The apple, acorn, or, in this case, ginkgo leaf, truly doesn’t fall too far from the tree, especially in Deborah Silver’s case. The celebrated gardener’s mother, you see, was also quite the gardener. “She grew ginkgo trees from seed, and also beautiful roses and vegetables,” recalls Silver, who grew up in what was once called East Detroit (now Eastpointe).
After graduating from Kalamazoo College (she majored in 19th-century English literature and minored in biology) and working various jobs, Silver launched a landscape-design business out of her own home in Orchard Lake. And then eventually, because she’d always wanted a place where she could sell objects for the garden, Detroit Garden Works was born.
“My accountant knew I was looking for a place and said a building in Sylvan Lake was available,” she says. Once a machine shop that she says was “soaked in motor oil,” Detroit Garden Works now, 25 years later, is a veritable heaven for green thumbs or those looking to learn about — and spend more time in — the dirt.
From Silver’s vision came plant containers brimming with unique, pleasing flower and plant combinations; decorative home accents; sculptures for the garden; and more, much of which comes from Europe. “When we opened,” she says, “we spent my last $20,000 on a trip to Paris to find items, and that’s how it got started.”
Silver’s dedicated crew totals 22, including at Branch, a manufacturing division that makes pots, fountains, and garden ornamentation from steel. “We’ve had an impact on how people garden and how people view the garden,” says Silver, who was putting the finishing design touches on a large property in Franklin when we caught up with her.
When she’s not out designing gardens, tending to her shop, or working in her own garden, you can usually find Silver in her large office off the main merchandise area of Detroit Garden Works, where she has cultivated a cozy haven chock full of collectibles, design tools, and all the must-haves for one of the area’s most astute gardeners.
A Closer Look at Deborah Silver’s Artsy Office Space
About 600 books adorn Silver’s office. “They’re mostly gardening books,” she says. “I’ve read them all. I keep buying books. I’m always looking at what new design books are coming out.” A favorite that she takes out regularly is Jinny Blom’s The Thoughtful Gardener: An Intelligent Approach to Garden Design.
Love is in the air
Eclectic papier mâché cherubs hang from the ceiling, appearing like messengers of love. “They were in storage and something happened to them. I repaired them all and hung
Depending on the season, you’ll see New Balance tennis shoes, L.L.Bean fleece vests (“I love these,” she says), Australian Blundstone boots, durable Filson field jackets, and other gardening garb amid the space.
Contemporary terra cotta vases with a fern motif, created by an English artist, also grace the space. “Think about terra cotta; it goes back so far, as storage for olives, fish, et cetera. To see it being interpreted in a modern way is what I love.”
French doors divide the space; one side is a light-filled design area, and the other more for meetings and such. “I can close the French doors and it’s quiet. If I’m designing, I have to be in the rhythm of it; designing takes focus and concentration.”
Silver does black-and-white drawings first when planning a client’s landscaping, and once it’s approved, she creates a more detailed color version. Large, vintage tomato and bean cans hold the designer’s markers, Prismacolor pencils, and other art tools. “I saved those cans because I love the labels.”
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