A Miserable Affair

burned-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood hedge in front of Detroit Garden Works has been there 17 years.  This collection of buxus microphylla koreana were Canadian grown.  They had grown to a fairly uniform 3′ tall, and are every bit of four feet wide.   Though their winter color was decidedly orange, they were hardy as could be.  Just what I would want, given a southern exposure.  Until now, that is.  Though I was prepared to wait as long as it would take to determine the extent of the damage, dead boxwood is dead boxwood.

borwood-winter-burn.jpgWe have had an ongoing problem with the section for the past few years.  A fungal infection of unknown name that was stubbornly resisting treatment. This past winter weather was the last straw.  There was only one decision to be made.  How long did I want to look at dead boxwood?

buxus-microphylla.jpgIt was entirely fitting that the day we started digging out those old plants was cold wet and miserable. What made the situation even worse were those plants that were half dead.  Take them or leave them?

digging.jpgThere were 2 plants that were fine.  Those we saved.  It’s not clear yet, but we may have more dead plants.

digging.jpgGardening is not for the faint of heart.  There isn’t any way to run way from this level of trouble.  The loss of any major feature in a landscape is tough to take on a lot of levels. A big tree that dies or is blown may leave an established shade garden without any protection from the sun.  The loss of a focal point can leave a landscape with an aura of pointlessness.  Hardy boxwood the size of this hedge is just about impossible to find.  Or if it could be found, it would be astronomically expensive to replace.

digging.jpgReplacement may not be the best design decision.  I prefer to look at this situation as a call for a new design.  What will that be?  I am not in a hurry to decide, as I feel the decision is an important one.  The space will have something to say for itself, if I give that process enough time.

Today was only about removing dead plants.  Looking at dead plants is worse than looking at the void they leave behind.

cleaning-up.jpgA new design will have to consider the entire space, as this hedge was just about the sum total of landscape. There may be more losses to come, as the days get warmer.

branch-container.jpgA pair of Buck’s boxes from Branch were put in place, to cover the raw twiggy end of the last boxwood left in the row.

sunny-day.jpgI will be able to see the tulips blooming from the driveway for the first time.  Being able to step back from them is a good thing.  Shortly there will be a good reason to sit on that bench.  There are lots of gardeners in my area facing the same thing.  Every one of them will handle it in their own way. This day’s work was not my idea of getting out and working in the garden in spring.  But it is the hand I have been dealt.  Redesigning and replanting this space will be my pleasure.



  1. Oh how i feel for you Deborah. My boxwood is all suffering and or gone to boxwood heaven too. It doesn’t make it it easy because we love those hedges so much. I will look forward to see what you design to replace. Keeping the faith here…and still praying for miracles.

  2. Deborah,

    Even here in the south (Hilton Head Island) we have suffered unexpected losses but I find it exciting to renew an old landscape that choose to go when it was it’s time! I’m sure you will design something beautiful.

  3. Jennifer in KS says

    And those blooming tulips are going to be delightful to see! Sorry for the loss of your boxwood. We’re losing two green ash trees – fairly young and only installed 2 1/2 years ago, but they were to be a major focal point, and were meant to provide much needed shade, eventually. We’re re-thinking many things too, given an extreme lack of water.
    Good growing to you!
    Jennifer in (dry, dusty, windy, western) KS 🙂

  4. Marguerite Neuhaus says

    Coming from the concrete gardens of deep NYC, I will never forget the expression my first midwestern friend (in grad school ) taught me that she learned from her grandmother. ” After the barn burned down, we could see the moon from the living room”. I looked at that last photo and imagined myself sitting on the bench and what I saw looked like a beautiful “allee” of boxwood. All I needed was a focal pt at the end of the tulips. I have no doubt you will create a different beauty than before. Different…but still beauty.

  5. It is a big help for us northern gardeners to see you deal with these losses we are all suffering. It gives me a sense of how to move forward in a positive, thoughtful way. Thank goodness for spring ephemerals which are giving me comfort amidst the brown shrubs.

  6. So sad to see, but change is good. This presents opportunity….

  7. Debra, I’ve been meaning to ask… what goes in place of the tulips after they’ve bloomed? Do you pull the bulbs as soon as they’re done flowering and plant new bulbs in the fall?

  8. I think you’ve prompted me to do the same this weekend with the twp boxwood flanking my garage at home. It seems like they’ve been going more yellow, not less, the past week. Sadness.

  9. Today’s paper informed us that we have just endured the coldest winter in 90 years in Milwaukee. I have already cut my bamboo to the ground. I’ve never had to do this in the decade it’s been growing in my 5b garden. I still have hope that new culms will push up in a few weeks. My boxwood appears to be salvageable, but there is no sign of life in the hellebores. Time will tell whether the crape myrtle I grow as a die-back shrub will come back. I like to gamble with hardiness zones… sometimes you win, sometimes you have to move on and develop a new planting scheme.

  10. That is REAL heartbreak! But I am totally confident that you will turn this around and make it even more fabulous than it ever was, Please keep us posted!

