Gardening in Russia

Posted: Tuesday 9 April 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

I realise that this subject may ring very few bells among the habitués of, but you find me trying to get my head around gardening in Russia.

Russian garden in snow

I realise that this subject may ring very few bells among the habitués of, but you find me trying to get my head around gardening in Russia. Sometimes it is interesting to think about how other gardeners in different parts of the world cope. There are a few small speed bumps on the road to understanding - a little like the journey to enlightenment.

I am recently returned from seeing a client in Russia and, although the basic principles of garden design remain pretty much the same the whole world over, there is one pretty serious problem: snow.

In England we grumble about a light flurry. “Oh no” we cry, “everything is ghastly, there will be traffic chaos”. The Russians, I promise you, have it much worse. Admittedly, they have the kit to deal with snow, machines that scoop, flush, heap and spread it, so it is not too much of an inconvenience.

For gardeners, however, it is a slightly different matter when your entire garden is submerged under two metres of snow for a substantial part of the year. Then, after a brief spring, there are a couple of months of tongue-swelling heat before an equally brief autumn and then, bang - the snow returns.

So what to plant? Certain trees are a given - Betula pendula (birch) of course. Russia is covered in wide birch forests, as those of you who have seen Dr Zhivago will know. Willows are fine, as are limes, hazel, oaks and most pines.

Snow is actually good insulation and many herbaceous plants and bulbs are quite happy snuggled up under a snowy duvet. The main problem is not so much cold as weight. You will all have read how important it is to knock snow off your shrubs before the branches snap. Imagine a couple of metres of snow sitting on your hedges: ‘splat’, I think, would be the correct word to describe the effect. So box and yew are definitely off the menu as are laurels and pretty much every evergreen shrub apart from some conifers.

Hmm, further thought is called for but, in the meantime, I don’t want to hear any of you complaining about snow again. Just think of the poor gardeners of Murmansk or Minsk and count your blessings!

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happymarion 16/04/2013 at 09:54

Awww, it was the same for my sister gardening in Edmonton in Canada, James. It was amazing how much they could grow in their very short three months without snow and freezing weather. And the lack of flavour in the veg. they could grow was astonishing. They grew runner beans just for the nectar from the flowers for the humming birds as they were too tasteless to eat. Potatoes were planted on a heap of compost. But the scene of miles of daffodils blooming in Dr.Zhivago is unforgettable.

tanzrachel 16/04/2013 at 21:17

Wow! We have the opposite extreme here! Living in Tanzania, we are testing a keyhole gardens to then demonstrate and teach in rural communities with little water and very hot temperatures! But getting the kids involved and all learning lots!

Dovefromabove 16/04/2013 at 21:52

It may ring more bells than you think - my daughter in law comes from the Urals - the part of Russia where Europe and Asia meet - they are used to cold winters and warm summers.  She tells me how easy it is to grow wonderful tomatoes in the family allotment which is in the charge of her Babushka (grandmother).  Her aunt is a professional garden designer.  I hope to visit the area sometime next year and am really looking forward to seeing their gardens and the plants that they grow there 

David Stamps 21/04/2013 at 21:06

My friend in Belarus took me to his grans house, Shes over 90, grows food in a communial type allotment, no chemicals used t all. My god the veg was enormous and so so tasty !

galest 03/05/2013 at 20:03

I live in Hungary where we can have up to 3ft of snow in one go - this year altogether 6ft as it was a bad winter.As soon as one lot started to go another lot came down but I cant say I have any trouble with evergreens as long as I go out and shake at least half the snow off. The only plant that really suffers is Lavender as the stems arnt strong enought to take the weight of 3 or 4 ft of snow.
However we do have fantastic Springs the temp for the past 5 wks have quickly jumped from 0 up to 82 and usually the frosts have gone by the end of March so unless we have a freak cold snap when the fruit trees are in flower we get good crops of fruit. All my veg garden is planted that includes toms and cucumbers as if I leave it any later the ground will be to hard to plant anything due to it being so hot from June to August. So for all we have rotten Winters Spring and Autumn are usually lovely and warm so I can be out from the end of March till almost the end of November. I must also say there is a part of Russia near the Black Sea that never get any frosts or minus temps so not all of Russia is covered in snow.

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