Counting the Winter Dead
Well, the statisticians have had their day and gathered, collated and examined recent weather data for the northwest part of the country and determined the winter here was milder than average. I would agree, based on the meteorological data we have recorded for the past twenty or thirty years. However, and this is a very big however, we have suffered the worst damage to trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials in our over forty year residence, and our neighbors, some who have lived here since fur trappers and snake oil salesmen were encountered daily, have experienced the same devastating damage. Many of our plants have shivered through below zero temperatures without complaint on more than one occasion - minus twenty something back in the late seventies. But this year it is wrack and ruin in every quarter. Almost all of the plants we grow are said to be hardy to zone four or five, well below zero, but these valuations do not take into account a great many factors. It’s obvious to me our undoing was the single digit [almost zero] temperatures we had for four or five days in late November. At that time few, if any, of the plants had even contemplated winter dormancy and were metabolizing their hearts out sending sugar down to the roots; life was coursing through their phloem. then the arctic axe fell, November 15th and 16th: 5.0F, November 17th: 2.1F, and November 18th: 2.4F, all without benefit of any snow cover. The week before our lows had ranged from 21.9F to 32.5F.
(tanyosho pine, 15-20 years old)
Will the trees and shrubs recover? Many, probably, given enough time. Grafted plants may grow back from their root stock and will not be the species or variety originally planted (why most of our plants, other than dwarf conifers, are raised from seed or cuttings). Others may recover but will look like ragged scarecrows for a few years, and even then may succumb due to stress. And, when you are in your seventies, the years it will take a plant to regrow into a semblance of what was lost are simply not available. At least there is now room for new acquisitions.
And of rhododendrons: Lost several younger ones, Saffron Silk, Misty Moonlight, a couple of Dauricums, and, a surprise, a large, fifteen year old Trilby. Worse than the loss (I have dozens and dozens of various species and hybrids I have raised from seed or cuttings) of plants is the loss of flower buds. Looks like this year there will be no mounds of bright red blooms on the four Vulcans, no bloom on Sappho, Calsap and others. Reduced bloom approaching zero on Scintillation and Fantastica, and on and on.
The garden still looks magnificent with drifts of narcissus, crocus, and other spring bulbs, plus many perennials, especially primrose and pulmonaria.