A Miserable Affair

burned-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood hedge in front of Detroit Garden Works has been there 17 years.  This collection of buxus microphylla koreana were Canadian grown.  They had grown to a fairly uniform 3′ tall, and are every bit of four feet wide.   Though their winter color was decidedly orange, they were hardy as could be.  Just what I would want, given a southern exposure.  Until now, that is.  Though I was prepared to wait as long as it would take to determine the extent of the damage, dead boxwood is dead boxwood.

borwood-winter-burn.jpgWe have had an ongoing problem with the section for the past few years.  A fungal infection of unknown name that was stubbornly resisting treatment. This past winter weather was the last straw.  There was only one decision to be made.  How long did I want to look at dead boxwood?

buxus-microphylla.jpgIt was entirely fitting that the day we started digging out those old plants was cold wet and miserable. What made the situation even worse were those plants that were half dead.  Take them or leave them?

digging.jpgThere were 2 plants that were fine.  Those we saved.  It’s not clear yet, but we may have more dead plants.

digging.jpgGardening is not for the faint of heart.  There isn’t any way to run way from this level of trouble.  The loss of any major feature in a landscape is tough to take on a lot of levels. A big tree that dies or is blown may leave an established shade garden without any protection from the sun.  The loss of a focal point can leave a landscape with an aura of pointlessness.  Hardy boxwood the size of this hedge is just about impossible to find.  Or if it could be found, it would be astronomically expensive to replace.

digging.jpgReplacement may not be the best design decision.  I prefer to look at this situation as a call for a new design.  What will that be?  I am not in a hurry to decide, as I feel the decision is an important one.  The space will have something to say for itself, if I give that process enough time.

dead-boxwood.jpg
Today was only about removing dead plants.  Looking at dead plants is worse than looking at the void they leave behind.

cleaning-up.jpgA new design will have to consider the entire space, as this hedge was just about the sum total of landscape. There may be more losses to come, as the days get warmer.

branch-container.jpgA pair of Buck’s boxes from Branch were put in place, to cover the raw twiggy end of the last boxwood left in the row.

sunny-day.jpgI will be able to see the tulips blooming from the driveway for the first time.  Being able to step back from them is a good thing.  Shortly there will be a good reason to sit on that bench.  There are lots of gardeners in my area facing the same thing.  Every one of them will handle it in their own way. This day’s work was not my idea of getting out and working in the garden in spring.  But it is the hand I have been dealt.  Redesigning and replanting this space will be my pleasure.

 

The Bad News

DSC_9332Every warmer day, there are new signs of the damage sustained in the landscape from our once in better than a lifetime winter.  The news is discouraging.  Any gardener who has zone 5 or 6 plants in their landscape is feeling the side effects of a zone 3 or 4 winter. I do not know the cultivar of pine in this neighborhood garden, but I am quite sure these trees are bone dead.  I was a long ways away, but a close inspection was unnecessary.  That saturated orange brown color on every needle but for the very bottom branches-very bad news.

DSC_9403Our past winter was a once in 130 year event.  Record cold. Record snow. The ice on the Great Lakes-3 feet thick.  The ice on the Great Lakes are still 40% covered with ice.  Some say it will be well into June before all that ice melts.  Chilly is the prediction for our immediate future.   This specialty and marginally hardy spruce grew and prospered in this client’s garden, for going on thirty years.  This past winter proved too be too cold.  Just too cold.  No one could have foreseen a winter like this, nor could this spruce have been protected.  Unless you are older than 130 years, this is this first time you have seen a winter this fierce.

bamboo.jpgLike other stands of mature bamboo I have seen this spring, the culms and leaves are dead.  It is impossible to predict yet if the roots survived.  Time will tell.  We have had a very long period of mild winters.  That length of time was long enough to tempt gardeners to push the limits.  My magnolia stellata bloomed today.  The flowers are small, and look like wet kleenex.  Not that I am complaining.  I am shocked it is blooming at all.  Planting magnolias in a northern zone is a leap of faith.  A story about hope. Our winter was very rough, and every gardener in my zone is being educated daily about how that winter is intruding on our spring.

alberta-spruce.jpgI have not seen a single Alberta spruce untouched by the winter.  Every neighborhood I have visited has alberta spruce burned on the south side.  Some very exposed locations show burn all around.  Fierce burn.

winter-burn.jpgMany landscapes show damage which is hard to understand.  Some plants are untouched.  Others are burned all over.  Others are burned in specific spots.  Some have been killed outright.  Do I have a simple and swift explanation-not really.  Some species of plants that are marginally hardy in our area-many of these are in the killed outright list. Do I have zone 5 and 6 plants in my landscape-yes.  A once in 130 year winter cycle would not prevent any gardener from testing the limits.  The fact is, my 20 year old  garden is but a short intermission in the bigger scheme of things.  This spring is making me realize that nature bats both first and last.  There is no negotiating once a winter tests the limits of cold hardiness..  Too cold is simply too cold.  No zone 6 specialty conifer could not have fared well this past winter.  I have no easy and simple answers.

