If you are looking for wonderful ways of preventing pipes from freezing, you won't get them from me !
I was informed by my neighbours that live just forty yards away up the hill that if the temperature dropped to -10 or -15 C for a few days all the water pipes would freeze. This is just par for the course, and has already happened to them. They said it's not such a great problem until the thaw comes...
But I pretty much knew this on a very visceral level when I moved in five months ago. Because the system hadn't been drained after the last tenant left, all the pipes had burst in the frost last winter, so from the word go I had water leaking out from (unlagged
) pipes that sit inside the back wall, also in the kitchen, the shower, the bathroom... and now my septic tank pipe is almost totally blocked up with frozen wotsit and is backing up all the way to my shower tray.
This is why the Victorians who built this cottage for the local estate workers expected the technology to be a gezzunda and a washbasin ewer. And if a corrupt local tradesman decide to divert the money dedicated to hidden insulation, piping etc, into his own pockets, well, I am the one who finds out the hard way - and guess what, it is jobs for the (local tradesman) boys when problems need fixing !
(Pity the local plumber/estate handyman is away on holiday in Egypt at the moment; not back for a fortnight.)
There are very effective antifrost heaters which trickle a tiny current into copper pipes to keep them just above freezing, these are extensively used at National Trust for Scotland castles down to -20 and do fine - but I don't have any.
As for plants, they have ways and means of protecting themselves, up to a point. First of all glossy leaves help prevent windburn and water loss. Given enough water, starches can convert to sugars, which like salt have an anti-freeze effect; if you see a plant like holly or rhododendron the leaves tell you it comes from a cold climate. (Actually sugars work much better than salt, in many cases. I use household sugar on my path, as all the local shops are out of salt.) That is why parsnips and turnips taste sweeter after they have had a bit of frost.
Of course bark insulates, in the case of trees and shrubs, particularly the likes of redwoods, and there are mechanisms to remove sap and other vulnerable nutrients out of outer layers to heartwood. But given low enough temperatures for long enough, that sap will freeze, at which point the sound of exploding trees will be heard ! (Canadians from the backwoods will back me up on this one.)
The advantage of putting fleece over the plants is quite simply that although it is almost imperceptible to us, plants like humans give off heat as a byproduct of metabolism, but even the slightest bit of air movement will remove this "microclimate" from the surface of the plant where it helps protect against purely physical damage such as expansion of frozen water, contraction of tissues etc. Shove fleece over a plant and suddenly you have a much better microclimate.
None of which helps me find or dig out my parsnips or brussel sprouts, which are buried under three feet of snow ! (But well insulated by it, and will taste all the better for it !
Must go unload some sliced cellulose and lignin-rich cambiums, xylems and phloems...did I mention a roaring hot fire ?