  11. Oh Deborah, I’m so sorry. That is really sad. However, I’m excited to see what you decide to do in that spot and I think you have a great attitude about the whole thing.

  12. Even though I’m facing a totally different situation, reading this post and your acceptance of facing reality is giving me the courage to rip out a grouping of pampas grass at the bottom of a large water feature. There was a time when it all looked great but that hasn’t been the case for the past 5 years. So, this is going to be the year…out they go and I will look at the space with fresh eyes and a new attitude.
    Sorry for the death of your wonderful boxwoods but thanks for the inspiration!

  13. Starr Foster says

    Your boxwood hedges have always been a marvel. It has to be tough to deal with their loss. But – I like the new bench and the idea that your front garden area will be opened up for you to show more of what you have and for visitors to have a place to sit or walk around and contemplate the beauty that surrounds them. Very welcoming.

  14. The 2012 heat/drought, excessive heat and absence of rain after June 2013, and the horrific 2013-14 winter has made me a wiser gardener. All plant life that is still florishing in the garden after this terrible weather trifecta will be celebrated and multiplied throughout my garden. Water-wise natives is my new gardening mantra.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, we have had a run of nasty weather. It’s hard not to feel beat down. But I know when we finally get a warm spring day, my enthusiasm for the garden will be as strong as it has always been. Thanks, Deborah

  15. erin bailey says

    Such a loss! I am sorry for the destruction of loved plants. But you are absolutely right in moving forward with the challenge and you may find yourself very happy with whatever it will be. I watch the British garden show “Gardeners’ World” on youtube and watched Monty Don deal with box blight in his garden’s box hedges–a main feature of the gardens. So sad. He cannot replant because the blight lives on in the soil for at least 5 years. So he is looking into alternatives, but meanwhile his ornamental grasses actually look much better without the boxwood hedge, although only one small section of the hedging to be dug out and burned. We gardeners have to take what we get and keep on designing and growing. Hope is survival!

  16. Ros Turner says

    Hello Deborah

    So sorry to read about your boxwood. You mentioned a fungal problem. In the UK we suffer from ” box blight” that has no cure and I wondered if this is what your dear box might have been suffering from prior to your dreadful Winter. I do not know if this blight has travelled to the US and you probably know about it anyway, but if not you would have never have cured the original problem and eventually it would have spread to the healthy plants. I was hoping to offer you some consolation!

    Best wishes for the new project.


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ros, I do not believe my plants had boxwood blight. We had a similar situation to the boxwood problems at the Chicago Botanic garden a few years ago. Nonetheless, it was the devil trying to get rid of it.For sure healthy plants present the best defense against weather inflicted problems. Best, Deborah

  17. I hate to say it…but I already like the new look!

    • Laura, I was going to say the same thing! It doesn’t look all that bad now with the boxes there and a clear view of the tulips.

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Chad, my pictures don’t show the streetside damage on the remaining boxwood-we’ll see how they come along. There may be a need for even a more radical change. Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Laura, thank you! Deborah

  18. Nature is giving you a new opportunity and it looks like you will take advantage.

  19. Bill Mischler says

    I live in Cincinnati (Zone 6) and some of my boxwood look just just like yours, however most of them went thru the winter fine. I did lose two large bamboo plants in big pots that have been in our intercity garden for 7 or 8 years. Let’s face it was just a very bad winter.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Bill, facing up to what was a really bad winter is exactly what is called for. Best, Deborah

  20. I feel for you. I have a nice pair of hollies that I might have lost. They have green leaves near the bottom of the plant but the upper stems and leaves are completely brown. My only hope is that when I scratched the outer layer of the stems they were nice and green below. I hope that means they are not dead and will grow new leaves.
    I also have a pink winky hydrangea that has shown any signs of life yet. My limelight is nice and green. I’m worried that pinky has been lost.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mark, it will take a while yet to see what the plants will do. It is still really cold here! Thanks, Deborah

  21. Ahhh, so sorry to see this. If it’s any consolation I do love Buck’s boxes – quite impressive! Your eye will design something spectacular! Good Luck Deborah!

  22. I’m in zone 5, just west of Milwaukee. My prized variegated boxwoods all turned totally white. I do marvel at your resourcefulness of placing the gorgeous pots at the ends. Lovely!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Lisa, so sorry to hear about your boxwoods. I had 4 variegated boxwoods that I used in pots. Even being wintered inside the garage, they died. As much as I like them, I don’t think I will try them again. Best, Deborah

  23. Deborah,

    I have followed your blog (and stunning photos) with interest and envy. I live in Calgary (zone 3 with crazy warm winter Chinook winds that suck up all the snow and confuse all but the hardiest plants into breaking dormancy only to be shocked by -20C the next day). We cannot use boxwood nor cedar for hedges here – only as specimens in select spots – because the hedges would all have holes like you’re experiencing.

