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.

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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.

 

 

In The Pink

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The dark days are here.  The needled foliage of the yews are not spring or summer green.  They are black green.  The colder the weather, the darker the color.  By contrast with the snow, the boxwood foliage is dark too.  I don’t mind it, really.  Not now.  But as the winter drags on and on, that brown, black green, black, gray and white can get to be tiresome.  Not that I envy gardeners in California.  I wouldn’t trade how one season gives way to the next for a warm and sunny winter.  Having grown up in the midwest, a warm and sunny winter would just seem wrong.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgBut I won’t have to worry about coping with a limited and severe color palette.  My winter garden in front of my house will be in the pink-dreary winter month after dreary winter month.  Does the pink in this pot seem implausible?  Not to my eye.  The curly copper willow looks great with the brick.  The gold sinamay has enough orange and enough mass to look like a party. The pink eucalyptus has a lavender cast, set against the cinnamon brown willow.  Pink is by no means a traditional holiday color, but why not?   How a color reads has everything to do with its relationship to neighboring colors.  Color also reads so differently in daylight, or night light. Suffice it to say, we will have an abundance of gray days the next few months.  I like the idea of unexpected winter color.

holiday-garland.jpgThe holiday garland features pink bits.  Funny how what seemed in the studio to be overwhelmingly pink looks so much more reserved outdoors.

evergreen-garland.jpgIt is hard to make out the individual elements from the street.  There is the dark green of the evergreen boughs, punctuated by a color and forms that attract the eye.  Pink may be out of season in the garden, but it is in season in my holiday garden.  Of course anyone who comes to the door gets a clearer view.  That is the point, of course.  My landscape has a street presentation-neat, simple and well kept-and not especially given to the personal details. Those details are reserved for people I know and expect.  For a guest that arrives at the front door, there is an element of surprise.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgI would call this a juicy look.  In contrast to the austere look of the overall winter landscape. I favor juicy, no matter the season.  As in hellebores in really early spring, tulips in the late spring, and roses in June, and the hibiscus in late summer. I like flowers in the landscape.  Clematis in bloom is quite unlike the color of any other green plant.  As much as I like boxwood, yews, hosta, lady’s mantle and Princeton Gold maples, I like colors other than green-no matter the season.

winter-pot.jpgWhite in the winter is a regular feature.  Snow is snow.  In this picture, the orange and pink looks companionable to the remains of my hydrangeas.  The color scheme fits right in.  The snow makes its own demands visually.  Everything snow touches turns their color close to black.  Snow that falls on temperature darkened ever greens is all about the contrast between black and white.

tree-in-the-side-yard.jpgMy pot in the side garden has a cut Christmas tree in it, strung with 7 strands of mini lights. At night, the glow is visible from the street, and from the south side of my house.  I find that warm light comforting.  Appropriate to the season.  The lights add another color to the winter landscape-a warm color.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgLest you think there is no pink in the Michigan landscape in the third week of December, I invite you to give a look at my Parrotia.  It is the very last tree in my yard to change color.  The leaves are a brilliant yellow in late fall.  This tree has yet to give up its leaves.  They might stay stuck the entire winter.  The dry leaves are pink – granted a muddy subtle brownish pink.  But pink,  nonetheless.

 

The Garden In December

December-garden.jpgEvery gardener’s circumstances are different, but our December is notable for the coming of the cold.  No matter what year it is, my plan for the holiday and winter garden at the shop has to include an element that is warm.  The lighting is warm.  Sparkly or reflective materials can be warm.  The sentiment of the season can be warm.  Rob says the shop garden this year is cozy.  As in yard after yard of thick fir garland.  Concolor fir, noble, silver, Douglas, balsam-fir is a very sturdy and long lasting green outdoors.  The garland was loosely wrapped with grapevine garland.  The contrast of the bare vines and the lush garland   The window boxes have fir blankets.  The windows have fir hats.  It was 14 degrees this morning when I took this picture, but the garden looks warm.

