Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Obelisk For Garden Verticality

Today was quite "warm" (relatively speaking of course!).  It was in upper 20 degrees F range although the wind chill was significant too.  I had a presentation up in Dane County on Shade Plants that went well with less than 50% of the crowd falling asleep with my monotone presentation.  Actually, it was nice to see Lisa J. (UWEX Horticulture Educator for Dane Co.) up there as well as Paul Ganshert, Rich Miller and other green industry professionals.  I was lucky in that I missed the snow with my travels to and fro although we did get some blowing snow by the lunch hour.  It was a productive morning for the Grumpies with Pat and Urban out in the gardens bringing in lights and lots of indoor activity at the Horticulture Center.  Pat also processed lights for storage.  Jim, Vern and Ron Y. continued work on their carpentry project while Dr. Gredler and Gary continued with their respective painting projects.  Gene helped here and there and we later saw Bill O. who came in to help Larry.  Mark S. stopped by as well.  Maury was around and certainly others I missed seeing due to my morning gig.  Larry continued cleaning and sharpening tools which is a very important task over these winter months and our larger equipment is next on the tune up list.

It's important to mention and admit that I'm not using the word obelisk correctly.  The dictionary says that an obelisk is "a stone pillar, typically having a square cross section and pyramidal top.  Frequently used as a monument."  Well, my modified and refined definition of a garden obelisk is "a wooden, frequently painted, pyramidal structure with a square cross section that offers a strong vertical element in the garden and frequently a support for vines as well".  There are many styles of obelisks and we have been using them for many years out in the gardens. Our "carpentry-inclined" Grumpies make them annually and out in the gardens we have five different styles that are represented by heights of 4', 6', 7', 9', 12' and a 20' monster.  We sell a nice 6' cedar obelisk with a copper top in our Cottage Gallery Gifts for $125 plus tax and they are very popular.  We currently don't offer or sell plans for these although we're asked often about that possibility.  I've included just some of many obelisk photos I've taken over the years and keep in mind that the repainting occurs every winter as we plan for upcoming use in specific situations and color themes.  See further down for more obelisk information.

We've only had obelisks at RBG for the past 10 years or so.  It started with three six foot tall obelisks that we used to support vines.  I saw these in a catalog, cut out the photo and had our Grumpies build them just for fun. They looked neat and certainly offered a strong vertical element in the garden.  We also had lots of positive feedback from visitors regarding these structures.  The next year we started painting those original obelisks and a whole new world of opportunity opened up for us!  We currently have about 50 obelisks (see some above) that we secure out in the gardens each year.  As mentioned above, the paint colors selected for these are not random.  We coordinate obelisk color with collections and always rely on them as a strong vertical element and focal point out in the garden.  While we plant vines on many of these, some we don't at all.  For instance, in the top photo (2013), those obelisks (you can see six of eight in the formal annual sections) did not have vines and were selected for that strong blue impact.  We usually secure every obelisk with two stakes on opposite corners and use cable ties or screws on occasion to make sure that these don't get floppy (particularly once vines get established).  Proper anchoring is a must.  If we have time, we'll paint the anchoring stakes the same color as the obelisk so they aren't too conspicuous.  All of these are made of cedar and are painted or re-sealed each year.  Some have copper tops (from Menard's), finial tops or special pyramid tops made by the Grumpies for clean and sharp (literally and figuratively) contribution.

Above is the 20' obelisk in the "Jungle Garden" in 2013.  This actually had an opening for kids (or stooping adults) to pass under the obelisk (see below although the openings are hard to see).  The second photo down shows a view from inside the structure looking upwards.  Built in the fall of 2012, this giant obelisk has been used in two of our Holiday Lights Show displays (see fourth, fifth and sixth photo down).  While the scale of this giant obelisk may not be appropriate for the home garden, it works in the areas that we've positioned it.  There are unsubstantiated rumors of a second one being constructed this winter....

From left to right are Jim, Vern and Dave although Bob A. and Ron Y. are also involved with the obelisk creation and in this case, some repairs.
above is Rose doing a color conversion

These "garden pyramids" fall in to our originally errant (but creatively modified) definition of an obelisk in terms of their contribution out in the garden.  Note the color transformations over the years (seen below) and the fact that these structures are built to rest comfortably level on our 30 degree entrance garden slope.  We will be converting these to pink for 2014 if that gives you any hint on a color theme? :)

2013 Entrance Garden
2012 Entrance Garden
2011 Entrance Garden

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