Freezing

 

February 9, 2014 (1)

Freezing is a state (presumably,  a transitory state) to which I am reluctantly becoming accustomed.  Freezing temperatures are the order of the day.   Freezing-what is that, exactly?  Water which is subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees transforms from a liquid state to a solid.  We commonly call frozen water ice.  We have ice just about everywhere.  Icy is an adjective that describes relationships gone bad, cold color schemes, the mini stalactites hanging from my gutters, the surface of my driveway, my windshield, and just about every street surface between me and work.  Icy means I need to dress in multiple layers-this takes a lot of time, and doesn’t always work so well. Well  below zero ice means I need to cover my face, lest my eyelashes freeze.   As I am a gardener, and not a scientist, I would define freezing as that state when the world more or less comes to an end.

ice.jpgThis section of the roof is always in shade, and the gutter stops up with little or no provocation.  Snow fills the gutter, and when subjected to extreme cold, we have ice filled gutters.  Once it overflows, icicles form.  Understanding the process makes it no less aggravating.  The lower part of the roof is laced with heat tape-no matter.  The snow has been heavy, the freezing has been severe, and long standing.

ice.jpgPlants have a mechanism for dealing with freezing that is much more efficient than mine.  Spring flowering hardy bulbs, for example, cannot be frozen through and through.  The usual cause for the failure of potted spring bulbs is a complete freeze.  The soil temperature is always higher than the air temperature.  Soil which is insulated with a thick layer of snow is less likely to freeze deep.

February 9, 2014 (11)Cold winter temperatures trigger a biochemical response in the bulb, which converts the starch in the bulb to glucose (sugar).  That glucose lowers the temperature at which the cells of the bulb will freeze.  Salting a walk does just about the same thing.  Salty water requires temperatures below freezing to freeze.  The ice on my street is a result of air temperatures that have been so low that even the salty water and snow freezes solid.

February 9, 2014 (13)Even small bulbs that are only planted a few inches below the soil surface are rarely bothered by extremely low temperatures.  When they are completely frozen and rot, there is usually a lack of snow cover.  The frost can penetrate the soil in Michigan as deep as 4 feet, but in a year with lots of snow, the frost is not near that deep.  Down below the frost line, the soil is a uniform 55 degrees, year round.

icicles.jpgThe technology exists to harness the ambient heat in the ground to heat cold buildings in the winter, and and cool hot buildings in the summer. Such a system transfers heat and cold, rather than producing it. 50 degree air on a below zero day is a lot of heat.  50 degree air on a 95 degree day is a lot of cooling.  The upfront cost of such a system is considerable.  I am sure someday that the technology will be simpler, and less expensive to install.

February-snow-in-Michigan.jpgIn the meantime, a 6 foot tall person walking down my sidewalk today would be completely hidden from view.  This frozen snow will need warmer air temperatures to melt.  A good bit of it will sublime, meaning it will pass from a solid to a gas without that intermediary melting stage.

old-and-new-snow.jpgThe snow plow did heave a lot of dirty frozen snow up over the curb. At least last night’s new snow freshened up the look.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgI am sure all of the tulips are safe and sound underneath our mountains of frozen snow.  It’s February, through and through.

 

Boxwood Obliteration Warning

heavy-snow.jpgMy friend Michael wrote me yesterday that the National Weather Service should have issued a “boxwood obliteration warning” along with all of their other communiques on our endless string of winter storms.  I perfectly understand his irritation. We have had storm after storm, layered between bouts of very cold temperatures.  This means the snow is piling up.  The piles along my sidewalks are easily 6′ tall.  Thick layers of snow are extremely heavy.  My boxwood hedges are very densely twiggy, and seemed to be handling the weight with relative ease.  But some select spots of those boxwood hedges are beginning to look alarmingly splayed open from the weight of the snow.  Am I worrying-oh yes.  Other shrubby plants are beginning to get that smothered and half strangled look.  This observation having been made, I have always been a member of the do not touch group.  Am I recommending that you do not touch a shrub going down from a load of snow?  No.  How you handle your garden is your business.  What is to follow is a discussion of my experience.  Do with that what you will.

snow.jpgMy PJM rhododendrons have broad leaves, arranged in tufts atop slender branches.  Heavy wet snow in 28 degree weather that sticks to those tufts usually slides off.  But if the temps take a sudden dive, those wet greasy snowballs can harden and stick.  A weighty iceball on the end of a long slender branch can prove very destructive.  Every gardener in a northerly climate has seen damage to trees and shrubs from ice.  I have a substantial dogwood branch that broke close to the main trunk last spring.  The weight of the ice on the branches was enough to snap the branch, almost through.  As for these PJMs, warmer weather will tell the tale.  I feel quite sure if I were to try to dislodge this caked icy snow, I would damage the plants.

