When I stepped outdoors around 7 o’clock to walk the dogs this morning, the air temperature was 11 degrees F and today’s high is predicted to reach only the freezing point before we plunge into bitter cold again. Recently, I read this winter is the coldest in two decades, but I’m not sure that’s true. I simply can’t remember another winter in South Carolina as cold as this one. And next week doesn’t look any better.
On January 8th, during the Polar Vortex, I visited the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson and found some of the most tender plants near the Bob Campbell Geology Museum covered with tents.SCBG’s Director, Patrick McMillan (also host of the Emmy-award winning ETV nature program Expeditions), was on hand, so I had the opportunity to get a close look at measures taken to protect the collection of dry-climate plants. Patrick was particularly concerned about Lithops, commonly called living stones, a species native to South Africa. Interestingly, Lithops evolved into its stone-like shape as camouflage from hungry animals.
Patrick used a hanging basket filled with leaves to provide insulation around the treasured plant. When the basket was lifted and the leaves moved to the side, Lithops was discovered safe and sound.
I adopted Patrick’s method in my garden a few days ago when the weather took another turn for the worst, using 3-gallon pots and dry leaves to protect ‘Summer Beauty’ Acanthus. In past years the foliage had survived winter with only slight damage from the cold, but the Polar Vortex did it in. Fingers crossed that the crown of these plants will make it through and live to grow and bloom again.