Winter Protection

Celebrate Winter Without the Effort

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.

Mummy in a garden
The Festival of Ancient Egypt has begun! Bring out your mummies! Photo: Paul-W.

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.

Japanese winter protection
Japanese winter protection. Photo: TANAKA Juuyoh

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.

Jute winter protection
Would the annual mummification of shrubs and trees be a way of protecting them? Photo:

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.

A garden under the snow without winter protection
A garden is much nicer without mummies. Photo:

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!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “Celebrate Winter Without the Effort

  1. Egyptian?! I would not have made the connection. I have seen such wrappings on small plants in San Jose, but I thought that it was just copying a tradition from Japan. Winter is quite mild in San Jose. Since I have never been to Japan, I have seen such wrapping there only in pictures.

  2. Sorry to hear of Larry Hodgson’s passing. My condolences to his family and friends.

  3. Josephine Mullane

    Well written and I totally agree with you.

  4. Jt Michaels

    How lovely to start my morning with big smiles courtesy the Laidback gardener!

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