Ice and Snow and Fireflies; Garden Opening 2016

SDIM5358 (2)At last.

A nearby West Welsh village, Eglwyswrw, had featured in the national media as it closed in on the 90 year old UK record for the longest continual run of days with some rainfall recorded (held by the Isle of Islay with 89 days, Click here for more). Eglwyswrw eventually paused at 85 days, with a dry day, and the weather at Gelli Uchaf has also improved a bit.

Rainfall diminished, temperatures dropped, and we had a couple of sunsets sufficiently glorious to stand and stare, as the sun dipped behind Mynydd Llanybydder, and the ranks of starling flocks headed West, directly overhead, towards the burning clouds.SDIM5287 (2)

We’ve even had a little white relief to the landscape too, with overnight hail showers, on January 10th, but our still warm soil meant that this quickly melted.SDIM5304 (2)SDIM5299 (2)SDIM5293 (2)SDIM5316 (2)SDIM5336 (2)

And finally, on January 19th, the wind dropped, the clouds dissipated, and temperatures fell away sharply. The 20th dawned, for the first time since November 2nd, with not a cloud in the sky, and a sharp frost etching everything in sight with a welcome rime.SDIM5361 (2) The ground, a previously constantly squelching, slippery sponge, suddenly transformed once more to terra firma. A novelty to be explored, along with the welcome change in light.SDIM5370 (2)

Not so good for early season flower photography, since even the toughies, like Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’, below, that grace a mid-winter garden with antifreeze primed sap, tend to keel over in such extreme conditions, only to bounce back as the sun’s warming power kicks in later in the day. SDIM5365 (2)And some of the verdant new growth on the Crocosmias will surely not be looking like this in a few days’ time, but still worth recording.SDIM5373 (2)

I’d checked the droopy snowdrops – only the wide opened ‘Colossus’ still standing tall amongst the 70 varieties which are already flowering in this perversely mild and wet winter. Restocked the wood baskets; had our mid morning tea; and was about to gear up for some more track work, when I spotted what I’d missed on at least 3 passes, right outside the back door.SDIM5378 (2)

Upside down, or underneath a dripping roof line, this would perhaps be mundane. But this was away from any such easy explanations. An ice spike, to match the only other example I’ve ever seen which was almost exactly 3 years ago. Click here for the link and pictures.SDIM5381a (3)

But this spike was even larger, and more impressive, given the angle it formed at, in wind free conditions overnight.SDIM5383 (a2) (2)

Like the previous ice vase, there are masses of tiny air bubbles, trapped within the ice. Many are also of an interesting shape, as shown. Bubbles form when dissolved air is forced out of solution as the water cools, and even out of ice itself. If there is a layer of ice above it, then the air can’t escape, and a bubble will be trapped.

But how about the linear looking bubbles in the spike above – which presumably grows in girth as water flows down it’s outside? Or does it?SDIM5391 (2)

Is it hollow? Like the earlier Ice Vase. I can’t make it out from the pictures, and the spike is no more. Ephemerally etherised, melted to tissue soaked oblivion, after centre piecing the tables for the annual general meeting and meal of Cothi Gardeners.

Or is the water rising up this air bubbled honeycomb like structure, as it does with rising damp in a wall, by capillary action – only to freeze on contact with the cold air?SDIM5391 (3)

I really can’t grasp how this spike can have grown. From the inside, spewing out from the tip, or the outside?SDIM5383 (a2) (3)

Any ideas gratefully received.

Addendum! I’ve just checked again, and there is now quite a detailed explanation of ice spike formation on Wikipedia, which I’m pretty certain wasn’t there 3 years ago. I needed to reread it a few times to work it out, but if you want a plausible scientific explanation, then click here!

Since the frozen water was rainfall originally, it would probably have quite a high dissolved air content in the first place. Click here, and here, and here for more on why, and how, air bubbles form inside ice.SDIM5387 (2)

For those wondering about the mechanism of formation of such structures, I would suggest reading my previous attempt at explanation, but it basically relies, as pointed out by corriegendus in a comment at the end of the earlier post, on the fortunate property of water to suddenly begin to become less dense, as its temperature approaches zero. The graph below illustrates this.water-density-vs-temp A tiny defect in the early forming ice sheet on the water’s surface can then permit cooling and rising water, (as it becomes less dense), to be forced out to escape on to the ice surface, where exposed to the much colder air temperatures, it will tend to freeze. Quite how it can build up to such a gravity defying extent, and why any defect in the surface ice sheet doesn’t quickly get plugged by the ice forming on top, is beyond me.

