Following last week’s blog about the effect of ice and freezing conditions on plants and our gardens, the weather down here at Chartwell has changed once again. Like most of the country, we are currently sheltering under a thick blanket of snow in Kent. This in turn brings a whole new set of challenges to the team here in Churchill’s gardens which I’m going to try and discuss in this post.
Now, while a covering of snow creates an instant Christmas card image when viewing a landscape, it isn’t maybe as pretty for viewing our gardens and plants in close-up as a sprinkling of frost perhaps is. While the instant wow-factor of a snowy scene can be spectacular, the definition between the beds and borders and the lawns and the paths is often blurred into one solid white expanse. Taking close-up pictures of icy fronds is sometimes no longer possible for instance, while on a more horticultural level, inspecting our plants for signs of distress becomes very difficult in some cases.
Snow itself however doesn’t do damage to plant cell structure in the same way as ice and frost can. In fact, a layer of snow can have an insulating effect on plants and the soil, actually protecting them against freezing conditions and the fluctuations between freezing and thawing in particular. This effect is due to the configuration of snowflake shapes and the small spaces within their structure that are filled with air, which in turn results in low heat conductivity. The low temperature penetration into the snow is therefore reduced and plants are protected from really cold drops in temperature. Also, as that snow melts, it slowly releases itself as water to the plant roots within the soil. This is especially beneficial for bulbs or low-growing less hardy perennials.
There is another less well known benefit to plants and gardens of a good snow fall. According to Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, snow is sometimes called “the poor man’s fertilizer.” As it falls, small amounts of atmospheric nitrogen and sulfur can become attached to the flakes and snow particles. When that snow melts it releases the nitrogen and sulphur into the soil where it can then become available to the plants via absorption through the roots.
It’s not all good news however when it comes to snow and gardening…
The main trouble with snow fall in a garden however is due to the sheer weight of it. A heavy layer of the white stuff can causes branches of shrubs and trees to become misshapen or even break under the load. It is important therefore to shake excess snow from any susceptible plants before any damage can occur. Greenhouses should also have heavy layers of snow removed from them in case the glass breaks or cracks.
There is still plenty to keep us busy here at snowy Chartwell and obviously still plenty for our visitors to see and do. Before you grab your cameras and rush on down to see us though, make you sure check local weather reports for road safety instructions. We’ve also had to shut the gardens recently when the snow was too heavy to maintain visitor safety and access so make sure you keep an eye on the Chartwell website, Twitter feed and Facebook pages too. Details of Chartwell’s internet coverage can be seen on the side bar of this blog.
In the meantime, click on these panoramic pictures below for an idea of how beautiful Chartwell can look at this time of year…