Counting the Cost

Reading time 10 minutes


I’ve been out in the garden this morning assessing the havoc wreaked by The Beast from The East and Storm Emma. It is not a pretty picture, as you will see from the photographs below. Leaves and twigs have been ripped from the trees, semi-hardy plants are flattened and more tender ones have been transformed into something resembling overcooked spinach. Yet, when all is said and done, all I will probably lose is a handful of Geranium maderense and the top growth of a few plants that ought to have been protected or cut to the ground anyway.

I am leaving the big clear-up until next weekend, since I want a day to recharge my batteries after a week of long and complicated commutes into London. On Friday night I was completely stranded, along with thousands of others, only reaching home on Saturday night on a packed train from Victoria. By the time I reached Broadstairs all the snow had gone and it was dark and raining, as if it had all been a bad dream or a sick joke. I woke this morning to discover it was neither. I share with you today a selection of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images to illustrate the impact of sustained wind, snow and ice on the garden, but also as a symbol of hope for the future. On days like these, things can only get better. By summer the devastation will be forgotten.


Before (January 2018)
After (March 4th 2018)


Copious debris on the terrace was principally composed of leaves from Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, which is now completely naked except where it grows along the house walls. Whether Lady Banks’ namesake will flower well this year remains to be seen. Her tiny buds seem unblemished. Mixed in with rose foliage was a surprising amount of sand and other gritty stuff which must have blown up from the beach. There was moss everywhere, making a few steps from the front door to the gate particularly treacherous. Banana skins are nothing compared to wet moss on slate.


Echium wildpretii, before (Summer 2015)
After (March 4th 2018)


Alongside Geranium maderense, which is replaceable from plants I’ve kept indoors, other plants which won’t recover from snow damage are Echium wildpretii (although not Echium pininana, which seems unscathed) and Plectranthus argentatus. Their felted leaves have turned grey and limp and will not grow back. I will be ripping these out rather than hoping for a miracle. Although Hedychium ‘Tara’ and Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ look tragic, I have a suspicion they will come back from the base in late spring once they’ve sulked for a while.


Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’, before (January 2018)
After (March 4th 2018)
Hedychium ‘Tara’, after (March 4th 2018)


Melianthus major also looks flabby around the edges. I would normally cut last season’s growth down in spring anyway, but this year I will also removed three stems which have grown over 20ft to overhang a neighbour’s garden. They have been in the way for years but I haven’t had the heart to remove them.


Melianthus major, after (March 4th 2018)


I’m slightly on the fence about Digitalis sceptrum (formerly Isoplexis sceptrum) which appears battered and bruised but essentially alive. I hope the cold has killed the mealy bugs that have been giving the plant and me such a headache. That would be some consolation. I may have to postpone moving this small shrub further back in the border as that could be one stress too far for my already tortured treasure.


Digitalis sceptrum, before (January 2018)
Digitalis sceptrum, after (March 4th 2018)


Four long troughs of Agapanthus africanus have the same mealy bug infestation and have been prostrated by the snow and ice. However, I’ve seen this happen before and neither affliction is fatal. In a couple of weeks’ time the leaves will start to turn yellow and I’ll remove them in stages until new, vigorous growth begins.

Phillyrea latifolia (green olive) and Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’ (narrow-leaved bay) protect the garden from the east and hence took a severe beating. For several days I watched them being thrashed and pummelled by salty, sand-laden gales, at times reaching storm force 9, and yet still they look unruffled as I view them from the window today. What’s for sure is that any old foliage has been blown well clear of their canopies. I was not sure what would become of Pseudopanax chathamica (Chatham Island Lancewood) as it’s infrequently grown in the UK, but it’s in perfectly fine fettle as far as I can see.


Dan’s Ark


For the first time in years I have planted tulips in the gaps between plants in my raised beds. This will turn out to be a wise decision. In a normal year the tulips would be struggling for space and light by the time they bloom in April, but not this year. They will bring some hope and brightness to spots where plants have died or are in recovery. I’ve gone for the usual selection of hot colours, but with more pinks and pinky-purple varieties this season.


