The first garden of my own sat on an acre of high bank waterfront on Savary Island. The property faced south, perched high on a sand cliff, and every southeaster blew sand up from that cliff onto the garden. Sand powdered leaves, sand crept under doors, and sand stuck in my hair. The place was wild, but I was too in my twenties and that garden taught me much about myself and growing in adverse conditions.
One of my neighbours on the bluff had a home called ‘Aeolus’ – named after the Greek keeper of the winds. Of course no one can keep a wind for long, not even a sailor (as Homer knew well), but we all contend with wind and I would argue that wind can shape a person as it can a garden. (As a gardener, wind made me angry; it still does.)
I will concede that many plants look great in wind, including swishing bamboos and ornamental grasses, but I’m writing this on the eve of typhoon Songda, not staring out the window at the easy sway of leaves, but huddled housebound for a not-so-dramatic weather event in the end, but one I was prepared for at least.
The garden was set to be hacked back in October anyway, so I scurried around yanking out annuals to save them the indignity of being blown down. My dahlias were staked, safe, but my chrysanthemums – five feet high and lanky as runway models barely in bud – needed reinforcement stakes and ties to keep them from toppling.
In wind storms, my foundation plantings suffer the most. When wind hits a solid structure it kicks back, speeds up, racing to find an escape. Shrubs lean, some permanently, shaped by a history of storms.
To slow the speed of wind, I use a burlap ‘screen’ to protect adjacent annual beds. The burlap is semi-permeable. This slows the air, and increases temperature on the leeward side. Fences and trellising also help to slow wind and create micro-environments. I grew a living curtain of the cup and saucer vine Cobea scandens, this year from seed. The plants have stretched over 20 feet, growing from their trellis onto twine, and while I hadn’t planned on them acting as windbreak, they helped to block the north wind in summer and added some mystery to the garden by creating a peek-a-boo veil.
As winter approaches, it’s a wise idea to wrap tender shrubs like Pittosporums or Melianthus to protect them from wind chill. We haven’t had a severely cold winter in a couple of years, but icy winds wreak more damage than snow which insulates plants.
Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and a creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria.