Sunday, October 14, 2012

First Freeze

Weather: Monday morning temperatures below freezing, strong winds Friday, last rain 10/12/12; 11:17 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid perpetual roses.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, white and pink bindweeds, goat’s head, chamisa, broom senecio, áñil del muerto, purple and golden hairy asters; cottonwoods yellow along the rive.

In my yard: California poppies, chrysanthemums.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, bumble bees, other bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Microclimate and temperature gradient are abstract nouns until the first freeze of autumn. Then, as you wander about surveying the damage they become very real, as do all those terms like tender perennial that modern breeding and nursery stocked stores have rendered obsolete in spring.

Zinnias are always the first to go. You expect to see their dead stems and shriveled brown leaves. And they didn’t disappoint. Mine were dead, as were those along a stone wall down the road were dead. But then, my eye was startled by a spot of color. When I investigated, I discovered some near the near gravel drive had somehow survived.

I looked up. Across the drive, where the morning glories should all be dead, there was a bit of blue. It must be the gravel, which is too light colored to absorb heat, has trapped moisture, and that water did retain enough heat to create a protected zone in its immediate area.

The cosmos were the same. Dead where I saw them in the village. Dead when I saw them from the house.

But, when I got closer, I saw mine were only dead at the top. At the base, where the leaves were dense, some flowers survived to finish out their cycle.

And, it is all about going to seed. The native annuals had stopped blooming a while back, so their seeds could be ripening. Even so, some managed one final burst after the freeze, so short the flowers were never seen. Seed heads of goatsbeard and wild lettuce and rabbit weed were visible before noon.

Pods on the butterfly milkweed broke open and released their seeds.

Seed capsules on the fern bush opened. They were rewarded Friday by winds that never stopped.

The trees and shrubs that always suffer the late spring frosts were devastated. The grapes and Virginia creeper are brown, the roses of Sharon leaves are shriveled and gray. But while the temperatures were below freezing, the chilling followed some pattern that left the black locusts and catalpa leaves only partially blasted.

By Saturday morning I could see the yellow of the river cottonwoods from my back porch. When I drove into town, the chamisa was brighter. In one persons yard, where the zinnias had died, the chrysanthemums were revealed. They had been blooming since mid summer, but had blended into their surroundings. Now, they stand alone.

Perennials are different than annuals. What you see after the first freeze isn’t the workings of the laws of physics, but of evolution. Some adapt to our climate by blooming in summer, others in spring. California poppies go dormant in the heat, and resume blooming when sun angles change in late summer. They may continue into early winter, depending on the weather.

Photographs: All taken 10 October 2012.
1. Prickly poppy.

2. Peach tree leaves.

3. Zinnias.

4. Heavenly blue morning glories.

5. Sensation cosmos tops.

6. Sensation cosmos bottoms.

7. Goat’s beard seed head.

8. Butterfly milkweed head, surrounded by blanket flower heads.

9. Fernbush head.

10. Catalpa leaves, some dead, some still green.

11. Single daily chrysanthemum.

12. California poppy.

13. Catmint flowers on plant with some dead leaves, some still alive.

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