Dear Boxwood, we need to talk. I planted you so many years ago expecting you would grow into decent sized shrubs along the front borders of my house. I hoped you would become the anchor shrubs the beds need; that your glossy dark-green leaves would be welcome contrast against white winter snows and, in the spring and summer, act as the backdrop to blooming- flowers. But you are just not getting it done and, for this, I accept full blame. It’s my Gardening Oops – my GOOPs – my mistake. Now we both must pay.
It’s the first day of the month, the day I share a gardening oops, using the acronym GOOPs. Though it is April 1 – April Fools’ Day – this is no prank.
When we moved into our house over 15 years ago there were few funds for landscaping. We did all the work ourselves, adding shrubs and plants here and there as time and dollars allowed. During this period I transformed from an avid gardener, with an overall design idea in her head, to a garden and landscape designer who understands the value of having, and following an actual planned design. The front beds, where boxwood now live, would have been very different if I had my my current skills … and my current knowledge of the quirks of our landscape … back when we first started landscaping our property.
The avid gardener me chose boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Green Mountain’) as the main anchor shrubs for many reasons: their deer-resistance, their evergreen foliage, their purported easy care, and their manageable size. Over time, I added them in different spots in the deeper beds at either ends of our house and along the narrow borders along the front porch. These photos from 2004 give a good view of the areas I’m working with and, if you look really closely, of some of the first small boxwood plantings.
The idea was to eventually have three boxwood anchor the left end of the bed nearest the driveway, three evenly spaced at the ends and in the middle of the borders on each side of the front steps,
and three to anchor the bed at the opposite end of the house. In these photos, two boxwood still remain in pots at either side of the steps. These replaced the small azaleas – aka deer candy – flanking the steps.
Due to multiple other projects and life in general, it was not until 2011, that I managed to finally get all the boxwood shrubs in place as originally planned. The in-training designer me still liked the idea of boxwood anchor shrubs for these spots but the avid gardener me began to uncover some issues with this plan.
The boxwood first planted in the borders along the porch underwent some setbacks so they have not reached their expected height. Heavy snows resulted in some damage and need for minor reshaping and boxwood leaf miner control required serious pruning and late winter/early spring horticultural oil applications. The three boxwood shrubs planted in the garage bed now require sturdy winter protection from the solar panel snow avalanche that crashes down from above during heavy snows. Still, because deer in my region don’t eat boxwood, I was willing to put up with these annoyances.
This winter’s snowfalls changed my mind, at least for the boxwood planted along the front porch. The combination of heavy snows, and our need to roof-rake snow off the porch roof to prevent ice jams along the gutters, creates massive piles of hard-packed snow exactly on top of the boxwood along the porch. They can handle the weight of this action from small snowfalls but not from the type of snow we received this year – 36” from the blizzard in February and another very heavy 17” snow.
All six of these boxwood had broken stems at their crown leaving large gaps at the center of each shrub. As they have grown – albeit slowly – the likelihood of such damage has increased.
All six need another serious pruning to reshape them, and all are again showing signs of boxwood leaf miner.
So that’s it, Dear Boxwood. I’m sorry. We tried to make a go of it but now the designer me has decided to remove the six of you along the front porch. Don’t worry, the avid gardener me, with the help of the designer me, will find you new homes in more distant areas of the yard. This is for the better. Some of you will spruce up the shed, others will find homes in less noticeable areas where your glossy dark green will be a nice accent during winter, but any leaf miner damage will not greet me each time I rest on the front steps or walk along the front path.
I’m not yet sure what I will use to replace you, though my two selves are considering Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’ which forms a 12” to 18” mound of shiny dark-green leaves that hold all winter combined with Leucothoe axillaris, a low mounding evergreen that turns deep red in autumn and winter. Both, though deer resistant, will need protection from browsing deer – local deer don’t understand the term deer-resistant – but both shrubs should better handle avalanching snow that you, Dear Boxwood, cannot.
I’m sorry it took so long for me to come to this decision after investing so much time and effort into your care. Don’t despair, Dear Boxwood, we will both be much happier once we make this split.
Keeping with GOOPs tradition, it’s now your turn to share a tale of gardening woe or a gardening mishap. Leave your GOOPs tale in a comment below or write your own GOOPs blog post and leave a teaser comment below. If I don’t respond quickly it’s because I’m planning my boxwood split.