The Iceman Cometh

I made a point of getting the lawn mowed Saturday.  I wanted to have things nice and neat for when the snow comes.

mixed perennial border

Bright yellow daffodils, blue hyacinths and a freshly cut lawn.  The front border is looking very spring-ish with its mix of sprouting perennials and flowering spring bulbs.  Please ignore the upended chairs which the nasty wind has blown over. 

Although things are way too early this year, all my efforts to convince them to slow down have gone unheeded.  The plants just don’t know what to do with this rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and as a result it’s been a kind of crappy spring with snowdrops peaking and then wilting in a few days of heat, hailstorms knocking everything down, cold weather keeping the depressing wreckage at a standstill, another warm spell to snap things back into high speed, and then now this latest arctic blast.  Here’s the front border six days prior when only a few weather beaten crocus were up.  At least I had enough time to raid the neighborhood dump and mulch the border with plenty of nicely chopped leaves.

mixed perennial border mulched with leaves

A nice mulch of shredded leaves will do wonders smothering the weeds this summer and feeding the soil all spring.  I wish I had more!

In less than a week we’ve jumped ahead to the peak of the daffodil season.  Last fall I wanted to mix in a few more of the bright yellows so I snapped up a batch of 50 from Van Engelen and haphazardly spread them throughout the border.  I tend to enjoy a more natural look and the scattered planting combined with the wildflowery long noses on this cultivar makes them appear as if they’ve been there much longer than a few months.  I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this or if I’ve repeated it a dozen times, but daffodils which hold on to the long trumpets and backswept petals of the original N. cyclamineus species are by far my favorite types 🙂

daffodil tweety bird

Daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’, a product of Brent and Becky Heath’s breeding program, filling in where I pulled out an invasive burning bush last fall.

One, and possibly the only, thing good about frequent cold spells is that some of the daffodils are showing their deepest, glamour shot colors without the fading which normally occurs in the warmer weather.  Here in a cool bed which is shaded by a fence, ‘Jetfire’ is looking almost fluorescent with its orange cup.  I’ve never seen it this bright before, and hopefully this is a good start for this bed since I’m still into the months long process of killing the most persistent weeds here with a double shot of thick mulch and weed killing spray.  Maybe by the start of this summer I can finally refill this open land with all kinds of new goodies!

daffodil narcissus jetstar

Narcissus (or daffodil if you prefer) ‘Jetstar’ blooming with some unusually bright color this spring.  This is one of  my most reliable daffs 🙂

Another thing you may or may not know is that I tend to have a lot of favorite daffodils, and that’s because I grow a good assortment to choose from, and I challenge anyone to stick to just one favorite!  Narcissus ‘Rapture’ is an award winning, American bred daffodil with just the kind of cyclamineus genes I love.  Look at those cute little reflexed petals and long trumpet!  As you can see by the neighboring empty spots, not all daffodils have done as well in this location, since at one time this bed was fully planted.

daffodil narcissus rapture

A nice fat clump of Narcissus ‘Rapture’.  If I didn’t already have so much yellow out front I’d surely spread this one around the mixed border along the street.

But of course the up and down weather is even beginning to wear on the daffodils.  Arctic blasts of cold burnt the early tips of many of the more trusting varieties.

freeze damage on daffodil

The jonquil types of daffodil sprout just a little too early for our zone.  This is probably ‘Pipit’ or ‘Hillstar’ and even in a good year the tips of the foliage get singed by too cold weather extremes. 

It’s all or nothing for some of these daffodils which carry the genes of the more southern N. jonquilla.  If it’s a cold winter they hunker down and don’t poke up their heads until the weather has settled, but in an unsettled winter they keep on trying to get started during every warm spell.

narcissus daffodil tiny bubbles

Narcissus ‘Tiny Bubbles’ with a freeze damaged ‘Kokopelli’ behind it.  I like the dainty flowers on ‘Tiny Bubbles’ but I wish either the foliage was shorter or the blooms up a little higher. 

The unsettled winter crushed this year’s hellebore show.  I should have seen that coming since last fall they looked better than ever and were poised to bloom their heads off.  So much for that.

picotee hellebore

Here’s one which managed to come out and open perfectly between the frigid blasts of cold.  There are singed and damaged flowers all around but this one with its dark centers and perfectly veined blooms is enough to make me smile. 

Of course I have my favorites among the hellebores as well.

yellow hellebore

Even with a few damaged centers and singed outers the buttery yellow of this hellebore keeps it on my best-of-the-hellebores list 🙂

Any opinions on this picotee hellebore growing in the front border?  It’s doing very well in spite of the fact nearly all its neighbors were frozen back to their crowns…

picotee hellebore

Would you call this a yellow picotee hellebore?  I like the red shading and subtle color, but suspect it might not jump out at everyone.

