Friday, 24 July 2015

Cold Fact Part 2 (The Fall Out)

Celsius is like metric, all decimals and zeros and rounding to sensible 10’s.
I thought it was just a matter of ice cubes and cups of coffee but those 2 nights of temperatures below zero (-0.6°C or less) have wrought more changes in the garden than I expected. Clearly they were unusually cool (and how I love my outdoor thermometer, getting a close reading). Not just a matter of shivering in a house not quite designed for this, all large single-glazed windows and whistling doors.
Really its surprising how many plants tolerate the expansion of water molecules that freezing brings.
The bidgee-widgee (Acaena novae zelandiae, top) and other greenery looked beautiful 5 mornings ago, rimed and crackling with frost, with sheets of ice on bird baths lasting for hours, but after the thaw there was damage I’d never seen before. Tree dahlias black from the chill, all 4m height of them at once; and `self-shaping’ lilly pilly `Tiny Trev’ showing new chilblains all over, later turned brown (on the `surface’; a trim might make the plant look healthy). Some salvias smarting in self pity (such as Pink Icicles!),some suddenly hideously reduced to limp lettuce-like lumps (winter flowering Mexican sage of all things), some laughing –nervously. Clivias-under-the -veranda  with normal turgid leaves but – oh dear! – one in a feature pot at breast height like a half melted icy pole (remember those?).
I’d just been wondering whether to try an ephemeral pop art `Blue Poles’ – to trim the tree dahlias to about 2 or 2 ½ m (I can’t reach higher) and spray paint the stalks with bright blue paint for the winter months; now I’m not sure if the paint will stick. It’s still tempting to try it...decisions, decisions.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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