Bleak midwinter Posted on December 27, 2010

‘The English landscape’, said Horace Walpole, ‘is best appreciated framed and glazed’ – a thought never more apt than when snow still covers the trees two weeks after the blizzard, and the ruts on the drive have frozen into unbreakable ridges. Only a long memory can bring to mind a freeze like this one.

The ground was frozen when the snow fell. The first covering, the transformation of green to ghostlike, the printless revelation of the first morning, was a theme for poetry. The magic doesn’t last long. Is there a more dismal subject for gardeners than the block on all activity while unknown damage is happening unseen?

Better unseen, some argue : at least the snow insulates plants and the ground from the lowest temperatures. But the thermometer dropped before the insulation arrived.What is trapped in there is not exactly snug. Winter closed in on an unconsummated autumn. There were so many leaves still on the trees that the snowy woods look strange : carpeted here, spotted there with leaves, some brown, some still green. Nor did the earthworms get even halfway through their work of gathering leaves and tugging them underground. They must have dived for cover in relative warmth when the soil first felt the chill.

It doesn’t do to count your losses prematurely – let alone to cut away plants that still lie half-buried. Spring is too soon to write plants off, too. There will be shoots from the base of things that will surprise you. The leaf-damage is evident enough – from abelia to yucca. I don’t like the look of ballota, camellias, drimys, embothrium, fuchsia, garrya, hoheria, indigofera, lavenders, myrtle, nerium, olearia, penstemons, rhamnus, salvias, trachycarpus,vitex… Some will surprise us, but I fear a lengthy list of disappointments.

And my aspidistra, the one I tried and failed to kill last winter ?

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