I guess it’s time for a reality check.  Here are the daffodils this morning as the cold wind howls outside.

daffodil frozen in snow

The front foundation border once again covered in snow. 

To be honest I hope the snow predicted for tonight also comes through.  The garden can use a little bit of extra cover to help it out when the low temperatures drop to 19F (-7C) for both Monday and Tuesday.  Whatever.

frozen hyacinth

All the early bulbs flattened and frozen by a late cold snap.  You can bet my fingers are crossed they make it through this….

It’s normal for everything to wilt as it freezes, and that’s a good thing since too much water in the stems will cause them to burst as the water expands, but I’m not sure exactly what else will survive the upcoming deep freeze.  I’m writing off the wisteria, even the barely expanded buds will most likely die off, and the hyacinths will be mush, but I’m most worried about the tulips and daffodils.  A few years ago a one night cold snap permanently ‘did in’ a bunch of tulips, this longer spell has me more worried, and I have many more now than I did back then.

C’est la vie.  Maybe I’ll order a few new cannas today, and dream of a beautiful June garden.  April and May are kind of iffy right now, but as long as the birds sing and the sun is warm we’ll be fine…. tulips or not.

29 comments on “The Iceman Cometh

  1. Paula says:

    Is the yellow hellebore ‘Warbler’? Looks a lot like mine, which is doing wonderfully, in bloom non-stop since last October. I like the picotee…is that one you grew from seed?

    • bittster says:

      They’re both from Elizabethtown seed from a several years back. I only have a few doubles which I bought as plants so the majority are from seed… including several seedlings from you!
      Hmmm, I wonder how ‘Warbler’ seedlings would come out 🙂
      I have a batch of ‘Goldfinch’ seedlings in bloom for the first time this year. You’ll have to look at them and let me know what you think, right now they’re too green a yellow for my taste.

  2. johnvic8 says:

    You are fortunate to have a source of leaves to shred. I am convinced they are the best mulch for our gardens. I don’t have the access now that I had in our previous area.

    • bittster says:

      Sorry to hear you’ve lost your leaf source. I will have to agree they are a great mulch, but I try to only mulch in the spring and avoid putting down winter cover for mice and other bulb eaters.

  3. rusty duck says:

    I love the picotee hellebore, I’ve seen it on a few blogs this year and will be searching for it now. But Narcissus ‘Rapture’ is also a beauty. That better go on record as I very rarely go into raptures over daffodils. Pinned to the must have list. I’m guessing 9-12 ins high?
    Good luck with the cold snap. I used to have a wisteria that covered the whole of one side of the house. There were more years I lost it than enjoyed it.

    • bittster says:

      Rapture is a nice daffodil, isn’t it!? -and yes, it’s about 9-12 inches when in full bloom although I’ve had it bloom shorter when things warm up quickly and it comes into bloom overnight.
      I didn’t realize my wisteria would be a problem in this garden. I really enjoy it, but the lack of shelter really does a number on its flowers even if a late frost doesn’t get them. I really hate to admit it might not be the best plant for my garden…

  4. My colder climate may help me here as things were not as far along when they got dumped on–except the hellebores which were just approaching peak bloom. More snow expected tonight (I think it will make the deepest snow pack we’ve had this winter) which I hope will offer some protection. April often holds the last gasp of winter but it’s harder to take when it’s the most winter we’ve had all winter.

    • bittster says:

      I’m also going to register a little protest over the fact this winter is really a case of too much too late. The weather seems a little embarrassed over its sad attempt at January and is trying to make up for it now. Stop it I say.
      We have one to three forecast for Saturday. Right now there’s plenty of damage from the last freezes, maybe the new snow will cover it up for a few more days and I can pretend it’s not there.

  5. I have no idea what any of my daffs are named. They’re all a mystery. I think the hellebore with the pink edges is a beauty. I’d add her to the garden if I had a chance. I hope everything bounces back from this last blast of winter. Maybe some of these bulbs are tougher than we’re giving them credit for. :o)

    • bittster says:

      What? You don’t have names for every daffodil?! I guess names are more of a problem for people who want to make sure they don’t keep buying or begging for the same daffodils every fall 🙂
      Glad you like the hellebore. I was hoping I wouldn’t be the only one who liked her, but she’s a little sad looking now after the cold. Her and the daffs might be calling it a spring and I’ll just cross my fingers for better luck next year.

  6. Oh, the humanity! Or maybe that should be, Oh, the botany! We’re having a similar yo-yo winter-spring-winter, though I must say less severe than yours. Tonight and tomorrow night are supposed to go down to around 30, so I hope we’ll avoid too much damage. I also favor the Narcissus with long trumpets.

