The Holiday Preview 2017

I am chagrined, but not surprised that I have not managed to put up a post in the past 10 days. I have been racing against a November 9th deadline to transform Detroit Garden Works from the fall to the holiday winter season. No one disputes that signs of the winter and holiday in late October or early November is pushing it, but it takes an incredible amount of time to display thousands of small objects in some coherent way. We have to start early.  I have to be ready in advance of those gardeners who will want to assemble winter container gardens, and add outdoor lighting late in November. Designers who shop our store plan in advance too. Every person in all three companies of my companies pitch in. In July, August and September, boxes and more boxes get delivered. Scott checks in every item, and prices them all. They go back on the shelves, until mid October. All of those boxes are brought down, unpacked, and stashed in fiber pots. Out entire stock room is filled to the brim with materials for the holiday and winter. I walk up and down the rows, knowing the design for the display this year’s collection will be driven by the materials. What will we do?

We allocate a bit more than two weeks to remake all 10,000 square feet of the shop.  Every one of thousands of objects gets a hands on treatment. David and Marzela do the lion’s share of the actual display work. I do not envy them their job.  I may move something five times before I settle on something. But they both are good natured and tireless in their efforts to get everything arranged just right.  Both of them have an excellent instinct for good design-we three have worked together a long time. They know my process, and they are not afraid to say no. I treasure this about them. Yes, I have lots of bad ideas. They like me enough to save me from bad decisions.  These two are the stars of the get ready part of the holiday season. They have brought around many a display from ordinary to stellar – plenty of times. Once the big design gestures are complete, we pick out those materials that support this idea for this room – and that idea for that room.

We tackle the airspace first. It only makes sense that anything to be hung from the ceiling needs to be in place before we load up the ground plane with materials. The Branch crew comes on occasion to help with this.  After the airspace, we vignette the walls.  Both David and LaBelle from the Branch Studio hung all of our wreaths. Anything that needs screws or nails are displayed from the top of our walls down.

If there are big and heavy pieces that need moving, my landscape superintendent Dan and his crew come in lend a hand.  I try to be very organized about what I need, as they are still working on late fall landscape projects. Pots get moved up high, into the stock room, or outdoors. Their work clears the deck for the new season.  Just one day before our evening holiday preview, they installed a lot of our outdoor lighting.

The work involved in that transformation from fall to holiday/winter dates really back almost a year.  Rob and Sunne shopped in January of 2017 for what we have available for purchase now. Their work was months in the making.This list is not in order, nor is it definitive. Holiday and winter picks for containers, bulk sphagnum moss in a variety of colors, Edison style light strings and bulbs, state of the art LED holiday and winter lighting, candles of every description from the US and overseas, holiday ornaments and garlands, felt figures and lighted wood holiday villages, hand blown and painted German glass ornaments, garland of every description, ornaments for holiday trees, preserved boxwood wreaths, wood buckets, galvanized metal bread trays so perfect for a holiday table – the list of the materials we have available for winter is long and varied. Many thanks to Rob and Sunne. Their January shopping trip was every bit of 5 days. What they purchased began trickling in to the shop this past July. August and September were noted for holiday deliveries. October meant boxes and boxes delivered just about every day. This past week, our regular UPS driver was saying hello twice a day.

Our once a year evening winter/holiday preview event was this past Thursday night.  I am relieved to say that we finished the last of the display work 30 minutes before our opening. The Detroit Garden Works staff say it was our best holiday party ever. Rob’s lighting was in evidence everywhere. Fresh cooked pizza was available by the slice in the driveway.  Christine manned the bar as she always has. Snow flurries appeared as if we had called them up! Ha. Hooray. Those months of planning in advance helped to create a perfect moment.

To follow are an embarrassing number of pictures of our shop dressed for holiday and winter. Forgive me, but this is a time of the gardening year that I truly enjoy. The fact that the garden is going dormant is a bruising concept. I choose to brush that moment off. Every gardener has a winter season ahead of them that can be delightful. One has only to decide to garden on.

My favorite part of this early holiday/winter season is the challenge to make good design sense of an ocean of materials. Like the landscape, I am looking at architecture, style, mass, color, line, shape and form. My more than favorite part are those people who make a point of seeking me out to talk to me. They respond to work we have done, and make a point of engaging me. That talk, person to person, gardener to gardener, is the best part of every gardening season.

Should you be near enough to our shop, I would urge you to visit. You will not be disappointed.  I rather think you would be energized, and inspired.  If you are too far away to visit our shop, enjoy these photographs. From me, to you.

shop vignette

dressed for the winter/holiday season

leaf ornaments

rustic wood villages

stocked for the holiday and winter to come

gold

winter vignette

gorgeous velvet pumpkins

holiday ornaments

rustic wood boxes

German hand blown and colored holiday ornaments

winter picks for winter container arrangements

winter vignette

small glass balls in neutral colors

The shop

The winter and holiday season to come? The shop is ready to help with that.

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The Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store.  Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade.  An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website       I  have copied and posted the following:    “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken . Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow.  It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.  The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored.  The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Gardeners have a complicated relationship with their gardens. The balance of power goes back and forth, much like any other serious relationship. A treasured plant/child that fails to thrive-whose fault is that? Exasperation is as prevalent as passion over a garden. A death in the garden, as in a major tree, is tumultuous, and instantly redefines that relationship – for better or for worse. Failure can hang over a garden, and thus a gardener, like a black cloud. A love for the garden can smooth over no end of resentment regarding the day to day difficult details – to a point. Gardeners and nature come face to face just about every day. The outcome is rarely a compromise. The status of most gardens is, to this gardener’s eye, more about win and loose, than a meeting of the minds.  Nature bats last.  I have gardened long enough to know this to be true. Poor soil conditions, light, water, and unfavorable weather can drive the most devoted gardener to the brink.

