A Backyard Visit with Michael Bruce


Michael Bruce with one of his favorites, a Chinese Parasol Tree in his Westmont, N.J. back yard.

 If Michael Bruce could have his way, the white picket fences of the world wouldn’t be white or straight, but curved into the shape of an S so neighbors could create gardens in the pockets and enjoy much more interesting spaces.

 Bruce, owner of Westmont-N.J.-based Michael Bruce Florist, knows that may not become a reality anytime soon. Still, he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to unleash his designs.

 Bruce will be returning for his seventh year as a major exhibitor for the 2010 Flower Show “Passport to the World.”  Creating a 1,000-square-foot space, he’ll take his inspiration from a familiar saying and ideas include a transparent house inhabited by live butterflies and surrounded by boulders and stone.

 “To me, this is art, interpreting a feeling, a phrase. You can make a statement and still entertain people,” he said. “You’re just going to want to stand and stare.”

Bruce said his view on design changed after participating in the inaugural Singapore Garden Festival in 2006. He took home a third-place award among the 21 international landscape and garden designers for his exhibit, a hybrid of fire and ice. (“I thought it would be fun to do snow in Singapore.”) To watch an interview with Bruce on Channel NewsAsia, click here.

 “Here, we build from the ground up,” he said recently standing in his shop. “There, they create from the sky down.”

 Last year’s “City Walls” earned him the Alfred M. Campbell Memorial Trophy for the exhibit that demonstrates the most successful use of a variety of plants in unique fashion as well as an award for “Transformational Floral Experience.”


A quiet corner

Bruce has transformed his own backyard into a tropical oasis, using containers filled with succulents and cannas, climbing vines that create outdoor walls for rooms, and an organic vegetable garden with a composter and several rain barrels. Among his favorites is a Chinese Parasol Tree he obtained at a plant swap four years ago.

Standing near the tomatoes, Bruce said his passion for design was sparked in childhood. Growing up in Radnor, his family lived next door to what  became a defunct estate.

“It was my personal playground for almost 18 years,” he said.

 As he grew older, he started to take notice of the stone paths, the architectural elements including an open air wooden hut, and the layout of the stream.

“It hit me, this didn’t just happen. Someone made it happen.”

And he knew he wanted to be a part of that.


Red metal stakes bring artistry to Bruce’s tomatoes. “Vertical gardening is very hip right now," he said.


5 Responses to “A Backyard Visit with Michael Bruce”

  1. suzi discher Says:


  2. Carolyn Pfeiffer Says:

    I’ve visited Michael’s garden, and it is quite delightful. Full of little surprises, and yet this imaginative gardener keeps it continually evolving so it will never be the same each season–and never boring for that matter.


    Michael, whatever you do you always make me say, “WOW” and smile!
    Keep those ideas coming!!!!!!!!! Love, me

  4. sam from Everyday Faucets Says:

    Hi Michael!

    I love this Chinese Parasol Tree. Great pic!

    Let me ask you… I am reworking my front yard and would like tropical look. The space is rather large and I am curious as to what plants you may recommend. I am in zone 8 [Columbia, SC.]

    I love palms but don’t want just palms. I would like to mix plants like this one.

    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.



    • LBH Says:

      Hi Sam:
      We ran into Michael Bruce last night and here’s what he had to say:

      Hi Sam,
      Though I am not familiar with Zone 8(a?) plant hardiness, an Internet search of “Chinese Parasol Tree” (Firmiana platanifolia)
      indicates it is hardy in your zone. This (GA) site http://www.tytyga.com/product/Chinese+Parasol+Tree
      has some interesting info. I am not affiliated with this nursery, and have not used their services; just one of many sites available with the info.

      But prior to Internet, I located unusual plant material by shopping outside my assigned zone! Visiting nurseries in Baltimore lead me to hardy plants that would grow in that area. Taking a chance, I imported plants that the nurseries in my area (by convention) wouldn’t sell (back then Crape Myrtle was a gamble!).

      Years later, as the gardening craze spread, more forward looking nurseries procured plant material that would conceivably survive in their local (micro) climates in PA or NJ. Still, visiting other (slightly) warmer zones will sometimes ‘pay off’ with a surprise!

      Local arboretums are another place to observe cutting edge (pun?) usage of plants.

      One other “trick” is to grow tropicals in containers outside that “over winter,” either by bringing/growing the plant inside, or storing root/corm, etc.in a cool dark space (Canna, Alocasia). Re-plant and or place back outside after last frost date.

      I have compiled a list of plants I am on the “look out” for, and would be happy to share it with you, if you please.
      Thanks for writing.

      Michael Bruce

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