Contrary to popular belief, fall, not spring, is the best time to plant most perennials. As air temperatures cool, top growth gradually comes to a halt. Since soil temperatures drop more slowly, the plant can then shift additional energy to its roots, thereby establishing a healthy network to convey water and nutrients to support the plant’s next round of growth the following year.
As is usually the case, we’ve been experiencing a beautiful fall here in the Atlanta area, with daytime highs near 70⁰F and nighttime lows in the 50s. However, I’ve been busy and haven’t been able to spend nearly as much time outside as I would have liked. Finally, there was an opening on my calendar last Thursday. I set my sights on installing numerous plants, some purchased, some adopted from friends, along the path taking shape through the woods.
Wouldn’t you know it? By the time Thursday rolled around, the arctic blast that’s put a big part of the country into an early deep freeze had made its way to north Georgia. Not one to be deterred from my mission to get the plants out of their pots and into the ground, I proceeded to spend several hours happily planting my new friends as my fingers and toes got colder and colder.
As forecast, temperatures that night dipped below freezing – well below when the wind chill was factored in. When I got downstairs the next morning, I went to the kitchen window overlooking the woods and scanned the scene, trying to ascertain how the plants had fared in the less-than-ideal conditions. The Calycanthus was upright, its bright yellow leaves a cheerful greeting in the early morning light. The Fatsia were slightly drooped, yet still green. But where was the beautiful Ilicium floridanum ‘Pink Frost’ that had enchanted me the day before with its spicy scent and lovely green leaves outlined with a margin of creamy white? Surely that brownish mass of sagging leaves wasn’t it! I quickly pulled a heavy coat on over my PJs, slipped my feet into my work boots and headed to the woods for a closer look. Alas, it was the Ilicium. Its leaves so graceful and aromatic the day before were stiff. In that moment, I think I knew what Charlie Brown must have felt like when he put the first ornament on his spindly little Christmas tree, only to watch it bend to the ground, overwhelmed by the weight. “I’ve killed it!” As I trudged back inside, I chided myself with thoughts of “Why didn’t I heed the forecast and leave the Illicium in its pot in a sheltered area?”
Even though there was a brisk wind and the temperature remained below average, the sun shone brightly throughout the day. Several hours after I made my initial trek to the woods, I peered out the window again. Much to my surprise, the color had returned to the Illicium! Once more, I made my way to the woods for a closer look. Sure enough – the leaves were supple and fragrant. Just like Charlie Brown’s tree, all it needed was a little tender love and care. In this case, the TLC came in the form of warmth from the sun.
There are times when chilling winds blow through our lives. They present themselves in myriad forms – harsh words, a disappointing turn of events, unfulfilled hopes. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Indeed, he is the Light of the world, guiding, reassuring, encouraging us along the way. The warmth of his presence can revive and restore our souls. And we are called to provide that same care to others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)
May we love others well because we have been well-loved. (I John 4:19)