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by Steven D. Thoms, APLD, CLP, CGIP
What a crazy year! It has gone from my worst year in business (2011) to my best year in business in three short years. Talk about pent up demand! The one thing bad about a prosperous year is that I haven’t been able to write like I was planning. I was going to write about this article back at the end of August and here it is now mid-October.
August 20, 2014 was the annual Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA), Michigan State University (MSU) and Association of Professional Landscape Designers Michigan Chapter (APLD-MI) Landscape Design Tour. This past year’s tour took us to the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan. And, it did not disappoint! The tour included seven private home landscapes, a tour of Blue Thumb Distributing facilities, a bonus stop at the Dahlia Hill and ending up at Dow Gardens for a dinner reception. This year’s event was sponsored by Michigan Horticulture Industries Worker’s Compensation Fund, Blue Thumb Distributing, Inc., and Unilock.
As difficult as it might seem to break away from work to attend tours and/or education events, it is much needed. Socializing with fellow landscapers and getting inspired by beautiful gardens definitely help me make it over the hump for the season.
Our first stop was a less glorious landscape just on the outskirts of Saginaw Township, but was very educational. This site was not about what you saw but about planning and preparation of some difficult conditions. This residence had bad drainage issues. The designer talked about the permeable pavers, drainage around the pool and foundation of house, and all that was needed to make this property functional. Sometimes as designers we want to avoid problems like this because it is not visual, but we do need to remember that our work needs to be functional as well.
It always fascinates me to hear how people change their mind. Our next stop was a koi/specimen plant lover’s dream. The large house right next door to our first stop was sprinkled with specimen plants from Larix decidus ‘Pendula Prostrate Form’ to Ginkgo biloba ‘Pendula’ to everything in between. But the real showcase of this landscape was the water features in the backyard. The original backyard included a small pondless waterfall. The client did NOT want fish or the upkeep of a pond. After receiving a koi as a gift, the client did a 180 degree turn. They wanted a koi pond and water gardener’s dream.
This bog with its grandeur Lotus plants helps keep the main pond area clear. This lower pond was five feet deep with minimal plants and rocks. It housed the two dozen large exotic koi that the client had to grown to love like family. She even had a tank in her basement to transition new fish into the pond and to also use as a hospital when a fish got sick. Her favorite fish was black and yellow colored with the longest lashes. It ate food out of her hand.
It included many great plants and a very intense water filtration system. The homeowners designed, installed and maintained their landscape themselves. It had won several awards.
We then stopped and had lunch at one of the tour’s sponsors, Blue Thumb Distributing. I was excited for this stop because they had just purchased a company that I had used on many jobs, Aqua Bella Designs. It was great to see all their products, many in functional displays and to also hear about their business procedures.
The next site was a charming historical home in Bay City. It was interesting hearing from the landscape architect on the whole landscape procedure of designing and satisfying the historical committee on this 100+ year old house.
Our next three locations included tranquil water features, quaint gardens and lovely plant combinations.
Our bonus site was Dahlia Hill in Midland. This highest point in Midland was started by artist Charles Breed, financially supported by private companies and foundations, and maintained by over fifty volunteers.
The terraces were created by the use of 300 tons of Bay de noc Limestone from the upper peninsula.
With over 250 varieites in the 3,000 dahlia plants in this open-to-the public garden, it is a sight to see. To learn more, please visit http://www.dahliahill.org.
The evening ended with great food, drink and company at the restored barn at the wonderful 110 acre Dow Gardens in Midland.