Winter Containers

Winter containers

I’ve lately been looking at Pinterest “Winter containers”, and unsurprisingly, a lot of pins are containers designed by Deborah Silver, of Detroit Garden Works. She has a distinctive personal style–you can always identify her designs when you see a page of google images. Here are a few examples:

 

So I decided to have a go creating my own, using Deborah’s “template”.That includes zip ties, a centre bamboo stake, a mixture of greens, and subtlety.

One thing that’s not obvious at first glance is that all the above containers were full of heavy wet potting soil, which gives a nice solid medium for these top-heavy creations. They were previously filled with plants of some kind–probably annuals, since there’s nothing left of them. In my case since I don’t (or barely) plant annuals, I have containers with either dormant perennials, or shrubs with bare patches.

Since my camera or computer corrupted some of the pre-pictures, I can’t show you what these looked like before I started winterizing them. One held long-since faded pink chrysanthemums which I cut down. Another just a boxwood with a lot of empty space around it. And the third (least successful I’m afraid–I’ll continue to work on it…) a Dwarf Alberta Spruce in a too-small container.

Some of the options I considered for winterizing included:

Mostly Douglas-fir, with a little spruce (Abies) of some kind. Harvested after a big wind storm from Central Park. And some from my back yard. Really, Doug-firs are messy, with their brittle branches.

Mostly Douglas-fir, with a little spruce (Abies) of some kind. Harvested from Central Park after a big wind storm. And some from my back yard. Really, Doug-firs are messy, with their brittle branches–even a little wind leaves a lot of Douglas-fir debris.

The main foundation for my additives is conifer branches. I’d love to have had some cedar and some pine, but there weren’t any (free) windfalls.  A mixture is good, but in my opinion, if you already have an evergreen shrub that you’re building around, two more different greens is ample, more begins to look a little busy.

Skimmia, in all it's winter finery. If the birds ate the berries, I'd be hesitant to use them. But for some reason, the birds don't like skimmia berries.

Skimmia, in all it’s winter finery. If the birds ate the berries, I’d be hesitant to use them. But for some reason, the birds don’t like skimmia berries.

Skimmia is easy to prune, since it makes lots of low-to-the-ground branches that I’d prefer to be limbed up a bit. So a clip here and a clip there gives a lovely selection not only of the briliiant red berries, but another non-conifer greenery.

Pyracantha--aka "firethorn", for reasons that become patently obvious when you get close to it: 1-2" thorns grace its branches.

Pyracantha–aka “firethorn”, for reasons that become patently obvious when you get close to it: 1-2″ thorns grace its branches.

Pyracantha is another berry-bearing shrub that can be actively pruned for both it’s greenery and its berries. Just be careful of the thorns.

hydrangea blooms, faded of course, but still offering wonderful shape and texture, and even the brown colour takes on a gold aspect when paired with greenery.

Hydrangea blooms, faded of course, but still offering wonderful shape and texture, and even the brown colour takes on a bit of a gold glow when paired with greenery.

I used two different Hydrangea blooms–one is ‘Invicibelle’, pink when it’s fresh, with tiny individual blossoms, much smaller than most hydrangeas. The other I used is “Limelight”, with panicle-shaped blooms.

Hydrangea 'Limelight'

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’

Here are my final products.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce with Douglas Fir branches. The least successful of my attempts, but I'll do some work on it and try to post a better version later.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce with Douglas Fir branches. The least successful of my attempts, but I’ll do some work on it and try to post a better version later.

This container had the faded mums, so I'm basically starting with an empty space. So the red dogwood branches provide the height in place of the shrub or tree in the others.

This container had the faded mums, so I’m basically starting with an empty space. So the red dogwood branches provide the height in place of the shrub or tree in the others.

I used the red-twig dogwood, bundled together with zip ties onto a bamboo stake, plunged down into the centre of the container. This is where you need to be careful if you’re modifying a container that otherwise has dormant perennials. I didn’t think there was much risk of damaging the mums…

Then  came the conifer branches, mostly Douglas-fir. The light blue/silver is actually just the underside of the Doug-fir, providing colour variation, but same texture. There is also some silvery spruce which are more densely needled, and stiffer, so they stand up better. The Doug-fir with its weak branches tumbles over the edge, hiding the not very attractive container. And a few crocosmia stems with their seed heads are sticking out like satellites!

And finally the boxwood container:

IMG_1039

Boxwood, spruce, skimmia, hydrangea, and gold garland.

Not exactly up to Deborah Silver’s standard, but she’s a hard act to follow!  At least these give you an idea of what you might do–and no doubt, do with more flair than I’ve  achieved here. But I’m learning…

 

 

Garden Thugs: Daphne laureola

Daphne Laureola

A couple years ago I was walking over to a friend’s house when I was arrested by the fragrance coming from a lovely compact shrub along the sidewalk. It took me a while to discover that it was Daphne laureola (Spurge Laurel)–which didn’t surprise me, because my experience with Daphne so far is that they are delightfully fragrant! I have a Daphne odora ‘Marginata’, and my neighbour has (I think) Daphne x tansatlantica ‘Summer Ice’.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather.  You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather. You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves. Click on picture to enlarge.

The unfortunate thing about all Daphnes is that all parts of them are toxic to humans when ingested, and sap can cause reactions on the skin. Now, that’s bad enough with the hybrid versions of Daphne, but with Daphne laureola, a species native to Europe, it carries more problems. First of all (unlike the hybrids) it’s tolerant of almost all soils–although it’s native soil is alkaline, it’s doing just fine in our acidic local soil, and especially in wooded areas of the Douglas-fir and Garry Oak ecosystems. (See this article on the Vancouver Master Gardener website.) It also (unlike the hybrids) produces berries, toxic to humans and small animals, but not to birds. So the birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds wherever they fly, spreading Daphne laureola far beyond where it was planted.

It is undeniably a pretty shrub, but it has too many disadvantages to justify planting it in your garden. Alternatives that meet the same cultural needs include Skimmia, Sarcococca,  Pieris, small Rhododendrons and Azaleas (although the last two aren’t fragrant), and even the beautiful Daphne odora and Daphne x transatlantica.

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Would you consider removing your Daphne laureloa?