Surprising survivors

Jane McGary
Sun, 30 Apr 2017 10:57:07 PDT
This is my offering for a topic of the week.
Hope to hear from many others!

This is the time of year when those of us who garden in climates that 
experience winter frost take stock of what has survived the trials of 
winter. In western Oregon we've had a winter that was slightly colder 
than normal, with several periods of snow cover (one of about one week), 
and very heavy and prolonged rainfall. This was a real test of plants 
known to be marginally hardy here.

I don't have a heated greenhouse, though I move a few potted plants 
under lights in the garage in winter. My bulb house is never more than a 
degree or two above ambient temperature, since it has a roof but no 
solid sides. I also moved many bulbs into the open garden last summer. 
Some of them are mentioned in books (mostly books published in the UK) 
as requiring frost-free cultivation. Nevertheless, some marginal species 
are now in growth and even in flower.

I didn't mean to plant Ornithogalum reverchonii (from the French 
Riviera) in the open, but I mistook its bulbs for Ornithogalum 
narbonense. Yet O. reverchonii is opening its crystalline white flowers 
now; the foliage, which is winter-growing, is a little bedraggled but 
definitely alive. Amaryllis belladonna turned to mush, but new leaves 
have emerged -- I may never see any flowers but it's not giving up. The 
shining yellow flowers of Anemone palmata (from Portugal) light up both 
the rock garden and the bulb lawn. Even the Crinum plants given to me by 
another PBS member last year are putting out new growth; I did mulch 
them heavily but thought they were gone for good.

Most everything in the bulb house survived (low temperature, 18 F), 
except for some Babiana. Another African species, Oxalis obtusa, is all 
too lively -- I even spotted one that got into the open garden, 
fortunately back in the shrubbery where it can't do much damage. The 
lovely North African Asphodelus acaulis dutifully produced its 
peach-colored flowers in early March, a little later than usual. I think 
the survival of marginal plants under a roof is aided by the fact that 
their foliage is dry; on the other hand, they got no snow cover. I 
suspect that the many species I'm trying in turf also enjoy a little 
extra protection in winter, when the grass here is in active growth.

So far the only big Alstroemeria outdoors, A. angustifolia, has not made 
an appearance, but in the bulb house the little species Alstroemeria 
hookeri came through fine, despite being in growth during the cold 
snaps. I'm also happy to see Alstroemeria patagonica there, but it is 
more cold-adapted, though not really easy to maintain.

The first Calochortus here is always Calochortus uniflorus, and it's 
opening now. Others are in bud. Most of them flower rather later than 
other bulbs. I have sometimes thought that native bulbs from the Pacific 
Coast of North America are particularly well adapted to surviving 
extra-cold winters.

Have you had any pleasant surprises like these? Let us know.

Jane McGary

Portland, Oregon, USA

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