Stowaways in the garage


Meanwhile, the plants I afforded protection in the garage and greenhouse seem to have survived the cold well. A few more came into the garden room on Wednesday after the severity of the weather first became apparent, making it very congested. I let out a little squeak the other morning when I came down to find a vine weevil sunning itself on the wall. It was summarily squashed, but I doubt I will ever rid myself of these little beasts entirely.

The Gin and Tonic garden, at the back of the house, sheltered from the north and east, is largely undamaged and just a little bedraggled. Polygala myrtifolia, assorted acacias, Camellia ‘Nucio’s Pearl’, Magnolia ‘Exmouth’ and Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ seem oblivious of the cold. Hurrah for them!

I hope, wherever you garden and however close to the wind you sail with your choice of plants, that you have plenty of post-snowmageddon survivors. Where you have lost plants, see it as an opportunity to grow something different or better. And, if you can’t bring yourself to, replant with the same thing and pray that the weather we’ve just experienced can’t possibly be repeated … can it? Some of us never learn, myself included. TFG.


The Watch House, before The Beast from the East and Storm Emma (February 25th 2018)
After. The only way is up now!


Categories: Annoyances, Container gardening, Musings, Our Coastal Garden, Perennials, Plants, Small Gardens, Trees and Shrubs, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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44 comments On "Counting the Cost"

  1. I’m just imagining you being equally bedraggled after a 24 hour commute! As you say, many of your plants will recover, but it is sad seeing them looking forlorn. For now the only thing to do is sit in the warmth and read some books!

  2. It’s a sad view Dan 🙁
    Your beautiful plants have been badly affected by the “Beast from the East”. Yet you and your garden were luckier than my plants. I think I have lost all the flowers of Helleborus niger, they turned black and won’t flower again this spring. I hope the plants survived anyway and when warmer weather finally comes , they will grow new foliage…
    Even snowdrops and a very hardy helleborus tibethanus were badly damaged by the frost. It’s been as low as -15*C at night and -6/-8*C with a stong north wind over the day. It lasted at least 8 days and nights long , so the view of those poor plants is really terrible at the moment. Today was the first day when the thermometers finally showed +1*C around noon. The night will be frosty again , though. Well, we can’t fight the nature… The only thing we can do is wait for warmer days and real spring to come with our spirits up. Have a nice Sunday afternoon and evening 🙂

    1. Goodness Paul, you really have suffered. There was nothing we could do in the end, but it will be forgotten about by next spring I hope. I’m sorry for your hellebores as I always enjoy your photographs of them.

      It was positively warm here today, but it started raining at lunchtime rendering the garden even more pathetic looking than before. I don’t really want to look at it for the moment. I’ll tackle it next weekend.

      Did you put your agapanthus away somewhere frost free? I hope it’s OK?

      Have a good week. Hope it gets warmer for you. Dan

  3. You are right we have to be philosophical about it, but there are plants I should be sorry to lose. And you have some rare beauties. My most precious ones have hastily erected fleece hairnets or even table clothes, but only time will tell if that will have saved them.

    1. I did keep a pile of sheets and blankets by the door. Unfortunately it was so windy that I felt they’d have been pointless or might have caused more harm by not allowing the wind to pass through them. Who knows? I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you though! These thing are sent to try us!

  4. Oh what a mess! Just as I was lamenting our snow not being gone yet (Northern US) I was reminded that this much snow for so many gardeners brings nothing but destruction. I’m so sorry your garden was hit so hard but your attitude is fantastic and thank goodness for the garage and greenhouse offering some shelter! I hope the recovery is speedy and that no more snow comes your way!

    1. Yes, thank goodness for the garage, which I did not have this time last year. It needs a lot of work, but it must be warmer in there than I imagined.

      It’s the infrequency of snow here that’s the issue. We are not prepared for it, and it makes us gardeners overconfident. Then nature puts us firmly back in our place! Dan

  5. It has been raining here most of the day which has at least washed away the snow but also meant that I haven’t done a proper tour of inspection yet. From the long view things mostly look OK but the damage can take a while to make itself known. It is still early though, time for things to re-sprout? I shall worry about the hedychiums even more than usual. They keep me on tenterhooks every year as it is.

