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Diggin' It

The transplanted gardener: I can see the North Pole from my house

Yellow plants warm the garden in a cold climate.

By Craig Summers Black / May 6, 2009

When you live in a cold climate, plants with colorful leaves or flowers make all the difference.

Photos courtesy Craig Summers Black

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Winters in the heart of the heartland do not "heart" me.

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I am a warm-blooded soul who hadn’t shoveled snow in exactly a quarter of a century before I moved here.

I remember hauling furniture into our new Iowa abode when our neighbor (we had exactly one at the time) came over and posed a question: “Don’t you have you a winter coat?”

Actually, no, I didn’t, which was probably made abundantly clear by the fact that I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt … and it had been snowing for a half-hour.

His advice to this newbie: “Well, you better get you one. Because when the wind comes up in the winter, there ain’t nothing between you and the North Pole ’cept that barbed-wire fence.”

This is not my colorfully crafted attempt at dialogue vérité. Those are his exact words.

The first two winters were the hardest – especially since it went down to 28 below (-33 C) a few times. This was not in the manual. It says here that I live in USDA Zone 5, and Zone 5 is supposed to bottom out at -20 (-29 C). Ha. One day the high – the high, I’m telling you – was 14 below (-25C).

It was hard to believe that any plants of any kind could survive this kind of weather.

To ease my own pain, I decided to make sure to include two things in my new landscape:

1) Evergreens. Besides hardscaping, this gives structure to a winter garden. And it is a reassurance on a cold winter day that there actually is a garden out there.
2) Yellow. Yellow flowers, yellow foliage, anything bright and cheery (and, preferably, early) to announce the impending arrival of spring.

Yellow evergreens – like the gold-leaved false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera aurea) – have a nice warm glow in the landscape when surrounded by snow.

The sunny foliage on the deciduous golden honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Golden Sunburst') is positioned dead center a ways off the kitchen window to showcase its spring announcement.

Innumerable gold-leaved perennials also add oomph to warm-weather anticipation: coral bells, dead nettles, bleeding hearts, spiderworts, hostas, euphorbias. clematis, corydalis.

But the focal point of the front yard (see first photo above) is my Yellow Butterflies magnolia (click at the right bottom of the first photo to see a closeup of its flowers). I have an insufferably long wait in this climate for this tree to bloom. But that makes its blossoming only that much more rewarding.

What I’m into this week besides gardening: “Solid Air” by John Martyn. Martyn died recently, and the news sent me back to this ethereal English electro-folk rocker. I could not have made it through college without this album.
Performance video: “May You Never
Hear: “Solid Air

Note: Read Craig Summers Black's previous post about gardening in a cold climate by clicking here.

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