It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
It was springtime. The most difficult of times when the sun in the sky and the warm breeze said yes, but the calendar still said May 15th. Mid May is the commonly accepted frost free date here in the Delaware Valley. The date that most adventurous gardeners confidently bring out their half hardy and tender plants to offer up the sacrifical alter that is the garden. Not me.
It was a few years back, around 1997. On a clear still night, May 22nd, to be exact, that my new display of tender plants was frosted, killed to the ground.Through a combination of a few items still tucked away inside and the generosity of some of our local institutions that opened their doors and greenhouses to me, I was able to re-establish a display for that season.
Since that time, I still respect the 23rd. I smile when visitors to the garden say “We’re safe now” as mid May passes. I now employ frost tolerant tender plants for the opening act at Chanticleer. Plants such as Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ for color and form, Cycas revoluta, the primitive cycad again for its amazing form and texture. Many of the bromeliads are remarkably frost tolerant, some conditioning leading up to the test. Eucalyptus and agaves lend a glaucus or bluish cast as well as adding mass and presence to a young garden.
As the fear of frost passes, these plants can remain in their places. More familiar cool season annuals will play off of these interesting elements in the beds. Or if your prefer, they can be lifted and moved to other situations in the garden, as root development in this short stay is usually non-existent due to cool soils and recent installation.
Remember, respect the frost. Know who your true friends are and work all of the plants that you have at hand to best convey your style in the garden.