    1. I reckon they will be OK. They are tougher than people think.

      It’s certainly early enough for most things to take the cold in their stride. I hope when you get out there you find nothing too distressing. If you do, have a little ‘moment’ and then start thinking about what else to grow instead. Dan

  6. Is that a beschorneria next to the wildpretii, and if so I wonder how it has fared? And if that’s an astelia in the second & third before/after photos, what a tough plant! In contrast to the harrowing Beast, our calamities here in Southern California work in slow motion…no rain, no rain, drought and fires, some rain and mudslides, continuing drought. It hurts to see our little sanctuaries so battered. So very sorry for this setback to spring. As you say, in the devastation are opportunities to plant again — and fortunately you have a vibrant garden culture with many great small nurseries and growers to help out. Of that I am truly envious!

    1. We are not short of plant buying opportunities or plans to buy, that’s for sure Denise.

      It is a beschorneria and it’s looking bedraggled but alive. It was looking super before the cold snap, but should recover. It is planted in a very dry, sheltered spot. The Astelia is A. nervosa “Westland”. It seems very hardy but my garden is really too dry for it. It seems to like a moist environment, hence I see it growing much better in Devon and Cornwall. That plant must be 15 years old now. It came with me from my first house in Reading.

      We’ve heard a lot about Californian weather lately. You get so many extremes, which must be deeply challenging. However, gardeners are resourceful and tenacious people so we keep going, don’t we? Dan

  7. Ugh, so sad to see this happen. My Daphnes look grey and my echiums are very dead. I think that many plants will recover and with a mild week forecast ahead the devastation may not be as bad as it looks – here’s hoping anyway.

    1. The good thing with echiums is that they are quite easy to grow from seed. I have quite a bank of seed in my soil so they spring up all over the place, especially anywhere gravelly.

      Alas I find that warmth only exacerbates the situation following a freeze, encouraging the rot to set in. But let’s see. Fingers crossed I am wrong Gareth. Dan

  8. You have a great attitude and nature (as well as humans) abhor a vacuum. In two months there will be little sign of the damage, I’m sure. Painful as the scars are now!

  9. Such a shame! All our bulbs (daffs and various alliums) were starting to sprout and now the snow has melted everything looks crushed and damaged. Our garden is quite new so not much has been planted yet, but I do feel for you! fingers crossed most of the plants recover and they go on providing inspiration.

    1. I hope they will. My daffodils seemed completely unaffected and are still strong and upright. Probably because they have not started flowering yet, for which I am grateful. I hope yours recover. I am sure they will 🙂 Dan

  10. Thinking of you Dan & wishing you and all your “plant children” no more devastating weather this quarter. Nature gives, it takes & gives back again, Halleujah!

  11. heartbreaking Dan…..such a shame when so much joy and love that went int creating your little haven. As you said Mother nature has a way of taking charge! I am sure the aggies will recover…Ours have been very badly damaged by severe frosts and -4 in the past, and without much TLC have recovered well, several times now. Thank goodness for the garage, garden room and ‘hot’ house! And… I will no longer wine about traffic, for a while anyway – I can’t begin to think of the horrors associated with a 24 hour commute in freezing conditions on pubic transport. Send heaps of well wishes for warmer weather and a speedy clean up. xx

    1. I should clarify that I was stranded in London, but not on the train. Some folk in the New Forest did get stuck for 16 hours, but my trains ceased well before I could go and get on one, so I just sat it out at the old flat and waited there.

      It’s warmer today. A few plants look a little perkier. The aggies will be fine, for sure, and may actually benefit from being de-bulked. Is it still very hot there? Your roses and dahlias look magnificent on Insta. X

  12. I can see what a terrible time you’ve had, both with your garden and your commute. As I’m a fairly new blogger I hadn’t seen photos of your garden before and I’m amazed at how tropical it is. I guess there was a lot of salt flying around in the atmosphere as well as the wind and snow, which didn’t help. Btw, I was once told that watering plants with water in which cigarette butts have been soaked is a great cure for mealy bug! I tried it once and it seemed to work. People tend not to smoke in Australia these days and it’s hard to find a good supply of cigarette butts! I hope the sun shines soon and you see your plants begin to revive.