winter-damage-on-boxwood.jpgI love boxwood as much as the next gardener.  Every Green Velvet boxwood in my garden at home is unscathed by this past winter.  They are green and good to go.  This boxwood hedge in a neighborhood garden south of me did not fare so well.  The cause of the damage?  Salt spray generated by cars driving by at a brisk speed is a toxic bath that can damage boxwood.  Extremely low temperatures can test boxwood cultivars intended for warmer zones.  Exposed plantings of boxwood were bleached by sun reflected off of deep snow.  A boxwood that went into the winter dry can be severely damaged by cold winter winds. Evergreens need to be well watered in the fall.  They cannot absorb water from the roots once the ground freezes.  Water evaporates quickly from evergreen leaves given cold temperatures, wind and sun.  The damage on this hedge is hard to pinpoint. How that damage should be handled-it is too early to tell.

winter-burn-on-boxwood.jpgBoxwood is a broad leaved evergreen.  It needs to be well watered and juicy before winter.  Once the soil freezes, no boxwood can access the water it needs to keep the leaves juicy and green.  The water available at the root is turned off.  Strong winter winds makes the water in the leaves evaporate at an alarming rate.  An evergreen cannot replace the water it looses by evaporation over the winter.  What that leaf has to sustain it in November will have to do for the rest of the winter.  An evaporation rate that exceeds the store of moisture means leaves will dry out and die.

damaged-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood leaves on the interior of the shrub, protected from salt winter wind and sun scald may survive the toughest winter.  The damage I see on the boxwood at the shop makes me want to rush out there with my pruners. Notwithstanding my instinct to remove any sign of damage, I will wait.  Viable branches that have lost their leaves will releaf, given some time. Boxwood damaged by repeated soaking in road salt may not recover. Marginally hardy varieties of boxwood may be dead from the cold.  Hicks yews are not so wonderfully hardy.  Yews pruned after August show striking signs of damage.   I am inclined to wait and see how all of my plants will respond.  Plants have a will to live.  I would advise giving them the room they need to recover.

boxwood-damage.jpgA sick and challenged plant needs time to sort out the insult and injury on their own.  This is my opinion.  This spring following a once in a century winter-what do I know what will be?  I do know this section of boxwood has been struggling with fungus for 4 years.  An extraordinarily bad winter may have done them in.

winter-kill.jpgI have a plan to grieve privately about the damage to my beloved boxwood hedge, and wait.  I know I need to wait for the plants to respond.  Once they respond to warmer weather, I will know what to do.  It is not clear yet what is lost, and what is burned, and needs pruning.  Having never experienced a winter like this before, the last thing I want to do is interfere with the natural order of things.  If you are as passionate a gardener as I am, the waiting will be horticultural hell.  But all of us would go to hell and back for a garden, wouldn’t we?

Early Spring Planting

April 19, 2014 (2)Planting containers for early spring has its pleasures and its pitfalls.  The overriding concern is always the cold.  We planted containers for a client in downtown Detroit Thursday and Friday of last week-a dicey move, considering the overnight temperatures were very cold.  One night-22 degrees.  How to best avoid cold damage in early spring is to be sure you are using plants that have had the opportunity to become accustomed to, or the inclination to tolerate the cold.

April 19, 2014 (8)Very few plants thrive in cold weather.  That does not mean that they will not adapt and tolerate it.  This project was planted solely with plants that had been sown and grown to a good size last fall, prior to being wintered in a cold but not freezing house.  The pansies had had months to become accustomed to cooler conditions.  Placing them outdoors in cold April weather did not send them into shock.

April 19, 2014 (31)Gardeners who start their own vegetables from seed indoors know that those seedlings need to be hardened off before placement in the garden.  Hardening off is a process of exposing seedlings to the reality of seasonal weather, a little bit at a time.  A few hours a day in a shady place, then the day outdoors in the sun.  Then a planting in the garden.  Early vegetables that are sown directly in the garden do not experience transplant shock.  Pea seeds can be sown when the soil is workable, and the soil temperature is 45.  However, peas that that has been germinated or grown in a warm greenhouse will react poorly to a drastic change in environment.  Easy does it.

April 19, 2014 (22)The same would be true for spring flowering perennials.  Some growers  winter their plants in tunnel houses with no heat, so they are subject to the same cold conditions as perennials already planted in the garden.  Other growers pot up bare root perennials in early spring, and bring them on in a warm greenhouse. A hothouse grown perennial may react poorly to being put outside without a hardening off period.  Forced pots of hyacinths need some limited exposure  to the elements before they are placed in a spring container.

