Around here, leaf-drop happens in November, often along with wind and rain. Southeast winds blow as rainstorms arrive and stiff westerlies as they leave. Northeast winds bring cold air from the British Columbia interior. All these winds mean the leaves from the several trees (maples, ailanthus, and birch) that surround my garden are distributed throughout the neighbourhood. But there are always enough of them to swell the compost pile.
This fall was relatively windless, so the leaves fell close to home. The compost pile is overflowing, with the surplus piled up on the side of the driveway for pickup by the municipality.
Last Tuesday, the winds arrived. First from the southeast, and then the west. Result: a mess. Yet another major raking session was needed. I topped up both compost pile and the pile to be collected. While raking, I noticed leaves from parts unknown, i.e., from trees in other parts of the neighbourhood.
On the other hand, autumn leaves can be quite photogenic.
Meteorological winter is here! It certainly feels like it today, with the temperature hovering around the freezing point.
Until last week, the winter of 2020-2021 was a mild one here on the west coast of Canada. That’s the way it should be, right? A couple of weeks ago, I was anticipating spring.
But this is a La Niña winter. You know La Niña–she’s El Niño’s evil twin sister. Her style is to hold back until spring is just around the corner, and then to descend on the unsuspecting saps who’ve been busy sending photos of stuff blooming in their gardens to folks in places that always get real winters.
Last week, temperatures as low as -9C (16F) were forecast. I raced around the garden, lugging pots into the basement and moving other pots into what I hoped would be sufficiently sheltered spots to withstand the predicted northeast winds that were supposed to produce a wind chill well into the minus degrees. Then I covered up plants that couldn’t be moved with odds and ends of pruned twigs and things like old bath mats and car seat covers that I keep in the shed for these weather eventualities.
I kept hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, and it wasn’t, but a low of -4.5C (24F) is pretty cold, especially with a wind gusting to 70 km/hr (35 mph). Having done what I could for plants, I worried about how birds were faring. I made sure the two hummingbird feeders went out first thing in the morning. On Friday, February 12th there were three Anna’s hummingbirds tanking up at the same time at one feeder, a sight I haven’t seen before, since each feeder is usually hogged by one aggressive dude who chases any others away.
On Friday night, snow began and fell steadily until after noon on Saturday. Total was 30 cm (1 foot). Fortunately, the wind diminished and the temperature rose to an almost tolerable -1C (30F). Rain is predicted for next week, and a return to normal temperatures, meaning lows of 2C (36F) and highs of 8C (46F).
Returning to plants, I would have been happier if this wintry blast had turned up in December or January, before plants were starting to sprout and even bloom. Now the hellebores, which were in bloom, have gone limp. I know they’ll rebound once it warms up, but it’s still depressing to see them lying on the ground. Buds of Clematis armandii, the evergreen clematis that’s the first to bloom, may have been blasted to the point of no bloom at all by that cold northeast wind. Some of those potted plants may have suffered as well.
While distressing, this sort of snow and cold event is by no means unheard of here. We get one every couple of years. I just wish La Niña had better timing.
I recently rediscovered a book I have no memory of buying. As you can see from the price stickers in the photo, it was a bargain. Especially considering what a fun read it’s been.
Christopher Lloyd was an eminent British gardener (“horticulturist, ” as he called himself) and writer on gardening. This book is a collection of his essays first published in Country Life between 1964 and 1993. They are arranged by month, a practice that makes sense considering that gardening is an activity governed by the seasons.
Reading the thoughts of this longtime expert gardener who was also a good writer was an informative delight. I must have read this book whenever it was I bought it, but I somehow forgot doing so. That made this re-reading a fresh experience.
Gardening was both passion and profession for Lloyd. He was opinionated, but spoke from knowledge and experience. His garden at Great Dixter was open to the public, which led to opinions about the habits of garden visitors. And on the habits of plants, from trees to tiny alpines. Dogs in the garden. Thefts of plants and cuttings, including confessions of long-ago heists perpetrated by Mr. Lloyd and his mother and fellow gardeners. His thoughts on the sound of certain words — “cultivar” (ugly) or “inflorescence” (delightful). The virtues of rough grass, which made me think I’m on to something with my Boulevard Project. The death of a plant as an opportunity for something new to be added. The essays cover a dizzying variety of garden-related topics, from plant propagation to cooking.
