Mind Your Freeze and Queue

I have had this photograph saved on my computer for so long that I no longer remember where it came from. If this is your photograph, please email me and bawl me out for posting your picture without attribution or permission. But I will take the chance, and post it anyway. Why so? It illustrates dramatically how nothing in the garden happens on a reliable timetable.  The trains may run on time, but nature takes her time deciding when one season ends, and another starts. These tulips covered in snow speak volumes about what it means to garden. I might write 10,000 words about the unpredictability of nature, and how no gardener can will a season into being when they are tired of the last one, but this photograph tells the entire story with one image. Gardeners may plan and scheme, and favor their own agenda, but nature bats last. She is known for knocking every one of her moves out of the park. Tulips in full bloom covered with snow are a a lesson. I like lessons. Can you not hear her bat hitting the ball? Michigan gardeners are in that hazy phase between the spring and the summer gardening season. I understand the impulse to push the boundaries, and forge ahead, but in fact our current gardening season is not in any way the summer season.  Spring is in full swing.

Mind your freeze and queue? We had temperatures at or below 32 last night. At 7am this morning, the temperature was still 32. The overnight forecast tonight is for 34 degrees-not exactly balmy. A hard freeze will damage the blooms on fruit trees, the tender shoots of hostas, and any seasonal plant native to tropical regions. It may damage budding clematis, and the new shoots on roses. A nighttime freeze in May is not unheard of in our zone. Frost free dates are plentiful after Memorial Day, in Michigan. Memorial day is a few weeks away-just saying. This means the wet and cold spring weather is current in the garden queue. No gardener likes to be stuck in the seasonal queue.  We are all impatient, and ready to let loose. You might try to cut in the line leading up to to the summer season, but why rush? Summer is a good ways off for us. This means you have time to enjoy and appreciate the spring. Our small greenhouse is stuffed full of plants that do not like cold soil, or cold nights. We anticipate that our gardening clientele are ready. We do not heat this house much, but it is protected from very cold temperatures, wind, and hard spring rains. We are very careful to advise any customer who buys from this house that these plants will not be happy outdoors right now.  The warmer days, and warm nights, are yet to come. The soil warming up is a true sign of summer.

A Solenia orange begonia in full bloom wreathed with lobelia and creeping jenny does my winter weary heart a world of good.  Truth be told, the longer this basket enjoys the protection of a greenhouse, the better it will look once it is moved outside. I have never been much in a hurry to rush the summer season. Tropical/seasonal plants are native to warm places. Those warm places feature warm soil. A tropical plant subjected to cold soil and cold temperatures will suffer. By no means will they grow. They circle the chilly spring season in a holding pattern, and languish. They suffer set backs that may never be made up. My solution?  Enjoy your spring as long as you can.

Our greenhouse features a lucky sourcing of cut dogwood branches-they have been glorious for over a week. We had a fresh batch delivered today. We do have tropical ferns and streptocarpus that require a warm environment. We can keep cold sensitive plants in this space until the threat of frost is gone. If you fall for a lemon tree or a myrtle topiary, move them indoors when cold weather is a threat. If you have a rosemary or lavender, both of which are cold tolerant, don’t test them.  Lavenders and rosemarys grown in greenhouses are not particularly  acclimatized to very cold temperatures.

There are plenty of plants that thrive in colder environments. This fuchsia topiary will come out of the spring in a very strong way, and  endure the summer. Other plants that are happy to bridge that wide river between spring and summer are pansies, petunias, dianthus, dusty miller, alyssum, violas, million bells, sweet peas and cold tolerant herbs-look up transitional container plants on your own. There are lots of choices for chilly spring conditions available. I know the need for some color and life motivates every gardener.  Plant away with those annuals and perennials that shrug off the cold. But I would encourage you to enjoy your spring. Stretch it out. Summer will come soon enough. That fresh coming to life of the garden you see everywhere now is the treasure that is spring.

Rob plants lots of lettuce tubs in the spring. We bring them on in our greenhouse. They fly out of the shop, once the weather warms up. This tub is spending the night indoors. It will be too cold to leave it outside.

The predicted night temperatures tonight tell a story about spring. Spring is not so sweet. It can be very cold and windy. I wore my winter coat to work today. Such is spring in Michigan. It is predicted to be so cold overnight, tonight. The truly warm is yet to come. Be patient. If you cannot be patient, beware. Our spring weather than turn on a dime. The beauty of this moment? Spring is everywhere I look. In full bloom. This pair of arched espaliered crab apple trees is in full bloom at the shop now. So beautiful.

The spring season is all about the growth, and the greening. I try to take the time to appreciate this moment.

My clients Rich and Dan have a river of grape hyacinths in bloom right now. This is a spring moment that is truly extraordinary.

My grass at home is long and the most intoxicating shade of spring green imaginable. I am savoring the spring scene.

To follow-more love of the spring season. This spring container that Rob planted with lavender and violas looks terrific right now.

The window boxes in the front of the shop full of pansies are so beautiful, and appropriately in the spring queue. What a glorious day, today.










  1. Marguerite says

    Yes indeed, you are so right, the gardener plans and G-d laughs. 😉 The photo of your steps and green terrace is so so lovely…. terrific bones. I could look at it all day and in all seasons… would be a perfect view for a home office. Oh to look up from one’s desk and be inspired by the elegant and and wise design choices that you’ve made in that setting which represent perfectly that the gardener is a guest amongst the force of nature’s power and beauty. I’m curious about that gorgeous hanging basket with the blue lobelias. I love the color of lobelias (the light and dark blues both) and have tried to plant it in containers over the years but it never seems to last. Do you have any lobelia advice so that it will behave as the long blooming annual I would hope it to be?

  2. Amy Galsterer says

    Love your blog. Looking forward to visiting Detroit Garden Works this Wednesday with my garden club. Spring is my favorite season in the garden, everything is so fresh.

  3. Beautiful Deborah! When I get a post it starts my day with positive, peaceful thoughts. Gardening therapy for sure! Yes, we had frost last night, and a very cool morning in Jordan, Ontario… it is only 4 degrees Celcius…I am loving all the green as well….enjoy your day!

  4. Tom Christianson says

    Tulips in the snow. So So True. Mound, Minnesota

  5. Your photos are glorious. In Massachusetts we recently had heavy rains. Within a day it seemed as though all manner of growing things had slurped up the moisture in a deep breath, expelled that breath and suddenly all shades of green popped! As a long time gardener I find the changing seasons energizing. I may move a little slower these days but you bring such inspiration. Thank you.

  6. “Nature bats last” – what a perfect phrase I thought as I am going to see baseball in the new Atlanta Braves stadium tonight. While I was digging holes in my garden this morning (before going to work) replacing 2 of the 3 Patriot hostas that decided not to return this year, I lamented all the money I have spent on plants that have not made it back for their second season. (DO NOT tell hubby) And then I thought, well my other “addiction”, shoes, also wear out, or go out of style…so I will continue to “gamble” and spend my money on plants. Thanks for inspiring us with your words and pictures – both exquisite!!! LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the purple grape hyacinth river!

  7. Apple Bridges says

    Growing up in the Midwest, one of the happiest sights every year was that of crocuses bravely blooming in the snow.

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