The White Stuff


Oh! How we love a ‘snow event’ here in England. The rare instances when the white stuff descends from the heavens used to be referred to as ‘flurries’, ‘snow storms’ or even ‘blizzards’ back in the day, but are now elevated to ‘white-outs’, ‘snowmageddon’ and ‘snowbombs’ alongside other ‘extreme weather events’. Like our celebrities and politicians, it seems weather is no longer noteworthy unless it’s utterly outrageous, in your face, overhyped and slightly dangerous. Our fascination with snow stems from the fact that it’s actually quite a rare phenomenon in the south of the country and that we are embarrassingly unprepared for it when it does fall. We rejoice in the nation’s failure to prepare for an event which is about as frequent as royal wedding, but still requires one to put on a hat. Plus there’s not a whole lot else to occupy us during February, a month where simple pleasures like pancakes, snowdrops and posing in last season’s knitwear is sufficient to keep our Instagram feeds ticking over. Four flakes of snow and we’re poised at the front door with a carrot, some coal and a toboggan; eight flakes and schools close, trains are cancelled and we all find reasons why it’s impossible to get to work. Try explaining your reason for not being in the office to a Czech who’s made it in to work every day for three months through 3 metres of snow in temperatures of -14ºC. It doesn’t really wash.

Having studied weather forecasts closely for the last week I was prepared for a tough journey into London this morning. I woke at 4.30am, checked my travel alerts, and decided to catch the earliest train possible. Meanwhile the garden looked like someone had emptied the contents of a bean bag over it. Instead of being covered in a smooth, enveloping blanket of whiteness, the terrace was filling up with a mixture of bone-dry, fine powder and rough, rice-crispy-sized clumps, such as you’d find in a bag of icing sugar. It was a joy to walk, making a satisfying creaking sound with every step.

By the time I reached the Medway towns the snow was falling heavily, until somewhere between Rochester and Bromley it faded away completely. In London one would have been oblivious that it was anything other than a fine winter’s day. A couple of fleeting and admittedly dramatic ‘white outs’ early in the afternoon sent most office workers scurrying for the nearest train station (via M&S or Waitrose for store-cupboard ‘essentials’, naturally) leaving only the brave, stupid or those living west or north of London to keep the capital running.

My return journey began well, leaving on time from St Pancras, but descending into chaos as we left Ashford when we were told we’d be stopping at every village, hamlet and halt to pick up those stranded en route. Long trains and short platforms don’t go, so most of those who boarded the train were unable to get off at the destination they wanted. At Broadstairs I disembarked the train onto virgin snow. It seemed I was on one of the few trains that had managed to get through, despite the covering being no more than 2″ deep.

I returned to The Watch House to find my agapanthus, Geranium maderense and Zantedeschia aethiopica already looking limp and dejected. There is nothing I can do for them now. The first and last will recover and perhaps look all the better for being cut back by the cold. The geraniums are unlikely to prosper and will turn yellow before rotting at the base. At least that’s my experience. When you grow tender plants you get accustomed to starting again. It’s a game of calculated risk, requiring a fair dose of luck. Stay warm. TFG.