My friend Doss, in California, wishes she could naturalize crocuses - she can't. It doesn't ever get cold enough. And she has to replant new pre-chilled tulips every year. I wish I could find truly cold-hardy gladiolus, or palm trees, or canna lilies that didn't need frost protection. (I planted those "frost-hardy" gladiolus one fall. They were beautiful the following spring. But they didn't come back. Neither did those exciting crocosmia!)
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 23, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I want gladiolus - that can stay in the ground year round. And I want an orange tree - in my own backyard. While I'm making a wishlist, I'll add banana and avocado trees, and canna lilies too! You see, I live in zone 6, Massachusetts. I wear long underwear more than half of the year. I'm always cold. Some people think that winter in New England, or any temperate zone, is all red cardinals against white snow, children happily skating on frozen ponds (dangerous) and sledding down snowy hills, evergreen trees getting sparkling frosting from the sky, and the view from the cozy old farm house across the snowy fields. I believe much of America's view of winter was shaped by Robert Frost. "Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though. He will not mind my stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow." Quaint, picturesque, attractive snow.
Well, let me be the first person to tell you, in urban and suburban areas, snow stays white for about five minutes. After those lovely first five minutes, it turns grey. We have slush, freezing rain, sleet, frozen ice pellets, hail, frozen precipitate, and all kinds of other things that belong in a frozen drink with a colorful paper umbrella, not on my windshield while I'm driving! Every time we dig our cars out, a snow plow comes by to plow us back in. In fact, I believe the entire North-East corridor suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder. As of December 20, 2007, in the Boston area, we had had three major snowstorms, it had already snowed more than it did all the previous winter, and technically, it was still autumn! I know I am suffering from a bad case of that terribly serious affliction known to gardeners the world around as ZONEENVY.
My cure for this dreaded malady is to set out for the Caribbean as frequently as time and budget allow, and to study carefully those spring catalogs that start arriving about now. So far, I've gotten one from Park Seed, one from Bluestone Perennials, and I know more will follow. Doss (in California) and I compare notes frequently, and we are each shocked at the others reply. She'll ask me how often I water my daylilies, and be stunned when I say "you have to water dayliles out there?" I'll tell her I bought a lily at a big box store but I don't know if it's a canna or a calla and she'll eagerly wait for pictures of its progress (nothing special, I can tell you). I peruse my catalogs at night after my husband has fallen into exhausted sleep (from all the snow shoveling). I long for the water features with lotus and papyrus, and I lust after year-round bougainvillea (left), passion flowers and datura. I dream of fields of anemones - only some anemones are sometimes hardy in zone 6, but so far I haven't found them. The other stuff will have will have to wait until I win the lottery and buy a greenhouse.
Still, peering more closely at my catalog, I notice flowers that I can grow that Doss cannot! Ha! My beautiful Marie Antoinette tulips, for one (right). But there's more. How about this polyanthus primrose, I could grow it from seed. And potentillas - I just love potentillas. She can't grow most of them. Look, all these viburnums live in zones 3 - 8. Forsythia, too, and pussywillow! What's spring without forsythia and pussywillow?
Funny thing is, I've visited dry places, places where the air seems to suck all the moisture out of your skin, places where cactuses and agaves and aloes grow. They're nice, but that's not what I really want. Most of them are prickly, for one thing, and as far as I can tell, they don't smell good.
I think I'm arriving at a crazy solution here. I can't move; my whole family is here in Boston, and all my doctors, too. And I like being able to grow those plants that enjoy their winters. I'll just have to move to a 85° tropical island in New England. (I told you I was nuts!) In the back yard, in the summer, I already have elephant ears from a DG friend. Those give the back of the house a lush feeling. Then I drag out all my house plants and lie down in a hammock and listen to The Beach Boys. Now, don't be telling me about all the bamboos and palms that can be grown in zone 6, because I don't want to hear about it. I don't want a zone 6 imitation tropical garden, I want a year-round natural dry summer heat that I can turn on whenever I want. I think the best plan would be to keep a normal zone 6 garden along the street, with columbine, balloon flowers, coneflowers and rhododendrons; the ordinary zone 6 stuff. When I open the patio doors to the back, however, the warm tropical breezes and the exotic fragrances and scents of my zone 9 or even 10 or 11 garden would pour in.
Here's the clincher - even when the weather outside is frightful, even when I can't get my car shoveled out of the driveway, even when I'm stuck in the house for days, I could go to the verdant paradise outside my back door whenever I wanted. I'm still working out the details of the technology involved. But doesn't it sound like a good idea? Think of the marketing possibilities - no, it's just for us, my DG friends and me.
Many thanks to the following Davesgarden subscribers: averybird bebop2 Floridian palmbob
About Carrie Lamont
Carrie clicks on EVERY link. She has two beautiful daughters, and has been married for twelve delightful years. Her husband works for an airline, facilitating Carrie's frequent need to travel. She has a masters degree in Music, and hums to herself as she gazes out wistfully at her full-sun containers from her air-conditioned interior. Carrie just moved from Massachusetts to Texas and is still recovering.