The Hampshire curate Gilbert White, who died in 1793, became renowned as a skilled, observant, naturalist. Photograph: Popperfoto

The great frost in January 1768 was brief but remarkably injurious to evergreens, and a kindly country parson made observations that might be “not unacceptable to persons that delight in planting and ornamenting”, as he so delicately put it.

The parson, the writer Gilbert White, continues in his book The Natural History of Selborne: “For the last two or three days of the former year there were considerable falls of snow, which lay deep and uniform on the ground without any drifting, wrapping up the more humble vegetation in perfect security. From the first to the fifth of the new year more snow succeeded, but from that day the air became entirely clear; and the heat of the sun about noon had a considerable influence in sheltered situations.

“It was in such an aspect that the snow on the author’s evergreens was melted every day and frozen intensely every night, so that the laurustines, bays, laurels and arbutuses looked, in three or four days, as if they had been burnt in the fire; while a neighbour’s plantation of the same kind, in a high cold situation, where the snow never melted at all, remained uninjured.

“From hence I would infer that it is the repeated melting and freezing of the snow that is so fatal to vegetation, rather than the severity of the cold.”

In the book, published in 1789, White advises every planter who wishes to escape the “cruel mortification of losing in a few days the labour and hopes of years, to bestir himself on such emergencies” and cover the shrubberies with matting or dislodge the snow.