Snow Day And Night

parrotia-in-January.jpgThe  pictures recovered from my iphone of the rose garden in June a few days ago were indeed a pleasant interlude.  However, the winter season is all over my garden.  Buck says we have 10-12 inches already on the ground, and our heaviest snowfall is yet to come.  Overnight, another 6 inches.  I have not one problem in the world with that.  Due to arrive shortly-zero and below temperatures.  I told Buck it was at least 20 years ago that I remember temperatures this cold.  Given an extremely low air temperature, I am glad that all of my plants have roots buried in the ground.  With the temperature set to drop to zero, I am further comforted by the insulation provided by all of this snow.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgWinter hardiness is an exact science, provided you factor in each and every one of the mitigating circumstances. OK, it is an inexact science. Plants reputedly hardy in my zone that are planted in poorly draining clay soil die out regularly.  Perennials and shrubs planted so late in the season that there is no time for any rooting to take place can be heaved out of the ground in a freeze/thaw/freeze period.  Marginally hardy plants placed in protected locations, and mulched for the winter stand a better chance of survival.

buried-stairs.jpgPlants have an extraordinary will to live.  They will suffer my careless planting and indifferent siting, my over watering, my thoughtless pruning and wrong headed culture without so much as a peep.  But once the insults reach a critical mass, a plant will die.  My garden starting slowing down this past August, and we have had fairly cold and snowy weather since November.  The garden couldn’t be more ready for the cold. I doubt that anything in my garden will be damaged by the brief but extreme cold to come. Dormant is dormant. The insulation that will result from all of this snow is a bonus.

Heavy snow does not keep any plant warmer.  The snow is an insulator.  It protects against any response to a rapid change in conditions.  With mulching, or insulation from snow, a plant that is frozen will most likely stay frozen until the time is right to grow.  Our temperature today was 29 degrees.  It has dropped precipitously to 9 degrees.  It is forecast to drop again to zero on Tuesday.  Once a plant has gone dormant, it is the hope that the dormancy will be maintained.  Up and down, freeze and thaw-big changes are not good changes.  If I have a mind to mulch a tender perennial for the winter, I do not apply the mulch until the ground is frozen.  The mulch will help frozen ground stay that way.

snow-day.jpgI dress in lots of layers in weather like this.  A turtle neck, a fleece jacket, a down vest and a down coat keeps me comfortable outside in cold weather.  Warm air is trapped by all of the layers.  My sheepskin winter boots, warmed by the radiator, will stay warm for several hours outdoors-the sheepskin holds the heat.  I am not looking for my winter gear to warm me up.  I only ask that it help me maintain a comfortable temperature outdoors.

heavy-snow.jpgI have been in and out all day today with my camera.  A snowfall of this magnitude is not an every day garden event.  Piling on the clothes prior to a garden visit is an event the corgis notice.  They know something is about to happen.  I have had them outside on and off all day today.  Though they are not equipped to handle really deep snow, they have been game.  Milo plows, and Howard follows in his tracks.

yew-topiary.jpgAt 7pm it was snowing even harder.  The snow had gotten more powdery, and the wind was blowing it around.

winter-storm.jpgThe light strings in the pots were unfazed by all the snow.  All else was a deep blue gray.

winter-pots.jpg)My winter pots-pretty fazed.  This is a moment when I am glad that we take such trouble to insure that the winter arrangements are secure.  The centerpieces go deep into the soil in the pots.  As that soil is frozen solid, it would take a lot to dislodge them.  The eucalyptus is preserved, and will bend before it breaks.

Buck.jpgBuck is not a whatever the weather guy, but even he was intrigued.

winter-pot.jpgsnow clogged winter pot

snow-bound.jpgburied boxwood

Milo.jpgMilo, unfazed.

At A Glance: A Blanket Of Snow

pot feet












Let It Snow

Snow-just what is it?  Water, high in the atmosphere freezes, forming very small ice crystals.  These ice crystals, in the form of individual snowflakes, fall to earth, blanketing your garden and mine with a white granular substance we call snow.  Frozen rain, if you will.  Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of the snow.  It is cold.  It is difficult to walk and drive through.  Worst of all, it is a sure sign that the growing season has come to a close.  Once the garden goes to sleep, the snow usually comes, and covers all until the weather turns.

Snow can be just the thing-for people who sled or ski.  My appreciation is a little less visceral.  I love the white of it.  Snow makes such a stark and crisp contrast to our relentlessly gray winter skies.  Even the softest light will make it sparkle.  Fresh heavy snow is visually dramatic in form, texture, and mass.

 Snow falling on a windless day emphasizes the shape and configuration of everything it touches.  Flat surfaces build up snow collars.  A chain link fence catches the snow in a way that beautifully describes its texture.  A perennial garden cut back to the ground gets a softly undulating and sleepy shape.  The snow will detail every vertical blade of ornamental grass left standing.

 In my zone, a winter blanket of snow protects many plants from dessicating winds.  Though it is hard to believe that ice crystals could offer any protection, a blanket of snow insulates.  The frozen ground will stay frozen.  Ground that freezes and thaws can heave plants out of the ground.  Insulation is a preventative against all kinds of loss.  Heat loss from the roof or the hot water pipes.  My down jacket-insulation against the cold.  The snow keeps everything uniformly cold. 

 A winter with no snow cover worries me.  I like all of my plants buried in snow.  Comforted and protected-this they need.  The winter temperatures and winds can kill.  As much as I treasure what nature provides, winter can be a formidable enemy to living things without protection.

