The look and sound of last week's ice storm was eerily reminiscent of the destructive storm of 2008, although the final resulting damage didn't come close to the devastation that occurred back then. As with so many things in nature, if you ignored the beastly aspects of this storm, like treacherous driving conditions, slippery surfaces underfoot, downed power lines, the debris created by falling tree limbs, etc. and simply pointed the camera in the right direction, there were some beautiful winter vignettes around the garden, as in the photo above of our Lilac garden where every tree had a coating of clear ice. Click on any photo to enlarge.
Gazing across the gardens to the rear of the house, the rich, dark green color of the hedges contrasted beautifully with the heavy, pure white coating of ice on the trees that caused them to lean precariously toward the garden.
The heavy coating of ice on the trees can be seen more clearly in the above closeup of an ancient crabapple in the garden.
It is quite common for immature beech trees to hold their leaves throughout the winter but not so usual for Japanese Maples. Yet, we have many Japanese Maples in the garden and every single one of them retained their leaves this year for some reason. Although this added to the beauty of the winter garden, it put additional weight on the limbs of those trees once they were coated with ice. We lost a few limbs here and there but luckily no major damage. You can click on the above images to enlarge.
To get a feel for the amount of ice coating the trees, here's a closeup of a Bloodgood Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' ) in our Courtyard Garden. Beautiful, yes...with its orange leaves still on the tree, but totally splayed and misshapen from the weight of the ice.
The shot above from the front corner of the house shows a Kousa Dogwood, which normally has an upright vase shape, suffering from the weight of the ice.
The iPhone photo above offers a more panoramic view of the Courtyard Garden with the Kousa Dogwood to the far right, the Bloodgood Japanese Maple in the center, and two Tina Sargent Crabapples at the far left, all encased in what looks like white crystal. Also noticeable is the towering height of some of the trees surrounding the house. The tallest tree just to the right of the house is a Douglas Fir. When we have one of these ice storms, it's not the small trees in the garden that cause the most anxiety but these tall pines and firs that have weak defenses against the kind of weight that a combination of snow and freezing rain can add to their limbs. Just like in the more serious storm of 2008, all through the evening of this storm there was the nerve-wracking sound of pine limbs cracking and dropping to the ground. You just keep your fingers crossed that they will fall where they can cause little damage, both to smaller understory trees and, more importantly, to the buildings and structures below.
You can appreciate the scale of some of these trees by the way they tower over the ice-covered crabapples that form the understory in this photo.
Above are two views of the Tina Sargent crabapples (Malus sargentii 'Tina') in the Courtyard Garden. These crabapples have such a dense growth habit that they are absolutely beautiful when covered in snow or ice.
Many of the crabapples in the garden retain their fruit over the winter. They not only provide a treat for birds at a time when food is scarce but they are even more beautiful when encased in ice.
Birds are not the only ones plagued by a scarcity of food during storms like this. Here a grey squirrel tries to impress on the birds that sharing is a good thing.
Another plant with a dense growth habit that looks amazing when covered in snow or ice is the Palibin Lilac (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'). There are four Palibin standards in the garden shown in the photo above that are clipped tight like topiary and together they are one of the highlights of our winter garden. The hedge in front is Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim,' a very long name for such a beautiful hedge. The grasses are Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light.'
Anywhere that grass or leaves were exposed it looked like a frozen abstract painting.
The trees at the edges of the pasture were beautiful against the sky with their icy coatings.
This older white birch at the edge of the pasture looked like it took on a coating of soft white cotton.
Here's a view of the same tree from within the garden.
Birches are weak trees when it comes to holding up against snow and ice loads. Older, larger birches like the one in the previous photos may just lose branches but younger birches like the one in this photo usually succumb and bend with the weight.
And very young birches, like this River Birch, really feel the strain.
There is no denying that, under the right circumstances, winter storms can be both deadly and destructive. Such was the case during the ice storm of 2008 that affected much of New England, caused at least four deaths and took out power for millions of people. Many, including us, went without electricity for several weeks. The storm last week cannot be compared to that once in a decade storm. Yes, there will be some spring cleanup in order and there will be some minor tree and shrub damage to deal with but I will undoubtedly remember this storm for the great beauty it brought to both woodland and garden.