FIRST, a quite brief word (for eulogies are best when quite brief) about those roses that are not blooming today.
I am sorry. Needless to say, I had nothing to do with the night of 12 below zero, and most roses of the sort people like to grow do not lightly endure such temperatures. They commonly register their protest in firm ways, such as dying outright, or else dying back to the ground. If we lived in an even more wretched cold place than we do, we would understand this.
Here, it does not occur to us very often that old huge bushes and climbers may actually perish from cold. Many did, this winter, and we are all sad.
I repeat, however, that it has never availed me much, to rant and roar about whoever is responsible for the weather in this city, and when plants die from extraordinary cold, I cannot think quite how to make them not dead. This should be clear to anybody, surely, but I may say a certain tone of abuse has crept into recent communications received down here. With the onset of fine weather, no doubt a more civil tone will be detected.
Second, on the matter of photinias and nandinas: it is true I have urged the general and widespread planting of them in the capital, and a number of people have accepted my assurances they are hardy. Unfortunately, some of them appear to be less than bouncy--mine, for example, do not have a single leaf on them.
I am sure you remember the words of a great national leader, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In other words, either be patient and wait for them to sprout out or else replant them. You may be sure that when I say they are hardy, they are, and it is rather too bad that so many of them at the moment appear to have thoroughly dead wood on them as the result of the cold. Surely this is illusion, and I do not accept apparent death as any argument.
Third, the Carolina jasmine. Every year I am obliged to report that mine is not blooming, or not blooming very well or very freely. It might seem to some, therefore, that we cannot grow this splendid creature (Gelsemium sempervirens) very well in Washington. I do not, however, accept the coincidence of several years of no bloom as any real proof. Next year, beyond any doubt, I shall run in this space a fine photograph of my Carolina jasmine performing properly. Sometimes these things take a while.
I can remember, and so can you if you weren't born yesterday, when it was well known that azaleas could not be grown in the city. The Kurumes from Japan were thought to be entirely too tender for outdoor planting. Some of the Kurumes are indeed too tender, but such sorts as "Hinodegiri," "Coral Bells," "Snow," and "Pink Pearl" are sufficiently omnipresent now that many people are sick of them. I consider them superb plants, along with the Glenn Dales, the Gables, a couple of the Indicas, etc.
My point is that although many azaleas did indeed die when they were planted here in the 1940s, it was not true then and is not true now that they are too tender for us. Please keep that in mind. I also, while we're at it, possess a fine plant of the pink camellia, "Magnoliaeflora," which endured the same subzero temperatures everybody else's camellias did. It is green and has stayed green all winter, not losing a leaf and not having a single discolored leaf to be ashamed of.
I do not mind saying it is growing against a west wall (a wall facing west) as I frequently harp on, for camellias, and it is shaded by a large oak. Honesty requires me to say that an even hardier camellia, "Berenice Boddy," on the same western wall appears to be quite dead, and so does one of my great favorites, "Mathotiana Rubra."
We must try to remember the Washington camellias 10 feet high, which we have all come to love. If, after a quite unbelievable winter of low temperatures, many have been killed, we must remember cows sometimes get foot and mouth ailments and, in a nutshell, no living creature is free of unexpected disaster.
The wretched Japanese evergreen privets, which I have never liked in the least, and which I have often pointed out are not very hardy, are as usual (after even a moderately colder than usual winter) quite without their evergreen leaves. Usually they sprout out again, if one is patient. It is a plant I have never lost to cold, since I have never grown it and that is not all.
If for some reason you admire it, then grow it, of course, but it is severely damaged in winters that do not even touch camellias.
A most beautiful plant is the windmill palm, Trachycarpus excelsus, from Korea. So far as I know, it is the hardiest palm in actual garden practice. I used to grow it quite in the open, where on one occasion my palms endured 15 degrees below zero without the least harm. This winter in Washington was surely a test for it. A friend of mine has two of these palms, growing out in the open with no wall protection or any other kind of protection, and they looked splendid this spring.
The dwarf American fan palm, a Sabal that gardeners tend to call Sabal minor though that is probably not right now since botanists keep changing names, is very hardy, but nevertheless tends to die in gardens here if not given a position against a wall and protection from the wind. It is a curious palm, as far as hardiness goes. It has grown for many years (and seedlings have appeared plentifully) in the sheltered courtyard of the U.S. Botanic Garden, but I have lost it a number of times in the open garden.
It is plentiful along the Gulf Coast, of course, but does not flourish very far inland. But then it appears, quite locally, in pastures in northern Mississippi where it is a weed, even though it does not seem hardy to cold in localities far south of that. I do not think that genetically it is any different from the fan palm (the dwarf one) of the coast. It is a question, I think, of accidentally getting established far north of its normal range. More often than we think, plants prove perfectly hardy "when established" and utterly tender when not. Often, I believe, it is merely a question of having several moderate winters to get going, after which it is hardy even through terrible winters. Much, alas, is luck.