Forecast: Cold and Beautiful

When the temperature is freezing not many people set out to visit gardens. I, however, did just that, taking a trip to Tucson to visit Tohono Chul Park, and Garden. The frost covers were out, the air was bracing and the blue sky filled with wisps of clouds. These were repeat visits so I know the gardens are beautiful in fine weather so I expected a change of scene due to the threat of freezing temperatures.

Near the children’s ramada in Tohono Chul is a circular stand of Mexican fence post cactus and in the center is a splendid horse sculpture. This ring of mature cactus in more temperate days is impressive and majestic. This day each spire was uniquely crowned with 12 oz styrofoam cups. It is quite a project to individually top so many spires and made me think of an old time calliope with its steam powered whistles.DSCN4099

Faucets scattered throughout the gardens were dripping slowly as a precautionary measure to prevent freezing. They too produced a sparkle on this cold day forming an upright icicle among the grasses.


Cactus spines covered in ice glistened in the sun. The lizards were quiet, and out of sight. The brown leaves of an Arizona sycamore rattled in the breeze. They too were beautiful as the veins from their summer life were translucent in the sun.


Not everything in the gardens is covered because some plants can bear the cold. Walking slowly you see cactus colors putting on a winter show. Long curving spines form geometric patterns easily noticed when surrounding plants are dormant. Cactus spines in red, yellows and purple provide beautiful color along the path.

Yes, it would be more sensible to have a garden of only plants that will survive such a cold spell. The planning and discipline to develop such a garden is certainly to be admired. But plants sneak into our garden: a friend shares a start from an African aloe, you take pity on a plant tossed aside on a sale table at a big box store and bring it home to nurse it back to health, you splurge at the plant sale for just one more unique variety. These occasional impulses introduce exotic but tender bits of flora into the garden mix.

When the weather turns extreme we do what we can to save our plants Some of it is motivated by a financial investment but for many of us it is more than that. We grow hope alongside the plants in our gardens. Their growth parallels the passing of our days. Small starts now grown large are simply too familiar for us to ignore them when the weather is harsh. I carried every pot I could lift into my garden shed, my garage, and up under the patio cover. In the public gardens, the hotel resorts, they too scurried about covering, protecting their plants. The icy cold makes a temporary change in the beauty of our gardens. In the days that follow the cold we will learn how successful we were in keeping them safe. With our plants, with our children, with our students we do our best and we hope to weather the storm. Life in the garden moves on.


originally published in Roots & Shoots Maricopa County Master Gardener Newsletter

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