Somerville Garden Club

Some Spring Reflections on Winter from SGC Members

A number of members were asked to reflect on their gardens after this past winter. Due to space constraints, the newsletter was not able to accommodate all members’ responses; what follows is the full text of responses.

The biggest surprise for me was how quickly the chest-high snow that covered the entire back yard melted. I figured I would be looking at that thing until at least the end of April. It did not flood the basement, either. All my perennials all seem to be coming up just fine, at least the ones that the chickens haven’t destroyed with their vigorous scratching.
~~ Teresa McGowan

This winter’s big surprise in the Swartzel-Hallam garden was the rabbit, whose presence we deduced from the crazy patterns of paw prints all over the freshly (and then refreshly) fallen snow. Poor little bugger, we said, can’t find any food. Must be starving away to nothing.

We put out a lettuce sampler plate in one of the well-fortified lookout posts that we’d dug into the snow trenches surrounding our house. It did not prove a popular menu item and was soon withdrawn.

One day I came out of the back door and from beneath the shelter created by several snow shovels that were leaning up against the cellar door – whoosh – an immense rabbit blew by me. First impression: “huge,” as in, “no way that’s a starving rabbit – there’s a beast that can certainly afford to turn up its nose at undressed greens.”

As your mother may have told you, “Always judge a rabbit by your first impression.” Turns out that the second level of the espaliered pear tree, about three feet from ground level, was actually eye (and more importantly tooth) level for this rabbit during these snow-blown days. And a few days later, I found that it had eaten every scrap of bark off those branches. All the way round. No wonder it was turning up its nose at thrice washed baby romaine. Bark obviously contains a lot of fiber, because the next surprise – now all the snow is melted – is the sheer number of rabbit pellet droppings all over the yard.
~~ John Hallam

As the snow and ice weighed heavily on the shrubs and completely submerged some of them, I wondered what damage might ensue. Six shrubs had limbs dangling or completely snapped off. The same happened with two small Japanese maples that had been developing nicely. Frost heaves lifted many daisy-like plants and a number of heuchera right out of the ground with their roots frozen and forlorn. My large holly suffered the brutal combination of too much direct sunlight and blustery winds. About half the foliage is a brittle gray. I’m hoping some Holly Tone will encourage new growth. Although it is hard to see the damage, I would say the garden weathered the storms.
~~ Lucy Borodkin

Rabbits eat roses! While shoveling my front porch yet again in February, I glanced over at the side yard. Almost five feet of snow covered everything but the twiggy red canes at the top of my rugosa rose “Therese Bugnet.” And right there was a big pile of rabbit poop and some chewed twiggy bits! Clearly a desperate bunny was driven to eat my rose. I didn’t mind; I was desperate myself at that point and welcomed any sign of life. Had I been on the porch while bunny dined on top of the snow, we would almost have been eye to eye.
~~ Anna Warrock

When the snow finally melted destruction was revealed: a trusty Mugo pine is dead, only twisted brown branches remaining; a pair of ten year old Korean spice viburnums suffered extensive cracks at the intersection of major branches due to snow weight and survival is uncertain. Our garden will be changed from the loss of these mainstay shrubs. David Austin rose “Graham Thomas” and Kordes-bred “Alchymist” exhibit markedly more post-winter deadwood than in past years. The new growth on both is delayed compared to other springs. Will we get the lush blooms that have graced our garden in past summers?

The good news is that the almost fifteen-year-old Welch juniper at the back corner of the house made it through the harsh winter in good shape. Ever since the year we awoke to discover the fourteen-foot tall tree bent almost to the ground under a heavy snowfall we have braced the trunk with a long pole at the beginning of winter to keep it upright. And this year it certainly paid off! And surprisingly, the variegated climbing honeysuckle planted on the side of the front porch is unusually robust, leafing out much earlier this spring. So after a brutal winter a garden buried beneath a deep cover of snow slowly comes back to life—just like the gardener heading back out to the yard after months of enforced indoor “rest”.
~~ Lisa Dezmelyk

