We can expect a spate of obituaries and post mortems in the months to come. How many rash acacias and imprudent olives will have let their proprietors down in the snow and ice? The final toll will not emerge until summer; plants that look like Monty Python’s parrot can have a chance of battling back.
The damage here has been, as far as I can yet see, simply physical – and fairly brutal. Snow can reveal all too clearly which trees come from regions with regular snowfalls and are equipped to survive it. One that doesn’t is the Monterey pine from California, Pinus radiata . Its branches are enormously heavy in any case. Add a hundredweight of snow and they are too apt to snap or tear away. They were the only pines to suffer at Saling.
Weight of snow, especially if it freezes or before you can reach it to knock it off, (and especially in the windless conditions we had this month) bends and crushes any evergreen. Our worst casualty to this force of nature is a big Phillyrea latifolia, one of my favourite trees of medium stature, much like its relation the olive in its pattern of growth but with dark lustrous green leaves. Freezing snow in its broad crown tore down a quarter of its branches. It will recover.
Our most serious casualty waited until the snow had melted before it happened. The cedar of Lebanon I planted in 1980, already a twenty foot tree, to replace our elms in screening the houses nearby, has become a key plant in the garden, slowly coming to dominate the front of the house.
Last week, after a night of heavy rain, I found a big branch from near the top lying on the ground. Looking up I could see that it had left a nasty tear on the main trunk. Sure enough, two nights later in more rain, but still hardly any wind, the top fifteen feet of the tree broke at the tear and fell, crushing a young tulip tree nearby. Cedars of Lebanon are famous for their flat tops. Now I’ve seen precisely how it happens, without violence. A design fault, you might call it.