What eventually makes its way to Detroit Garden Works in the spring of each year is a very carefully but subtly curated collection that is painted with a very broad  and soft brush.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionA few clients from the first supported my interest in beautiful ornament for the garden.  One client bought a pair of hand made Italian terra cotta pots from Mital for his front porch. They came from Italy on a pallet, and got delivered to a commercial address down the road. Another bought a collection of hand made French glazed pots-on my say so.  That faith was all about a serious and mutual romance for the landscape.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionThis past September, Rob made his 22nd trip to Europe on my watch- to shop for the Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection.  In that smallest of European countries, England, he managed to put 4000 miles in just about 30 days on his rental car.  He showed up for one antique show after another. He shopped antique dealers specializing in vintage and antique ornament for the garden.  He visited small artisanal companies manufacturing this or that for the garden. He haunted flea markets. His 2015 collection for Detroit Garden Works is broad and deep.  He can be moved-by the old, the vintage, and the new. He can also be moved on a lark -these ornaments come with humor and charm shot through them.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collectionHis shopping is always about the stories of the people.  The antiques dealers with a long history of collecting.  The people whose pottery who is still making pots going on two hundred years later. The artisan who is creating their own special brand of ornament. The dealer who has taken the time to make very fine quality reproductions of classic garden ornament.  The armillary maker whose attention to the science, physics, and fabrication warrants a closer look.  I greatly admire how he takes the buying to heart.  His big heart has made Detroit Garden Works  a destination for gardeners of every persuasion.

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection Detroit Garden Works is in the business of offering beautiful ornament for the garden.  It could be antique.  It could be vintage, and funky vintage.  It could be of a French, English, or American persuasion. It could be of English origin, through and through. It could be new, with a particular point of view.  It could be contemporary.  It could be arts and crafts inspired, or mid century modern. It could be Belgian in origin-old, vintage, and new. It could be none of the above, just waiting for a particular gardening client to be interested in a particular piece.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Our opening party for Detroit Garden Works 19 years ago was largely attended by our landscape clients, and friends.  Our 10,000 square foot building that night dwarfed what ornament we had available that first night. We had a big idea. And not so much in way of delivery. This was and is how it should be. It takes years to bring an idea to fruition. 19 years ago the two of us had an idea. The intervening 19 years have meant lots of changes. Today I am looking at this building and what it holds, and thinking a romance for the garden has taken us a very long way, in a lot of different directions.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Our two containers from England have been very slow to get on the rail from the port in Virginia to us.  But I suspect by the time the spring really comes, we will be ready. If your relationship with your garden is a long standing romance, we welcome that.  We would invite you to review our spring 2015 collection.

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015zinc topped tables

Detroit Garden Works 2015country fair and market

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015riveted copper tubs

Detroit Garden Works 2015 collection
antique stone planters

Detroit Garden Works collection 2015Any pot, urn, bench, trellis, or sculpture that you place in your garden has a narrative attached. Detroit Garden Works was predicated on this idea. This post is a weedy  narrative about our history.  Thank you to each and every one you who have shopped at Detroit Garden Works over the past 19 years. Many thanks.  Deborah

Checking In To The Grumpery

DSC_8800The month of March in Michigan always manages to test the good nature of the most graceful and exuberantly positive gardener. The bitter last of the winter is still firmly entrenched. It is 20 degrees, with snow flurries today.  It will be 14 degrees over night. I don’t know why these buckets of cheerfully fake red poinsettias irritate me so much.  If I didn’t know it was March, I would think it was Christmas time.

DSC_8788The north side of every cranny on my property has dirty snow and dead leaves on top of ice. The night temperatures regularly sink below freezing.  Dead tree branches litter the garden. The cold winds come and bring paper and plastic trash. Burned orange evergreen needles jump out at me. The south side of every Alberta spruce in my neighborhood is burned.

espalier damage

Tree trunks of espaliers whose bark has been gnawed off by rabbits-I fear for the lives of these plants.

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Boxwood tips turning from cream to tan-I see the signs that signal winter kill. Never mind the bare boxwood branches courtesy of the winter of 2014.

DSC_8789My snowdrops that have just emerged will be subjected to 14 degree temperature over night. These should be named frozen through and through drops. I do not see any signs of the crocus-that is a good thing.

DSC_8798Some patches of my hellebores are still smothered in icy snow.  I am thinking of shoveling the last of the winter off of them, but I probably would take the crown of the plant with it.

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The dead fern heads and cold singed European ginger laid flat out-I am more than ready for this phase of the year to be over. If you are a gardener, this is what March Madness really means.

