Ice, ice, baby


Gardeners in Western New York have been preoccupied with calamity over the past few months. A freak snowstorm in October caused serious and widespread damage to the urban and suburban tree canopy, damage we are still assessing and won’t know the true extent of until the spring of 2008.

Recently, however, eyes have been turned toward the trees once more, this time in uncomplicated wonder and delight at their glistening coating of ice. Even the rattiest shrub that ever graced the front yard of a vinyl-sided suburban bungalow looks like abstract sculpture spun out of diamond filament. The now waning phenomenon has reinforced civic resolve to restore the urban forest—by emphasizing its importance in all seasons.

To the north, our Canadian neighbors also celebrate miracles wrought by ice.

This time, it’s grapes that have been encased in ice while still on the vine, with the concentrated results bottled into a pricey golden nectar. I was up there last weekend at the annual Niagara Icewine Festival. Icewine martinis, anyone?

Over the past month or so, the wineries were afraid their grapes would never reach the necessary temperature (-8 degrees C) for the next vintage. Finally, though, the ice cameth. In the meantime, I’ve got some 2005 bottles stashed away that I’ll be enjoying until after the spring thaw.

(Icewine grapes photo courtesy of the Niagara Icewine Festival. First frozen branch photo by Alan Bigelow.)

P.S. Since this was written, the ice has largely given way to normal winter conditions, i.e., snow, snow, baby.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Ah, now you are touching on my second obsession. Vodka as a neutral spirit works well with icewine. But one place–the official bar–had made them too weak, while another place–a nearby cafe–had made them too strong. I think a 2-1 vodka/icewine ratio would be right.

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