All frosts are not created equal. The first often arrives in October as a sprinkling of powered sugar on the roof of my house and pickup truck. Unlike that sweet confection, it disappears with first light and is easy to miss if one is late to wake or not attentive. There are a few other such coatings in the following weeks and they knock back many plants that recover later in the day. The sorrel, celery, late lettuces, Swiss chard and kale can take this chilly abuse and return standing by lunch time, ready to harvest.
But eventually the cold that is all too common to winter arrives in November reminding us what we are in store for during the months ahead. It arrived a few days ago nearly a week after I was out in shorts doing garden chores. But with back-to-back evening temperatures in the high teens, it was no time for shorts and no amount of protection could save many of the plants.
I made the mistake of going out too late in the day for celery and when I tried to harvest it in the waning light, it had already collapsed splayed to either sides of its rows. Touching it, it creaked as would a poorly lubricated door hinge protesting any movement. The greens were laid flat, looking as would thin sheets of spent onion paper scattered on the ground.
The hard frost created new garden chores. A Montauk daisy that had been accommodating a mason bee a few days prior was shriveled with its petals on the ground and leaves drooping. Buds on the stalk indicated where next year’s growth would emerge from but I now needed to cut everything back. Though it was time to further trim the hostas, it was a wasted effort as their large leaves were iced to the soil and underlying mulch forcing me to wait until warmer days and brighter light.
The birds have finally discovered the feeders and are emptying them every other day. The cold is attracting them to my house though with the water in the bird bath frozen they make awkward skaters when they land looking for a drink. Still the feeders have become the latest meeting place where a pecking order is strictly enforced.
The forsythia leaves are still hanging on, giving little hint of color or change before they make their final escape. The rhododendron leaves have drooped a bit but will recover on warmer days. The hollies are unchanged: green leaves and red berries. But there are some surprises.
A rose is holding on.
In the front of the house, next to the old greenhouse foundation, a small spray rose with pink flowers is pushing through the cold. Its flowers are fresh with no hint of frost or burn. Its growths appear lovely and young with new, viable buds and dark green leaves. Its small delicate flowers have survived multiple nights of temperatures in the teens. There is no indication of retreat unlike the other roses around the house whose leaves are shriveled and buds long since spent. Perhaps the foundation behind it is holding and emitting the warmth of the day permitting it to fend off the weather. A few feet away, other plants are not so fortunate.
But this is perhaps the final remnant of the summer when insects swarmed around the flowers, my granddaughter Charlotte grabbed berries from the blueberries bushes and the yard was full of green and possibilities. Now is the time to gather wood, build fires and settle in for the cooler weather to come.