October 15, 2009

Big Red Judy

Big Red Judy died last night. She froze to death, succumbing to a merciless New England autumn that saw pre-dawn temperatures at our home fall to the upper twenties. She was, by our guess, about six months old.

Big Red Judy was a coleus, a Proven Selections specimen that came to us in a four-inch pot from one of our forays to Andrew’s Nursery in late April. We were attracted by its brilliant, crimson foliage and large leaves. Even before Big Red Judy got home, Betty already knew which pot she would go into: a massive white one with bas relief garlands and swags (fortunately made of foam). Big Red Judy was accented with some trailing light blue flowers and was awarded a highly visible spot at our driveway turnaround (that’s her on the right in mid-July).

Her dainty companion gave up the ghost with the heat of August but, by then, Big Red Judy was so large that she no longer needed an escort. She was soon twice as wide and twice as high as her container, but the foliage just kept looking magnificent.

Her lone problem was that she tended to topple in the wind. In late August, Big Red Judy was moved to Rock Garden 4 where she occupied a space left vacant by the annual mid-summer disappearance of a Dicentra spectabilis, an unusually large bleeding heart. There, protected from the wind, Big Red Judy attracted even more attention from visitors, a lone burst of color in a bed that is relentlessly green at that time of the year. She was the first thing your eye saw from the deck and she glowed in the late afternoon.

Starting in the last week of September, we began bringing annual-bearing containers close to the house in the evening, shuttling them back out to their customary positions only when the morning temperatures rose above 40 degrees. That way, we figured to keep our thirty-plus containers going for another month. It worked, up to a point. Several brushes with frost were successfully avoided.

This morning, though, there was ice on the turtle bird bath. I went out to inspect Big Red Judy. Her leaves were limp and drooped, a sign that the water in the veins of the leaves had frozen. A few leaves at the bottom of the plant were firm, but it was clear that her time was passed.

We buy annuals in New England with the full knowledge that we will be able to enjoy them for six months or less. We keep them on a diet heavy with fertilizer because we know there is only season to admire their flowers, color, or texture. But there is also always next April. Big Red Judy has earned a place in our garden repertoire, along with other coleuses like Inky Fingers and Alabama Sunset.

And that’s one of the joys of gardening: meeting old friends every Spring.

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