Fritillaria bucharica 2012
So as not to depress you right from the start, I post an image of Fritillaria bucharica, one of my favorite bulbs I have grown for several decades in my home garden, delighting in its waxy white bells this time of year...Lovely, don't you agree?
Fritillaria bucharica today
This is what that same plant looked like today: like literally millions of plants across the Denver Metropolitan area, the "great frost of 2013" will have killed outright or at least set them back a year or two in their growth. Temperatures plunged to near 0F last Tuesday night--with only the lightest dusting of snow for most of us...disaster for the plants so far along. (I know many of you on the West end of town had more snow and consequently less damage: don't gloat. Your time will come).
Colchicum autumnale 'Waterlily' today
Here is one of my favorites: you are not apt to recognize the Colchicum because its foliage is mostly black. And dead. I have never seen damage on such a wide spectrum of bulbs in a spring frost in my entire career at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Although not quite as toasty as the Colchicum, I fear that my proud clump of Paeonia mlokosewitchii may suffer a severe setback, if it does not succumb to secondary infection (commonly happens among badly damaged plants). This is a really lovely peony--trust me.
Paeonia cambessedessii today
This is one of many bright spots: my rare (and supposedly very tender) Paeonia cambessedessii from the Balearic Isles appears not to have been damaged. I moved this last autumn, and probably delayed its growth this spring consequently--something I am profoundly grateful for.
Paeonies at a long-time volunteer's house today
Here you can see a frost ravaged peony at a nearby garden: the ones behind are unscathed (they were covered with large bushel baskets: my friend didn't have enough baskets for all her peonies--and more's the pity.)
I have been called and emailed by many local friends, mostly distraught, wondering what to do? First off--don't do anything. Some of the plants that appear to be severely damaged may magically heal and rise up from the ashes. Just as when we have our inevitable hailstorms--the first thing to do is relax. Maybe mix a drink and kick up your heels.
Remember that San Francisco has earthquakes and other coastal cities can be crushed by tsunamis and hurricanes. Frost singed large swathes of Los Angeles this past winter more severely than it has in decades, and Tucson has had its second disastrous winter in a row.
We have just had a string of six remarkably mild springs--we have had almonds, apricots year after year, and I have watched magnolias and forsythias bloom for weeks and weeks and not be blasted.
This spring I doubt we will see many lilacs, fruit trees, and many plants we love may be irreparably damaged.
The average Joe may not have even noticed , but gardeners around town are experiencing enormous disillusionment and sadness. May I remind you that we are urban farmers--and our farmers face this sort of thing year-in, year-out: not just frost and hail, but disease and pest damage that can destroy a crop. Markets may make their bumper crops worthless, and transportation, harvesting and marketing can damage or devalue years of work. And yet farmers feed us nonetheless. And our gardens which will inevitably experience disasters (broken water mains, a neighbors dog breaks a prized specimen, severe drought stresses your plants, windstorms, who knows what all can give you grief). Yes: disaster is inevitable and part of the cycle of the garden as much as spring and fall, as much as the peaceful rituals of dusk and dawn. A garden will be subjected to untold insults and indignities. Just wait a few weeks. Gradually trim back the burned bits once you are sure they are dead. Cultivate a little, spread a little compost and food. Wait and the miracle of growth and time will heal--and your garden will be all the more beautiful. Honest. If only because you know that like precious life itself, it is vulnerable and must be nourished and cherished and loved.