Friday, December 18, 2009

The spirit of William Morris

It was cold last night; the temperature at 7:30 this morning was about 25 º F.

These cold nights bring with them a new responsibility for me: I have to remember to close the cold frames each afternoon. I do this when the sun begins to go down, ideally as soon as the sun no longer directly strikes the cold frames. Cold frames are like a dog: they don’t require much attention, but they do require your attention at least twice a day. And like dogs they are well worth it.

No, the cold frames are not bursting with bloom right now, but they are full of interest. It’s a real pleasure to go out on a cold morning and peer through the glass light and see signs of life. The cold frames here have a primary purpose of housing a wide collection of marginally hardy bulby odds and ends. But each year I slip in various things which provide a nice contrast to the largely grassy foliage of the bulbs. Certain woody plants for instance provide a good change of pace. This year the rooted cutting of Daphne odora already shows flower color. A hardy gardenia, a new Ruscus, several asarums, some Selaginella, rosemary and Cistus psilosepalus all provide foliage interest and, in the case of the flowering plants, the promise of flowers and fragrance eventually.

The cold frame also provides an answer to the question of what to do with the florist’s cyclamen. The house is too warm and the garden is too cold. It turns out that the cold frame is just right: the glass light of the cold frame bears a flourish of frost flowers on cold mornings, but under the glass the bright red flowers of the florist’s cyclamen presents a burst of intense color.

A clump of snowdrops dug from the garden this week now blooms serenely under the glass. Another sort of snow drop is all over the news now: beginning tomorrow night, we are expected to have a 5-12” snow fall.

I opened this piece by writing that there was not much in bloom in the cold frames now. But one of the less protected cold frames offered an unexpected seasonal bouquet yesterday morning. I don't know what I did to deserve such a decorative acanthus-leaf pattern of frost flowers: it's as if the spirit of William Morris himself had worked over the under surface of the light. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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