It suddenly dawned on me today that Mother Nature and I don't agree on shrubbery. After moving in ten years ago, I promptly removed the inkberry hollies (ilex glabra) that had been planted by the builder and she's been seeking revenge ever since.
I replaced the hollies with rhododendrons, which were killed in an ice storm. 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas followed the rhodies, only to be fried by reflected heat. In spring 2012, I replaced the hydrangeas with deep purple loropetalums, convinced I had finally found the perfect shrub. I had grown them when we lived in South Carolina and was eager to have their dramatic foliage brighten up my boring beige house.
But what I didn't factor in when I purchased them was the wind tunnel created when the massive planet sized American cranberry bush (viburnum trilobum) on the corner of the house dropped its leaves in the fall. Oops!
Protected by the wind buffering abilities of the house and porch, this shrub survived the winter fairly unscathed.
This shrub was next to the viburnum had to be cut back to about 8 inches tall. Most of the plant had died from wind damage.
My stumpy little loropetalum bounced back and doubled in size.
I love the deep purple foliage.
The Green Blob of Awesomeness
I knew the only way to protect Stumpy from wind damage again was to put up a barrier. I hastily erected this before a sudden cold snap out of garden stakes and special landscaping fabric designed to protect plants from frost. The fabric was much larger than I thought and fairly uncooperative. But despite its appearance, it's very effective.
I weighed down the green fabric with rocks and it's currently full of snow. The viburnum needs its water sprouts pruned off but that will have to wait a few more weeks. This picture was taken Jan. 31, 2014. The loropetalums still have a few leaves, which I'm hoping is a good sign. The viburnum is planted about 10 feet too close to the house.
So, if the Green Blob of Awesomeness is protecting my loropetalums, why am I writing this post? Because our cold snap turned into a stretch that became the coldest January in 100 years. When the temps dropped into the single digits and then fell below zero, I started to think I might need a backup plan. Hardy only to zone 7, our increasingly warm winters had fooled me into thinking they would be fine in my zone 7A garden. Planted in front of a window covered in reflective heat film that keeps our house cooler in the summer, this weird little heat island is its own unique microclimate. I thought that would protect them from any unusually cold weather. It never once occurred to me how cold our winter would become.
Regardless of the places I've lived, people I've met, or choices I've made, I always come back to several unfailing truths: trust your gut, never confuse collective wisdom with mass stupidity, and always have a backup plan. It's quite possible my loropetalums won't survive this winter. It's time for Plan B.
After a visit to the local nursery one of the horticulturalists had several suggestions. My favorites were panicle hydrangeas (hydrangea paniculata) and weigela. Neither are evergreen, but that doesn't bother me. My garden features winter disinterest so these will fit right in.
Of all the panicle hydrangeas I researched, I liked 'Pinky Winky' the best, although the name is ridiculous.
PROS: It's a tough shrub that can take the reflected heat off the big bay window and the pink flowers will look great against my boring white/beige house. They're fast growers.
CONS: It grows to 6 ft tall instead of the much preferred 4 feet. I'm not sure how adaptable they are to being pruned.
'Wine and Roses' weigela florida
I was hesitant to consider weigela because I had several of the dwarf cultivars die of a weird fungal disease once. But these are hardy to zone 4 and are reputed to be tough shrubs.
PROS: They attract hummingbirds, have purple foliage, and are easily pruned.
CONS: They're a bit gaudy and look like big dead spiders in the winter.
What would you do? All advice and suggestions are welcome! The spot where the loropetalums are growing faces east, receiving full morning sun and reflected heat plus bright afternoon shade. The soil is slightly moist but competes with a massive viburnum. Dwarf 'Mardi Gras' abelia grow in front of the loropetalums.