First frost – End of the Month View, November 2012


Well, it’s finally happened, and earlier than last year:


My birds will need tiny little skates. I can just see them now, zooming along, colourful woolly scarves flying out behind them. Oh, sorry, I seem to have strayed into tacky Christmas card territory. Very seasonal. Ahem. I was delighted, though, when I was out taking the photographs, to notice that the wrens are back. They’ve been absent for a couple of years, or at least I’ve not seen them, but one is patrolling the hedge by the greenhouse and strutting his stuff in the eschallonia. Both things were scheduled for removal, so I’m glad I didn’t hack them back completely.

The frost has taken some of my plants by surprise, though the odd early – very early – primrose doesn’t seem phased by it:


The same, though, could not be said for the hardy geraniums. The poor wee things looked as though they’d been hit over the head with a mallet. A mallet which left beautiful effects, but a mallet none the less.


I’m a complete sucker for the effects of frost. I love the way it outlines and emphasises the form of leaves, the rosettes of even the most prosaic and problematic weed, and highlights fallen leaves against grass. My tiarellas, which have recently begun flowering, will probably be thinking better of it after this, mind.


So what else has been going on?

Inevitably, there’s been more fiddling about with wood. When the weather turns like this, it is most comforting to have a great big disorganised wood pile. At least I know that the games with chainsaws that have been such a feature of this year have given me some real benefits, quite apart from being able to rest easy knowing that the Western Red Cedar isn’t going to lift the house from its foundations, and that falling ash branches aren’t going to plunge the entire village into darkness. There are so many chippings to be dispersed around the garden, but they don’t really go that far and four rubble sacks will vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Well, that and the heaving of a wheelbarrow.


When I turn my back on this and look out over the meadow, everything seems rather bleak. The sky is bone grey, the wind is bitter, there are very few leaves left on any of the trees (but plenty on the Old Man’s Beard straggling into the apple trees from the wildy bit next door, which at least makes the damn thing easy to spot and rip out). However, closer inspection tells a different story – the birches have started to shed their old dry bark.

birch 1

I love this stage – the new bark is so perfect, so silky, and the old bark is so very delicate. The two Manweb birches (Manweb removed a boundary tree near the wires years ago and gave me a replacement, then had one sad extra tree left when they delivered it and gave me that too) are beautiful. Owing to their origins, I haven’t a clue what they are. They are, however, clearly different. Above is the smaller one, the one actually intended for me and which looked a bit queasy for a while, but which is fine now, thanks. One of the Manweb guys described it as a ‘golden birch’ and I can see why, though its bark is a lot paler than that of the ‘known’ golden birches I have seen in other places.

And then there’s the thug, a normal silver birch. Oh, I do love silver birches. This wasn’t expected to survive originally, as it looked so feeble; it was the reject, the left-over tree languishing in the back of the Manweb trailer. I’d no great hopes for it, and I was clearly wrong. It’s huge. The bark isn’t as perfect as the other, partly as a result: lots of expansion. But it is just as beautiful. More subtle, really.

birch 2

How pristine the new bark is. I keep having to pop out and give it a stroke!

Elsewhere the garden is a bit of a mess. The wet weather has meant that a lot of jobs have been left or abandoned half way through, and there’s some major work going on over the winter. Er, nothing monumental… just a lot of rearranging and trimming back and what my mother would have called ‘editing’ (uprooting and chucking out). That has started with the removal of an overgrown New Zealand hebe and a sprawling, madly suckering clethra from the bottom garden (I have another clethra anyway, and I doubt that it’s out completely), resulting in the bed they were once in looking more like the Western Front than an area of cultivation. Due to the vile weather it’s been left, so the weeds will be having a bundle of laughs. Hopefully the cold snap will kill them off. Temporarily.

Finally I’ve been much cheered by a reappearance:


This sprightly little neon-bright primrose always pops into life in one of the paths, flowers for months (looking, it has to be said, a bit moth-eaten for most of this time) and then fades away. It will vanish in about May, and spring up again in about October. Welcome back!

Thanks to Helen at The Patient Gardener for hosting the EOMV meme…


24 Comments Add yours

  1. Christina says:

    Your beautiful birch looks like BETULA albosinensis var. septentrionalis, a tree I’ve always wanted to grow! Lucky you. Christina

    1. kate says:


      I’ve just been googling away and I think you’re right – lucky me. And thanks, Manweb! (I’ve always thought ‘lucky me’ with that tree, even when it was anonymous – it’s beautiful…)

  2. Dobby says:

    I was so pleased to see the frost. Sounds a daft thing to say, but infinitely better than the rain! It has caught some of the plants out though. They were beginning to think it was spring again already. I have primulas flowering which is a joy as they are in so many colours.

    I love your birches. The shedding of the old bark is fascinating. You can’t help but run your fingers over it. I have wood pile envy by the way:-)

    1. kate says:

      I’m with you – I almost did a little dance and couldn’t resist the opportunity of zooming out with the camera (nearly went full length on the paths, mind).

