Plants that can take a beating

My two brother-in-law’s and I have been snow plowing the same condominium complex for nearly three decades. And it seems we have been having the same conversation, over and over again, about where to put all the snow when it piles up. Our contention has always been that architects, engineers and contractors should have conversations in the field, prior to places being built, to not only “iron out” academic solutions, but practical ones as well. Imagine if open spaces or cavities were designed into plans so that snow removal contractors had a deliberate or intentional space to put snow. This would eliminate cars having to be jockeyed while snow removal contractors try to displace snow and ice, often in the middle of the night. Another consideration, concerning property development, might have north facing doorways and steps have simple dormers installed over a vestibule or other entrance? Snow and ice would move left and right helping to eliminate daily site visits. Waiting for snow to dissipate off a roofline only contributes to “slip and falls” and labor and material costs.
My responsibility has always been clearing snow away from garages and doorways with our John Deere skid loader/skid-steer. A small, rigid-frame, engine-powered machine with lift arms, there are lots of fun attachments that can be used to help make a contractor’s life easier. Back dragging driveways and making pathways for larger machines to come through has always been part of my job description. Together, we work seamlessly, almost orchestrated. However, when heavier snowstorms come, we sometimes run out of room quickly. We all do our best to distribute snow evenly, where every property gets its fair share.
Pushing snow into “every nook and cranny,” I have found over the years that there are a handful of plants that can take just about anything you can throw at them. Or more to the point, anything you can throw on them. Encased in snow and ice, sometimes for months on end, I am always astounded as to the punishment some plants can take. Cold hardy Prickly Pear, Opuntia, is a groundcover I have written about in the past. Still enamored by the fact that this rugged plant continues to crawl over the Belgian block, year after year, while I continue to selectively prune it back with the blade of my machine. Impressed with this plants ability to withstand razor sharp haircuts in the middle of winter, thrive in shallow, poor soil types and reliably flower throughout the summer, this plant is one of the most tenacious I know.
Burning Bush/Winged Euonymus, Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ and Border Forsythia, Forsythia x intermedia, are two more plants, in abundance, on the property we maintain. This past spring, landscape contractors came in and cut back both of these plant types, knocking back years of growth, reducing both to mere stumps. Despite the callous pruning methods, these plants flushed out new growth and continued on their way. Over the years these two plant types have been sheathed by winters harshest conditions, only to reemerge and prove their usefulness as a screen or border plant. Year after year, bucket of snow after bucket of snow, both Burning Bush and Border Forsythia have proven their resilience. Forsythia’s bright yellow flowers in the spring and Winged Euonymus’ vibrant fall color are reasons why these plants are often used.
Finally, a deciduous plant type that has been submerged, again and again, in snow is Spirea, Spiraea. Many Spirea grow between two and five feet and reliably flower throughout the summer. Common flower colors include, pink, white and purple and often their foliage is green or yellow, some even tinged with exciting colors. While winter has been known to desiccate certain plant types, wreak havoc on brittle branches or eliminate, all together, border-line “hardy” plants, the aforementioned plant types seem to just smile and winter’s wrath and even say, “bring it on!”