Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snow as hyperbole

We all seemed to have more or less survived this year's first snow storm, though it pains me to use the word storm when describing the weather conditions we had Monday. Yes, we did have snow, a jaw dropping 2"+, and we even had some significant wind. But seriously, snowmagedon? SNOMG? Let's bring it down a couple of notches, people.

I was fortunate to have crammed in the last of my fall work last week in preparation for what might be, what in fact did happen: snow and ice that brought the city to a standstill and set an end, for now at least, to gardening. But what of the rest of the people in this region who aren't able to work from home or who are foolhardy enough to venture away from home without chains? Forget chains, even if you had a snow mobile, the combination of wet roads all day and then a rapid dropping of temperatures well below freezing in the evening made for iced over roads, not just overpasses and bridges. We all saw the videos of cars and buses sliding down hills and bouncing off of telephone poles and other cars like over-sized pin-balls. I admit to contributing to the frenzied flake following but my love of the white stuff stops when it means it takes my partner 3 hours to get home. We live 20 minutes away from his work, 45-50 minutes by bus.

In any event, the drama is all but over, the roads in our neighborhood are bare and we are looking forward to loading in to the car tomorrow to head up to our friends George and Sam for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. If there is one place that I can look to as an antidote to all of the hyperbole surrounding the snow and ice, it is the garden. Plants aren't freaking out because of the snow, and the cold; many of them are just now coming into their own.

In a way, I have been looking forward to the snow to see how the garden beds would look covered in a white blanket and to see how some of the marginally hardy plants would fair. I was flabbergasted to see our Maidenhair Fern (Adiatum pedatum) was unscathed, it's jet black, thin, rigid stems stood out starkly against the white snow. The foliage, which I expected to be shriveled and as black as the stems, were just fine. I was shocked, not because it isn't cold hardy, it is, but because it has such delicate, lacy foliage - it should have been bitten back by the cold before any of the other plants. Now, I do have it tucked up at the base of our Pittosporum tenuifolium, which looked a bit more peaky than the more delicate looking fern. Being so close to and slightly under the base of the Pittosporum undoubtedly gave the fern just enough protection to keep it from being frost bitten.
Seeing this reminded me of working at the nursery and the machinations we went through to protect the potted plants during cold spells: dragging long yards of fabric over plants, hauling entire departments into cold houses or pulling plants underneath covered walkways. It's the strangest thing, and you might not believe if you didn't see it, but having two of the exact same plants, same grower, same size, same level of hardening off, both outside, exposed to all sides, except one has a covering over the walkway. Which one is frosted over, has damaged buds and which one is untouched by frost? Plants that are mere feet from each other, and the one that is fine is under the walkway. It really only takes a little additional protection, like tucking up near the base of a broad-leaf or coniferous evergreen, pulling a pot up next to a structure or under an eave and your marginally hardy or containerized plants will pull through extremely cold temperatures.

Not to be out-shown by the miraculous maidenhair fern, our newly planted 'Charity' Mahonia (Mahonia x media 'Charity') is looking rather stoic and unperturbed by the extreme cold and snow.
The stately leaves are held stiffly horizontal and rise ever so slightly, as it of greet the snow. The deep, blue-green evergreen foliage is a perfect winter foil, and the lighter undersides of the leaves reflect the bright winter light. Sprays of newly emerged flower buds burst from the tops of the stems, just waiting to open and release their sweet, delicate fragrance and nectar - a grateful winter gift for our overwintering hummingbirds.
Speaking of which, while I was working in the kitchen making bread for our Thanksgiving feast, I kept noticing a bright flash darting to and fro just out of the corner of my eye at the window over my prep area. Last year we received a beautiful, blown glass hummingbird feeder and the hummers loved it. I brought it in during cold nights so it wouldn't freeze and crack. Unfortunately, the glass feeder cracked and a replacement was bought; this less elegant than it's predecessor but equally as functional. After the cold weather ended and once spring arrived, the hummingbirds stopped visiting and I stopped filling the feeder. Hummers are, apparently, somewhat fickle. Now that the cold weather is back and food is harder to find, I guess I am on good graces with the birds again.

I'll just have to remind myself that, if the hummingbirds and garden plants can handle a little snow, maybe I can too.

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