My last post was entitled ‘lengthening days and signs of spring’! What a joke, I should take it all back after this week. With the start of March I would normally be thinking all systems go, with the job list mounting and that spring like feeling of wanting to get on with things. Instead of that, I have been cooped up at home most of the week, catching up with admin and looking out on a not at all spring like picture in my own garden.
Cressing has been closed to the public since Wednesday with the drive so deep no cars could get down without getting stuck, as Paula found out to her cost on Thursday!
So while I have been tucked up in the warm my thoughts went to all those poor plants, covered in snow and not being able to escape the freezing temperatures. How do they cope?
Freezing causes damage to plants as water inside their cells turns to ice and expands. But hardy plants, those that can survive below freezing temperatures, are capable of some clever cold hardening (I could do with a bit of that myself!). This mainly involves increasing the concentration of sugars in their cells, which lowers the temperature at which the fluid freezes, rather like anti-freeze does in our cars. The cell walls also become permeable, allowing excessive water based sap to be forced out of the cells into the spaces between, where it does less damage to the plant if it freezes. This can cause another problem for the plant – extreme dessication where the plant basically drys out. To deal with this there are special cells which secrete proteins into the spaces between cells to stop them freezing. All very clever stuff which enables many of our garden plants to endure, if not enjoy, these sub-zero temperatures.
As I haven’t been at Cressing while this big freeze has been going on I can’t show you pictures of what is undoubtedly a very pretty scene there. And the thaw is starting over this weekend so perhaps the picture will be very different next week. But we have had lots of wintry days since Christmas and the garden has looked rather lovely in the frost, especially when the sun was out.
I’m sure most of us are ready for an end to the wintry conditions but it is good to remember the garden can look beautiful in the cold, when it is pared back to the bare bones and its structure and symmetry are all the more obvious. William Robinson tells us in his seminal book The English Flower Garden “Winter is not a time of death, but of happy strife for plants and men.”
Some of the stars of the winter garden are those with scented flowers, pumping out their perfume on warmer, still days to attract the few pollinators that might be about. One of these is the winter flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera purpusii, a dense twiggy bush with brown wood and creamy coloured flowers in the first three months of the year. The flowers appear back to back on the bare twigs and they emit a rich heavy perfume, especially pronounced on a calm day. We have one flowering now in the Cullen garden and it is well worth paying it a visit and breathing in the sweet scent.
The winter flowering plants are so vital for providing nectar to the brave insects that are beginning to emerge after their long winter hibernation. Our honey bees are certainly grateful of any flowering plants they can find at this time of of year and it is really important for us gardeners to not neglect this when we are choosing what to plant. This bee certainly seems to be appreciating the winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), a plant that becomes more abundant at Cressing every year and is certainly a delight to see.
The Friends hosted another very successful quiz evening recently, which kick started our fundraising towards the compost loo we are hoping to install at the community garden this year. The conference room was packed and the heat generated by all that brain activity resulted in a need to open the windows, despite the chilly temperature outside! Congratulations to Andy and his team of boffins who showed their expertise on subjects ranging from chocolate slogans to events of 2017 to spelling to TV soaps, to US presidents and flags of the world. Mind boggling stuff! For keen quizzers out there, the Cressing Temple Community Shed will be hosting another quiz on MAY 18TH AT 7.30 in the conference room.
Another date for your diaries is the Friends AGM, this year to be held on SUNDAY 18TH MARCH at 2PM in the conference room at Cressing Temple. After the business side of the meeting there will be a talk by Neil Reeve on traditional orchards, which promises to be very interesting. Neil is a member of The East of England Apples and Orchards Project and he was one of the experts identifying your apples at our Apple Day 2017. Please come along to support us if you can. There have been some significant achievements over the past year and some exciting news for 2018.
We will be starting our new season of plant sales very soon so it is time to plan your summer displays. This snow will soon be a distant memory and we have the anticipation and excitement of spring to look forward to. Keep warm and dream of summer!