Garden snow – blanket or shroud?


Click for larger imageThe last time I saw 14 inches of snow out my window, I was an undergraduate in university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So yes, seeing as I’ve just turned 40, it’s been a long time.

But hard winters were my normal throughout childhood, so why do I find the sudden Siberian conditions in Scotland so uncomfortable? These past weeks it almost felt good to exercise old knowledge — newspapers on the windshield overnight to avoid scraping the car in the morning, or rushing to clear snow off the steps before it turns to iron.

The problem is that this weather, to my mind, doesn’t belong in southern Scotland, it belongs in New England — or Antarctica — and I wonder if my garden can cope. Growing up, I witnessed the annual miracle of Boston crocus, rhododendrons and roses emerging from the deep-freeze. But on moving to Europe, I adapted to something kinder and gentler. If you garden in a climate that’s not the one you grew up with, you’ll know how rapidly you acclimatise. One mild winter in Ireland was enough for me: years ago, on my first trip home, I was startled to see what looked like total devastation as I came in to land at Boston in March – a brown, crumpled, dead landscape.

Today my adaptation to the British Isles climate is complete: I expect only frosts in winter, daffodil shoots at New Year and emerging snowdrops by Valentine’s Day. The backyard of my 1970s childhood — lofty pine trees, rough grass, crushing winters — is long gone, and seeing a flavour of it here is unsettling.

As I write, the magnificent snowman the kids made at Christmastime has become a smothered blob following another eight inches of snow. My sleeping garden is a bit the same: a creation I’ve taken much trouble over, now pinned beneath snow that is less blanket than shroud. Will it, will it come back to me? Logically, I know snow insulates — the apples I threw to the birds the other day remained unfrozen for hours where they landed in deep snow. And when I’m being rational, I know the snow shroud is probably protecting my shrubs and my hundreds of bulbs from the killing hand of our recent -11 Celsius temperatures.

And yet…will it come back to me? We had daffodil shoots at New Year’s, I know we did, but they were well buried. Here’s hoping that when spring surfaces, it’s as Scottish as it should be.

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