– Posted in: Weather

Several years ago, while passing time in a waiting room, I read a quote in Garden Design that went something like this: “Gardening [or was it farming?] is the only socially acceptable form of gambling.” Ever since, I have regretted that I did not copy this quote verbatim or, at the very least, commit the author of the same to memory. I imagine the author to be Mark Twain, but I have never found the quote among his writings that I have read. I even emailed Garden Design, but they never wrote back.

At any rate, this quote was very much in my mind as I read yesterday’s Weather.com forecast: “Widespread frost likely. Low 30 degrees F.” My first thought was, “Why are they making such a big deal about frost tonight? We get frost just about every night. [Understanding comes.] Oh . . . you mean the rest of this county hasn’t been getting frost every night? I guess I really do live in frost pocket.” My second thought was Talitha’s ten degree rule. If 30 degrees was forecast, then conceivably it could get down to 20 degrees–a chilling thought. I also remembered Don Bolin’s terrible freeze of early May. Talk about a spectacular garden! This guy has several kinds of Lady’s Slippers, several kinds of Jack-in-the-Pulpits, several kinds of mayapple, more varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons than I can count, double-flowered primroses, and–the list just goes on and on. And much of it got damaged, if not outright killed, by a very unseasonable (for his area), very cold night. (Look through the May archives for photos of the damage.)

All these thoughts together brought to mind the quote about gambling. Just how much was I willing to bet that the weather report was accurate? Or looking at it another way, what would it break my heart to lose? Thinking about it this way was enough to spur me to action. All my mail order plants came in the house. That was a no-brainer. Then, I went out to the Secret Garden and covered the single shoot of Canada lily that survived when my son Arlan brought me a bag dug from his job site. Arlan had been hired to clear a river bank so that the homeowner could actually see the river. He surmised, correctly, that I would appreciate some of these plants he was hacking down. But–he didn’t have a shovel with him. He did pretty well with his bare hands and a stick, but some of the stems did snap off the bulbs. Of the half dozen I planted, only one came up last year, and that was chewed down to a 12-inch stump by a caterpillar. (I caught it in the act; that’s how I know.) This same lily was putting up a healthy looking shoot. No way was I going to lose the possibility of bloom if I could help it. I already had a tomato cage around it to make sure no one stepped on it, and it was a simple matter to cover it with a sheet.

Next in line were the two lilies I grew from seed. I still have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. Me? I managed to grow lilies from seed? (Don’t you dare tell me it’s easy as pie, anyone can do it. Don’t spoil it for me.) And my grandmother, God bless her almost-98-year-old soul, always asks me how they are doing. They can’t die.

I have learned the hard way that lilies in general are vulnerable to freezes, and while I didn’t cover all the lilies, I covered the ones furthest along. I covered my two hellebores because they were on the expensive side and were just blooming for the first time this year. I covered my two Foerster’s hybrid delphiniums, because this might be their first year of bloom. I covered my white-flowering variegated honesty, because it had started blooming and I wanted to make sure I got seed. I covered some corydalis and left others uncovered as an experiment; the uncovered ones did fine.

“Okay, Kathy, how cold did it get?” It got down to 23 degrees F. Probably not a record for this area, but definitely a bad freeze for how far along the plants were. The only casualty that I wasn’t expecting was the Arisaema amurense subsp. robustum. Not because I thought it was invulnerable. I did cover it with a large, plastic nursery pot–only this pot came with holes midway up the sides, as well as in the bottom. [Slaps head.] The spathe looks fine, and one of the leaves looks okay, but the other one looks wilted. I think it will live, but will look a bit lop-sided.

How ’bout you? Done any horti-gambling lately?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

jenn May 16, 2005, 10:06 am

Email it when you get a general idea…
I’ll probably be needing a diversion!

Kathy Purdy May 15, 2005, 11:47 am

I’ll take you up on the offer, but it will take me a while to narrow it down. I have some back issues, and it was after that, and I think it was also after the one year subscription my public library has . . . but probably not too long after.

And I know you have lots of other things going on, so I’ll be patient.

jenn May 15, 2005, 10:15 am

Soooo. Next question. How long ago was the Garden Design magazine? I have many years of them here… but little time to scan through them… if you can give me a time bracket, I could check for you.

Just might take a while for me to get back to you.

Don May 14, 2005, 6:34 pm

Well, after the BIG freeze, my garden has bounced back remarkably. I hope it was a “lifetime” freeze, as I’ve never seen anything remotely like it; though I’ve always noticed there are an awful lot of “hundred-year floods” anymore. We got a freaky double-whammy here in Iowa in that we had a freakishly warm early spring, so that all the plants were at least three weeks ahead of normal (the lilacs started blooming in mid-April), then two nights of freezing weather down to 25 degrees officially, but probably very low 20’s in my garden, which lies in a valley. The result: toast. I doubt I totally lost anything, but a lot of things are uglified, set back, won’t bloom this year, etc. I do fear for the ultimate appearance of a number of magnolias and Japanese maples; I never cared for pollarding magnolias. Oh well, as I now say: It’s better to have grown and lost, then never to have grown at all! Incidentally, I can tell you what’s coming your way: it’s FREEZING here today… 40 mile winds, with temps to high 30’s here tonight and tomorrow night. I just went for a garden walk,lasted for ten minutes, and came inside and turned on the gas fireplace.


Kathy Purdy May 14, 2005, 1:11 pm

I bought them in spring 2003 from Seneca Hill. Actually, I bought one, but she gave me a second one because she said it wasn’t as big as it should be. So the one I intended to buy bloomed this year. The bonus one, which has different-looking leaves and thus probably not the same mix of genes, doesn’t seem like it’s going to bloom this year. My understanding is hellebores are slow to get started, but eventually knock your socks off. There was some discussion from Judy Miller and Lynda Lowman in the early days of this blog about hellebores that convinced me I ought to try them. I used to think they were hard, but so far, so good.

jenn May 14, 2005, 12:10 pm

So… how many years did you wait for the hellebores? I planted some last year, and while they look just fine this year, no blooms…