    • bittster says:

      Hopefully you’ve made out all right with the low temperatures. For us tonight looks as if it will be the last of the arctic blasts, my fingers are crossed for a gradual warming up to summer from now on!

  7. Pauline says:

    How frustrating, when all your flowers were looking so good! I do hope they bounce back without too much damage.

    • bittster says:

      It is frustrating, but there’s really not much I’m willing to do beyond cutting a bouquet for the table and hoping for the best. As things thaw out it’ beginning to look ugly, but hopefully next year will be better (haha, the gardener’s mantra!)

  8. Wow, you got more snow than we did. 😦 But still darn cold, and yesterday was a “winter monsoon” with frequest gusts up to 50mph. Raining today, with freeze warnings posted for tonight (Monday). I don’t think I will want to look at the magnolia flowers tomorrow!!

    • bittster says:

      The magnolias here are all a wilted brown and many other things are droopy and damaged. One more night tonight and from there on I think we are in better shape… as long as you ignore the 3 inches of snow in the forecast 🙂

  9. Cathy says:

    Oh I do feel sorry for you and your garden. It seems so cruel when everything is in full swing and gets literally nipped in the bud. Hope the forecasts were wrong and the temperatures don’t fall so low – and that the damage isn’t too bad. Your daffodils were all looking so lovely.

    • bittster says:

      Although a hard freeze right now is tough on all the new growth and early blooms, I still think it’s less depressing than a hard frost in May, so I’ll try to take it in stride.
      The daffodils look bad and I wasn’t expecting that, but the later daffs look ok and the tulips seem fine so those are two good things 🙂

  10. pbmgarden says:

    So sorry for this sad upheaval in your spring display. Hope some things surprise you and make it through.

    • bittster says:

      I guess every spring has its ups and downs. It’s been a weird winter and I’m curious to see if things calm down or keep going like this all summer!

  11. Annette says:

    I know the feeling only too well, Frank, and that’s why I chose another place to live, haha, but it’s still amazing how plants get through this sort of thing, often better than the gardeners. My worst day was when snow fell at the end of May and smashed my Delphiniums, Paeonia etc. One of my favourite narcissus is Baby Moon, charming little things.

    • bittster says:

      Absolutely true, I was just saying how all the damaged early blooms now are still less heartbreaking than a May frost! Most of my damaged plants should recover quickly (or fade away quickly!) and in a couple weeks this will all be forgotten… except for the damage I see to new growth 😦
      haha, I wonder where I could move to? There would have to be rocks, I’ll need a Pompeii 🙂

      • Annette says:

        Haha, you always make me laugh, Frank! Plenty of rocks here, so you might come over and have a look 😉 It wasn’t May frost by the way, it was 40cm of heavy snow at the end of May…the Delphiniums weren’t impressed one bit…neither was the gardener 😦

  12. Christina says:

    You are so stoic Frank. It is so sad to see the plants begin to flower and then be blasted by the cold wind, it can happen here but not as often as it happens where you live. The very hot wind we sometimes have in summer causes similar damage. But those Cannas!

    • bittster says:

      This year has been a mess to be honest. The snowdrops came and went too quickly but I’ve never had cold do as much damage to the daffodils. Hot winds yes, but cold never. I guess you could say I’m stoic, but I really don’t dwell on these things as long as I don’t lose any really absolute treasures. Right now those are a seed grown martagon lily and a seed grown pulsatilla which comes complete with two fat flower buds. I can’t wait for them to open!

  13. Alain says:

    As you say, c’est la vie, but there are bits of life we could do without. As you can imagine we also had it bad in Canada. Last night the thermometer went down to 11 F.
    Rapture is very nice and that pink hellebore is just perfect.

    • bittster says:

      Ugh. 11F in April after having such a mild and boring winter. I feel like the entire heart of winter was a tease and now we are being played with at the end. Why couldn’t we just enjoy an early spring!

  14. I hope your garden wasn’t too frozen…it seems my flowers made it through with all the snow cover….but I was most surprised to see you mowed the lawn…no mowing ever happens here before the end of April or even May….too wet and cold here.

    • bittster says:

      I’m sure the lawn could have waited another week or two, but I cleaned it off nearly a month ago, put some fertilizer down a few weeks ago, and have been itching to put winter behind me with the first mowing! I know it’s frowned upon by many, but I do enjoy my lawn 🙂
      I guess we are still at least two weeks ahead of a normal year, but a nice cover of snow would have helped immensely in the cold. Unless you’re a lilac. I was surprised to see damage on them.

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