Wednesday 22 March 2017

Snow reveals fleeting beauty in a new light

MUCH as the snowfall has been a great inconvenience, it has offered a very rare opportunity to see the garden in a special way. Only very occasionally do we see the kind of snowfall that settles on tree branches and twigs and does not melt almost as soon as it lands. When the structure of a tree is picked out in a fine white coating, its beauty is highlighted, each one different.

The structure of the garden itself is revealed in a new light. The smooth surface of a lawn or paved area gains a pristine purity that it never otherwise attains.

The roofs of houses become part of a tableau of surface and defined edges, creating a unity of presence and colour. Plants, especially trees and shrubs, take on a new character -- the normal, somewhat brooding presence of conifers is brightened by snow and the tracery of fine branches makes a cloud of sparkling white. This beauty is rare and fleeting, even if less fleeting than many would wish, and it should be appreciated during its time.

While the snow and frost has tightened its grip on gardens and on the countryside, it raises concerns about damage to plants. The cold weather of last winter caused severe damage to many thousands of exotic plants, most notably cordyline palms and phormiums, both somewhat tender New Zealand natives. While the cordylines have recovered in almost all cases, many phormiums did not. The current temperature levels over much of the country are severe enough to cause similar damage and it is to be expected that these plants and other less than fully hardy kinds will suffer. When the temperature drops below -7 Celsius, it is inevitable that some plants will freeze.

Plants are somewhat less likely to freeze at this time of year than in a month or too, the reason being that they have more sugar in the sap at the start of winter than at the end, and the sugar acts as a kind of anti-freeze, but this effect is limited. What to do?

It might be possible to cover a few choice items, and this can help, or to pile mulch over the roots of dahlias and other tender plants in the ground.

In the parts of the country where snow has fallen, the snow itself acts as an insulator and prevents the penetration of the harder and more damaging frosts. Snow usually melts before its weight builds up to the point where it can break tree branches. But it often opens up columnar trees, such as churchyard yew trees, causing the branches to bend outwards and sometimes the branches do not right themselves. But in general, garden plants will be none the worse for the cold weather when it finishes.

Sunday Independent

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