Winter storms may not be as bad for gardens and especially large old trees as they are said to be
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

February 25, 2018

Above Ice such as this built up on branches eventually becomes so heavy it will break even major branches; and the ordinarily upright-facing branches of this white birch are bent down at almost 180o during a Toronto ice storm—there was very little damage to the tree. Below, a typical Norway maple as they should look, but they can have most of their major branches bent down during an ice storm; and this live oak (Quercus virginiana) growing in Maclay Gardens, Houston (and loaded with Spanish moss) is what these trees should look like but thousands were uprooted or had to be removed from my friend Drayton Hastie’s Magnolia Gardens and Plantation (in Charleston, South Carolina) suffered the loss of hundreds of these trees during one of the famous hurricanes.
Author photos.




In order to be able to include comments on late-breaking news, I generally write this column late on Tuesday or Wednesday, for posting on the site by Tom Dawson on Sunday. Hopefully I'll have some news to bring you with more mentions of various new plants for this spring.

With the unbelievable winter weather in eastern Ontario and western Quebec last week, I thought it timely to present a few thoughts on the crisis. First, I certainly don't want to belittle the tragedy. But I do want to point out that as far as the trees are concerned (and we've heard a lot about how decades of growth were destroyed in just a few hours), we've had these disasters previously.

The first one that I remember well was Hurricane Frederick in September 1979, and the damage it did, specifically, to Bellingrath House and Garden in Theodore (near Mobile), Alabama. In January 1980 I attended an executive meeting of the Garden Writers Association of America of which I was president. On my board was Harry Ryan, senior horticulturist at that garden. He was practically in tears as he told me about the destruction--particularly I remember his vivid description of the total devastation of the front lawn--"completely covered by a jungle of tree branches."

A year later, I visited Harry's garden. (It is very much worth a visit particularly at Christmas time when they have a huge showing off Christmas lights). And, I talked with Harry very shortly thereafter at still another meeting. His attitude had changed completely! He was then talking about the wonderful improvements he had been able to make because so many of the former heavily treed areas had been "cleared."

That scenario was repeated only a few years later when, two years apart I believe, Britain--the English in particular--suffered similar huge losses to ancient trees over a wide range of their countryside. Well do I remember being shown the formerly devastated areas of Kew (the national botanical gardens) and Wisley (the Royal Horticultural Society's [RHS] gardens)--both a short drive from downtown London--only three years after the second devastation. My guide and chauffeur was my good friend Bob Corbin, retired senior bureaucrat of the Greater London Council and a past member of the Council of the RHS. Bob took the time to show me how several areas of Wisley in particular (which had been total disasters of mangled old trees) were in just a few years vastly improved, with wonderful new growth, especially of ericacious plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas.

My final example is a garden well known to many Canadians who travel south for the winter, or even at spring break each year. Magnolia Gardens and Plantation is very close to Charleston, South Carolina. For years, owner Drayton Hastie begged me to come and stay, but I never seemed to make it. Then came hurricane Hugo in 1989, and for well over a week, I could get no answer on any of the telephone numbers I had for Drayton. When I finally did reach him, sounding very, very downhearted, he told me he had hired a huge helicopter to remove the thousands of uprooted and broken trees from the garden. Particularly devastated were hundreds of live oaks (Quercus virginiana) an evergreen tree in the southern states that gains stateliness with every decade.

In April 1993, I finally did have the good fortune of visiting Drayton's beloved Magnolia Gar-dens--escorting a group from the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge and nearby area. By that time, even Drayton was upbeat about the improvement and changes he had been able to make to the garden-particularly a large area behind the original house--as a result of the hurricane.

Gilles Vincent, the new director of Le Jardin botanique de Montréal, told me in early 1997 that at least ten percent of the trees in that wonderful garden were damaged to the point they may have to be removed. However, that may not be the tragedy it at first seems, based on these other cases mentioned.

The street trees are another matter all together! On my radio programme that year Paul Emil Rocray, a city of Montréal forest engineer told me that upwards of 35 percent of the city's street trees were badly damaged. One of the prime reasons for the high percentage is: that city's streets are basically planted with only a few species such as ash, Norway and silver maple. Each of these is very susceptible to damage from ice storms. If anything at all comes from this storm as regards street trees (in every city, not just Montréal), it ought to be that officials must agree to plant a much wider diversity of trees on streets--whether they are native or not.

Some of the winter storm stories heard just this year are a further example of the same problem with street trees.

You will not believe me if I tell you that City Council here in Parksville actually passed a new by-law several weeks ago banning the planting of street trees in new subdivisions because of the nuisance they cause for underground utilities! That is a fact, I kid you not.

Now I have to tell you that there has been a considerable hullaballoo raised by the public and certain officials about this (including many letters from irate citizens in the local newspaper) and the council has said they will hold a public hearing on the subject, and may well reconsider the bylaw! I think they had better!


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