Berkshire Garden Style: Savoring the Snow Cover
Solid snow cover remains up at Viridissima headquarters and we’ve had that since early December. I love winter for many reasons, mainly because it allows me a period of rest after an energetic eight months of solid work and also because it allows the garden a period of dormancy and recovery. This year, due to the glorious snowpack, I’ve been embracing winter wholeheartedly and I’m even skiing (cross country, not downhill!). Those of you who know me, know that I resist the idea of fixing long narrow things to my feet; I much prefer to have my feet on solid ground, so I must be celebrating this snow more than ever! In this way, I wanted to spend some time thinking about and musing on why snow cover is so important to the garden.
Snow cover acts as an insulator, stabilizing the ground temperatures and holding in moisture. This makes for a more stable over wintering process for perennials and shallow rooted plants; a lot of the stress and winter damage that we’ve seen in the last few years isn’t happening this year as we have not had the extreme freeze-thaw cycles. The gradual snowmelt of these mild-ish days is welcome as it feeds the groundwater table.
This is the most normal winter we’ve had for a long time, yet I saw pussy willows today in Alford!
While we have juicy snow cover and we still are in the throes of winter you can tell by the milder temperatures and higher, brighter sunlight that spring is coming. But right now, it’s just nice to savor the snowy-ness of the winter, the spaciousness of the winter and to see glimpses of springtime. The winter garden is sleeping but the garden is working and part of this productivity is rest. As I’ve mentioned before when we were moving into the autumn season and looking forward to the much needed break, without rest there can be no productivity. The balance is paramount and a lot is happening beneath the surface.
Beneath the blanket of snow, the soil stays a lot more alive. Soil microbes thrive in soils that have a good balance of moisture and air circulation. There’s a lot more potential microbial work happening which doesn’t happen as readily when the soil is frozen and dry.
The snow insulates the soil and deep down in the ground is warmth and with a blanket of snow over the top of the ground, there is a smaller layer of freeze. Moisture moves more down into the ground, the ground is more open, pliable and malleable and deep snow holds in more deep ground temperatures.
This more stable environment allows for our roots to hold and our microbes to do their necessary work.
On milder days this winter I have seen Snow Fleas in action. Snow Fleas? That is right. They are more commonly known as Springtails. These common insects live in leaf litter and soil and have the important job of recycling dead plant material into nutrients which in turn fertilize the area around their habitat. They are only about a millimeter long and have the incredible ability to ‘spring’ or vault 6 inches in the air which is how they get around on the ground. David Attenborough has a wonderful short clip about them should you wish to know more.
It’s still winter; it’s quiet and cozy, yet there remains a sense of adventure and play. The snow gives the garden and me, permission to rest. It’s not great outdoor garden-working weather and so there remains an invitation to hunker down and do the winter indoor work. I hope that you too can enjoy the snow, sledding, skiing or just the opportunity to rest indoors by a fire, warm and dry. It’s ok to rest.