azaleas-in-winter.jpgWhen snow buries both evergreen and deciduous shrubs, I have no worries.  Snow is an insulator, a winter packing material of sorts.  Most snow is light, and infills all of the spaces between the branches.   But when heavy snow collects, freezes hard, and glues itself to the ends of branches that are not so hefty, an alarm goes off.  Shall I brush the heavy snow off of the tips of my shrubs, or leave that snow be?  Plants are tough, but maybe not tough enough in their already stressed circumstances to withstand a broom.

rhododendrons-under-the-snow.jpg

I do not plant even arborvitaes when the weather is right around freezing.  The needles will surely brown wherever I touch them.  I do not brush the snow off of any plant-especially when the temperature is really cold.  I have always thought that my efforts to clear snow from my plants may do more harm than good.  I am more inclined to back off, and wring my hands in private.  Plants have an incredible will to live.  I have a substantial broken dogwood branch that has been hanging on by a one inch wide piece of bark for better than a year.  It is loaded with buds for spring.  No matter how terrible the winter weather is, my inclination is to not intervene.

buried-yews.jpgSnow cover which is frozen through and through is a tough coating to remove.  Just tonight I was chopping ice on my deck with a shovel.  I do not want to slip and fall-nor do I want my corgis to slip and strain a muscle.  I am not a fan of ice anywhere in the travelled landscape, except as a last resort.  Chopping the ice on a deck is a vastly different issue that brooming wet frozen snow from my yews. The densiformis yews pictured above have arms bent to the ground.  I have no idea if those branches are bent to the breaking point.  Branches are subject to all manner of insults from weather.  Wind, sun scald-the scraping from my staking, the scale-branches endure assault year round. Should I broom the snow off of them?  Could I damage the branches even more, if I interfere?

heavy-snow.jpgMost of my boxwoods are buried in snow.  Once a too heavy snow load falls to one side, and splits open a shrub, I am alarmed.  Snow can be heavy enough to crack branches open.  There can be fresh hell to pay in the spring.  Cracked branches are an invitation to disease. A beloved boxwood hedge with a big dead section is enough to make any gardener weep.  My advice?  Do not intervene in the natural order of events, unless the need for intervention wakes you up in the middle of the night.  If you must intervene, use a long bamboo pole-gently.  Wait until the weather is close to, or above freezing.  A branch frozen through and through is brittle.  If you must remove excessive snow, tickle it off.

buried-boxwood.jpgThere are those that favor removing snow from shrubs.  There are those that favor letting nature take its course.  For the moment, I am standing pat.  A good bit of my reason-I cannot really reach them anymore.

hydrangeas-in-winter.jpgNo matter the work that I do in my garden, I feel sure that each and every plant comes equipped with all the survival gear it needs.  Nature has never needed much from me.  I am believing these densiformis yews will spring back, once we have a decent melt.  But there are those moments in a garden that warrant intervention. The trick is to judge the right time and circumstance.

February-snow.jpgThough I am not entertaining, planting, weeding, or watering right now, my garden is on my mind.  Like the corgis, my garden cannot tell me where it hurts.  I observe, and make my best call.

hydrangeas-in-February.jpgMy winter weary shrubs – it is a worry.  And we have more snow on the way.

 

 

A Big Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall yards-don’t most people have them?  I would not ever describe my property in terms of its acreage.  I have a city lot, 105 feet on the short side, and 125.76 feet on the long side.  I am a steward  of 13,230 square feet.  One city lot and a half.  Just to put this in another perspective, the building that houses Detroit Garden Works is 9870 square feet.  The building that houses my manufacturing company Branch is big enough to easily house Detroit Garden Works, and plenty big enough to house my entire house and property – comfortably.  Though my landscape and garden has its overwhelming moments, it is not big.  as in sea to shining sea big.  The loss of a maple upwards of 80 years old in the front yard of the small urban property pictured above was a big loss.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe loss of a big tree that had organized, for better or for worse,  the entire front yard landscape of this small urban property, was a very big loss indeed.  The landscape had lost some of its reason for being.  Exposed for all to see from the street?  A pair of kousa dogwoods near the front door that were struggling from the shade of the maple.  A lack of any substantial landscape statement whatsoever on the right side of the front door.  A pair of yews flanking either side of the front door that tolerated the shade were all of a sudden overpowering and gloomy.  An architecturally noteworthy house looked lost at sea.  Unbalanced.  Utterly symmetrical architecture asks for an equally strong landscape.  The big bump in the front yard was asking for an answer.  The landscape-listing to one side.