The worst damage so far in the garden and back yard has been the broken branches of our rhododendron, azalea, mountain laurel, and lilac tree. All our perennial flowers came back (crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, grape hyacinth, several other varieties of spring bulbs I didn’t plant and don’t know the name of, that are carpeting part of the back yard!) or are emerging (catmint, sedum, lemon verbena, hostas, bleeding heart, salvia, ground cover, etc.). The flowers are beautiful to see. The shrubs and trees are budding. The only question mark for me is how my lavender will fare. It looks quite pathetic at the moment, but maybe it always does so early in the season! I worried about the wildlife this winter and bought an extra bird feeder, and scattered seed on top of the snow to supplement the seed and suet in the feeders. The birds and squirrels seem to have gotten through the winter just fine, happily.
~~ Linda Lank

Toward the end of the winter, I noticed the snow under my tall chamaecyparis was bright green. It took me a while to realize this was a carpet of sprays from my chamaecyparis, all the branches on the upper half of the tree looked very meager, missing all the green, just a few sprays here and there. I had seen squirrels in the spruce; I realized they had done this damage to my beautiful chamaecyparis, gnawing off the golden green leaves on the tips of the branches. The color of this tree together with the blue spruce was a pleasure for the eyes. These rodents had attempted to build a nest in the blue spruce, without success. With every storm their “nest” was blown down. Those squirrels!!!!!

But, the garden as a whole has survived quite well despite the cold and snow. Some small twigs broke, but this occurs every winter. Concerning the perennials, I will have to see once they start growing if any are missing. So, besides my poor half naked looking chamaecyparis, I am quite lucky.
~~ Mariagnese Cattaneo

What only half-surprised me was the amount of damage to shrubs in my front bed from having snow tossed on them. The native azalea, with lovely lemon-scented and -colored blooms in summer looked like a pile of Pik-up-Stix. The big Korean spice viburnum had a couple of large branches broken (but it was going to go anyway). Even the lower-growing summersweet was somewhat damaged. Because I expect that this type of winter is likely to become our new normal, and so we’ll need the front beds to toss snow, I’m rethinking whether I should even grow shrubs there.
~~ Bill Bennett

What surprised me the most, besides my garden surviving this long winter under four feet of snow, was evidence that rabbits had taken up residence in the backyard. A LOT of them. I can’t figure out where they came from or where they went (or what they ate) but I do hope they come back for just a little visit as long as they don’t plan on staying for dinner.
~~ Cynthia Frawley

I am just starting to see how my garden survived. I was very grateful to see bulbs start coming up a few weeks ago — small ones and daffodils, iris starting to grow and forsythia in bloom I noticed today. I expect to spend some time tomorrow weeding and seeing what else is apparent.
~~ Mary Chitty

I have never been so happy to see snowdrops as I was this spring. I could hardly believe they survived at the edge of my driveway between the icy drip from the eaves and the mountain of snow tossed from the driveway and pushed off the roof; but there they were, cheerfully unaware of my concerns.
~~ Dorothy Gilman

I feel it may be too early to tell as none of my twenty plus hosta varieties have poked up yet, same for many other perennials. It’s either just a slow season or I lost a ton of stuff. Yet I had a twenty inch potted spirea on my deck I figured would be cooked, but today it is showing life. Ditto for clematis in a four inch pot and a six inch coreopsis, both bought at last September’s plant sale, that also sat on my deck all winter. I had telltale round holes all over my yard – skunk looking for grubs! It also made a home under my shed. “Shake-Away” at the burrow entrance and over the entire yard seems to have resolved that problem.
~~ Brad Sterns

We had the usual die back of some shrubs and bamboo, but so far it doesn’t really seem too bad. The bamboo’s look bad due to the freezing winds, but I’m sure they will recover quickly. The most amazing thing we had was nightly invasions of rabbits — even though we never saw them!! When the snow in the back yard was about two feet deep we noticed footprints zigzagging all over the place. A closer look at the “evidence” they left confirmed it was rabbits. Then when the snow was about four to five feet deep, we realized that the rabbits were working from the top of the snow heaps and eating bamboo stalks, Japanese maple twigs, pine tree needles, and unopened dogwood buds. So the result is that we have strange looking plant damage at a height of five to six feet, while the smaller plants were protected by being buried under the snow where the rabbits couldn’t see them! And now that the snow has melted, we are left with a fair amount rabbit fertilizer on the ground.
~~ Cal McLemore

I was surprised by how clean and free of debris my yard and gardens were when spring finally emerged. I had done a good job of fall cleanup and my yard was just like I left it in November by the time the snow disappeared in April. I think that was the result of the lighter powdery snow that fell during our major storms thanks to the cold temperature. We had little heavy wet snow so I had much less tree damage than most winters.

