Survival in the winter garden (Photovember 15)

Pineapple sage cuttingsIn Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard mentioned finding an etiolated leaf in winter. She commented that while we like to separate everything into seasons, summer designated for growing and winter for dormancy, nature does not really work so neatly. Plants grow under the snow, or die back in summer and sprout anew during the cool rains of autumn.

We might consider this some kind of cosmic joke on our desire for order, but it only reflects a range of strategies for survival. It is opportunism.

Tuesday morning I finished putting the garden to bed for the winter. I found new sorrel and fennel shoots emerging from the base of dead seed stalks.

A month ago before hard frost I took cuttings of lemon verbena, rosemary and this pineapple sage and stuck them in the jar with water. The other herbs simply wilted and died but the pineapple sage rooted easily. New buds are bursting from the leaf axils. So now I have planted the cuttings in pots. Meanwhile its parent plant in the garden and the lemon verbena, both tropical species, are utterly dead from cold. The rosemary still flourished but will not survive Ontario’s deep winter, so I transplanted it into a pot, cut it way back and brought it indoors. Sadly, the lemon verbena is a lost cause and will need to be replaced next spring.

As a teenager, I bought my first pineapple sage plant by mail order from Richters Herbs. When I left home, Mom took cuttings every fall and kept the plant for years. Even sitting in a jar like this, they would often produce red flowers in winter. So an exotic, equatorial plant can become local with a little easy devotion.

Clearing a tray of nice vermicompost out of the Worm Chalet, I found pale wheat seedlings sprouting. This summer’s harvest of potatoes, supposedly genetically programmed not to sprout for several months yet, are already showing signs of life on the basement landing.

Life does not follow rules or fit into simple categories. It finds ways to survive. Some strategies are better than others, but it all depends on time and place.

2 thoughts on “Survival in the winter garden (Photovember 15)

  1. I have a jar on my kitchen bench with vietnamese mint happily rooting away. I’ll pot it out soon and coddle it through the next winter. Another tropical that I’ve previously kept alive through the chilly winters here (we’ve got nothing on Ontario though – doesn’t even snow to sea level).


    1. I have yet to try Vietnamese mint. It is probably available from Richters.

      Last winter we did not get any of the real deep freeze that I expect. Most winters we have at least a few days that get below -20C and at the cottage in Central Ontario I have experienced close to -40. But I think rosemary is only hardy to about -5. Lemon verbena and pineapple sage were killed by the first hard frost.

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