Mother Nature reminded Salem of her awesome power over the Valentine’s Day Weekend. Freezing rain is nothing new for those of us who have lived in Salem for any length of time. Rarely a year goes by without the threat of that annoying icy rain falling and coating everything in a slick, icy blanket.

But this year was something special. The ice started accumulating, not stopping until every tree and shrub in town was covered with up to an inch and a half of ice. Even the healthiest, most well pruned plants could not support that weight. Gaiety Hollow was not spared the onslaught of ice. Our big Oak tree at the top of the West Allee lost several branches. The Cherries and Lilacs also lost some limbs, with the Lilacs splitting at the base.

The Boxwood was the largest concern. Although not directly damaged by the ice, portions were crushed by the massive Oak limbs. Due to current Boxwood Blight issues in nursery industry stock, our Boxwood cannot be easily replaced at this point. We simply can’t risk introducing this pathogen into the garden.

The #1 cleanup priority was to remove the heavy Oak limbs from the crushed Boxwood, a task hampered by the lack of a large chainsaw. At this point, most of the West Allee is off limits due to the widow maker hanging from the Oak. We are waiting for an arborist to come and do the final clean-up in Oak and adjacent Southern Magnolia.

Although a few plants lost some limbs, Gaiety Hollow’s Camellia collection came out relatively unscathed. We lost an ancient Pieris in the Evergreen Garden that uprooted from the heavy ice. Also, several Rhododendron specimens in the West Allee were severely damaged by fallen Oak limbs. Deepwood had more Camellia damage with some uprooting completely. Sadly, many trees at the Historic Deepwood Estate were damaged beyond salvage.

We can’t thank our volunteer gardeners enough for coming out and helping clean up the mess. This was a historic ice storm, and the damage was something not seen in Salem since the 1962 Columbus Day Storm…although several old timers said this was worse. In my South Salem Hills neighborhood, we lost power for seven days. A neighbor who lived through the Columbus Day Storm said he only lost power for three days.

It was heart-warming to see so many volunteers show up to help clean up the mess. Kind neighbors provided their pickups to take debris to city-operated dumps sites. Chainsaws were offered and rakes utilized. Several fence panels were destroyed and need to be replaced. As the panels are made of different-sized lathe, none commercially available, these must be hand cut and finished. If any of you are woodworkers and want to help, please contact me at (503)799-2725.

Today, the garden is looking much improved. However, much work remains. Damaged plants will need to be dug out and replaced with matching historic specimens. Corrective pruning is needed on the woody shrubs and trees. Although the crushed Boxwood has popped back up, there may be long-term root damage. Let’s hope this was a once in a lifetime storm and not an indicator of worsening weather from climate change. After the wildfires of this summer, and the ice storm of the century, the Willamette Valley could use a break from weather-related disasters. Hopefully, March will bring kinder, gentler weather so we can get the garden back in shape for the upcoming open garden season.