Surprise Snow Storm hits Pacific Northwest: Gardeners Freak Out

Surprise Snow Storm hits Pacific Northwest: Gardeners Freak Out

You may have heard that we got an unusual bit of snow here in the Pacific Northwest. This is a rare event, and many of us have no idea what to expect in the aftermath. There are a couple opinion camps on snow itself. Those who abhor it–they’ve often moved here from snowier climes. And those who love it–generally natives who have suffered a lifetime of snow deprivation.

Is it odd that I find consolation in having done so little to protect my plants? Do other gardeners do this? Oh, sure, I piled leaves around a few of the most vulnerable–and after the initial cold forecast–but before the snow, I tossed frost cloths over a three luscious looking Echiums.

Feeble attempt with frost cloth -- to cover Echium candicans.

Feeble attempt to cover Echium candicans ‘Star of Maderia’ with frost cloth.

This time, I even took an extra step of weighting the bottom with bricks.

Two more Echium candicans feebly covered.

Two more Echium candicans ‘Star of Madeira’ feebly covered.

I suppose this could have helped if it had only been a night or two of frost. Right?

Good thing Echium candican grows fast.

Good thing Echium candican ‘Star of Madeira’ grows fast as noted here.

When it comes to garden prep for winter, I follow a regular regime. Step 1, Denial: it’s probably going to be a zone 9 winter. Step 2, after a few cool nights with warning weather forecasts, I move several potted plants to the basement. Step 3, I wait until it’s really cold and the wind is howling, then I wring my hands and pull my own tail for a bit. Step 4, I dig out frost cloths, and then when I manage to get them outdoors, fail to secure them adequately–because my teeth are chattering to the rhythm of the wind. I know: I’m a big baby–just like Johnny Cammareri.

Plus, usually when “they” predict snow around these parts, it’s a big disappointment, especially for those like Megan & me, who keep our noses pressed to window: Lucy and the football, over and over again. This time, though, we got clobbered–at least by our standards. They predicted snow, and snow happened. But they claimed 2 or 3 inches, and we got 12. My dad always said you can’t really blame them because it doesn’t happen here often, and there are so many factors–the Pacific Ocean, Alaska, the Columbia River Gorge, high pressure aloft. Haha, I’m just kidding about the high pressure aloft. I don’t know what that means, but they do say things like that.

So like every self-respecting-awed-by-snow person, I took pictures of the increasing depth. And where better to showcase the change than on the patio table.

First patio shot at 8:09 p.m.

First patio shot at 8:09 p.m.

Mind you, we’d have been happy with this much snow: it would have been a lot for us.

Second patio table shot at 9:42 p.m., or an hour and a half later.

Second patio table shot at 9:42 p.m., or an hour and a half later.

It was so easy to see from that vantage, and dang surprising. Meanwhile out front, it was weathering heavily as well. And the wind was blowing. It was a regular storm, exciting–and kind of scary. I lay away that night thinking it would be a terrible time for the “Big One”, aka the huge earthquake they keep promising. Catastrophize much? Why, yes I do. Am I alone?

It's never like this here!

Weathering heavily: it’s never like this!

Below is the same scene in the morning. Here I was thinking the birds could use the old Xmas tree for shelter. And what about the new pavers under there? Will they be okay–or will they come out all catawampus?

Do patio pavers hold up under snow?

Do patio pavers hold up under snow?

Of course, everything looks hopeless out there, but please note my famous Pennisetum macrourum aka African Feather Grass. It held up nicely to provide shelter for the birdies. I was so happy when I saw that. So to reiterate: it’s a terrific plant that never stops performing.

And in the morning, a final circle back round to the patio table measuring stick. There was even more snow.

It kept snowing over night. This NEVER happens here.

It kept snowing over night. Most unusual.

Apparently, we all thought taking photos of our patio tables was a terrific way to demonstrate the accumulating snowfall, because one weather dude requested that we stop sending in our stupid patio table pictures. Well excuse us. We’re inexperienced on this front.

So if you will indulge me–and perchance offer a word of encouragement for freaking-out gardeners–here a few more snow shots.

That's a little Olea europaea 'Frantoio' under there.

That’s a little Olea europaea ‘Frantoio’ under there.

Some gardening friends on Facebook recommended unburdening delicate plants of their snow burden. Others said, NO! do not shake–you’ll break the branches. But I couldn’t leave this little tree to fend for itself, once I got to obsessing thinking about it, and so I delicately shook the trunk to lessen its load.

Olea europaea 'Frantoio' -- post gentle shake.

Olea europaea ‘Frantoio’ — post gentle shake.

It seemed better afterward, and there was no damage to report. I love this little tree and it would break my heart if I lost it.

