I came back to our Hampshire plantation after that mean May wind to find a sorry sight. The gale came at the precise moment when many leaves were in their most vulnerable infancy: just emerging, as tender as nurslings. The wind blew for three days, not far above freezing, and blow-torched the unlucky plants on the point of flushing. The blasts were precise, focussed, rushing up the hill, leaving trees at a lower level merely battered, but searing the growth a few feet higher. One American pin oak, Quercus palustris, was left in full leaf for its bottom ten feet, the upper fifteen feet blasted bare. Of a pair of English oaks flanking the drive by the house one was stripped of two thirds of its young leaves, the other unscathed.
You looked for explanations: what had sheltered one while the other suffered? The corner of a wall, a few pines? The blast was evidently deflected by random insubstantial obstacles, was stronger (or colder) in the middle of the slope than higher or lower, but above all damaged growth that was uncallused and unprepared. As with so many aspects of growth an outcome depends on precise timing. Two related plants may be days apart in leafing, but it can be enough.
The sequel is happier: deluges of rain in June have produced volumes of new growth, long shoots and big leaves. I was talking to a wine-growing friend in California the other day. The mood in the Napa Valley is despairing as they start in their third successive summer of unrelenting drought. Our wine-growers don’t like rainclouds, but would they prefer the opposite?