      The woodpile has never looked so good!

  3. patientgardener says:

    We have had cold but no real frost and there is part of me that feels cheated as like you I love the effects frost has on plants and wanted to take some frosty photos.

    I love silver birches and have one in my front garden, they are such elegant trees.

    Thanks for joining in again this month and I hope you arent spending too much time knitting scarves for your birds

    1. kate says:

      Bird scarves take so little time to knit – ideal for those tiny bits of handspun left over. I do like to try and get the colours right, though, so no red for the jays. Magpies look good in everything… what’s that? Some people want to talk to me and would like me to come quietly?

      I think you may just get your frost this weekend….

  4. paulinemulligan says:

    Tree bark is so tactile at this time of year, love both your silver birch, lucky you being given replacements, SWEB certainly didn’t do that with some of my trees that they cut down. Frost brings another element to the garden and makes everything look so pretty.

    1. kate says:

      Isn’t it beautiful?

      We even had a choice of tree – they had a list. I lost a beautiful but very overgrown dark red cherry – sad, but there you go – and seized the chance of replacing it with a less ornamental and more local tree. You could give three (?maybe two) alternatives, I think, and my number one was another rowan, with juts ‘birch’ as number two, but in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t get my first choice.

  5. I love birches, I think if I could only have one tree, it might have to be a birch. I was looking at photos of my previous garden the other day and actually got almost tearful looking at my birch trio! No space to grow them here thanks to the overhead cables, I will just have to enjoy your vicariously. I have primroses too, and have seen frost on the flat roof, but no sign on that beautiful frosted effect on any of the plants. Time will tell…

    1. kate says:

      Birches are beautiful – and there’s a plus, too: there are plenty in our neck of the woods to enjoy out of gardens, too. Those overhead cables are a damn nuisance… grrrrrr……

      Aha – another primrose person – glad it’s not juts my little pocket of insanity!

  6. Cathy says:

    You can’t stop at scarves, Kate – they need little boots as well. And mitts – oh, perhaps not. Seriously (oh, you were being serious), your frost-enhanced pictures were lovely, and it’s intriguing that all our EOMVs this time round seem to include a mixture of shabbyness, new discoveries, jobs half-done and things that other people envy!

    1. kate says:

      The boots would get in the way of the skates, but I’m with you on mitts, and how could we have forgotten wooly hats?

      I noticed that with the EOMVs – it must be the time of year. That and the after-effects of vile weather – let’s hope that stays away for a bit at least…

  7. Anna says:

    Enjoyed your end of month view Kate. I’m sure that those robins are wearing striped scarves and have they got little hats on too? Encouraging to see glimpses of spring among the frosty magic.

    1. kate says:

      They have now!

      (they look good in green, which I have happily got to hand…)

  8. hillwards says:

    Lovely birches, very strokeable indeed. We have been having the usual fun with wood too, including a makeshift pile of split wood stacked on the veg garden as our stores were bursting. No doubt we’ll have cleared some space for our excess in the wood stores soon, if it stays this cold, brrr.
    Hurrah for the return of the wrens.

    1. kate says:

      We need to do some chopping today, and shifting, and jiggling about to fit more in… well, I’d be complaining if I hadn’t enough, so I mustn’t moan. It’s been lovely by the stove in these cold evenings… bra, may even get it cranked up during the day too.

      Am overjoyed at the wrens!

  9. wellywoman says:

    Love frost too. Although living in Wales winters do tend to be damp rather than crisp. 😉 I suppose this just means we appreciate it all the more when we get those stunning frosty days. I used to live in Germany where the winters were much drier and exceptionally cold. I once nipped out with wet hair one morning to put the bins and recycling out and by the time I got back inside my hair had frozen solid. Silver birches are one of my favourites. We had a lovely one in our garden until a few years ago when we had to remove it. I still miss that tree.

    1. kate says:

      Hah – I certainly do damp! (If I was in a frost pocket, I’d be moaning no doubt.) The coldest I’ve ever been was once when I was working in Chicago and there were blizzards. My breath froze my scarf when I dared to go outside – the frozen hair sounds much more alarming!

      Can you replace your birch, at all? Seems a shame to get rid, though I suspect that there will have to be some sort of decision taken in the future about my Thug. I only put it where it is because I thought it would die…

  10. easygardener says:

    Some tree bark just cries out to be stroked – I find it very soothing. How luck that you got a beautiful tree for free – and how typical that the weak and feeble tree turn out to be a thug 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Doesn’t it, though? At least if it’s in your own garden people are less inclined to ring for the men in white coats…

  11. Another birch lover here. I think we have a very similar aesthetic. Well hold on, I might have to take that back. I see you have tiarella! (sorry, only joking!)

    1. kate says:

      I think I noticed some heucheras in your garden… hmmmmmmm…..

      1. Ah but I don’t like them! I am still guiltily building up to chucking them!

        1. kate says:

          Methinks the lady doth protest too much….

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