    1. I bet that concoction smells vile Jane! But many things that are good for killing bugs smell vile too. I laugh (sort of) because I live next door to a gym and I see people walking there smoking. They chuck their cigarette butts down in front of my gate before going in. Hard to reconcile these people’s attitudes to health. But hence I have a ready supply.

      If you have a look at some of my posts from August and September you will see just how tropical it can look. Wishing you all the best for the week ahead. Dan

  13. Don’t give up on the wildpretii! It sees snow and -10C in habitat. It is wet that usually kills it in Cornwall. It will be a year behind, and you may want to reduce regrowth to one ‘nose’ [if it recovers].

    -6C here, and since we don’t usually get below -2C I’ve lost a lot of ‘marginal’ things.

    I needed the space though. Now I can try new things without the agony of ‘editing’ live but unexciting plants.

    My commiserations on the long journey home. That sounds more frightening than the garden damage.


  14. A priceless post, as usual! Especially the laugh over the vine weevil…they seem to be good at hitching rides into our house from the garden, all summer long! I noticed some brave tulips emerging, behind your Echium…wise move planting those. Sending healing wishes to your garden, from the mild and wet, west coast of Canada….Val.

  15. How sad; but at least most look like the sorts of plants that will do just fine and allow you to forget the devastation. It happens when we grow marginal plants, and even some that are not so marginal.

    1. Very true. Of course, I know it can happen, but I still wish it wouldn’t! We really had the lot over the last couple of weeks – wind, freezing temperatures, snow and ice. Spring seems to have returned today and the birds are singing. Have a good week Tony. Dan

  16. Your Pseudopanax Chathamica originates from the Chatham Islands, a little cluster of tiny islands which sit well off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island. They are constantly hammered by the wind, and sometimes rain as well. They probably do not get snow there, but Chatham Island plants have to be very hardy so they should cope with occasional snow.

  17. Much the same up here Dan very close to the Kent border. My echiums, doubly wrapped in heavy weight fleece and securely tied with twine are definitely not alive, but my maderense which I keep in pots and were kept in a lean to and covered in two layers of fleece, seem to be O.K. My snowdrops are very sad. We shall all have to keep our fingers crossed that our plants recover, if not the nurseries will being bumper business when we start replacing. Mrs. P.

    1. I had not thought about it that way Mrs P. I have so many plants in reserve that I could probably restock my garden a couple of times before buying more, although I will, of course!

      I remain unconvinced about wrapping stuff up. It’s unsightly, and in exposed areas creates more ‘mass’ for the wind to catch. I think I’d reserve it only for plants that really could not be lifted and that I could not see from the house. I wish I had lifted my Alpinia though. Cross with myself about that. Dan

  18. Aww, Dan, that is so sad. If you look at the bright side, they’ll probably be fine next year. And I bet there will be a blessing in disguise there, that you just don’t see yet.

    It sucks worse than that in Chicago, where our perennials just go dormant and look like hell all winter, or die because our climate is too cold. The reseeding annuals that need scarification or a freeze do great though!

    Big hugs from way over here!

    1. Thanks Sandy! Sending hugs back. Actually, I’ve identified a few silver linings already. For starters I’ve got space to move around in the beds and I’ll be able to get to the wood panelling to paint it. It’s not a job that is on my work plan, but it needs doing, like everything else in my crumbly old house! I was also reminded that I need to instal some kind of watering system as the trees are sucking up so much moisture now they are bigger.

      Hope you’re winter is almost over and that spring is around the corner xx

  19. Yep, the way is up now! How bedraggled your poor plants look but I’m sure it won’t be long before your green fingers get them into shape again.

    1. Well, I’ve started the salvage operation. The garden feels very very empty, but at least I can get to parts which are normally too jungly. Can’t believe how dry the soil is though. Must have been very dry snow 🧐

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