Best just to enjoy, alongside the only snowdrop flowers to remain turgid in such low temperatures, the large, but not quite colossal, Galanthus ‘Colossus’.SDIM5389 (2)

In last year’s autumnal bulb planting, one of those selected for mass use, was the earliest to flower with us, Crocus sieberi ‘Firefly’. It’s a perfect splash of colour, almost as effective in closed bud, as when open – which is just as well, since so far this year, there haven’t yet been any days to coax them into opening.SDIM5301 (2) But in spite of my usual approach of covering the bulbs in cayenne pepper at planting time, a lot of my hard work and money was wasted with significant early predation by small rodents – probably voles, within just days of planting. SDIM5213 (2)The corms are being winkled out from several inches below the surface with remarkable ease. I feared the worst, but quite a few have still emerged, so that if any more ever get planted, I shall abandon my usual approach of planting in groups of 5 or 7, spaced out by a couple of inches, and instead dot plant single bulbs at perhaps eighteen inch centres. SDIM5313 (2)

I couldn’t find any useful data on the relative taste appeal of different Crocus varieties, though I’ve read somewhere that C. tommasinianus isn’t particularly appealing – a good job, since it’s our mainstay Crocus in the garden. But, I found an interesting piece of work carried out in the USA, where different bulb types were fed to captive voles, mixed in with apple sauce – apparently their preferred food. The researchers, (Curtis, Curtis and Miller), used just one Crocus, C. ‘Pickwick’ along with daffodils, tulips, etc. Perhaps there is scope here for distraction feeding of apple sauce, or apple rings or slices, away from any new bulb plantings, when Crocus corms seem most at risk? Or as a bait in traps, when there are the first signs of rodent predation?SDIM5324 (2)

With such early flowering of many different snowdrops in the garden, (G. ‘Trumps’ above), I should perhaps mention our opening times of the garden, for charity under the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) this year.

We are opening by appointment/arrangement only.

And on Fridays and Saturdays only, beginning on Friday February 19th, and continuing until Saturday May 21 st (excluding Friday May 6th and Saturday May 7th).

We are also only opening for groups of 6 or more. So if you fancy coming and having a look, do get a small, (or larger) group together, and get in touch. We’d look forward to seeing you.SDIM5295 (2)

This month has brought another showing of the spiral conundrum – preferentially early snow/hail melt from the quarry tiles, compared with the crushed slate. And I can confirm that the previous day was one of relatively strong sunshine – so my guess is that the quarry tiles had more retained heat than the air filled crushed slate.

3 ‘ABS’ to finish – heck, I’m allowed a few after all those grey skies!SDIM5356 (2)SDIM5243 (2)SDIM5350 (2)

25 thoughts on “Ice and Snow and Fireflies; Garden Opening 2016

  1. Congratulations on a day without rain!

    I love Firefly, but I have given up planting crocuses at my home. I can only have them at the cottage where the neighbour’s cat has eliminated all of the chipmunks and squirrels. I won’t see them until about March 31st, so until then thank you very much for sharing your spring.

    • Hello Lisa,
      Thanks for the comment. At least we don’t have chipmunks to contend with! So far, we’ve never had problems with squirrels going for the Crocuses – maybe because there are so many hazelnuts around, but I have to do something about the voles, or as you say, Crocuses would never survive. It’s great that you can appreciate our early spring flowers from so far away,
      best wishes Julian.
      PS What about Ice spikes/vases in Canada? Do you ever see them ???

      • I have not seen ice spikes. I will now have to keep my eyes open. We see many interesting ice sculptures along Georgian Bay when we go for hikes in the early spring, but the strange formations are from wind and waves, or so I thought, perhaps not? Maybe I will see them everywhere now!

        We have a very large population of squirrels because of our many Black Walnut trees, but they love the crocuses. I had a crocus massacre last fall, hundreds dug up and eaten. It was heartbreaking.

      • Losing hundreds of Crocus would indeed be heart breaking – have you heard of anyone using sonic deterrents successfully in your part of the world Lisa – a friend has just given us one to use as a potential deterrent, the only problem being that whilst I can’t hear it at all, the high pitched noise sends Fiona mad, if she’s close by!
        Best wishes
        PS BTW I added in a Wikipedia link on ice spikes which explains in quite a technical way, how they form – its partly to do with the hexagonal shape of the ice crystals that begin to form at the edge of the water, and then spread downwards and inwards, eventually forcing water in the middle up, and out to form the spike – this is also why, as in this case, the spike tends to have a triangular shaped base,

      • I have not heard of anyone around here using the sonic deterrents. I know that they are available. I had thought of getting them to prevent all the cats using my garden as their private litter box. Since they are not preventing the squirrels or rabbits, they are no use to me. They just drive my dog crazy, and spit up hair balls on my outdoor furniture. I prefer to spend my money on plants though.

