Yet another snowy blog post

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Living and gardening in Ariège is never boring. After five years here I don’t feel that I understand what a ‘normal’ season is. I know that it snows in winter, spring is wet, summer is hot and everyone agrees that autumn is the best season. But beyond that broad brush there is little pattern. Perhaps I need another 20 years here, perhaps global warming is messing things up or maybe mountain weather really is unpredictable.

February certainly had the most prolonged period of cold and snow that we have experienced, the worst in 25 years according to my hairdresser. Our Propane gas bottles didn’t work from late evening until the sun had warmed them next morning, but a thermos flask and a bit of ingenuity with the wood stove supplied the essential early morning cuppa. The water butts (our only on-site water source) froze solid – and I do mean solid – so we had to import water from the village, where we also collect drinking water. I did try this method too:

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A lot of snow makes a very little water!

When the thaw started two of the butts split while in another butt I found this beautiful block of ice:

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But we had lots of sunny, if cold, days and eventually the temperatures rose and the snow melted. From -17°C suddenly we had +19° but even that hasn’t managed to clear the snow in the part of the courtyard garden that doesn’t get any sun. But, when you have a nice bottle of Chardonnay and no fridge, snow can come in handy:

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It has been so nice to get out into the garden and the greenhouse this week after nearly four weeks of cabin fever. The snow has done little damage that I can see.

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The crocuses are looking so cheerful, the emerging leaves of the daffodils are all a bit bent but they will doubtless sort themselves out. The peas have flopped a bit but the broad beans in the next bed are standing erect and firm. Several evergreens have a few branches with dead leaves on them but again nothing serious.

The witch hazel has suddenly burst into flower and smells – well what does it smell of? I’m not sure if I like it or not, but I make regular detours to pass and smell again.

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The worst damage is to the lawns and grass paths and is only indirectly due to the snow:

This is mole damage. They seem to tunnel at a particular depth and don’t distinguish between soil and snow, so when the ground is covered in snow they gouge our these grooves in the grass. It happens every year but this time it is really bad. I’m just glad I’m not in charge of lawns!

Another post-thaw find was this poor rhubarb lying on the ground.

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I had read somewhere that you should dig up a rhubarb, leave it overnight in the frost (I have no idea why) then plant it in the greenhouse for a really early crop. So I dug it up, left it to get frosted, forgot it for a while, then it disappeared from view under the snow for a month. After all that mistreatment you would think it would be dead, but no, there were tiny shoots showing. I apologised profusely to it and replanted it in lots of lovely manure in the greenhouse. After three days it looks like this:

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Which just goes to show that even terrible gardeners sometimes get better than they deserve.

And the weather forecast? It’s going to snow again tonight. Oh, joy.

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19 responses to “Yet another snowy blog post

  1. I think it has been exceptionally cold in the mountains, glad everything was ok after it all. I arrived at my hut to discover 6 inches of ice inside in a pot ! it was so very beautiful though….witch hazel is a great shrub and your rhubabrb is looking good, i adore rhubarb !

  2. Love your blog post. We had a similar situation here. This weekend I had normal running water again after 4 weeks. What a luxury! The garden is still empty and I keep buying stuff I can’t plant out yet. To eager for spring to start. This witch hazel looks very pretty.

  3. Crumbs, frozen propane bottles! We didn’t get that here in Pays d’Olmes. I’ve only just got round to getting out the tender pot plants I’d sheltered in the atelier. Looks as though they’re going to be huddling in there again tonight. Heigh ho.

    • Margaret: Hello there, are you back in Ariège? Yes, the propane took us by surprise too. It’s still a bit early to call it spring yet, isn’t it? But it is SO tempting.

      • Ooh, we came back just in time for The Big Snow – I got 4 blogs out of it! But it IS nice to be properly outdoors: surely this next flurry of snow will be just that? Please?

      • Margaret: Oh dear, I haven’t been keeping up with your blog, have I. I had better get over there and subscribe!

      • You don’t have to! I’m interested in yours because I like your writing, I like your photos, and I like what you get up to. I thought your sprouting experiments were really interesting, even though I never actually told you. I’m glad you’ve started posting more regularly.

  4. My goodness I love my rhubarb to death, literally and it does not looks as good as yours!

    We were staying with our daughter in France during the cold snap we left +20C in Portugal to arrive at -10 going down to -18, and the heating oil froze. Brass monkeys spring to mind. I’m still thawing out!

    I admire your creative approach to water!

    • PIP: rhubarb is wonderful stuff, I can’t believe that one survived. My daft lifestyle encourages ‘creative thinking’ – and a lot of swear words!

      • Gillian I can so relate to your words! We learn to rid ourselves of preconceived ideas and look outside the proverbial box! You mayl smile when you read my rhubarb post.

  5. Wow – the things you put up with, though good to see you still managed tio have an early morning cuppa!

    BTW rhubarb needs a period of cold for it to grow. The technical term is vernalisation. No frost = little or no rhubarb 😦

    Fruit trees such as apples also need it, as does garlic.

    • Michelle: Well, things should certainly be fully ‘vernalised’ this winter! But I still don’t understand why the roots had to be exposed.

  6. Since rhubarb seems to have more than a bit-part in this thread, I’m hoping someone can give me tips about keeping it happy in the summer months. Obviously my plants will be cheery at the moment, having been vernalised to within an inch of their lives, but now what? Those long hot summers in a garden with no shade….is there any hope?

    • Margaret: that’s a good question. My rhubarb starts well, both forced and unforced, but quickly starts to produce big, green, pretty tasteless stalks. I didn’t know if it was the variety or our climate, so I sowed ‘Gladwyn Perpetual’ seeds from England last year, but I shan’t know until next year if they are better. I will ask the gardening experts on Twitter what they think of growing rhubarb in our climate and report back.

      • I’d love to know the results,please!

      • Margaret: the consensus on Twitter was that our rhubarbs are probably not getting enough water and that they should be really well mulched with manure and kept moist. This could explain mine – having only limited amount of water I tend not to water much unless plant looks stressed, which rhubarb rarely does. So will be keeping it well-watered this year.

        The other recommendation was to split the rhubarb if it seems congested and plant it somewhere else. A garden writer said that she has rhubarb that does well in her garden but not so well at her allotment. So I am going to try several different places and see what differences I get. I have a lot of plants so I can experiment! Incidentally, no-one said that our hot summers in themselves are a problem.

        Lastly, they recommended planting known varieties, ‘Champagne’ seems to be well thought of. I think I may have given the wrong name for mine – its ‘Glaskins Perpetual. I can let you have some seeds if you like or I’ll sow them and let you have the plants. Crikey, that was a long reply, I hope it helps.

  7. Given my chaotic lifestyle, I might not manage to raise seeds. But I’d LOVE some plantlings if you ever have any spare. Meanwhile, I’m going to force feed my remaining plant on luscious muck and lots of moisture! Thanks for all those tips

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