Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Big Chill

So here we are one week after the Big Chill visited the greater Houston area ... and the scene on my corner of Katy is one of damage and devastation. True, it doesn't look all that bad as seen through the garden gate.

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But if you take a little walk around the garden with me, I'll show you what I mean. The Chinese Hat, Holmskioldia sanguinea, is a very sad sight. I'm following Houston Chronicle Garden Editor Kathy Huber's advice and resisting the temptation to prune it back. (OK, The Head Gardener may have nipped an inch here and there but that's resisting temptation by our standards.)

Like many of the woody perennials, the Durantas were hit hard. I've gone ahead and started pruning them back, which falls under the category of DAISNAID ... Do as I say, not as I do ... a term I borrowed from Mr. McGregor's Daughter in Chicago (read her latest DAISNAID post if you need a good laugh). I've grown these plants long enough that I have a fairly good idea of how much pruning I can get away with at this point. I also know that if it takes umbrage with my doing so and dies as a result, it can be replaced as it's a fairly easy plant to find locally. Conversely, the Holmskioldia I mentioned above is less widely available, which is why the HG and I are more or less following the rules with that one. I was going to post an individual picture of them, but I think this one is a better illustration of the freeze's effects on the Holmskioldia, the Duranta and the Blue Butterfly Bush (also the Eranthemum).

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Blue Butterfly Bush, formerly Clerodendrum ugandense and now reclassified as Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense', was seriously affected by the cold. I have two of these large bushes: I cut one of them back to about 6 inches high and the other I removed only 6 inches or so from the tops. This is one of the plants the HG suggested we experiment upon: we'll see how each of them fares and that will give us an idea of how to treat them in future winters. Clerodendrum wallichii and Clerodendrum thomsoniae 'Delectum' also suffered extensive foliar damage. It's still too soon to tell how much of it affected the stems.

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My coral woody pentas were in full and glorious bloom and it's truly painful to look at them now. They were well and truly zapped by the extended cold. These shrubs, though, are a good illustration of how damaging cold air can be: the less exposed lower portions of several Rondeletias are still green and healthy.

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I was surprised at how tender the Salvia madrensis, Forsythia Sage, were. They're not all crispy critters but some of them really did take the freeze badly. While Salvia greggii and Salvia regla only suffered a little freezer burn to the foliage, some of the Salvia miniata and Salvia blepharophylla died back to the ground. It's so interesting to see a group of these plants with only one affected by the freeze. Microclimates? Nanoclimates!

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My Big Blue Sage, Eranthemum pulchellum, was given to me by my late friend Amy and I'll admit to being a bit worried about this one. I knew it was tender but I didn't realize it's most often classified as only hardy to Zones 10b-11. There are anecdotal reports of its surviving temperatures below 30, though, so I'll cover it next time and hope for the best. (That's a banana shrub, Michelia figo, to the right of the GARDEN sign ... it shows no signs at all of having resented the cold weather.)

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I've often heard from gardeners in more northerly climates that snow is a great insulator and actually is less damaging to plants than frigid air temperatures. I saw this for myself first hand: the herbs I set out just the day before The Big Chill were covered with snow but survived unscathed and have put on new growth this past week. Even the delicate ferny foliage of the Bronze Fennel seems unaffected!

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Now that I've seen how the plants handled a truly hard freeze, I feel more confident about their ability to make it through an entire winter of such experiences. I'm not saying they haven't been set back by such bitter cold OR that they won't suffer further damage from future freezing temperatures. But what I've observed thus far is encouraging to me. It seems odd to say I'm encouraged when so much of what I see can be described in terms better suited to a foodie's blog: blackened, browned or fried! Nonetheless, I'm optimistic that I'll still have a beautiful garden when spring gets here. It won't be the same kind of beauty as that of previous springs but as a gardener who not only enjoys change but celebrates it, I say bring it on!

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MA said...

Strong and Brave you are!

Kathy said...

Is that very last photo a rose? The foliage doesn't quite look like rose foliage to me.

It boggles my mind to even consider planting plants that can't take a freeze. I don't even recognize the names of most of your plants.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Thanks for the shout out. It is hard to restrain the hand that wants to clean up the unsightliness. I applaud your restraint. This has been quite the experiement with microclimates and hardiness. It will be interesting to see how things come around with better weather.

Cindy McMorris Tournier said...

MA, you crack me up.

Kathy, that's Gartendirektor Otto Linne, one of my favorite old roses. The foliage on this bush is a bit chlorotic. I need to feed it some chelated iron.

MMD, this winter does indeed promise to be a very educational one for the Head Gardener and me.

Pam/Digging said...

Though it can feel devastating to see plants die back in a hard freeze, I don't think your garden looks devastated, Cindy. It just looks like a fall garden. Mine is the same. I know that my freeze-nipped plants will return in spring, most of them anyway, and I'm sure your corner of Katy will be lush again soon too.

And MA IS hilarious, isn't she?

Gail said...

I was thinking much of what Pam said~~The garden looks pretty good considering the freeze...But that's coming from a zone 7 gardener whose garden is toast after 3 days of 22 degree weather. The unusual weather patterns are what concern me about climate change~~I don't know what to plant anymore! gail

rambleonrose said...

Every year there's something novel! I have to agree with Kathy that I'm unfamiliar with a lot of your plants, but I bet your garden will bounce back well. And isn't it funny how snow is such a great insulator? I'm counting on it now as we've had some terribly frigid weather lately!

flowergardengirl said...

I was anxious to what did and didn't get nipped. It's still a waiting game though till Spring I suppose and it's like that too in NC as we can have brutal winters that kill off some perennials not hardy to zone 7. Makes me ill but what can you do? We can't bring them inside? I do hope they all come back for sure. You have such rare and beautiful species and I too can't even pronounce some of them.

Rose said...

Cindy, glad to know that you are feeling positive and optimistic after seeing the effects of the freeze! This looks more like my garden in late fall, so hopefully your plants will bounce back in the spring.