  2. A natural ice sculpture in your snowdrop decoration is a really class ornament – beautiful. More pictures of your snowdrops and crocus, please. Their colour and resilience at this time of year never ceases to fascinate me. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      Thanks for that. I’ll try with more photos, but although the snowdrops are ‘up’, many are rotting without ever opening, and likewise the early Crocus, and Iris – either that or nibbled off by slugs, in the up till now incessant wet! Rest assured, I’ll be out with the camera if I can manage any really decent pics,
      Best wishes
      PS Further to me writing the post, I’ve found a really good explanation of how the ice spike actually forms – if you look back thro’ the post, it will give you the link. But its a bit scientifically written I’m afraid – more for physicists/chemists than for me!

      • I’ve checked that out. I find it a fascinating insight into the minds of people who must find out why. I can follow the general gist of their theories and it is something I would have just accepted (shame on me) but then I have never thought of why ice cubes contain air bubbles. Your posts are always provoking me to think outside my comfort zone which is a good thing.

      • Thanks Amelia – glad you followed the link, and found it stimulating. I should have been a bit more proactive before publishing the post, and found this information first. Even after reading the link myself, I still can’t quite follow how it doesn’t freeze over first …I think a diagram or 2 would have been helpful. As for coming up with the Bally-Dorsey model…(later) I’ve just found yet another good site …
        which I’ll mention next time – it looks really fascinating, and there is even a simple diagram of ice spike formation!…
        Best wishes, Julian

      • This is a much simpler explanation and I can imagine that changes in temperature during the freezing might increase the length of the spike compared to the constant temperature of a freezer.

  3. Your sunsets are beautiful Julian, you are allowed months worth after the deluges you’ve had there. Glad to hear there is some improvement in the weather. Interesting ice spike, I followed your link back and loved the photo of you with the hair dryer, doesn’t look remotely safe though. Voles are infuriating, good luck with the apple sauce distraction technique too but in the meantime your garden views are wonderful.

    • Hello Julie,
      Back to rain today.., but I wondered if you’ve ever seen an ice spike in your part of the UK? I’m trying to work out why I’ve been fortunate to see 2, and maybe even planning to see if I can set up to create and film one developing if we get suitable conditions in future. But are humidity levels/rate of temperature decline at dusk critical? Or contaminants in the water? I noticed that in this case there were quite a few larch needles – ever present in the garden, sitting in the pools of water where the ice spike had formed… Both spike and vase formed after a very severe, and presumably quick drop in temperatures, at roughly the same time of year.
      I wonder how you would deal with voles/rodent issues.? Have you ever tried the sonic deterrents you sometimes see advertised? At least we don’t have many pheasants round here – I read yesterday that Gertrude Jekyll gave up on Crocus after a whole bed of different species Crocus were trashed very quickly by a marauding pheasant,
      Best wishes

      • Hi Julian, I have been trying to recall ever seeing one and think not. We walk regularly in a wood with larches but not in the conditions you describe if its the Larch needles that play a part? We had a cat until last year that helped with voles and mice. Both rodents are also predated by lots of larger birds but thats hit and miss within most gardens. I’ve not tried the sonic deterrents my neighbour has and they have regular visits by the moles they are trying to deter so not a recommendation. We do have a dog though and apparently a dogs urine is a deterrent for moles. Good on lawns…not wanted on a veg patch though! We have pheasants visit and wasn’t aware they were partial to a crocus bulb, but that may explain a few missing bulbs here! Hope you have some drier weather today, its been quite balmy here.

      • Hello Julie, It was also balmy here last night, and wonderfully clear – I spent a good hour wandering round the garden with a torch looking at all the tiny slugs munching the first Crocus and Iris reticulata flowers thank goodness Cyclamen coum just don’t seem to appeal. I didn’t even need a coat really. But the days have reverted to light levels so low, that I’ve dusted off an anti SAD light box I used to have use in my vetting days (when my consulting room was windowless), and we’ve set it up on the kitchen table, and blast ourselves at meal times in the hope that we’ll start to sleep a bit better!
        The whole predator/pest issue is a tricky one. We undoubtedly use far less, for example, slug pellets than we used to, with many frogs and lizards seen in the garden – I caught a toad in the torchlight last night as I was pottering, but occasionally the balance tips, and one has to do something or risk garden oblivion…
        Re the Larch needles, I fear that might have been a red herring – I’m going to revisit the ice spike next time, but it is interesting that so few of them seem to have been photographed,
        best wishes

  4. guess I have a mind that doesn’t enquire much (sad really). But I enjoy the pictures just the same! A friend told me recently of a comment by T.S. Eliot to the effect that the meaning of a poem is not as important as the way it strikes the heart. Your pictures strike me beautifully! And the ice spike is wondrous. But no more beautiful than those cyclamen that you began with. Great that you are opening again this year – only wish I could visit.

