January 13 2021

Frost is coming, and winter is not far behind. It’s always hard to let go of the rampant greenery and color of the gardens-not that we have any choice in the matter. I keep hearing that we should be grateful for a time of rest and that winter gardens have their own kind of beauty. While I know this is true, in my opinion it can’t match the growing seasons. Perhaps the greatest blessing of those cold days is that we are enormously grateful for our short Montana summers. Every single day is a blessing, from the first tulip to the last aster. Every little detail is a wonder. How fortunate are we gardeners to know the rhythms of nature, to watch the flowers come and go to their own internal clocks, to let the seasons and the weather guide us, and to learn to accept the inevitable failures along with the triumphs.

But still, winter is long in Montana-really long. So I spend all day, every day, out in the gardens in the fall; soaking up the more gentle sun and the soft breezes, and watching the bees and butterflies at work. Me too, of course, planting, cutting back and planning how to do something better next year.

One thing I know for sure is that I will get more Iceland poppies. I planted one mid summer and it has not stopped blooming since, It’s cheerful delicate flowers atop wiry stems, one per stem, wave gently in the slightest breeze, new ones popping up every few days. I believe it will bloom in the spring next year as it is only blooming late because I planted it late and Iceland Poppies prefer cooler weather. Perhaps they will bloom again in the fall even after this year. They are perennials in our cold climate and will reseed themselves also.

Iceland Poppies are native to the subpolar regions of North America and Asia, but ironically, not Iceland. I suppose those who named these poppies meant ‘from land where ice is’-conjecture on my part. Also the word nudicale means ‘naked stem’. So bare stem poppy from lands of ice. Sweet!

Too soon, winter will come and put my gardens to sleep, though deep in the earth roots continue to grow even when the plants look dormant to us. We will have 30 and 40 below, freezing the ground down as much as three feet or more. The plants wait in their icy beds, wait until the ground thaws in the spring and it’s time to grow again. Winter doesn’t give up easily here in Montana, but most plants in my gardens are tough enough to survive May freezes and snowstorms. So they carry on, as do we.

Iceland Poppy, papaver nudicale