Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dying in plain sight

I happened to run a hand over the leaves of my small boxwood yesterday. I was emptying rainwater from the large copper bowl of the barbecue and was near the small shrub, where it sits in the corner of the terrace. As I heard the feathery rustle of its leaves under my hand I knew, without looking at it, that it was dead. We garden with our ears, too. Perfectly green, but lifeless. Plants like this don't die overnight. So it's been dying slowly, while I looked at it.

It has come through many winters with no trouble, except last year, when a branch broke under the weight of snow. What could have happened? When I lifted it out of the pot I knew at once. Water! It had dried to death. I seldom water any of my plants in winter - I'm not here to do it anyway, but when helping people with their gardens I always tell them to give their plants a drink on a nice winter day:

Potted plants do not benefit as much from rain as one might think - they cannot draw on surrounding water in the soil, only from what falls directly into the pot. The smaller the pot, the more vulnerable.

So why this winter after surviving the others? I can't say.  Lack of snow, perhaps? Warmer temperatures?

I rushed across to the larger boxwood and lifted it out of its larger pot - also bone dry. I dunked it in water. It'll be OK. But the little one makes me sad. I rescued it years ago and nursed it patiently, waiting for its ugly, stunted shape to grow round. They grow very slowly. I liked having two boxwoods (three would be better) - they gave some balance to my otherwise undisciplined collection of plants.

As I write I listen to NPR's reporting on and about Syria. Humans being wiped out systematically while we watch.. But Syria has nothing we want. So we do not interfere. Recently, an interviewed insurgent asked for corridors to provide Red Cross aid. Water in winter. That was in waterless, foodless, shelled Homs. That convoy is being denied entry into the city. The toothless, useless United Nations should be in the line of fire.


  1. Priorities in today's world are so wrong. I liked this post, so I hope you don't mind that I shared it on fb.

  2. To comment about your boxwood seems totally shallow, given the world situation. You are so right that "they have nothing we want", so apparently they don't matter. So we continue to make more enemies in that part of the world ... this time by our inaction.

    I do still feel badly about the little boxwood. You do so well with your containers that it is always hard to lose something in which you have invested literally years. It probably was the lack of snow, which probably provided slowly melted "rain" in past winters. But, I will go check my big planters tomorrow - the ground is too gooshy to get to them today. I just assume that they are doing well, but haven't checked at all this year.

  3. I can't comment on Homs; I can only imagine how awful conditions are there. I can, however, comment on the boxwood. Snow itself wouldn't have delivered that much moisture (for the reason you mention above...only what falls directly on the pot, etc.), but broad leaf evergreens photosynthesize on warm winter days (40F+) and quickly exhaust the moisture in their containers. Even in the ground they're vulnerable if the soil is frozen and the moisture therefore inaccessible. (Warm air combined with frozen ground means soil wicks away from the leaves and can't be easily replaced.) The warm, dry winter we've had has been really hard on broad leaf e.g.s. Thanks for the reminder to get out and water!


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