Mother Nature’s emissary, winter storm Elliott, swept through the US bringing rapidly plummeting temperatures and snow Dec 22-23rd. Here in Louisville, it went from 55F in the evening, to -5F the next morning. A 60 degree drop. The weather folks called this a flash freeze. Jeez.


In 20+ years I have not seen the garden so open and sparse. Or so brown. The evergreens are not. Lots of old brown fencing now in full view and lots of brown leaves. Our neighborhood landscape is UPS-colored. My garden needs a pickup.

Brown is not the new green

I went through a brown period…a decade of life really…where my clothing, my couch pillows, any time there was a color choice…all of the stuff was brown. I even sought out brown flowers. It was a good time of life.

Aquilegia viridiflora, a brown-flowered favorite

Today’s naked garden throws me back to the beginning. Flash back to photos from the late 90s early 2000s… early in the journey of our tiny urban garden on a hill. Back then, I envisioned garden as cocoon—garden as urban privacy—garden as refuge. More is more. Fill up the space. Now the cocoon is tattered and its contents feel very exposed.

March 2002, garden as a toddler

Different plants different survival tactics

It has been interesting to note what plants do when faced with adversity. Mature Nandina (God bless them) dropped their leaves soon after the freeze…small and insubstantial, they easily shed. Hollies, with their thick plastic-y weapon-like leaves, hung on longer.

Nandina flash-frozen to nakedness

When tested and stressed—flash frozen in this case—most plants drop their leaves. The damaged parts are discarded to protect the core for plant survival. Fingers crossed.

When we are tested and stressed, our coping mechanisms can be similar. “This job is killing me!” Time to move on. “This friend is not acting like a friend.” Don’t return that text. Cancelled.

Pantone color for 2024?

A 20 foot Cryptomeria ordered from Heronswood back in the day as just a wee 4 inch pot, is worrying-brown (Pantone take note), different than its usual winter green-bronze. I talk to it saying we’ll be okay. Who am I trying to convince? It is not saying much right now, keeping it’s thoughts close to the trunk. It is in a holding pattern. Well, that is Winter, isn’t it?

“Worrying-brown” Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan’

Some plants hold on to their leaves. Aucuba japonica is a beautiful deep chocolate brown these days keeping a protective leaf-barrier in place. Why discard the brown blanket (I have several) that can keep you warmer when the freezes happen again? Anyway this is what I theorize.

Aucuba japonica var. longifolia after the flash-freeze

We, too, sometimes keep our perceived hurts close to the vest, and proceed in life within our own fortress of protection. A frosty reply or perceived slight is met with our brown blanket of defense.

I would have thought ground hugging sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana), would have fared better. Long lived in my garden, it is now shades of coffee with a little cream and holding on to its leaves as if still flash-frozen in place. Cancelled?

Sarcococca hookeriana var humilis (inset showing fresh, not frozen, sweet box).

Brown = Fertility

Looking back at it, I feel like that brown decade corresponded with the height of my gardening energies. The color brown is a root Chakra related color. It is primal. Those days, if I sat on the ground long enough, roots would’ve started to grow from that place of connection.

I can also say I shed a lot of “stuff” during the brown years. Took up yoga for the body. Tried to meditate.

Author doing Lotus Pose; no roots grew that day.

Handling trauma the ACEAE way

Traumatic events affect us differently. Plants deal with weather and physical barrages adaptively over time, and pass coping skills along to their progeny. Having a brain makes things more complicated.

The traumas humans experience happen in real time though are often handled unconsciously…especially when we are young. If only “the handling” of the trauma could happen in real time. We could lose those leaves and cradle in a holding pattern waiting to spring back into the flow when the cocoon gives way. At just the right time.


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Resilience! Darwin noted that adaptability is key to the survival of any species. I wonder what is ahead for my garden this year. Also I wonder how our fracturing society will adapt to the changing weather that is upon us.

Will we shed what is not needed, or hang on to our brown blanket? Can we cope? Will we bounce back even stronger? Can we thrive?

Coping surviving thriving joy. The joy that has happened here for the last 25 years can be felt, despite the garden’s sad, ragged appearance. That joy feels like strength…strength which will be needed in the years ahead.

April 2022  Joy!

Some plants will leaf out and continue their journey; some will succumb to the adversity. There is always a next phase. For all of us.

Hang on to your leaves or let them drop? In the end, they all drop.