Friday, February 23

Cleveland Home & Garden Show: Getting Garden Ideas

As was discussed in comments on an earlier post, the builders of these temporary display gardens aim to win design and installation contracts--not to give ideas to the average DIY gardener. I do not think that inspiring gardeners and convincing non-gardeners to hire you are mutually exclusive, however.

It would stand to reason that good design is attractive to both camps. A green, bronze and white color scheme may not be your thing, but the strength of the foliage arrangement around the urn in the first picture might catch your eye anyway. Those gardens that are especially strong design-wise are often the ones that stay in your mind long after the show has been disassembled.

Interesting elements can simply be amusing, too. Perhaps you wouldn't want to have this moss monster greet your garden visitors, but his mushroom cap nostrils and orange sunflower eyes probably made you smile and take a closer look. These first two vignettes came not from a landscaper's display garden but from that of a large local garden center chain. Might they feel more comfortable taking risks at shows like this than a landscape designer does?

In spite of my enjoyment of certain elements within the displays, my reaction was mostly: "Nice... but Not In My Garden." There was only one garden to which I kept returning. At first glance it looks simple, and feels a little quiet--not my usual style at all. So I studied it, trying to figure out just what it was that I liked so much.

Much thought had gone into the placement of sight lines within this display. The garden had a main diagonal axis highlighted by metal and stone pathways. The garden structure boasted an open, pergola-style roof and a flagstone floor. The walls were rigid sheets of pierced metal within wooden frames, and all of these panels were attached to the structure with rolling, barn-door-style hinges. The structure was nestled within an interpretation of rocky, open woodland.

I finally decided that there were actually three things about this garden that intrigued me. The most obvious one was the clever use of metal. Metal generally adds visual weight in gardens, but the spaces in the metal elements that the designer chose mitigate that heaviness here. Instead, the metal forms a nice bridge between the dense rocks and the soft plantings of epimediums, moss, hellebores and junipers. The pierced panels add a sense of mystery to the garden views that they blur. The rusted grate provides a sturdy path to the structure over uneven ground without completely hiding the terrain beneath it.

The second element I identified was the skillful use of line and repetition. The grate is set in the ground at an intriguing angle--not the expected one, perpendicular to the structure, but one that makes more visual sense because it follows the garden axis. The bars within the grate line up with the three feature stones, compliment the lines of the structure, and even lead your eye beyond the structure to the flagstone path beyond. (See the first picture of this garden for an illustration of that last point.)

The third element of interest is more of an idea or a statement. At first glance, this looks like a very naturalistic garden with browns, greens, rocks... but consider that the brown of the path is an industrial floor grate, and the most eye-catching rocks have been cut very deliberately and set on edge, evenly spaced in a very deliberate way. Then see that there are plants sprawling over the metal grate and junipers creeping through the stone trio--nature is trying to take the space back. I appreciate this illustration of the tension between the natural and manmade worlds that so many modern gardeners feel instinctively.

If you have not yet guessed, the grate is the metal element that I am planning to use in my own garden. I am enamored of it for all of the reasons stated above, and also for two others: 1) As an elevated pathway, it will afford me the rare opportunity to incorporate an "elevation change" in my tiny, flat lot. 2) Planting the area below the grate with thymes and rocks (I don't have the moisture for moss) will definitely create a more interesting walk to the Japanese rock garden. Hopefully it will also slow people down as they look underfoot.

I realize that I probably will be hard-pressed to find such a heavy industrial castoff in my neighborhood on trash day. So this spring I'll have to find out where the nearest salvage yards are located. And that could be the start of yet another very dangerous hobby...


Sigrun said...

I like each Gardenshow! But here are not so much.


Anonymous said...

Per your request I will do something on the 'behind the scenes' of the Home Show.

Garden Centers are also trying to inspire you . . . to drive down to their Garden Center and open up your trunk and your wallet. if they take a "chance" it is to inspire you to take a "chance" . . . but of course, with their plants.

The grate idea, if you do this you are going to want to get something with no structural defects-unless you want to do a little welding. Then you might think about putting a coat of rust-proofing on your grate . . . depending on material. Unless you are lucky enough to find a nice big thick piece of acrylic(s)which make fantastical walkways.

Christopher C. NC said...

Very intiquing garden. You and I may have similar taste. Wood, stone and metal placed in nature.

It has a modern American Japanese garden style blend to it with a touch of the monolithic nod to the ancients.

Gotta Garden said...

You have such a good eye! You noted details that most people probably just walk by...but how much they miss! Thank you for giving us the opportunity to see it through your eye(s)...why it matters, what is different about it, and how to use it in another environment. The best part will be looking forward to your posts on the discovery process you engage in to bring these elements into your garden. I can't wait to see/read!

Stuart said...

Great post Kim. Your comment;
I do not think that inspiring gardeners and convincing non-gardeners to hire you are mutually exclusive, however.

Too true. I think also that if gardeners are inspired by these gardens they are more likely to talk positively about them to friends and therefore create great word-of-mouth.

People are more often willing to listen to a gardeners point of view and weight it accordingly than just someone who saw a nice display.

Thanks for the tour.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done again.

If you would have WRITTEN about an industrial metal grate, I would have demured. But you are correct, it is very interesting. And your ideas will make it more so.

