The branches of a 100-year-old boxwood at Cylburn have been… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
At the Paca House in Annapolis, scene of dozens of weddings each year, chief horticulturist Mollie Ridout is sighing with relief: The hemlock hedges that line the bride's walk down the aisle look like they survived.
But at Baltimore's Cylburn Arboretum, some of the 100-year-old boxwoods might not have. The heavy snow splayed open the upright hedges as if they were roses past their prime.
Homeowners all over Maryland are assessing the damage to their trees, shrubs and gardens from nature's one-two punch this week. But nowhere is the loss - including 20-foot hollies and 50-foot pines - more distressing than at the state's public gardens.
"Some of the boxwoods will recover, and some of them won't," said Melissa Grim, acting chief horticulturist at Cylburn, where the staff was also concerned about snow weight on the flat roof of the visitors center still under construction.
At the Paca House in the heart of Annapolis, Ridout had to climb to the second floor to assess the damage because the snow was too deep to wade into the gardens behind the historic house.
From her vantage point, she could see that she'd lost two hollies and a red cedar. The 20-foot hollies simply broke in half. The red cedar was uprooted.
"My concern was for the hedges," she said. "They are an integral part of the garden."
And they form the allee for Paca House brides.
"Hemlock hedges are northern trees, and they look pretty good," Ridout said. "But I have friends at Mount Vernon and Dumbarton Oaks who are telling me their magnolias are a complete loss."
At Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Cathy Umphrey had to scale the spiked gates around the compound with ladders to get to greenhouse seedlings that hadn't been watered in a week.
Snowplows had pushed the snow to the top of the gates, so she and a volunteer positioned ladders against the snow, climbed over the "very pointy tops" of the fence and then used cross-country ski poles to navigate the snowdrifts and get to the greenhouse. The seedlings are for the spring plant sale, a major fundraiser.
From atop the snow, she could see that an American holly was ripped in half and a second 50-foot Virginia pine was pulled up by its roots. The first one fell across a service road during the last storm.
"We're going to have to take some time to really assess the damage," Umphrey said.
The colder weather means the wood on trees and shrubs is very brittle. Any effort to brush off the snow or to begin to prune broken branches might only cause more damage.
Fortunately, the staff at London Town recently completed the kind of heavy pruning that opens up an evergreen's canopy and allows snow to filter through. Otherwise, Umphrey said, damage would be much greater.
"That stuff didn't fall. But budgets are tight, and tree work isn't cheap."
At the Adkins Arboretum in Caroline County on the Eastern Shore, executive director Ellie Altman got her reports from cross-country skiers who were traversing the walking paths through the 400-acre woodlands, where snow was 4 feet deep.
Many of the paths are blocked by fallen trees - 20-footers weighted down by heavy snow, they told her.
"We are just grateful none of the [structures] were destroyed," she said. Building alarms have been blaring all week. "It must have been the wind setting them off."
These public gardens are too large and staffs are stretched too thin to prepare for storms the likes of which passed through Maryland the last week.
"We just sweat it out," said Grim of Cylburn, who oversees 50 cultivated acres and 150 more acres of woodland. "We were concerned with our structures, but a lot of our plant material has been through big snowstorms before. There was no way we could prepare for this."
"We could never tie everything up," said Umphrey. There are 8 acres of woodland gardens at London Town, a 23-acre park. "And often, the whole thing just topples over."
For most public gardens, the busy season is months away, but that won't be enough time for the plants to recover. It might take two years or three years before damage to hedges and shrubs is not so noticeable.
For the moment, all the staff can do is sit and wait.
"We will get out as soon as we can and see what the damage is," said Grim. "But I think we are going to have to do some heavy spring pruning."
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