Recovering from Frost

At a
plant sale a couple weeks ago, everyone was talking about what
they’d lost during the freeze. Many of us were still having a hard time
believing that it had happened at all. “It was just one freeze after another,”
someone would say, shaking her head. “Night after night. It never let up.”

everyone who mentioned the freeze to me brought up tibouchina, or princess
flower, the shrub with brilliant purple flowers and fuzzy green leaves fringed
in red. It’s a tropical shrub, native to Brazil and naturalized in Hawaii, but
for some reason, it’s perfectly happy in Humboldt. I have three in front of my
house, and they bloom almost all year long. The color contrasts perfectly with
the sage green color on my living room wall, so that when you sit in that room
and look out the window, the effect is so perfect that it almost looks like I
know what I’m doing.

No matter what else was happening
in my garden, I was sure to get compliments on my princess flowers. That is,
until the freeze came along and cut them down in their prime.

I was ready
to rip out their brown, brittle remains and replace them with something
hardier, but Scott insisted that we keep them. After all, the shrubs
require almost no care—they’re not prone to any disease, they don’t need much
fertilizer, and they survive on very little water in the summer—and they made
it through at least a decade of winters before this one came along.

So I hacked
away at the dead stuff, leaving only the sturdier lower branches, and piled
some compost around the roots and waited. Sure enough, in a few weeks, tiny red
shoots started appearing on those branches—the first signs of leafy green
growth. I’m still not sure if every branch has life in it, but a few of them
do, so I’ve decided to let them live.

But what
about the rest of the garden? An enormous scented geranium was simply vaporized
by the cold; I don’t think it’s coming back. The brilliant orange leonotis
(lion’s tail) also seems to be dead, although I’ve cut it back, too, in hopes
that it will reverse course. And some beautiful salvias are gone, including S.
‘Limelight’ and the fuzzy red-flowered S. confertiflora.
Both are ridiculously easy to grow from cuttings; it’s my own fault for not
bringing a few inside before the cold hit. I’m hoping that they’ll rebound too,
but it’s not looking good so far.

I haven’t
completely sworn off those half-hardy perennials that only barely make it
through a cold winter. Testing the limits of this climate is half the fun. But
next year, I’m taking some cuttings before the first frost hits as an insurance

Really. I mean it this time.