Only the Strong Survive

Only the Strong Survive

By G. S. Norwood

I have blogged about my flower garden before. Heaven knows my Facebook friends are tired of the new iris and rose photos I post every spring. But this year it felt a little different, stepping out into my garden after the Great Texas Deep Freeze of this past February. When our temperatures dipped into single digits, I was afraid everything in my garden would die. With temperatures like that, only the strong survive.

The once-verdant plant stand is a disaster zone after the freeze.
The patio plant stand in happier days (at left). Today it’s a total loss. (G. S. Norwood).

Total Loss

Let’s get through the painful part first. My back patio plant stand, which has been thriving in fairly deep shade for at least the last five summers, is a total loss. I’ve managed to overwinter three types of ferns, and even some tender begonias, for the past two years. They all bit the dust this winter. Even though I covered them, they weren’t strong enough to survive snow and sub-zero nights.

The only up-side is that I now have a chance to clean out old pots and repaint the weathered boards I used to build the plant stand. The boards still need another coat of paint, but then it’s off to the nurseries for me. Fingers crossed that there will be anything left after all the other gardeners in the county turned out to replace the zillion plants they’d lost to the freezing temperatures.

If only the strong survive, the verdict is still out on the flame acanthus.
In happier days, the flame acanthus attracted hummingbirds to the window outside my home office. Now it’s mostly dead, with a few inappropriate volunteer trees mixed in. (G. S. Norwood).

Looking Dead

Out front there looked to be some obvious casualties. The creeping lemon thyme and the delightful blackfoot daisy that once spilled over the edge of my planter box were both undeniably dead, as was the dwarf butterfly bush I’d intended to plant in a bare spot last fall.

Other perennials, including three flame acanthus bushes, a Texas sage, my cluster of rock roses, and a newly planted abelia looked dead, but still had some spring in their twigs. I might have to do some pruning, but there is a chance they can come back from the root.

The clematis vine, on the trellis next to the front steps, also looked dead. But it always looks dead over the winter. I decided to hold out some hope that these plants were, to quote Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, “only mostly dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Built of sterner stuff than the Texas natives, the clematis bounced back.
The clematis vine was only mostly dead, but quickly came back to glorious life. (G. S. Norwood).

Only the Strong Survive

In contrast to the Texas natives like the flame acanthus and the blackfoot daisy, my roses apparently loved the cold snap. They have come roaring back this spring, with thick foliage, lots of blossoms, and nary a hint of black spot. Even the Snow Witch rose that got accidentally mowed over is blooming like never before. They brighten my days and perfume my yard. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

This is how the strong survive, a montage of happy roses.
The roses came roaring back. Clockwise from upper left: Maggie, Zephrine, Carnival Glass, Marie Daly (pink), Sweet Pegge, and the return of the previously-mowed Snow Witch. (G. S. Norwood).

Iris Festival

Like the roses, my iris are enjoying a great spring. Iris grow happily in colder climates. February’s freeze seems to have invigorated them. Old favorites like Titan’s Glory and War Chief are blooming lushly. I even have blooms this spring from rhizomes I planted years ago but never saw a flower from, including the spectacular Cantina and Medici Prince.

If only the strong survive, here’s a gallery of my iris heroes.
My iris are having a great spring. Clockwise from upper left: Diamond Lake, Cantina, Medici Prince, Titan’s Glory, Cascadian Rhythm, No Count Blues, Blue Heritage, and War Chief. (G. S. Norwood).

The Garden Evolves

I’m not going to tell you that I’m glad we had such cold weather this past winter. Never mind my plants; 151 Texans died because of that cold snap. We don’t need that again. But the freeze did give me the chance to reassess my garden. In the weeks ahead I will trim back the plants that got overgrown. Shape and reshape the overall composition of the borders out front. I’ll give big plants more room, root out volunteer trees that are in completely the wrong place, and make the whole thing just a little bit closer to my ideal. Because no garden is ever completely finished. A garden is a living thing that keeps the gardener busy, and happy, for a lifetime.


Many thanks to author G. S. Norwood for the photos she took of her garden. All are ©2020-2021 by G. S. Norwood. If you wish to use them, kindly attribute the photographer and provide a link back to this post. G. is the author of the urban fantasy “Deep Ellum” stories, set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. The montages were prepared by Jan S. Gephardt.

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