    I watched with trepidation as you documented your unusually frosty winter. I wondered which plants would surprise you and which would break your heart. It’s always a little sad to lose a good friend, but a hole in the garden means an opportunity to play.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Barbara, I cannot imagine keeping a garden in your zone. You are a gardener of the most hardy sort. I have great respect for your efforts. I am not done dealing with the damage to this hedge. It was very tough to look at dead plants. Now that they are gone, I am ready to move on. Thanks, Deborah

  24. Sorry for your loss and excited for your opportunity.

    Exactly, TIME.

    Was not ‘feeling’ it at a recent project. 5am in bed I decided to figure out why. Realized the architectural gem of a home was showing off it’s modern ca 70’s + deco attitude with fabulosity. Really bodaciously showing off.

    Knew immediately what to do in the garden. Shazam, Pow Batman . The garden has to show off in return. It’s rare to do a garden with the intent of showing off. Cannot wait for this garden to be installed !!!

    Can’t wait to see what you decide for your store.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  25. Beverly Hansberry says

    I am in Minneapolis and I need the lavender in color eucalyptus wit the lime green curly willow that you tied in the middle of one of your designs. Do you ship? Thank you

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Beverly, we do ship. Call the shop at 248 335 8089. Margarita or Sunne can help you. Thanks, Deborah

  26. donna kupper says

    Hello Deborah~ So much of the country is facing this same “winter kill” and fungus on boxwoods. Was in Ketucky two weeks ago and that state has the same boxwood problem. Our questions are: Are you worried about the soil or airborn fungus affecting the next greenery you plant? Will you amend the soil in any way – or spray nearby boxwoods? Thanks for your insight!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Donna, I do not believe my boxwoods had boxwood blight, nor does my arborist. But fungal infections can persist in soil. I just have to decide what I will do there now. I will do nothing at least as long as it takes the tulips to finish blooming. I would not worry about replacing the soil in places where boxwood were killed solely by the winter weather. Thanks, Deborah

  27. I have to say that you’ve made the best out of a sad predicament – those pots look great and I do like the open garden bed full of tulips. We’ve had the opposite problem in Melbourne with a heatwave of 44deg.c (111f) over Summer that was the final straw for my lily pilly hedge. I look at the opportunity it gives me to make some changes (and improvements?). I’ve also lost one english lavender in a row of nine. I’ve got to the point that I don’t want the hassle of matching plants even though they do bring structure to the garden. I really look forward to your updates and the photos of gorgeous potted displays and gardens. Good luck 🙂

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lynda, we’ll see where all of this ends up. You are right-changes can be improvements. Best, Deborah

  28. MaryBeth says

    I am happy you posted this, I am staring a 6-10 dead boxwoods with more turning each day. I keep hoping they will come back but I guess it is time to pull.
    That along with trees and other plants that didn’t survive this winter has me very depressed about the situation in my yard. I almost want to just pea gravel everything.
    Thanks for pushing me to realize it is time to give up and get on with it.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary Beth, you will know when it is time to decide and how to move on. I feel sure of this. Best, Deborah

  29. I always feel as if I’ve failed when a plant dies. I guess it’s one of the vagaries of nature but I still feel responsible. I appreciate your post. You’re right, sometimes gardening is not for the faint of heart.
    Worse yet is deciding what to do with a perfectly healthy plant or tree that just doesn’t belong. We have a spooky looking crooked pine tree over our drive that my husband and I have agonized over. So far she’s still in place and she’s kind of grown on us. Time will tell.

    Good luck with your new look. Good advice to wait.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Candyce, I feel failure when a plant dies too. This comes with the territory for all gardeners. A perennial plant in the wrong place can be moved. A tree in the wrong place is cause for much thought and hand wringing. No one wants to take down a tree. Gardens evolve. Sometimes nature forces us to evolve faster than we would like. Best, Deborah

  30. Jody Costello says

    Maybe this blog should be called “The “Silver” Lining.” Best of Luck!

  31. I recently came across your blog via pinterest and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts in my spare time. I live in the suburbs of Chicago and suffered the same brutal winter. Last summer, we added lots of new landscaping to our yard…. And luckily for me, lots of the new stuff, including my boxwood, survived the winter, even under four feet of snow. The older stuff? Not so much. I waited patiently for our Box Elder to sprout it’s leaves. Some eventually arrived, but half heartedly. Our neighbor asks us weekly when it’s coming down. Even though the tree is kind of dirty and not the pretty-est, we enjoyed its canopy and shade during the heat of summer. This summer, my shade garden underneath has taken a beating. We haven’t had the heart to deal with it….. But reading this post is making me think that moving along might be a good idea. My husband wants to have an arborist out first, he is holding out hope that things will look better next spring. I’m not so hopeful! An old lilac tree bloomed this spring, but it looked a little sad. Halfway through the summer, all of its leaves browned! I’m a new gardener, so this was all so sad to me. But, it has caused me to re-think and re-plan some of our landscaping and I think that has been positive. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed your posts, thoughts, and plantings! Thanks for taking the time to share it all.

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