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The window boxes are stuffed with mixed greens.  As the mixed greens are long and lax, we do a few rows of noble fir at the bottom of the greens to support the entire arrangement. Noble fir is very stiff and strong.  Winter weather can be fierce.  Snow, wind, ice and various mayhem from the sky can take a toll on a container garden one would want to last until March.  Making an arrangement sturdy and strong is more than half of the work of it.

warm-winter.jpgThe centerpieces are composed of red bud pussy willow, ochre eucalyptus, a few springs of metallic gold eucalyptus, and a ruff of gold sinamay. For good measure, a dollop of sugar pine cones completes the look.  Given that the building is large, and the garden is mostly viewed from the street, or from a car, the materials are over scaled. A smaller pine cone would not have much impact given the scale of the building.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgOver the summer, these Belgian blue stone plinths supported Italian terra cotta pots with boxwood spheres.  Winter arrangements in my zone ask for pots that are frost proof. Though boxwood is generally hardy in pots, I would be uneasy about an extended period of low temperatures.  We have had an uncharacteristically cold late fall-12 degrees overnight is much more like late January than early December.  This garden would have a very bleak look, but for its winter dress.

holiday-container.jpgWinter gardens are for viewing from a distance.  It is unlikely anyone will be lingering here for long.  Big, warm, and simple gestures go a long way towards banishing the winter blues.  A design which gives the illusion of warmth is appreciated when the weather is so dreary.  Decorating the garden has its benefits.  It feels good to have something to do that at least approximates gardening. And it is nice to have something good to look at while the garden is dormant.  This garden is just about ready for the snow.

warm-winter-decor.jpgThe fir hats over the windows are composed of garlands that are attached to bamboo poles.  Garden has a natural tendency to fall, swoop and swag.  If you want a straight and orderly appearance, a bamboo pole will keep all of the clippings in line.  The poles are then wired to the pediment.  I like this construction technique for mantels too.

wrapped-tree-trunks.jpgMy favorite part of this winter garden are the garlands and grapevines on the tree trunks.  Deciduous trees have a very spare and sculptural look during the winter.  These over sized scarves that puddle on the ground make the trees look protected and warm.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThere are those places yet to finish.  These urns need something.  The pots need some lighting.  A favorite part of this winter project is the ability to work on it as time and inspiration permits.  Last January I had the basic idea for the garden.  I ordered boxes of grapevine garland, for the building, and the trees, and for Rob’s steel hanging spheres.  Taking the time to let a garden space speak back is my idea of luxury, and part of the great pleasure of the doing.  I may still be tinkering with this 2 weeks from now.  There’s no rush.  Winter will be with us for a long time.

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Warm and cozy sounds good.

The Details: A Story Board

glass-drops.jpgPart 3 of my tutorial about the construction of  winter containers has to do with bringing the special details to life.  Evergreens stuck into a foam form the base of the winter container.  A structure upon which to build.  A centerpiece, no matter whether it is tied up tight and of a piece, or stuck individually, provides an element upon which to focus.  Up next-the details.

evergreens-destined-for-a-winter-pot.jpgA blank canvas can be lush in and of itself, but it asks for those details that make for an individual design.  The third element of any winter pot-those thoughtfully constructed and expressed finishing details.  Pistou is a vegetable soup of French origin, , made with vegetables, various beans, and small macaroni.  This is an overview- their are many individual recipes.  Upon serving, the soup is topped with a large dollop of basil pesto which is showered with grated parmesan cheese.  The addition of the pesto and its parmesan  is an individually imagined finish.  Pistou has no end of recipes, should you look it up on line.  Individual chefs individually imagine and cook the soup, and finish it to their taste.  The finish of your winter containers should reflect your own particular point of view.

light-rings.jpgA winter container has several elements, each of which are interpreted by the gardener in charge.  The finish is about the fine tuning.  The little bits that take construction to another level.  Those little bits can be imagined, and sorted out in the shelter provided by the garage.  These winter pots included light rings on stands of Rob’s invention, stout cut twigs, garland lights, big C-9 light strands, and glass drops.

lighted-topiary-form.jpgSummer topiary forms which provides a climbing venue for mandevillea vines in the summer are strung with garland light vines for the winter.

holiday-garland.jpgA thick evergreen garland is wrapped with grapevine.  Loose and loopy.  The materials are as subtle as they are simple.

winter-container.jpgThis container features one of Rob’s light rings constructed on a stand.  The branches we cut from a tree at our Branch property.  The glass drops will pick up the light from a string of 50 clear C-9 lights.  Part of the story board of these winter container involve light.  No, you cannot see the wires or the bulbs.  The big idea detailed on this story board-the twigs, the glass, and the light.  A story board is a group of images representing an idea.  Any creative expression should tell a story-from start to finish.

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winter garland

winter-container-arrangement.jpgThe story?  Welcome to winter.