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?