Mild winter, early spring – and their positive and negative consequences

thegardener's picture
a tree with bananas at the top
a flower that smells like a corpse
a place with geodesic domes
cherry blossoms

The Scarboro Garden Scene
Mild winter, early spring – and their positive and negative consequences
We know we had a mild and short winter, the results of which brought a happy early spring and blooms: it delights many of us as we take in the sweet perfume of the lilac or mayday blossom, and the sight of apple, pear and cherry blossom, the very early double-flowering plum. Not only were there early blossom on trees and shrubs, but perennials such as hepatica (liver leaf), blood root, and annuals such as Iceland poppies.

After an absence of some weeks, I was dismayed to find so much winter kill on other shrubs – roses, for instance, cranberry and sour cherry trees. Winter kill may be recognized at the tips of twigs as the buds emerge in warm weather, but are not receiving sap from the roots as the latter are still in frozen soil and cannot transmit nutrient fluids. What can be done? One answer is to accept that perfection is impossible to deliver – often some of our hardiest shrubs and trees prefer to be frozen solidly, and not exposed, for instance, to chinook winds that can stimulate precocious growth. Give the plants some time to recover, and prune off only the twigs that are dead for certain.

Of course, the blossom that so delights our senses is produced to attract pollinators, most of which we find attractive especially butterflies and bees. Occasionally we might come across smells we don’t like, such as some bugbanes plants, or even mountain ash which to some is unattractive.

The worst smell in the world might come from the “Corpse Flower”, Amorphophallus titanum: its pollinators are flies that are attracted to the plant which smells like rotten meat – fascinating but revolting! I saw (and smelled) it in the Eden Project in the UK (Cornwall) where it was flowering in the rainforest biome under huge geodesic domes, designed to demonstrate the interconnections of people and the environment.

Glynn Wright

May 19th