As for the snow falling today-I welcome it.  Our summer was very hot, and very dry.  In the back of my mind, a worry about the lack of water.  Snow is water in an alternative form.  As every living plant depends on water to survive, I welcome this version.  Once the ground thaws, a bit of that water delivered via snow will be absorbed into the ground.

Last winter was an anomaly.  Warm temperatures throughout-no snow.  This weather deprived me of plenty.  No flowers on the magnolia trees.  Poor bloom on the roses.  Garden disappointment-I hope to not have this next spring.  Today’s heavy snow comforts me.  It is so beautiful.  It is so expected. 

My good friend MK writes me today that the snow is uplifting his spirits.  Discussion not needed- I understand his feeling.  The snow feels right.   Basic to the psyche of any gardener is instinct to protect.  The snow blanket is an essential part of the natural order of things.

Bring on the snow!  I am enchanted as much by its beauty as I am by its utility.  Though I will never enjoy it to the extent that Milo does, I appreciate this particular season for what it is. Quiet, and beautiful.

A Few Good Things


There are a few good things that help me survive the winter.  What are my top ten?  If you live in a climate like mine, you know how hard it is to keep warm.  The first 50 degree day in spring will feel like a heatwave, but today a 7 degree day and a 50 degree workplace is chilly.  Good gear is essential. I have no problem finding fleece, a warm down jacket, a decent headband hat and gloves, but keeping my feet warm has always been a headache.  I’ve tried them all-moonboots (remember those?? Unbelievably, you can still buy them.), insulated boots of every description.  The only boot ever to keep my feet warm-sheepskin lined boots.  I bought mine a size larger than my shoe size, and I wear them without socks.  Socks make them fit too tight; any tight fit is a sure route to cold feet. I trade them out for warm and dry sheepskin lined slippers when I get home, courtesy of my number two best defense against the winter-my radiators.  My old house has a steam fired boiler.  My heat is even, and makes no noise, beyond an occasional clanking.  I had the chance to switch to forced air heat when the original boiler gave out-I am so glad I resisted.  Steam heat is such a comfort. My boots spend the night on the radiator.  My slippers spend the day there, and are warm and ready when I get home.  If this sounds silly and self-indulgent, you are right. 

A friend bought me a Kuerig coffee make last winter just before I had a knee replaced.  This machine is a winter luxury.  I can brew a single cup of fresh coffee, whenever I please.  Ordinarily a two cup in the morning person, I like a cup of coffee on a midafternoon midwinter day.  My routine might seem a little involved, but in the winter, I have time.  I brew a cup of plain hot water, which heats up my cup.  I put a generous amount of milk in the bottom, and brew a large cup of French roast coffee.  It is good to think there is something about winter that is luxurious-I have hot milky coffee in the afternoon.

Time-the winter is a good source of free time.  Time to think, muse, read, rest.  Just knowing I could take a nap in the afternoon is a luxury.  Spring, summer, fall and early winter, every day is jam packed with work.  Some days it is a wonder that I stay awake all the way through dinner. My office has an airport style lounge couch-If I had a mind to, I have a place to snooze.  Not that I do, but I could.

Having a winter season is a very good thing.  I do not think I would adapt very well to a profession demanding the same level of involvement all year round.  I am glad I am not weeding and deadheading, or watering pots.  I am glad the snow is too deep to walk in the yard-who knows what I might see out there that would make me wring my hands.  I like being too busy, and then too unavailable to get busy. 

Certain scents recall the garden-I like being able to reminisce with a little spritz.  The garden provides me with every imaginable smell during the season-part of the worst of the winter is that lack of olefactory stimulation.  My friend Julie bought me a bottle of Dirt cologne  for Christmas.  It is called dirt, no kidding.  It has been engineered to provide a substantial whiff, and quickly fade.  Though I was dubious, it did in fact smell like the most delicious compost I have ever smelled.  How do they do that?  I recommend it, should you be a gardening shut in right now. 

Google images-the winter is a perfect time to bleep that up.  Try dahlias.  Try English gardens, antique garden ornament, vintage washtubs, labyrinths, heirloom seeds, stainless steel garden tools, jute twine, ornamental trees, brick, hellebores, garden benches, groundcover, contemporary Dutch landscape design, landscape lighting, Sceaux, belvederes, crop circles, succulents, Longwood Gardens, topiary, hardy roses, asparagus roots-you get the idea.  Should you see an image you like, investigate further.  It’s snowing outside-take the time; click on.  Learn something new.

Those plants that might tolerate my hot dry and poorly lit house-I call these house plants.  Make the rounds-check out what is available.  Every one of your local greenhouses would welcome your winter visit.  What is out there that you might grow? If you are like me, and welcome the winter off from the responsibility of making something grow, the opportunity to say no is a good thing.  Look at those pothos, and just say no. Save yourself-for the alyssum.

Books-my winter is about researching and reading them.  I buy new books. This one-Private Gardens of Connecticut-is really good.  I make a point of rereading whatever of my books I can- every winter.  I remember a lot of what I read, but every time I get an old book down off the shelf, I see what is pictured or written there in a different way.  My books are the strongest evidence that I have that I have evolved, and continue to evolve, as a gardener.  The words are the same.  The pictures are in exactly the same sequence as they were 5 years ago.  But what I see when I read changes over time.  Is it snowing?  Reread.

One of the very best things about winter-having time to watch the corgi channel.