April 19, 2014 (27)Lime leaved heucheras do not have much tolerance for cold.  The leaves will bleach, and go limp.  However the heuchera Creme Brulee  seems to shrug off the cold.  I have had angelina survive the winter in a small pot I had forgotten to get in the ground.  But moved outdoors from a warm greenhouse to a cold garden will cause the needles to color up orange and red.  This not so spring like look results from the plant’s inability to absorb potassium from the soil, due to cold.  If your zonal geraniums have red tinged leaves, they are out in the garden too early.

April 19, 2014 (24)There are plenty of plants that can handle the transitional season known as spring.  And having good success with them becomes easier if the plants have been properly hardened off.  The hellebores we had in our greenhouse in March were kept at just below 50 degrees overnight.  Once the season moderated, we moved them outdoors on carts for the warmest part of the day.  When we moved them outdoors for good, we placed them underneath our benches, in the shade.  Even a sunny greenhouse is not near the light intensity of a full sun location outdoors.  Plants exposed to the sun too abruptly can be scorched by sun and wind.

April 19, 2014 (17)Any plant that is already outside at a nursery is good to go for a spring container.  Small spring flowering shrubs are great in containers, and provide some scale.  Twigs and dry or preserved materials can add some heft and presence.  Perennials that look good in spring containers include hens and chicks, lady’s mantle, brunnera, columbines, coral bells, angelina, lavender and hellebores.  Spring vegetables and herbs such as peas, lettuce, cabbages and kales, bok choy and chard, rosemary and parsley, look great in pots.  Pansies, violas, ivy, sweet peas, alyssum, and fuchsia can provide so much color and fragrance.  If in doubt, harden off.

April 19, 2014 (15)My summer pots usually go on long into the fall.  They have the opportunity to get accustomed to the coming of the cold over a long period of time.  Petunias, verbenas, million bells, creeping jenny will look great until frost, having been planted in late May.  If you want to plant them in the spring, give them some time to adjust to the outdoors before planting.  Some gardeners cover their spring plantings for a week or so with floating row cover.

April 19, 2014 (14)A quick introduction to weather that is too cold can set some plants back such that their growth is stunted.  Some never recover.  Much better to celebrate each season, in season.

 

 

The Spring Fair

Spring fair 2014 (30)Detroit Garden Works hosted the first day of its annual spring garden fair yesterday.  In 2010, we decided to sponsor a spring fair for a a few good reasons.  Rob has shopped overseas for Detroit Garden Works for 18 years.  In fact, we just had a container from Belgium arrive a few days ago.  In his travels, he has had occasion to attend garden fairs in a number of different countries, in spring summer and fall.  The European fairs feature growers of plants, vegetables and fruits.  Some fairs have chickens for sale, or mushrooms in season. People of a gardening persuasion have a chance to gather over a coffee and a little something to eat.

Spring fair 2014 (36)We are firmly behind celebrating the spring season.  Michigan winters are long and hard.  This past winter was a record breaking heartbreak.  Once nature suggests that the winter is about to be over, we like to celebrate.  Last year’s fair proceeded as scheduled despite very cold temperatures, and snow flurries. 11 vendors representing topiary plants, spring flowering shrubs and tree peonies, cut flowers, spring container plants, herbs, wildflowers, spring flowering perennials including an extensive collection of hellebore cultivars, tools, succulents, spring wreaths, dry and preserved materials-I believe I even saw a strelitizia in bloom.

Spring fair 2014 (33)Spring was in the air. Yesterday was the best weather we have had in 6 months. The day was marked by lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of smiles.  Even though we provide valet parking as so many people attend  this event, lots of people parked blocks away and walked. The day was that nice.  If you plan to come to the fair today, and park your own car, be advised that no cars can be parked blocking the bike path that is a bridge over Telegraph.  When in doubt, let the valet people park your car.

Spring fair 2014 (26)Of course there was plenty of talk about the ruins of our winter, but there is nothing like an incredibly bad winter to make the experience of the first spring day so welcome.  Liberating.  We had as many people outdoors walking the shop grounds as indoors. We’ll be open today from 14 to 4.  If you have a mind to, come to the fair.

Spring fair 2014 (8)parrot tulips

Spring fair 2014 (19)pots of grape hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (5)bunches of sweet peas

Spring fair 2014 (32)spring fair

Spring fair 2014 (9)daffodils and hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (10)Juliet roses

Spring fair 2014 (25)potted pansies and violas

Spring fair 2014 (28)spring container planting with dianthus and violas

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgCome to the fair!

Spring fair 2014 (15)box of daffodils

Spring fair 2014 (6)cut pale pink parrot tulips with variegated leaves

Spring fair 2014 (3)the Weed Lady booth

Spring fair 2014 (4)cineraria and moss phlox from Bogie Lake greenhouse

Spring fair 2014 (12)pots of miniature daffodils

pansies and lettuceSpring it on.