A Farewell to Flowers

Final moments in the sun for these nasturtiums

Final moments in the sun for these nasturtiums.

It was inevitable, of course, the prediction of our first freezing temperatures. They’ll actually arrive a bit behind the average date this year. By next Sunday morning, the weather forecasters are calling for temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. At my house, that will likely translate to the upper 20s — more than cold enough to kill the still-blooming flowers in my yard.

As has been their habit in recent years, the nasturtiums in my vegetable garden have staged a takeover, covering the beds that once held summer vegetables.

These will be nasturtium mush after Sunday morning's freeze.

These will be nasturtium mush after Sunday morning’s freeze.

Pretty much any flower still blooming — from salvias to coral honeysuckle to abelias, verbenas, lemon basil, and Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ — will be killed by the upcoming freeze. The bees know it’s coming. They work frantically on my salvias and other flowers from the time the air warms up enough for flight until full dark.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to protect my deliciously productive lettuce bed through this first bout of cold.

Fresh salad season in late October, oh yeah!

Fresh salad season in late October, oh yeah!

I didn’t manage to start my own seed for the fall lettuce, but I found starts of two of my favorite varieties at my local farmers’ co-op.

Leaves of Red Sails are so tender that you barely need to chew.

Leaves of Red Sails are so tender that you barely need to chew.

The green romaine is juicy and vibrantly flavorful.

The green romaine is juicy and vibrantly flavorful.

I also planted some Premium Crop broccoli. It is growing well, but is just starting to create flower heads. I’m hoping the Reemay cover over it will allow it to grow to harvestable size before cold weather settles in for the season.

The weather forecasters have been talking about the upcoming freeze for about two weeks, so I knew it was time for winterizing our front water feature and moving the potted plants from their summer home beneath the towering Southern Magnolia to the greenhouse.

Wonder Spouse kindly helped me with both tasks. Those pots are heavy — especially the waterlogged ones that sit inside my water feature all summer.

Drained and cleaned for winter.

Drained and cleaned for winter.

We relocated two Green Frogs who were summering in the water feature. We end up relocating amphibians every year at this time. We carry them down to the permanent pond on our floodplain. It was quite warm when we moved them, and they were very energetic, so we’re hopeful that they found a spot on the muddy bottom to sleep through winter’s cold.

Potted plants are all relocated into the greenhouse for the winter.

Potted plants are all relocated into the greenhouse for the winter.

After pulling out all the sprouting weeds in the pots, cutting off dead bits, and generally sprucing up the plants, we found good spots in the greenhouse for all the potted plants. The heater in the middle of the above shot keeps the greenhouse from going below 45 degrees — except for power outages and prolonged bouts of low temperatures. Most years, the little heater is enough to keep all the plants healthy.

Pots of plants that normally sit inside the water feature sit in water-filled saucers in the greenhouse for the winter.

Pots of plants that normally sit inside the water feature sit in water-filled saucers in the greenhouse for the winter.

Even the carnivorous pitcher plants seem to over-winter well in the greenhouse, as long as I keep their saucers full of water.

Even the carnivorous pitcher plants seem to over-winter well in the greenhouse, as long as I keep their saucers full of water.

The annual Changing of the Lizards occurred about three weeks ago. All summer long, the skinks own the front deck, basking in the sun, and scurrying into the flowers when I approach. But every fall, the skinks vanish and the anoles return. I think the anoles summer in the trees and shrubs, but every fall, they return to the west-facing front of my house, where winter sun warms the front wall all season. We often spot them hiding behind the drainspouts, or wedged beneath the overlapping boards of the house’s siding. This year, I decided to create a spot where they could soak up sun more comfortably.

I call it their Lizard Palace.

I call it their Lizard Palace.

I took some flat stones from a bed we dismantled, and stacked them so that small spaces — just large enough for lizards — remain between the layers. The structure is in a flowerbed beside the front wall of our house, where it should receive plenty of winter sun all season. I’m hoping that the sun will heat up the rocks enough to encourage the cold-blooded anoles to come soak up the warmth. I’ve already spotted some of them on the structure on cooler days, so I’m hopeful that the Lizard Palace will be a popular option for them as we progress into winter.

I’ve started keeping the bird feeders well-stocked, but they’re not getting much attention these days. I think most of the trees and shrubs in my yard produced abundant fruit this year, and the birds are taking full advantage of that fact — which is wonderful! The massive Southern Red Oak at the top of my hill produced zillions of small acorns this year. The Blue Jays and larger woodpeckers spend most daylight hours dining on these nuts.

And the great Southern Magnolia in our front garden is absolutely loaded with cones extruding scarlet seeds on thin filaments. These dangling fruits must truly be delicious, because every warbler, robin, woodpecker, etc. animates this tree until full dark. I find myself looking for excuses to linger nearby, so that I can watch the feathered folk engage in circus-worthy acrobatics as they vie for tasty magnolia treasures.

Looking like Christmas ornaments, the laden Magnolia cones signal wildlife that autumn's days are numbered.

Looking like Christmas ornaments, the laden Magnolia cones signal wildlife that autumn’s days are numbered.

Have you tucked in your outdoor potted plants and other cold-sensitive items in your yard yet? If not, make haste. Our first taste of wintry air is almost here.

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