The snow disappeared last week faster than it had arrived. In the space of four hours it was gone, leaving sodden ground, a rivulet running down the drive and the garden a depressing mess. But, to put my little drama in perspective , the weight of snow plus a gusty wind had brought down a large number of trees and electricity cables; a friend who lives at a higher altitude than us, at the end of a forest track, was unable to get out until the Womble arrived with trusty chainsaw and cleared the trees fallen across his track; another friend lost a large magnolia tree which spilt from top to bottom under the weight of snow. It was the worst May snow experienced here for 20 years.
The depth of snow which fell last week, about ten inches, is not unusual, we had far more than that during the winter and it stayed on the ground for much longer. Fallen branches and trees are a regular occurrence, but damage to the garden is not. The difference this time was that the plants were not dormant as in winter, in fact the unusually high temperatures in April meant that there was more growth than normal, the lupins, for example, already had flower heads forming. This made the plants more vulnerable. In addition the snow was very wet because the temperature was hovering around zero and this seemed to weigh the plants down badly.
So having first ranted then cheered myself up with a little ditty it was time to take stock. The good news was that nothing was dead. On first sight that seemed to be the only good news – it was a mess, a very flat mess. The worst hit were those things with hollow stems or plenty of soft foliage. Lupins, sedums and nepeta in particular looked dreadful and the garden is full of all three. The nepeta was absolutely flat on the ground, my gardener’s eye may have been horrified but the photographer’s eye, looking straight down, found it strangely beautiful.
Poor Dicentra spectabilis got her second shock of the week. Only a few days after learning she is now to be known by one of the ugliest horticultural names –Lamprocapnos spectabilis – this happens to her:
Dicentra no more and not quite so spectabilis now either.
In the orchard the only damage was to one of the pear trees, probably Poire William (lost label, again) which lost the only branch that had blossom on it. In truth its shape was poor due to the wind and my poor pruning so I cut the only other long branch off and it looks better for it. In the soft fruit area the current bushes had been knocked flat but were already starting to spring back. The raspberries were less lucky, probably 30% of the stems were snapped in half. Annoying, but both strawberries and raspberries fruit twice here, so we will probably just have less early fruit and more late.
In tbe central part of the Herb Circle are three young willow trees, grown from whips given to me three years ago. They are now nearly four metres tall but the trunks are still thin. The snow bent them over until their tips touched the ground. We expected them to spring back, but they didn’t. They are now pulled back into position by ropes, which we will release in a few days by which time they will hopefully be able to hold themselves up.
It is now several days since the snow disappeared and the damaged plants are showing an ability to bounce back that I didn’t expect. The nepeta started very quickly to turn its shoots upwards again, but only around the edges so that it formed a coronet rather than a mound. I have cut it back and must wait for it to regrow. The lupins recovery is mixed, some are still a mess,
others have grown so much new leaf that you can barely see there had been a problem.
The plant that surprised me the most was the sedums, whose stems are clearly much sturdier than they look. They have gone from this:
In conclusion, what have I learnt? That the weather will always throw rocks under the gardener’s feet and that the plants have a greater resilience than I have. Or put more simply: Don’t Panic.
Incidentally, while all of this was going on my apricots continued to grow and the kiwi has set its first ever fruit. Don’t you just love being a gardener.