The mighty hand of winter blew in, hung around and then left, leaving us its all too visible imprint. Flowers of fall withered, and green-leafed shrubs turned ugly, their foliage black and slimy.
Our winter vegetables, exposed to cold winds and the impact of below-freezing temperatures, proved for the most part to live up to their hardiness label.
I interviewed Bob Rombauer, past president of the Hilton Head Plantation Farmers Club, about the condition of plants that he'd planted in his farm plot in fall.
Rombauer had seeded lettuce, spinach and turnips. The spinach and lettuce germinated sparsely and growth was slow. Turnips did well and should be harvested in six weeks.
Plants of collards, red and green cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts lived; cabbage that had headed froze; broccoli has already been harvested.
Garlic and Vidalia onions were not affected by the cold.
Rombauer does not grow beets or carrots. He says he has had no success with beets but that fellow gardener Larry Paton, who grows big and delicious beets, tells him he must do what his daddy did: Plant beet seed at night, under a full moon.
In our yards those gardeners who planted members of the viola family are congratulating themselves. Perky pansies and Johnny-Jump-Ups remain untouched, as do dianthus and petunias. A lesson to be learned here might be that the early freeze caught trees with many leaves not fallen, offering some protection to plants.
A surprise was the now proven hardiness of one of my favorite flowering plants, the delicate pink diascia. This plant as well as a tropical 5-year-old begonia were not covered and remained untouched by the cold. The begonia is a Rex, variety "China Girl," with silver and chocolate colored leaves and pink flowers. It is from Logee's, my favorite tropical plant nursery. It was left outside as there is no room indoors in either the sunny enclosed porch or the house-attached greenhouse.
What do passionate gardeners do on those cold, blustery days when they are kept indoors? They water, prune, propagate, start seed and order more tropicals from Logee's. It's key to know that many of the most attractive indoor plants are winter-flowering. Some are fragrant. A Southern exposure with 5 to 7 hours of sun will keep the chili pepper plants flowering, the orchids setting buds, and the basil plants growing.
I've not had luck growing sweet basil indoors. This past summer I started a packet of Thai basil outdoors. The plants did well throughout the summer and now are growing indoors. Thai basil has become the favorite in many recipes I've clipped this fall.
INDOOR GARDEN TIPS
Find yourself a sunny window sill, a plastic shallow container, seed-starting soil and packets of seeds of basil, parsley, chives, mache and arugula and you have an indoor garden. To keep soil moist while seed is germinating, cover the container with plastic film or glass. Feed with a liquid fertilizer after seedlings drop their first two leaves. I use a mister to water small seedlings; to thin, use a tweezer. Turn containers toward the sun every other day. Note: Basil, mache and arugula germinate in five days or less; parsley and chives might take up to 2 weeks.