December 8th, 2006
Just Die Already

tomatoes in December
2006-12-06. When I uncovered the tomato plant after last week’s freeze, I was surprised to see that it, too, was in denial.

“For me the gardening year begins in October…Number one on my late-October agenda is to clear out the two twenty-foot-long borders of all the summer flowers, most of which are still giving us a fine show. The minute I look the situation over, I begin to feel guilty and wasteful. They look so lovely, but I have allotted this morning to this project, and my gardener, Junior Robinson, is by my side. We both know that in a day or two frost will descend and have these lush beauties looking unhappy and faded. So I firm up my resolve, turn toward Junior, who’s looking undecided, and tell him that we are going forward with this project now. I ask him if he wants a Classic Coke to strengthen him and he says, “Yes, I’m going to need it.” –Emily Whaley “Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden”

Temperatures have been hovering over the freeze line, some nights dipping just below, just enough to damage the more tender plants and yet not enough to do them in. The ones that are not entirely done in–some cosmos, some bananas, and some four o’clocks just look sickly and sad.

On Wednesday, it warms up to 73F and I spend all day in the garden. First I have to move all the potted plants outside for some water and sun. Then I have to uncover all the plants I’ve covered so that they don’t swelter in this one day of heat. I give them a good watering which should help to keep temperatures a bit more stable. I spend most of the day raking leaves which fell all at once last week. Now for two months, maybe three, my yard is in full sun. One rose, ‘Blush Noisette’, is taking advantage of it and all the others that managed to survive the summer are looking healthy even if they aren’t blooming. As I rake, I also cut back the four o’clocks. Just like Mrs. Whaley, I feel relief to be done with them, to clear the garden down to the bones. Still I don’t manage her firm resolve, nor does my garden have strong bones. Right now, covered in pecan leaves scavenged from the neighbors raking their lawns, the bones of the garden are more difficult than ever to see. Nope, I’m not quite able to follow through–against Mrs. Whaley’s advice I still “waver and quaver” over each decision. Maybe when I turn 85, I’ll attain her admirable ruthlessnes.

We have one day of warmth before the cold funnels down from the north again. Potted plants back inside. Tender perennials covered up. And now that the pecan leaves are raked up, the oak leaves have started falling. I see buds on the narcissus. Spring will begin before fall is even finished. Winter just interjects itself in short, icy spurts.

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “Just Die Already”

  1. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Yes, that is exactly how winter appears around here–in short bursts. Today I’m enjoying the refreshing nip in the air, which is even better since there’s no wind. It seems like usually our cool weather is accompanied by strong, icy gusts of wind.

    I love Mrs. Whaley and admire her ruthlessness too. Like you, I’ve wavered over cutting back frost-damaged perennials. They still stand in my garden for now. I actually don’t mind leaving them up for a while, especially ones that just get crispy (like salvia leucantha, guara, purple coneflower) versus the ones that get floppy and cooked-looking (basil, yellow bells). It gives me something to look at for a couple of months and keeps the seed- and shelter-hunting birds happy.

    I don’t cut back everything right away because I don’t want to expose more of the plant to the next frost. I didn’t realize the S. leucantha was so frost-tender. Everyone seems to have such large bushes; I always mean to plant them and did this year. Afterward, I discovered from my diary that I had done this before and that they’d frozen. So I covered them this time and they still got a bit nipped. Do yours come back well? — mss

  2. From Carol (Indiana):

    Yes, I guess it would be more difficult to resolve to clean up and get down to the bones of the garden, if you knew the next week temperature would be back in the 70’s and thus with some protection you could save the plants. It looks like you might have a few homegrown tomatoes as part of your Christmas feast.

  3. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Yes, my salvia leucantha always comes back just fine. I cut it down in January or February, but by then it’s already sending up new growth, which inevitably gets zapped by a late frost. It just tries again a few weeks later and blooms great in late summer.

  4. From Callie (Dallas):

    (Sob, sob.) My poor fall tomatoes didn’t make it through the deep freeze in North Texas. What materials do you find best for covering your veggies?



    It gets much colder in north Texas than in central Texas. Unfortunately I don’t have much of a system; I use whatever is at hand, old sheets and towels, pieces of cardboard. Usually I use floating row covers from Lee Valley but they work best for cold-weather crops. I purposely planted this particular tomato with the roses against a south-facing wall which gets a lot of sun and hold heat. I also remembered that I had some sheet plastic from the kitchen remodel project when we replaced the siding on the outside wall. So, I draped that over the floating row cover to make a little greenhouse. — mss

  5. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I have SO much to do in my yard… I’m sure the neighbors aren’t too happy about the several-inch-deep layer of leaves covering the front yard. The only thing I brought in over the last few weeks is my Plumeria; I left the bouganvillas out, and they’re not dead yet. It’s hard to get anything done this time of the year, because it’s nearly dark by the time I get home from work. Ug.

    I just got the pecan leaves raked when the oak leaves decided it was their turn. So all my effort is wasted. I’m trying to take advantage of my current situation to enjoy these days outside. When I was in the office during the day, I used to start seedlings on top of my computer monitor and force bulbs to keep my connection to the garden over the dark months. — mss