    • Thanks Cathy for that. I’ve just found another site where ice spikes get a mention, and how they’re formed … ….some amazing snowflake images here as well…but with anything like this, although I like to try to understand how they form, its much more WOW AMAZING – I dashed inside to tell Fiona to come and have a look as soon as I saw it, and now I know that all the water is forced up a narrow central channel to freeze at the top in an ever growing spike, it just seems more amazing. The Cyclamen coum really are one of my favourite flowers, bridging the year, and keeping the spirits up, whatever the weather…
      Best wishes

  5. Interesting and informative as always. I have never heard on an ice spike, how fascinating. Have you ever looked into what makes snowdrops bloom. Our weird weather has mine blooming all out of sequence with their “normal” bloom order. Some cultivars are blooming two months early while others that normally bloom simultaneously are under the ground. Looking at your photos, Colossus is done here and Trumps is just emerging..

    • Ice Spikes are amazing…I’m doing a bit more on them next time, since I think I now understand a bit more about how/why they form. Your comment about snowdrop blooming order is really interesting. I’m trying (last 2 years) to record blooming sequence so that one could group all cultivars into , say, 4 categories – very early, early, mid, late. For me time of flowering is almost as important as flower form. Though ability to multiply and thrive is my top factor – and on this snowdrops seem to vary hugely. Often, over here, nurseries don’t seem to do a very good job of passing this information on – probably because of space/time considerations? But what triggers flowering?? Presumably it must be soil temperature and or wetness/dryness – its difficult to imagine light being an influence for a bulb. One of our plants that always seems to have variable flowering sequences for different cultivars are Hamamelis, and indeed this year, seems a pretty poor and late season for them, so I’m guessing lack of light, and lack of cold are probably factors here.
      But someone must have done some good work on what triggers flower bud emergence in bulbs. Another item for a post sometime?
      Best wishes

      • I look forward to your detailed post on what makes snowdrops bloom. I guess you would have to go back to where each species is from. Here it is very dry in the summer and then we start to get rain in the fall right before the fall-blooming snowdrops start. Those conditions may be similar to Turkey and the Black Sea area but I don’t know. But why does G. reginae-olgae bloom by 10/15 and other wait for February or March?

      • Or not… We’ve got just a few reg.olgae, and this year, I waited and waited, and the leaves have appeared and look healthy, but no flowers – I suspect because our summer was so cool and damp, if not wet, so they didn’t get a necessary drought/heat check.
        I wonder what the SRGC bulb log has to say about this issue? Hopefully they might do better next year, but for probably the same reasons after a poor year for Narcissi in 2015, I think this year looks like they will fare much better.

  6. Beautiful garden photos as usual 🙂 and lucky you to have some snow! We’ve had a couple of feeble frosts that disappeared as quickly as the sun rose.
    The ice spike phenomenon is amazing; not something I’ve ever come across before. I headed off for the explanation which was fascinating – for the explanation as much as the fact that people’s curiosity gets the better of them with something so ‘trivial’ that they have to fathom it out! … and good for them too as it saves me the effort 😀

    • Hello Noeline,
      Thanks for the comment, Noeline. I’m going to do a bit more about the ice spike, since it was inadequately done in the first post …I think they’re even more amazing , and even more fortunate to have seen it, now.
      BTW I loved your trompe d’oeil image, but I think I was logged out of WP when I read it, and since having opted for 2 stage authentication, I now have to race downstairs to pick up a code from the mobile to log in… and since it was just before bedtime , I never made it!
      Best wishes

    • Hello Jason,
      Thanks for the comment. No real updates – I don’t think I shall post anything more detailed about it – this winter has been so mild up here, and wet!! that it hasn’t really been necessary so far. I’ve kept it running /chugging, because the ‘waste’ compost is so useful. But from leaf fall onwards the consistent rain has made it impossible to harvest leaves with the lawnmowers as in previous years. I do now have a huge pile of professionally chipped wood brash, which I’ve used with poultry manure/pee/kitchen vegetable waste to fuel the system. This seems to work pretty well for heat generation, but the compost isn’t as fine at the end of it. As is often the case with me, my mind wanders off and takes me into pastures new – in particular our meadow restoration work. My other issue is the passage of time means the physical work with doing the compost heating system means it is sometimes a bit off putting, – wood for heating the house being a higher priority! And as I’ve hinted at in my pieces, without supplemental lighting inputs, the natural light levels are so low, that you can’t realistically ‘grow’ any crops from Nov to early March’ just overwinter things. Don’t know where in the world you are based, but this ‘winter’ has been a real shocker for me in making me aware of just where ‘climate change’ may take us …
      Best wishes

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