Too close to winter

I’ve just returned from a delightful week along the Gulf Coast with daytime temperatures around eighty and few signs of autumn anywhere, much less of winter. I have nothing against winter, except that I’d rather it not be winter, though the cold is clearly necessary to grow the plants I treasure.

I stepped off the plane as the sun set, with temperatures dropping into the low twenties, and already spoiled by my week of tropical temperatures.  A few minutes after I returned home, I was out  on the back patio in the dark and cold dragging pots of agaves and elephant ears into the basement. The sharp spines and heavy, waterlogged pots are the reason this was not done weeks sooner, at our first frost, but with this cold night it was fortunate that I returned home and not a day later.

A week ago, foliage of this lacecap hydrangea was beautifully colored. After two nights in the low and mid twenties, brown leaves hang limply (above).

There was a significant change to the garden after a single night that dropped into the low twenties, but after a second the garden has clearly moved into its winter phase. Leaves of several Japanese maples that typically turn late, instead changed from green to brown overnight. Hydrangeas were green, with some small flowers and a several buds a week ago, but now leaves and flowers have blackened.

While much of the garden is covered by a blanket of fallen leaves, foliage remains on scattered trees and shrubs. Leaves of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) are late to turn, and more shaded shrubs remain green while ones in part sun have begun to change. The colorful leaves often remain into January.

A week ago, I mentioned the varying colors of leaves of witch hazels, and now, after freezing temperatures, the Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) has turned to a splendid, rich yellow, with scattered branches of red. While the nearby ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, below) has recently dropped all leaves, as it does almost overnight, colorful foliage that does remain is particularly appreciated. 

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