The intensely stubborn gardener who comes face to face with an overpowering, spectacularly uncaring, and uncompromising nature eventually come around and understands that nature is not a partner. It is an independent force to be reckoned with. There is no reasoning with nature. Those gardeners who believe they can negotiate a relationship with the natural forces that affect their garden have my sympathy.

Truth be told, every gardener is on their own. Some give in. Some give up. Others ignore trouble. Still others take hold of trouble, and address it, one shovel full at a time. I know so many hands on gardeners-the work they do to keep a garden and landscape healthy and viable is amazing. I admire all of them. Some who love their landscape ask for help from me, once trouble bubbles up beyond a quick fix. Some troubles need a helping hand.

Why this essay? A client came to me in despair that his landscape on the front side of his house was beyond repair.  Could I please remake it? Could I start all over again? He was happy for me to strip out everything in this steeply sloping landscape, and begin anew. My visit confirmed that a large area of ground cover had been overrun by weeds. That said, he had a king’s ransom in groundcover, well rooted in, that would not need replacing. I told him that I thought this marriage could be saved.  We just needed to root out the weeds, establish crisp boundaries, restore and create a consistent grade, and add some plant material that would establish a simple and strong design. As much as I love beautiful and thriving plant material, I am in favor of good design organizing the planting. This slope is very steep.  It would be difficult for me to maintain. My idea was to restore a relationship. I did not see the need for a new one.

This simple sketch illustrated how I planned to make some sense of a weed infested steep slope.  My client was dubious that he could restore order to his landscape. I think he was right in that regard. This restoration needed a group effort. I was sure that my group could bring this landscape around. He did like the drawing, and gave me the go ahead. The weeding part would not be overwhelming, as we had four people on that tedious problem. Our weeding process involved tools- all of my staff have their own hori-hori knife. For especially difficult weeds, we had garden forks, and spades. Our process is neither tentative nor dainty. There are times when a tough intervention is a good idea.

This was a marriage eminently worth saving. We removed and rebuilt all of the rock edges of this bed. A strong curve on the house side would be contrasted with a straight side rock edge on the road side. We added soil behind the new rock wall to unify the and simplify the slope from the road to the garage. A landscape bed with a deliberate shape and volume is visually satisfying.  We removed a next to dead dogwood, and replaced it with a columnar beech.

I had no problem having a crew go over every square inch of this bed, and remove weeds. We filled the low spots with new soil. We grubbed out and lowered the high spots. We added more ground cover, densely planted, in the bare areas. We added boxwood to bolster the existing boxwood. We rebuilt the rock edges. We dusted the entire bed with a few inches of ground hardwood bark mulch. And we put him in touch with our irrigation contractor, with the idea of installing a low tech watering system that could deliver the water needed. The restoration was vastly more cost effective than a start from scratch approach. And vastly better looking.

There were a number of Japanese forest grasses existing in this bed that were thriving. We replanted them in a dense circle around a treasured sculpture, and added more. The idea was to make the sculpture a more strikingly prominent feature of the landscape.

In my opinion, the outcome of this renovation is good. The revised landscape features a beautiful steel sculpture.  The ground plane is simply curving, weed free, and plant covered.

My client is pleased by the outcome of this project.  I am especially pleased that we were able to save so much of what existed here. What we added was little. What we rearranged was a lot. The few additions and the considerable subtractions transformed this landscape.

The difference between a landscape gone awry, and in sore need of some restoration, and a strikingly beautiful landscape can be not much more than a few degrees this way or that. Every garden marriage can be saved. I believe this.

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At A Glance: Recent Work

Plenty of fall containers got planted this past week.  In looking over all the pictures, it is obvious that the star of the show (after Marzela, of course) is the story of the leaves. Ornamental cabbage and kale are known for their substantial leaves. This container is a mass of different types of large blue green leaves, as our fall weather has been too warm for the plants to have taken on their characteristic fall color. Once our warm spell comes to an end, color will become as prominent a feature as the size and texture of the leaves.

Other leaves play just as important a role in our fall containers. Eucalyptus branches have the remarkable ability to absorb both dye and glycerine. That color is a welcome addition to a fall container. Our broom corn stalks come with a wealth of strappy, corn-like leaves, in addition to their wiry seed heads. We hang the broom corn upside down for as long as we can, in our garage. As the leaves dry, they twist and curl in a way only nature could achieve. Those dry leaves contribute much in the way of rhythm to the arrangement.

Cabbage and kale leaves can be glorious, but they are static. The leaves of the Tuscan kale, broom corn and eucalyptus loosen up the composition. Now all we need is some chilly weather, for the colorworks to begin.

David does a terrific job with arranging the broom corn and dry leaves around a bamboo stake. All of the leaves get removed from the stalks, and are added back to the arrangement one at a time. Though his work has an artless, relaxed and tousled look about it, the actual process requires a lot of strength and concentration. If I need a tighter and more tailored look to the centerpiece, I ask Marzela to construct it. This way the both of them are able to exercise their own sense of construction and style. How materials get handled is how a look gets created.

enjoy the pictures.

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