Flowers after the freeze

It wasn’t until midway through the recent cold front that USF’s Botanical Gardens staff saw any signs of dying plants.

Now, after two weeks of unusually cold weather and below-average temperatures — sometimes below freezing — employees are clearing everything from dead leaves to wilted flowers, trying to salvage what they can. 

With highs near 75 degrees Saturday, the garden’s staff and volunteers worked to nurture and preserve the plants that survived the blast of cold weather that threatened the lives of many warm-weather flowers.

Kim Hutton, special events and volunteers coordinator at the Botanical Gardens, said she’s hopeful they won’t have to face another freeze. Some protections have been left in place as a precaution.

“A lot of people have been calling before the freeze, during and after. Last year, it did get very cold, but people were lucky and didn’t get hit,” she said.

Most of the garden’s plants were negatively affected.

The staff is using the surviving plants to rebuild the gardens, Hutton said. To try and help insects that frequent the flowers, Hutton said the staff used heaters to warm up plants that were moved into greenhouses.

“Whenever I was so depressed because it was so cold outside, I would check in there and there were butterflies all over,” she said.

However, not all protection involved moving plants indoors. The staff used shading to keep parts of the garden warmer than others, but that meant leaving some parts colder and unprotected.

“Our curators came in to help us, but for the most part we covered the most that we could,” said Laurie Walker, director of the gardens. “And something has been affected all over. We found out that some spots were colder than others.”

Jim Porter, a volunteer at the gardens, works closely with the shade garden. Porter, who’s been volunteering for two years, said even the shaded areas had damage. Out of fear that it might get too cold again, Porter said he’s leaving much of the shaded area alone to preserve the plants.

Daniel Mayes, a sophomore majoring in criminology, works several sections of the gardens through work study and has been monitoring them closely during the cold blast.

“I think the cold weather did the most damage to the veggie gardens,” he said. “It’s so much more brown than it normally is. Usually, it’s so much prettier and colorful … we’re going to start cutting back dead stuff at the end of next month. But for right now we’re still trying to take care of the stuff that’s alive to make the gardens look nice.”

There are hints of green showing new growth, and now that the weather is looking up the gardens have a new mission. Walker and Hutton have tried to lighten the mood in an attempt to show concerned customers that their own gardens were not the only ones to lose plants.

“I tell them, ‘if you want, just come in to the gardens and it will put (their) yard in perspective,'” Walker said.

The gardens remain open. For hours and information, visit