It’s So Nice to Fool Mother Nature!

One of the glories of my garden right now is my ‘Blue Chiffon’ rose of sharon. The plant’s flowers have a frilly center that qualifies them as “double” (a status much valued in the gardening community). I also love their bluish color, which is further enhanced by where I’m growing them. I grow mine near some coneflowers. Now, when you hear mention of the latter, you probably think of purple coneflower; but mine are orangey. Color theory tells us that blue and orange are contrasting colors. Maybe that’s why this particular patch of the garden is really catching my eye these days.

But soon, my focus in the landscape will be shifting elsewhere, as other plants will come into bloom and greedily steal my attention. That’s the wonderful thing about the rhythms of the seasons as played out in the garden: there’s no time to become bored with any one group of flowers, because our floral ensembles are subject to an inexorable Heraclitean flux. Saturday’s hero yields to a new star, who will, in turn, know the same fate. Not that we gardeners are fickle, mind you. We simply realize that admiring a landscape is more akin to watching a movie than to ogling a piece of sculpture: we find what we like in each frame but are always ready to move on to the next, so as to keep up. In the North, we have all winter to look back and critique the horticultural “film” that we have been watching unfold.

A perhaps unfortunate by-product of having Blue Chiffon in my yard is that, each time I think of the plant’s name, what floods my mind is the jingle for the old Chiffon Margarine commercials on TV. For those too young to remember, an actress playing Mother Nature was shown tasting (unbeknownst to her) some Chiffon and proclaiming it to be some of her “delicious butter.” When the narrator informs her that, no, it’s Chiffon, her response is, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

But in the case of my yard’s next floral standout (I’m expecting it to bloom later this month), I did very much have to fool Mother Nature to make my enjoyment of it possible. I’m talking about crepe myrtle tree, one of the floral superstars of the landscape of the Southeast. There’s only one problem: I live in the zone-5 New England, not the Southeast.

So how did I pull the proverbial wool over Mother Nature’s eyes? By building a small protective plywood structure around my crepe myrtle (which I treat as a shrub rather than as a tree) and stuffing it to the gills with mulch, I created a microclimate to get it through the winter. Mother Nature fell for it hook, line and sinker.

I engaged in similar trickery with winter jasmine, which is not supposed to be hardy north of zone 6. My winter jasmine is planted up against the south wall of my house, which gives it a bit of an edge. Instead of wrapping it in a plywood structure, I built a mini-greenhouse out of plastic for it, with a removable top. The top could be lifted on warmish days in late winter to release excess trapped heat. The plant bloomed for me in early March, helping relieve the winter doldrums.

There are hardy types of palm trees that some people might be able to get away with growing; I haven’t dared try here in New England. Nor is there much hope for one of my Mediterranean-style favorites, the bougainvillea. I don’t think Mother Nature is quite that gullible.

That’s OK. I’m content with my success in the two cases of shysterism cited above. Every day now I gaze with appreciation at the foliage of my crepe myrtle (old leaves dark green, new ones red), brimming with anticipation for its blossoming. Never mind what the old commercial said. I say it’s so nice to fool Mother Nature!

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