As for corrosion/rust: Years ago I had an artist loft in an art neighborhood of a big city. (Of course, when I had it, it was terrible and dangerous. But I should have kept it. Those things are worth so much money now!) Anyway, my "next door" neighbor was a "metal artist" (named Barry or Sherri depending upon... well... THAT's obvious... he was "Barry" most of his life anyway.) Barry had vats of chemicals in his space and would dip his various metals into various acids and bases and other things to create THE MOST AMAZING corrosions. He could mess up any metal. Aluminum. Stainless steel. His arms were burned from the chemistry.

Anyway, I could never get used to how beautiful that corrosion was. REALLY unique.

My point: so long as your grate stays STRUCTURALLY safe, it might be nice to let it corrode a bit. (Remember, corrosion weakens structures.)

Also, thinking back to my Navy days and of my boating life, there are ways to PREVENT corrosion without paint. I'm thinking of Zinc on Steel (for example). You just bolt a slug of zinc to the steel. The Zinc will surrender electrons before the iron and so will corrode... thereby PREVENTING the steel from corroding so long as you have Zinc remaining. The concept is that of a sacrificial anode. Cheap. Easy.


I can't wait to see what you come up with.

meresy_g said...

I love the grate idea. That garden was simple and modern but still appeared natural. Something else to think about, make sure your grate gets some sun. Located in a shady north location, that metal could get slippery.

Unknown said...

Sigrun, maybe it's a trade off. We have more garden shows, but you have more gorgeous old gardens to visit nearby!

Rick, you are of course right again about the kind of inspiration a garden center is trying to create. (Garden centers take a risk, too, whenever they are going outside of the typical-suburban-landscaping box.) I am glad that you will do a behind-the-scenes post, whether it's now or sometime in the future. I for one am interested in the sneak peak.

Christopher, your comment surprised me a little bit at first--I had not thought about us possibly having similar tastes in gardens before. I guess that I always think of your garden as being a lush, jungle-y, tropical paradise, and as such it seems like it's a world away from mine. But thought of in terms of including wood, metal, stone within a naturalistic framework, it makes great sense. I wonder if I'll "see" the similarities better when you're gardening in Zone 7? :)

By the way, this is neither here nor there, but... if this garden was going to appeal to a specific blogger I thought that it might be Don from An Iowa Garden. I can't tell you why... just something about the feel of it.

gotta garden, thank you! That's what I love about having access to all of these garden blogs, too... the opportunity to see things through others' eyes and follow along with their process. :)

stu, that's a great point. And now I'm wishing that I had grabbed a few of that landscaper's cards to pass along! I don't mind giving my Mom and a few other people some recommendations, but I hesitate to design gardens for other people.

Hank, I actually deleted a whole paragraph from my first post about the H&G Show wherein I described with words my plan to copy the metal grate idea... for just the reason you expressed. I had to see it to be enchanted, so I had to show it to explain that enchantment.

I do like the rusted, patinated, or slightly corroded metals. (I adore Corten steel, and when you were describing Barry/Sherri's works I thought, "Wow. I wonder if he/she is still working?") I have never heard of sacrificial anodes before, so I really appreciate you sharing that. I could allow the grate to rust/corrode to the desired look and then incorporate the zinc... hmm... :)

meresy_g, I hadn't thought about slipperiness (I'm glad you pointed that out) but it should get enough sun. It won't be a completely necessary "bridge," so I suppose that I could always avoid it in rainstorms--and I won't really be walking over it much in the winter anyway. It would be part of a path that literally ends at the Japanese rock garden, not a primary path back to the compost bins or anything.

lisa said...

Cool idea!

Anita said...

Haha, I am just imagining what our neigbours would say if that moss monster greet them in our garden... ;-))

Christine Boles said...


MA said...


Thanks for the photos of the garden show. I love seeing what other shows have going on. I am trying to get my photos up.

Love that platter of tomatoes. Makes me wanna eat every one!

Annie in Austin said...

Leaning against the fence behind my shed is a 39" wide, 49"long piece of rusted metal grate, not too dissimilar to that in the photo. The previous owners had it bolted to the end of our front porch, apparently as a makeshift wheelchair ramp.
Maybe it would be okay lying flat, but at that angle just the lightest mist of water made walking on it dangerous - people were catapulted onto the drive and the grate was replaced by steps.
I look at it occasionally, hoping to come up with the right place for it. Maybe I'll copy whatever you come up with, Kim!

Annie at the Transplantable

MrBrownThumb said...

Nice pics thanks for sharing them.

Anthony said...

What do you mean "not to give ideas to the average DIY gardener"?

After seeing those pictures, I'm definitely adding a Moss Monster to my Gardening To-Do List this year.

Ottawa Gardener said...

We have been looking for a metal grate to go over our pond (partly as a safety feature - we have kids)and partly because it is nifty.

I wonder if you could create a similar line as the vertical rocks with iris fans. I like to divide and replant my iris to take advantage of their rigid structure but I've never thought of putting them all in a line like that. Hmm...

pmo3ws(Kathy) said...

I really like that look! I have an area that we will be working on this spring that we really didn't have time to do last year. I am incorporating flagstone in the area for sure and I have a couple of areas that I am not sure yet what I want to do. I will keep this on my mind along with other things I have seen. Thanks so much for the ideas. It reminds me of a Japanese garden of peace and tranquility.

Kristin Ohlson said...

Love the tour of the garden show. Did I miss it? Is it gone?

Jane M. said...

I love the grate! I've really enjoyed your coverage of the Cleveland show. I'll try to do the same for Rochester and Buffalo, though I'm there so much I'm not sure when I'll find the time to actually blog...

Anyway, thanks for the great pictures.

Unknown said...

Great pictures, great ideas,
cheers from Canada

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