pair-of-carpinus.jpgSmall properties advertise their problems in a big and graphic way.  It was not my idea to replace the tree in the front yard.  Why would I propose to repeat an idea that did little to enhance this small property in the first place?  I thought that a pair of carpinus that would flank and frame the front door, and a boxwood hedge on the right side that would answer the existing boxwood hedge on the left would bring some order to the landscape.  My clients were great gardeners, and keen about the landscape.  They liked informal, but orderly schemes.  They had long been retired, and were not so interested in a landscape that would require a lot of lifting and hauling.

front-door.jpgWe removed the struggling dogwoods.  They were so poor, I doubt anyone noticed.  The yews got transplanted.  In their stead, a pair of climbing hydrangeas.  The big leaves are a welcome leafy texture; they were not in any way bothered by the northern exposure.  Deep shade has few takers.  Hydrangea petiolaris is slow to get going, but it is amazingly shade tolerant.   The pachysandra may be the most ordinary ground cover on the planet, but it tolerates, and thrives, in tough conditions.  Lush and green on the ground plane is a good thing.

front-door.jpgWe kept the climbing hydrangea away from the front porch light fixtures-regular pruning keeps this climbing plant in bounds.  Few other vining plants can clothe a wall so elegantly.  We added a few pots to the front porch area-why not?  Though my clients were not able to handle big digging, they were able and willing to look after those pots.

winter.jpgThe columnar carpinus grew. They framed the view to the front door from the street.  They divided the the public part of the landscape from the private and personal part of their home-the front door.  Most happily, every other plant within their range was able to thrive.  The porch had a little light.  I do think that the nurturing of visually thoughtful relationships between shaded and sunny spaces in a landscape is crucial to good design. I believe it is even more crucial to small properties.  The sun and shade can provide lots of atmosphere in the smallest space.

view.jpgDirectly underneath the carpinus -dappled shade.  The pachysandra did not mind this irregular light.  It grew lush and thick. On the house side-a small sun zone.  Sun is inviting in a garden.  The light attracts the eye.  The interplay of sun and shade can provide so much interest in a very small space.  From the sun to the shade and back to the sun-this creates a visual rhythm in a landscape composition that lacks physical space.  Good design in small spaces asks for every base to be covered.  How long does it take to cover every base on a small city lot?  I am not there yet, so I can’t answer.

front-door.jpgThe loss of a very big and old tree presented an opportunity to celebrate a small front yard landscape in an entirely different way.  A change up in a small environment is a pitch no gardener sees coming.  I would encourage you to quit wringing your hands, and swing away.  As it turns out, my clients loved being freed from a maple that entirely dominated their landscape.  They were happy to have the opportunity to make the front porch details more important.

coleus-topiary.jpgI did plant their pots differently every year.  But no matter the scheme, I always planted non stop begonias.  Mr. B had a way with them that was extraordinary.  They grew for him.  I have never seen better.  Though he was always self effacing about his success growing them, I knew he brought his head, heart and experience to bear with them. The new landscape configuration was not maintenance free.  No landscape thrives without attention. But a thriving landscape gave him the go ahead to devote his efforts to growing on the plants in his pots.

yellow-begonias.jpgI want to say that his pots gave him immense pleasure and satisfaction. No matter what day I would drive by, the pots always looked perfectly tended and beautiful.  We took care of maintaining the rest.  I will say they had a rich and involved gardening life long before I met them.  I worked for them for many years, before they sold this property, and moved to the east coast to be close to their children.

walk-to-the-door.jpgThe changes we made in this landscape were over a period of twelve years.  I was happy for my part in this.  Their thoughtful thirty years gardening before me, and my twelve years of revisions made for an updated design that worked for them.

hornbeams.jpgThey sold this property several years ago.  Ill health and age triggered a change.  I understood this.  Landscapes and lives evolve.  They day they lost that old maple-a big loss.  The day they gave up this house and landscape, and moved away-a big loss for me.  Small properties, such as they are, have a big story to tell.  A big hearted landscape design on a small property- all about a story.

 

At A Glance: Snow Down

snow-day.jpgHow are the corgis coping with forty some inches of snow?  Famously.

DSC04337

DSC04311

DSC04312

DSC04349snow-play.jpg

DSC04310

DSC04280

DSC04315

DSC04273

snow-day.jpghardy souls, aren’t they?