In this NW corner of Austin, my tomato and pepper plants were turned to mush at the first freeze on the first morning of December, with other plants, like the Pineapple Sage [Salvia elegans], not giving up until the temperatures went below 32ºF for a third time.
The fennel turned brown right away, but the Mexican Mint Marigold was barely brushed by the cold.
The Philippine Violet succumbed after the second freeze, first getting limp, now drying in place. There’s a paperwhite narcissus in front of it, ready to open a bud. Maybe the plants in South Austin are alive because of the moderating effect of the Colorado River, which has been dammed to make Lake Austin and Town Lake.
Is that what makes the difference? Or is it just being closer to the heart of the city? Another factor may be variations in elevation – Zanthan lies somewhat less than 500 feet above sea level, while Pam/Digging is under 680, and the elevation for the patio at The Transplantable Rose is 978 feet.
[That’s only 22 feet under the official definition of ‘mountain’ in the sweet Hugh Grant movie, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.]
Unlike the gardenblogs of true northern gardeners like Kati, I have no beautiful frost photos to offer, because these cold snaps hit and run, leaving damage but not sticking around to look seasonal. We have few conifers, but our broadleaved types of evergreens take over now, and plants like the boring-in-summer boxwood are appreciated when the banana is hanging in tatters.
In Illinois we planted them in late April, but that’s when the heat starts here. Dianthus and pansies sail though most winters, unfurling buds on warmish days, enjoying the cooler weather just as the gardeners do.
That’s an Ilex at the tip of this post – a Burford Holly of some kind. This shrub was already here when we came, but has never been so full of berries before. I cut a few pieces from it, stripping the bottoms of the clipped twigs and pushing them into the hanging baskets so that the berried tops will hide what remains of winter-killed lantana plants. I’m hoping the twigs can stay green as long as possible, holding onto their berries, and maybe a few can root, if conditions are right.
There’s a hedge of these hollies between my house and the one next door. I like my neighbors - they're lovely people - but they're not gardeners in any way. They prune to ensure that no shade falls across their pool, and they think that the outdoors should be as tidy as the indoors.
I had been eying my side of the hedge earlier in fall, observing the stem ends start to extend in new, lighter-colored growth and the berries begin to turn color. My plan was to make a real holly wreath for my door this Christmas. I was shocked to come home one day and find the Neat-Neighbors had used some kind of hedge clippers to form the holly hedge [and even the graceful variegated privet!] into ugly geometric boxes. If any of those holly cuttings take root, there may be another hedge of holly here some day, not along the lot line, but growing well inside my domain, and never touched by a power tool.