Great Dixter Garden is now managed by a charitable trust as a biodiversity and educational centre and is open to visitors. Its official website may be found here.
As well as enjoying Mr. Lloyd’s thoughts on gardening, I’ve been bustling about in my own patch, so thought it was okay to borrow his book’s title for this post. Deadheading continues, as well as staking, snipping, weeding, lugging watering cans, and fretting about when to activate the soaker hoses and sprinklers.
I can’t really complain about the weather so far this season. We haven’t had unseasonable cold or heat, and there was adequate rainfall from April through June. Today (June 27th), as I write this, however, we have dull clouds and a blustery wind, but without rain. My least favourite kind of weather, since the wind batters plants and tugs on them and dries out the soil. And it’s unpleasant to be in the garden with flying debris whizzing by as branches clash and clank overhead. (Okay, I’m complaining after all, but whining about the weather is a gardener’s prerogative.)
Update: today (June 28th) has been a complete contrast — sunny and clear with a little breeze. And we had a few millimetres of rain overnight; not enough to make much difference, but it was nice to hear its patter on the leaves. Summer rain here is a blessing.
Since this is a Garden post, a few photos are obligatory. About the middle of June I ran around trying to get decent close-ups of flowers. Being a lazy photographer, I didn’t work too hard at it, and my camera isn’t intended for macro work. These are the best of a dubious lot.
My patch of garden is not comparable to the size, sophistication, and magnificence of the one at Great Dixter, but all gardens and gardeners have something in common.
Southern Vancouver Island enjoyed a couple of perfect late summer days early this week — high temperatures around 25 degrees C (about 75 F), nice calm evenings — nothing to complain about (except the continuing drought, but never mind that). Then on Thursday we got a “marine push.” That’s a term used by meteorologists in this part of the world to describe a phenomenon where the overall flow of air shifts from offshore to onshore as something called a “thermal trough” exits the area. Warm (or hot) air from the interior of British Columbia is replaced by cool marine air from the Pacific Ocean. This time, unfortunately, the pressure gradient was such that we had strong winds all day and most of the night.
I admit it — I hate strong winds. I know some people find them bracing and energizing. People who engage in sports such as sailing, windsurfing and hang gliding live for windy days, and we definitely get our share here in Victoria, as those onshore winds are funneled up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
But I, being a gardener, mutter and curse when the wind gets up into the strong category and persists, battering plants, ripping Clematis armandii from the eaves of the garage, and sucking up what little precious moisture remains in the soil.
The effects of wind are especially annoying now, at the dry and rattling end of Hell Month (see my July 18 post), when the garden already looks wretched. Leaves are pulled from the maples, not the yellow and orange ones that will brighten the ground in October, but green leaves — a peculiar, sickly, dead-looking green. They give the garden a depressing air as they lie on the lawn and lodge among the equally tired-looking foliage in the perennial borders. The pond is scummed with algae and a generous sprinkling of those ugly leaves. There are twigs everywhere, and plants that were listing only slightly before have acquired a definite lean — an eastward one, of course.
This illustrates one of the central facts of gardening — crucial factors that determine success or failure are beyond the gardener’s control. Unlike indoor hobbyists and creative types (knitters, painters, woodworkers, potters), we gardeners work with the stuff of the earth and the natural world. Rain and wind, heat and frost, the depredations of insects and disease — all are elements about which we can do little or nothing. We water our gardens in dry weather, we stake tall plants, we race around with dusts and sprays intended to kill bugs or cure blights, we construct plastic tents, greenhouses or shade structures, but really, in the end we are at the mercy of nature.
Anyone who has gardened for more than a year or two knows this. And those of us who continue to garden in despite of this non-negotiable fact have come to embrace it. In our creative enterprise we are engaged with forces far greater than ourselves. We dance and wrestle with the Earth itself. Both our triumphs and our failures are the results of this partnership.
And all the complaining we do? We are entitled to it. It’s part of the package. Look at farmers, who are gardeners on a grand scale, with their livelihoods on the line. They complain all the time. But they are always looking ahead to Next Year.