I am constantly amazed at nature’s ability for regeneration. Following the longest and most rigorous cold snap in 25 years, everything outside looked dead. I gazed out glumly on the brown, seared leaves of my shrubs and anticipated having to dig many of them up. Happily, I was wrong.
In February, after a comparatively mild winter, temperatures plummeted well below zero and stayed there for a fortnight. We regularly saw temperatures of minus 13C and our neighbours in a frost pocket down the hill had minus 18C one morning. Prolonged frost equals drought. Even the hardiest plants aren’t going to relish these conditions.
I had long ago realised that trying to grow tender plants like oleanders here wasn’t going to work. So, with a mixture of trial and error and expert advice, I have mainly planted shrubs and plants that I know will survive even the most rigorous of winters. (See my post about dry gardening).
I say ‘mainly’ because I still make mistakes. A few years ago I planted some trailing ceanothus in a rather exposed spot. They don’t like frost. This is the result below. Last year they did really well and took off, as things do here after a few years if they don’t wither and die altogether. I was on the point of digging them out when I noticed some tiny green shoots on five of them. So they are still alive. The sixth, and most exposed, looks dead and I may have to sacrifice that one. And the survivors will take several years before they retrieve their former glory. I have learned my lesson. Next winter I will cover them with fleece when sharp frost is forecast.
Apart from that I have lost only one white buddleia – sadly, a present from a late friend – and possibly a sage plant, which I am leaving for the moment to see if it does come back.
Everything is a little late this year, owing to the frost, but the sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures we are currently enjoying are helping things along. We lack the third and vital ingredient, though – rain. The brilliant clumps of violets studding the lawn are back as are the cowslips, although their numbers are reduced owing to the drought. The plum blossom is as resplendent as ever, like snow. And the hillsides are getting that fuzzy look just before the trees burst into leaf.
For the birds, it’s as if winter never happened. How do they survive? Woodpeckers have been making their laughing jackass calls from dawn to dusk, redstarts are chasing each other madly around the trees and the sparrows are noisily chirping from the edge of the roof as they seek nesting places in the house walls.
Just below the eaves at the front of the house is a large hole above a flat stone which juts out from the wall. The sparrows love to nest in there. We have christened it the ‘des res’ since it has its own balcony. The fledglings huddle on it together before making their first attempts at unassisted flight. The parent sparrows have a spring clean to get rid of the previous year’s nesting material, tossing it in cavalier fashion down to the gravel below, in front of our kitchen door.
I normally feel a bit depressed by the time we get to the end of winter. But with the clocks going forward last weekend, the lighter evenings and the signs of spring, I feel everything’s going in the right direction.
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