A little later, I couldn’t resist asking Bill to smack around the prostrate bamboo. He was outside anyway, filling bird feeders for the umpteenth time.

Bill giving bamboo the what for.

Bill giving bamboo the what for.

Of course, he is a man, so he did not wear a coat even though it was 20 °F. But I give him extra credit for wearing boots instead of slippers. (This is in no way meant to diminish the fact that I so appreciate his willingness to do it.)

I sincerely hope this does not come across as a ho-hum, what-else-is-new post. But this kind of weather doesn’t happen here, and we know not what it forebodes. Except maybe Paul Bonine a chief proprietors at Xera Plants–not to mention a revered weather prognosticator ’round these parts. Last I heard, Paul was curled up with his dogs, savoring the cocoa he’d managed to snag at the store–last one on the shelf.

I’m interested to see what happens, what survives and what does not. I’m sure my Echiums are toast, and likely the Phormiums. Probably a lot of other plants too. But for right now, I’m in awe, and shock, and I can barelyi remember what was out there–since everything is flattened to the ground under the snow load.

Bill and I walked to the grocery store today, because the larder was about caput. We passed by Mcmenamins Kennedy School, and I espied their Loquat looking tall and terrific. I’ve got one in my garden too. But so far, I haven’t had the nerve to look.


  • Alyson CooperWilliams

    Hah! I did the same photo-shoot with our patio table and chairs! Your yard looks similar to mine in Vancouver. We lost a couple of large old trees (my daughter watched them keel over) and need to wait for snow melt so we can actually access them with the chainsaw. I did brush off the snow on our shrubs and small trees. I’m glad I did as they bounced right back from dragging. Even though we get a little snow most years this year has been unusual with the amount and also the extended freezing weather. Waiting to see what the predicted ice-storm will do today. So glad I got a gift card to Garden Fever at Christmas, I’ll need to replace a few plants.

    • Hasn’t it been crazy, the places it hit and the places it spared. My husband works in Vancouver–and so has been working from home for the past week. We got hit by ice last night, but clearing this morning. The garden is looking pretty flat. I’ll probably be seeing you at Garden Fever this spring.

  • Tim Vojt

    Those are great shots of your once-in-a-lifetime snow! I LOVE the patio-table-ruler photos. It really shows how much snow you received and how quickly. That would be a bad, unusual snow where I live, outside the snow belt. Further north near the great lakes: child’s play. I know people who get snow say it a lot, but snow is a great insulator, keeping heat in and protecting the ground from dramatic temperature swings in the air. I hope you will be surprised at what pulls through; perhaps your most tender things will spring to life from the roots.
    I’m sure your pavers and patio will be fine! Freezing and thawing can cause shifting, but yours were so well and professionally laid. Heavy snow cover? Bah.
    I’m panicking about the opposite here in Columbus: 61°F right now-no freezing weather in the extended forecast. That spells doom to me in my climate. We had a late winter like this quite a few years ago, which brought everything out green and fresh early, only to have everything frozen in a dip into the negative single digits. Believe me, it takes a long, long time for deciduous trees to recover and grow new foliage when all of their new growing points are frozen.
    Please, let’s trade and get weather back to normal this year……
    Signed, another whining Johnny Cammareri who also catastrophizes much.

    • Oh boy. Things are crazy all over the nation. As one last insult, we got hit we freezing rain last night. Most of the city was spared, but we’re just a couple miles south of the Columbia River–so special treatment. Today is better, but yikes, I can see the fence all the way around the back. I hope the Climate Gods decide that’s enough and spare our gardens any more insult while sliding into spring. But enough about politics! Cheers.

  • So amazing! So pretty for now. We didn’t get snow just a big old hard freeze that was unexpected and unheard of…like your snow. The damage is huge! I am fine…more room to try something new. But my poor clients!

    • I guess that’s the upside, thinking about all the new things we can plant–and what we can rearrange. But, yikes, your clients. They probably don’t think of it the way we do. Looking forward to hearing more about what happened around your area. Cheers, Laurin.

  • Ricki Grady

    I’m counting on the insulating properties of the snow (how’s that for rationalizing staying cozy inside?). We did knock the snow off a few things that were bent to the ground but that overnight snowfall brought down a few big branches.

    • Hi Rickii,

      I was so busy pulling my own tail, I didn’t pay close attention to how things were out your way. I friends in Warren, and haven’t gotten their report yet. But Ms. Chickadee’s been showing us a bit. It’s crazy how spotty it’s all been. I also have a friend in Barton–near Estacada–and they got far less snow, only a couple inches. Hope you don’t suffer any more damage–or insult. Enough already.