DSC_8767My yard is dirty.  I have a big love for dirt-but not this kind of dead grass and compacted muck dirt. The dirt just outside the doorways is salt saturated. This dirt is in my car, and on my kitchen floor.  When it dries, it dries white.  A dirty white, that is.

DSC_8793Potholes, gaping and deep potholes, open up in the neighborhood streets. I believe a neighbor, out of desperation, filled this with dirt. A water main broke here in late January. A huge disk of ice sat here until a few weeks ago, when the pavement seemed to disintegrate over night. The skies are the same color as this road.

DSC_8784  Even the dogs had that accusatory look on their faces-can’t you do something about the endless winter?

DSC_8782We are still stuck indoors and moping. Why I went outside to see the dead leaves on the ivy – I am not sure. Maybe just to verify that we are truly living the misery.

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I have talked to Buck at great length about all of this. On a number of occasions. Finally last night he advises me to go to the grumpery, and leave him be. I do not fault him for his exasperation. We have an understanding about the grumpery.  The grumpery is a place for any gardener who is so over the winter that they need to be quarantined.  I am hoping I do not need to spend too many more days there.

The Collectors

the collectorI may not know all of their names, but I recognize their faces. Those people for whom the world turns on an axis determined by a garden, a landscape, or a property –  firmly entrenched at the center of their universe. That landscape may be a dream, or a work in progress. It is most assuredly a life’s work. That landscape is visionary, and very personal.  I would not call it a hobby, or even an avocation. I would call it a passion for nature that runs deep, and most of all, wide.  That emotional landscape is the foundation upon which all else in life rests. Their interests are varied. Some collect seed.  Some collect heirloom vegetables.  Some collect memories of nature.  Some dig, and find the smell of soil the most intoxicating perfume they have ever had the pleasure to experience. That experience of the garden is constellation wide. There is the smell of grass, the sounds of the birds, the sight of the first clump of crocus coming into bloom. Some click with and collect a specific plant. Some take great pains to prepare seed beds for a favorite species. Some see themselves as stewards. Some are all of the above, and more.

 

the collectorThese two have been clients of Detroit Garden Works for many years. Most recently they bought the house and property next door to them.  For the property, not the house. The second half of a bowl shaped parcel of land defining their landscape was part of an adjacent property. They chose to purchase that property which would make their landscape whole. The reuniting of the two pieces of land-the act of a collector.

DSC_8575They came to Detroit Garden Works today, and left with 2 full flats of hellebores.  The discussion about which varieties would be appropriate for their garden was lengthy, and interesting.  I so admire that the two of them see themselves as stewards of a large property. The lengths to which they go to look after it, and develop the landscape is astonishing. Their garden making is not a project.  It is a way of life.

DSC_8573A smile upon the face of a collector is music to my eyes. This is not about commerce – this is about a world view. A world view that I recognize and admire. They have differing points of view about lots of issues.  The one hates looking at weeds.  The other hates pulling weeds. Somehow they work it out.  It is obvious they have a long standing and serious romance with their garden that sustains the both of them.

DSC_8572The two of them weighed down with a collection of hellebores did my heart good. It is a sure sign that great plants have a strong and committed audience.

DSC_8576 They collect earth, nature, garden, shade plants, landscape, hellebores -they grow vegetables and trees. They grow it all, in their own style. They enable us to thrive.  Rob and I treasure them. Plain and simple, they are family. This is the best part of our hellebore festival. It brings out the collectors.

 

 

Awash In Hellebores

helleborus.jpgI am embarrassed to complain, given what the people in Boston have endured this winter, but I will say it.  We have had a long tough winter. We had the better part of Boston’s snow last year. This year, no heart or record breaking snow, but plenty of snow nonetheless. The snow I could plow through, and shrug off. The tough part was an interminable run of very cold weather, lots of it below zero. Dressing for a trip outdoors was an event the likes of which was almost intolerable. Boots, gloves, coat, hat, and lots of layers in between. All of this piling on took lots of time. That effort did not come to much good-the cold was bone chilling.  No one took the arctic winter poorer than the corgis. Every day they would plead with me to change the channel. They were bored and irritable. It was a daily thing, wanting to be let out every possible door to the outside-in hopes one would reveal habitable weather.  The spring in Michigan does not come easy or in an orderly fashion. Mother nature takes her time, deciding when the season will change from winter to spring. We have been made to wait.

