Friday, January 8, 2016

A Real Winter for Portland Gardens


Do you love snow? I do. I love to ski, snowshoe, and throw snowballs. However when it come to snow and the garden, maybe it’s more of a love-hate relationship. I love how the snow outlines the branches and trunks of deciduous trees and hangs like powered sugar on the evergreens.  
However, ice is another matter altogether. Many people of Portland, Oregon are cursing the snow and ice this week, as they slip and slide on the way to work. I can still see icy chunks of snow melting, ever so slowly. As beautiful as it is, will it harm my plants?  

As I walked along the garden paths,  I was amazed at how many of my large shrubs and small trees were bent almost double under the weight of an inch of ice. Gingerly tiptoeing along, listening to the sounds of cracking ice, I planned my route, trying not to get a flush of cold snow down my back or hit by falling icicles. The large-leaved evergreen trees always seem to get the worst of it. Thick, heavy coating of ice on large leaves can cause branches to snap off, severely damaging the plant.  I am relieved to see that the Madronas(Arbutus menziesii ) , the Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora)and assorted Camellias (Camellia Japonicasp.) and Rhododendrons (Rhododendronsp.) have all bounced back to their normal shapes with no breakage. 
Unfortunately, the Yews (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) did not fare so well. I will need to prune quite a few of these branches.  Look how the Yew in this photograph hangs over the path and other plants; like a huge, green, claw, ready to grab the nearest passersby.
As I stop to take pictures and to document any damage, I noticed how the ice reflects the shape of leaves and makes perfect bubble-like formations out of the flower buds. The thick ice on the contorted branches of this flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica ‘ Apple Blossom’) glisten in the late afternoon light.  

I love how the palm in this photograph (Trachycarpus fortunei) takes on a new shape and structure with  the weight of the snow and ice.

The verdict is in. This year we got lucky, at least for deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. The weather system came in late enough in the year that most of the small perennials were already dormant. As painful as it is for the humans, a slow thaw seems to be best, allowing leaves to slowly unfurl and branches to lighten as the ice melts and evaporates. It will be interesting to see if large-leaved succulents such as agaves and cacti make it through the winter.



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