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.

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17 thoughts on “The White Stuff

  1. That scene in your courtyard is lovely, though. Weather events always seem to cause pandemonium in cities wherever they are. When we lived in Sydney, it was always rain events which threw the transport system and traffic into chaos, and it occasionally snows in the Blue Mountains, so more chaos when everyone drives up there to look at it.

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  2. I love your observation that most of us find an excuse why we can’t go to work! It was a relief to me yesterday that no one else attempted to get down our lane (we had a proud 9” in mid-Kent) and I could just give in to childish hysteria, glee and hot chocolate.
    Have you had any more overnight? I would imagine Broadstairs is stunning in the snow.

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  3. I read your post out loud to my husband during a lull in the cricket. He spent yesterday morning killing himself with laughter whilst I cut bits off my fig and wrapping the rest up with fleece; all the time pointing out that Southern Rail hadn’t cancelled any trains near Reigate and the BBC weren’t signalling anything but a light dusting! Forgotten I’m married to a Northerner who doesn’t understand how we can’t manage snow in the South.

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  4. We lived in Yorkshire for many winters when there was snow, and more snow, and somehow managed to get on with lives and work. Now we live in rural Devon we are not so keen on seeing too much of the white stuff. Your poor plants, I hope they pull through. I have a heater to keep my greenhouse just above freezing, but my Melianthus major outside in a border, despite being wrapped in fleece, looks very frozen. Hope your travel plans are not too disrupted and stay safe and warm.

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  5. 😀
    And who ended alone (with two kids) in front of the school gates in Canterbury this morning ? “Best day of my life”, said my son, “snow and no school !” Alas, I fear my new salvia guaranitica may share your geraniums’ plight…

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  6. A four hour commute is no joke at the best of times, though I understand why you make it. Sending good wishes for the rest of the week!

    The Reader’s suggestions under ‘More from the Frustrated Gardener’ include ‘Snow Flurries’ which I loved – it looks magical and cold at the same time. Sometimes these (AI?) suggestions are inspired, other times less so.

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  7. Snow still sort of creeps me out. I have seen it only a few times, and certainly not at home. I don’t know what I would do if it showed up overnight. I would be afraid to go out in it. I would just sty put until it was all gone.

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      1. We would not be properly equipped because it does not happen here. Trees break from the weight of it when it snows a bit on the Summit because they are not used to it.

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  8. So glad you got home without being stranded Dan. Cornwall has come to a halt! Fewer roads seem to gritted than used to be. I moved my car onto a bus route thinking that would mean the road would be gritted and I could get to work, but the bus was cancelled and the road not gritted. I’m not going to drive 1/2 a mile on ice to get to the closest gritted road. Living in Cornwall I grow a lot ‘on the edge’ of hardiness. I’m going to have a lot of lovely available space to try new thing in this year! Some winters are frost free here, most we see -2C or -3. It was -6 last night! Stay safe,
    Chad

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    1. Thanks Chad. Like you, we experience the odd subzero night but nothing like this. Some of my plants were literally frozen solid this morning. Completely petrified. I know they won’t survive so they will have to be replaced in spring. I’m already planning, but I won’t be playing it safe.

      I am not surprised Cornwall isn’t prepared, as properly cold weather isn’t usual. My sister is in St Agnes where I imagine she’s going to have problems getting around over the next few days. I’m sorry you’ve had such issues. Take Care too. Dan.

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  9. That’s a lovely photo of the beach. I’ve never seen snow on the beach, I don’t think…

    We’re not too far from you, near the Sussex coast, and we had a good pelting this week too, so I’ve been trying to brush the weight off even the hardy plants – I’m very concerned it’s killed my thyme bush – I’ve spent years shaping it!! There will be a full-blown grief montage if anything happens to that globe of perfection…

    But that snow noise is great, isn’t it?

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  10. Been thinking of you and your plants these past few days, wondering how you’re faring. Turned a bit nastier since you posted the above.
    Been caught out myself regarding the plants – despite hearing the forecast. But then we are in central London, my plot is especially sheltered, the forecast always exaggerates and… Well, laziness won the day and now I can’t do anything but wait and count losses. That’s the price for relying on ones “experience” of the past few winters. Still love the white stuff, though. And I console myself that a few sheets of bubble wrap fashioned into a tent with clothes pegs would make but little difference.
    Hope your luck with trains doesn’t run out or you can work from home for a few days!

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  11. I agree, one of the thrills of growing tender plants is that they are indeed “tender” and therefore a bit of a gamble. Which doesn’t always pay off. I am expecting many casulties. Sad true, but also a shopping opportunity! Stay warm and safe x

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