Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This article was originally published in the magazine Fleurs, plantes et jardins in December 1997.
Here it is again, that time of year. No, I’m not talking about the holidays, but about the Ancient Egyptian Festival, when every good homeowner in Quebec turns their trees and shrubs into mummies or pyramids by covering them with cloth or small wooden structures. It’s by far the most important festival of the year, for we hardly light our Christmas trees for three weeks, while we proudly display our mummies for almost six months.
The origins of this festival are obscure. It seems to me that it didn’t exist 30 years ago, and then suddenly we started seeing a few mummies and an occasional pyramid in front of houses. Today, every other house participates in this festival. Having been unable to find any connection between Christian principles and the dressing of shrubs as mummies, I must conclude that this festival is of pagan origin. However, it seems to be well tolerated and even encouraged by the Church, for in my parish, at least, the priest also mummifies his shrubs every winter.
One Festival, Two Cultures
It’s interesting to note that this holiday is only celebrated in two regions of the world that are very far apart: Quebec and Japan. In the latter country, the mummification of trees is a very old practice. Can we conclude that the tradition was once brought here by Japanese explorers lost in search of the Northwest Passage? No one knows. However, I must admit that, with their way of mummifying trees using thin coloured paper or straw, I find that the Japanese show more refinement in their packaging than we do with our simple coverings of burlap, agrotextile and snow fencing.
On the other hand, I’m starting to see people dressing up their mummies as snowmen: is this the beginning of a new tradition of artistically decorated mummies? Pablo Picasso would surely have had a great time making our winters less monotonous with artisting winter protection! The problem is, with all the snow we have, we would have to clear the snow aroun our colourful mummies all winter long to show them off. Personally, I find that I shovel more than enough snow without having to do the same for my shrubs.
An Interesting Theory
I heard a curious theory the other day, that the annual mummification of shrubs and trees is a technique to protect them from the evils of winter. First of all, our shrubs get snowed on and we know that a good blanket of snow is a much better protection than a thin layer of fabric. Also, we didn’t wrap our shrubs before and they overwintered easily. Why do it now?
What about this other theory that wrapping the shrubs is to protect them from the snowblower? Oh, please! A good laidback gardener would never plant hedges or shrubs where the snowblower can reach them and break them! Especially when there’s a multitude of plants that have the good sense to die down to the ground each winter and are therefore not be bothered in the least by the snowblower.
Celebrate Winter the Laidback Gardener Way
If you’re like me, you like to enjoy life (a positive definition of laziness). It’s bad enough that I’m running around getting ready for the holidays inside the house, you expect me to get on my hands and knees to dress the shrubs outside with neon orange snow fences. It’s not really that I lack enthusiasm for the Ancient Egyptian Festival, but I do like the look of evergreens in winter: the way the snow accumulates on their branches, making them bend beautifully, and the contrast between the green needles and the snow. I love the winter effect of the bare branches of deciduous shrubs and trees. Some have fascinating shapes, colourful bark or decorative fruit. Why hide them?
I admit that some of unwrapped shrubs or evergreens might bend under the weight of the snow, but is that an excuse to hide them from view? If I had more patience, I would lightly and discreetly twist them with wire, even inserting a stake, also discreetly colored, in the background as extra support if needed, and thus enjoy their beauty in the winter rather than having to look at a mummy for six months… but I can’t find the energy to do that. I don’t tie anything, wrap anything, protect anything.
It’s funny, but in the spring, when the snow melts, even my most flattened shrubs get up and stand again, as they do in nature. My plants don’t suffer from winter damage any more than those of my neighbours who actively participate in the Ancient Egyptian Festival. Isn’t nature wonderful!