The major damage to my yard and gardens was man-made this winter, not the result of Nature’s wrath or harsh conditions. Shrubs were torn and flattened by snow shoveled off my roof and by the backhoe my town used to push mid-winter snow banks along the roads more than seven feet onto everyone’s lawns. My gardens are four feet from the road’s edge, so the backhoe went right over much of my garden. (Luckily, the one major shrub in my front garden that was bent parallel to the ground is now slowly straightening back up with no apparent trunk damage – amazingly resilient!) The only plants showing signs of poor health are the ones under my roof eaves that had a roof melt product used to treat my ice dams dripping on them all winter long. Yes, some shrubs had winterkill but only the weaker ones. Most of my shrubs and trees are doing fine and appreciated the moisture plus insulation the deep snow provided during much of our coldest weather.

As for wildlife, I saw very few animals all winter except for a few deer I watched struggle through chest-deep snow. The deer seemed to lay low in sheltered environments. I saw deer tracks once when a few came up my front walk and went into my back yard, using the path I had shoveled around my house in order to treat my roof twice a day. I think the deer couldn’t navigate the deep snow so took advantage of the roads, shoveled areas, and human snowshoe or ski tracks to make their way to any available food sources. A neighbor also told me about one buck they found dying in their back yard under a hemlock tree, surrounded by a few does who faithfully sat with him until the end. I never found out whether the deer was old and diseased, injured or starving; the Animal Control Officer dealt with it. Ironically, the deer population is active and thriving this spring, with more deer roaming my property these days than I’ve had in three or four years!

Bottom line, I would say my yard survived what Nature delivered as well or better than usual. The deer may have had a tough winter, but they seem to have come through just fine as well.
~~ Linda Stantial

Actually, we made it through just fine. Our daffs are up giving us a great show, and letting us know where we would replant them in the future. And our trout lily grows hourly. It seems that things were so ready to burst up once all the snow was gone. Now they are making up for lost time. Our only semi casualty was the pear tree. During the winter when we had lots of snow, a rabbit made daily treks around our garden. The only thing it could reach was the portion of the espaliered pear tree that stuck above the snow, it gnawed on the two middle tiers. Now the top branches, and the bottom are beginning to show signs of life, while the gnawed middle tiers are not. Hopefully it will grow new leads that we can shape into new espaliered form.
~~ Teri Swartzel

Post-melting of the six-foot-snowbank along my landlord’s driveway, I’m glad to report all the perennials, large and small, appear to have survived. The broad flat leaves of my neighbor’s iris, near the sidewalk, and the slender Siberian iris from an SGC raffle have pushed up happily; the baptisia and hosta are on their way; the ajuga has started to weave its bronze carpet; leaves of wild ginger begin to gleam in a corner. The neighbor’s never-say-die tiger lilies are once more coming up too thick and fast. The only surprise is that all the perennials I planted over the years seem to have thrived under the heavy layer of mulch my neighbor had applied last fall – his way to solve the untidiness from my non-attention all last summer. The fronds of ordinary sweet-smelling “volunteer” ferns have yet to unfurl, but I’m sure they’ll be back. I am surprised and pleased that pots I left out on my 2nd floor porch – hosta from the plant sale, some bell flowers brought from VT – are *also* sending up new shoots. Lucky me! Wildlife? Sparrows, starlings and jays – one cardinal seeking a mate – and one mockingbird rehearsing his full repertoire. The big fat carpenter bee has yet to re-start its drilling into an old deacon’s bench on my porch.
~~ Melissa Fox

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