I returned from six weeks in Virginia in time to have one day to prepare for two nights and one day of unusual cold in the lowcountry.
So... I'd already surrounded the base of my citrus before I left for Virginia - so a satsuma in the ground and a satsuma, mandarin orange, lemon and kumquat in large (heavy) pots - with bales of wheat straw. Several layers of tarps, plastic and old blankets went on the top. No strings of lights (not a convenient location - without several extension cords) or any other heat source. My winter vegetable garden (collards, brocolli, swiss chard, tuscan kale, beats, lettuces, mustard greens, radicchio) were covered in one large sheet of clear plastic - with the edges 'sealed' with more wheat straw. All of my potted plants (a tropical ginger, cinnamon ginger, jade, etc) were dragged into a small shed with (thankfully) electricity so I could keep a small space heater on.
The expected news: all of the camellia flowers that were fully open (or starting to open) turned a lovely shade of brown. I was happy to see that many of my camellias still have tight flower buds - so they pop out over the next few weeks.
The good news: my vegetable garden fared pretty damn well. I knew the collards would be fine - although the swiss chard had some damage, it wasn't as bad as I had expected, and so today I cut off most of the damaged leaves and I think they'll bounce back fine (especially after the warm rain today). Some of the lettuce was damaged, but not horribly so... and the radicchio looks great as does the mustard greens. Yay! I was really glad to see that my winter garden survived.
More good news: all of my potted plants in the shed survived surprisingly well.
The bad news: My gorgeous clump of Farfugium giganteum bit the dust. I was bummed. They had survived a 20 degree night before, but not an 18 degree night followed by a day that barely reached 34 (with 20-25 mph winds) and another night at around 20 degrees. I planted three small plants in the summer of 2007 and they had slowly grown into a rather lovely (and large) clump (part of which can be seen here from last November). In fact, I was thinking about dividing them this spring. Now, I don't think it has died altogether - but after it warms up in a month or so, I'll have to cut off the dead above grown portion and cross my fingers that new leaves start emerging in the spring. They should.
Last night was our coldest night of the season - and in the 'cold pocket' of my garden, the side where the vegetable beds and perennial border are, there was a light frost and freeze. The peppers and tomatoes and eggplants are now gone. The citrus trees (a satsuma, lemon, kumquat and mandarin orange) were packed with straw around their pots and covered in a tarp, and they are fine (I harvested five satsumas a few days ago, and just ate the last one this evening). Fortunately most of the perennial border is covered by tree branches - either live oaks or river birch or bald cypress or sweet gum - so the fall-blooming salvia and milkweed and mexican sunflower etc are fine. The lettuces, tuscan kale, swiss chard and other fall crops recovered quickly from the cold during the 60 degree afternoon. Temperatures will be in the mid-70s this weekend.
Late this afternoon I finally divided two large chive clumps, and moved them to one end of one of the vegetable garden beds. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, and it feels good to have finally made this simple task a priority. I removed all of the Florida betony and dollar weed tangled in the chives - it wasn't much, but not much becomes an insane amount in no time. While in the garden I noticed two Eastern black swallowtail caterpillars on a bronze fennel seedling - I have one large bronze fennel, but I think I'll relocate the seedlings to my perennial border (the elephant garlic is already in there). I manually removed small caterpillars that were all over my broccoli - I haven't been paying enough attention, and now their leaves look like lace - I'm not sure that they will recover. That said, the tuscan kale and swiss chard and brussels sprouts and lettuces all look good. I spread more straw in the asparagus bed - a few layers of straw and compost for a neglected bed of asparagus that I'm sure will forgive me. Finally, another satsuma from my little tree harvested - and enjoyed while sitting in my garden. I wasn't out there long, but it sure felt good.
I like that many of them don't mind when it's dry. Or cold. Or wet... or hot. I like that they will protect my satsuma that is planted in the ground this winter (a satsuma that now has grasses planted all around it). I like that my old male dog, Handsome Stanley, likes to bend down and get under the grasses and use the blades to scratch his back. This fall I am dividing some of my grasses, starting small pieces in pots for now so that sometime this winter, late winter, I can put them into the ground. I like that they propagate so easily.
The wind blew and blew today - and late this evening I walked over to the side garden, and noticed that the river birch had lost almost all of it's leaves. They were scattered everywhere - in the asparagus bed, covering the lettuces - caught up in the leaves of the swiss chard. Where they land is where they will stay. They are now a part of the garden.