detroit garden works helleboresWe feel better about the weather, having worked to introduce our own indoor version of spring. In March, we take delivery of over 1000 hellebores from growers all over the US and Canada. We invite gardeners in our area to come, browse and review our collection, and speak for them. We mean to offer gardeners a respite the winter, with our hellebore festival. It takes a few days, but our greenhouse space is starting to look like and smell  like a garden. Our March weather seems to be moderating-we have hope we are on a track to spring.  But if the spring outdoors is practically still weeks off,  we have a version of spring in our greenhouse. Should the spring be a few weeks off, the hellebores are content to reside in  sunny window until the ground outside can be worked.hellebores_double_pink_strain__84306Hellebores are a hardy perennial in our zone. Many of them are hardy in zone 4; most of them are eminently hardy in zone 5.  I treasure them, as they are the first perennial to bloom in my garden in April.  Hellebore foliage is large, and will persist long past the fall and into the winter. In warmer zones, the foliage is evergreen. The Orientalis hybrids throw their bloom stalks very early in the spring, arising out of the declining foliage from the previous season. The new foliage which is to come after the blooming is lush and substantive. They are tolerant of a wide range of conditions in the garden. I grow them in full sun, but I water them when they need it.  They are equally as happy in a lightly shaded location. They can live and increase in a garden for many years, without any need for division. Deer do not touch them. The flowers are surprisingly large, and quite beautiful.

detroit garden works helleboresThe flowers of the hellebores my Mom grew in her garden 50 years ago did not look like these. The blooms were nodding-down facing. To enjoy her bell shaped flowers required getting down on the ground to look up into their faces. She would cut them, and put them in a vase in the kitchen window.  Her favorites were the white and green flowered hellebores, as the pink cultivars were a muddy not so appealing pink.  It took years to grow on a hellebore to a decent size, as they were only available as young starts.  There was always lots more foliage than flowers. Nonetheless, she loved the look of them in her shade/wildflower garden.  Their foliage would last the entire summer and beyond, unlike the spring bulbs and ephemeral wildflowers she cultivated. The hellebore world has changed dramatically since then.

pink flowering helleboresThis group of plants have been the subject of intense breeding all over the globe. A lot of attention has been devoted to breeding plants who flowers are out and up facing. Some breeders have produced strains of hellebores with double flowers, or unusual coloration. Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, who own Northwest Garden Nurseries, have bred some stunning strains of hellebores.  The same can be said for Judith and Dick Tyler who own and operate Pine Knot Farms. These names are just two of a long list of hellebore enthusiasts who breed and sell plants in Belgium, Germany, England, Japan, the US and Canada.

detroit gardenworks helleboresMost of the plants in the greenhouse are hybrids of helleboris Orientalis. Helleborus Orientalis is not a species of hellebore, strictly speaking. It is a plant which is an interspecific cross from a number of different species hellebores-the O’Byrnes think maybe more than 16 species have a part in what is properly known as helleborus x hybridus. They do not come true from seed, so many of these named varieties are referred to as such and such “strain” of hellebore.  Given that the plants may take 3 years to flower, many breeders sell their young plants with pictures that show the possible color range. The advent of tissue culture has made it possible to clone specific plants, and make them available to interested gardeners.  My discussion of the history and science is quite limited-for a detailed look at hellebores, do visit the website of Plant Delights Nursery. Some of the hellebores we have came from a trip Rob made there a few weeks ago.  Tony Advent does a terrific job making great garden plants available to serious gardeners.  He also does a great job of providing an overview of the history and proper culture of the plants he sells.

dscn1230The hybridizing of hellebores to produce stronger growing and beautifully flowered hellebore cultivars has been a shot heard round the world. Today, hybridizers in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US have created cultivars featuring study and garden worthy plants, and breathtaking flowers. The vast majority of the plants we have available now are cultivars that have a proven performance record. And we feature large sized plants that are old enough to produce a good crop of flowers from the start. But we also have a limited number of one of a kind plants that would appeal to a hellebore collector.

detroit garden works helleboresI did buy a collection of named hellebores last February from a nursery in British Columbia, Canada, named Fraser’s Thimble Farms.  They ship small plants to the US, bare root. I did have to pot them up, and baby them along in the window sill of my drawing studio until they took hold. I finally planted the entire lot of them in a patch in my garden that used to be occupied by some not so wonderful looking yews. Just yesterday I could see that the snow had melted, and all of those small plants look like they survived our winter. I am not expecting all of them to bloom this spring, but I have hopes.

h 5We do have gardeners come in who are not familiar with hellebores. This is not so surprising. Some nurseries are reluctant to carry plants that take 3 years to flower from seed, or are already out of bloom in May.  The good news for gardeners is what appears to be the flower is actually a modified calyx, or petal like structures that surround the actual flower. The flower is in the center, and these true petals will drop when the flowering period is over. But the calyx persist on the plants for months, giving the appearance of a really long bloom time. Still, I try to site hellebores in spots that make them easy to view in early spring.

Detroit Garden Works hellebores March 2015 (16)Hellebores also make great container plants.  Everything we ordered for our collection is in, and our Hellebore festival is slated for Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22. Can you come ahead? Of course.