At the beginning of every winter you can find me dragging heavy wooden teepees out of the barn to protect my most vulnerable plants. It's a winter garden chore I look forward to about as much as I do the return of the black flies in the spring.
We originally designed much of our garden here at Juniper Hill for winter interest and one way we accomplished this was to install an abundance of evergreen hedges and boxwoods. The deer that have been known to raid and plunder our garden over the years all seem eternally grateful for the decision to install the hedges. Their keen interest in this particular design element worries me constantly. Even though we put up protective deer fencing every winter, I spend countless hours inspecting yews and arborvitaes for signs of nibbling.
|Photo by John McCormick
The boxwoods, on the other hand, are a lot less worrisome in that regard because, to a deer, they're about as appealing as a plate full of peas are to a young child. That is, they have to be starving before they'll eat them. Yet, even though the boxwoods generally escape the notice of marauding deer, they are not worry free. I have always been a gardener who has fumbled his way along the old gardening path and years ago I made the mistake of planting a number of my precious boxwoods in very vulnerable spots, like very close to the roof line. Which, of course, means I now have the boxwoods to worry about in addition to the hedges. The concern is not that they'll be eaten but that they'll be squashed. Gardening is fraught with worry.
So it was that I embarked on my experiment of protecting vulnerable plants in the same way that tent manufacturers protect vulnerable campers. I can see that puzzled look on your face. Let me explain...
I'll admit, I'm no expert on camping. My idea of roughing it is a mediocre room at the Four Seasons. However, I've looked through enough L. L. Bean catalogs to know that the modern dome tent is a relatively simple structure consisting of a fabric stretched over lightweight, flexible poles that cross each other at some point along their length and thus provide rigidity. This is the very concept that protects the camper's head from debris that might fall out of the sky, like pine cones or space junk. I thought, if tents designed like this worked for protecting people, why wouldn't a version work for my boxwoods? Or, for that matter, any other plant placed in a vulnerable position against the foundation of a house. Which, I might add, accounts for about 90% of the plants in most American yards and gardens. I would certainly like the "lightweight" part; a lot less grunting and cursing at the start of every winter. And, storage would never be an issue. But would it offer enough protection? I decided it was worth a try. So, here's what I did...
|The PEX tubing slides easily over the fiberglass rod
I then stretched burlap over the entire frame and secured it at a number of points along the length of the PEX tubing with the plastic zip ties. Quick and easy. On larger plants, like the Newport Blue boxwoods shown in the photo above, I had to overlap two strips of 4-ft wide burlap in order to cover the entire plant.
At right is a photo of a small boxwood hedge at a vulnerable spot under the roofline, protected by longer sections of the PEX tubing overlapped with burlap.
I called this an experiment because that's exactly what it is. We are about half way through the long winter months here in our corner of New Hampshire and so far the tent-like structures have done a remarkable job. Just like a dome tent, the tube frame has some spring to it so the snow is held away from the plants and it brushes off easily. We have had a few large snowstorms this winter and, thus far, the frames have been able to withstand the weight of the snow just fine.
The tent-like structures were quick and easy to erect and so light that I could carry all the materials I needed for many plants under one arm. Contrast this with the two-person operation that was required to haul each one of the old wooden teepees from the barn and put them in place. Dismantling the lightweight frames will also be a cinch and summer storage for the tubing and burlap will take up less space than a medium sized garden pot.
There are some years when winters become so harsh that the snow can pile up pretty high. So high, in fact, that little corners of the garden that look like this in June...
... can end up looking like this in December...
It is during those winters that my new, lightweight plant protectors will really be put to the test. But I'll keep you posted, as they say.
A Mid-February Update
Here's a mid-February update on the effectiveness of the dome structures. As you can see in the comparison photos below, the snow has continued to pile up yet, even with a heavy load of snow on top and surrounding the boxwoods, the structures seem to be doing their job. So far, so good!