I may have suspended my subscription to the Economist magazine until May when I graduate owing to a shortage of reading time, but I did manage to read our local garden guru’s article this morning on the new USDA growth map. For the first time Adrian Higgins had an article on the front page, although below the fold. In the newspaper world this is a good place to be.
Photo: ‘Mount Airy’ Fothergilla in bloom with tulips,my garden, 2010
I found many messages from my online garden group when I logged on. Everyone was a flutter over the USDA growing zones. What zone are you? What zone are you? I never worry about these things…we have no power over them anyway.
For several years, gardeners have known something was happening in the garden. Plants that grew south of you and died when winter came like Crepe Myrtles and Diascia began surviving winters. Northern bird species became winter residents and many of summer birds began to stay year round.
Established by founding fathers who were both framers and farmers, Washington was purposely set on a growing line between the South and the North. When I conducted field research on local ferns for a biology class, I learned that Washington lies at the uppermost boundary of southern plants and the southernmost boundary of northern plants.
This translates into a diversity of flora and fauna. I have been able to grow plants that my aunts grew in their beds in Wisconsin and kept some temperate plants like Pomegranate alive all winter.
My beds are sprouting spring bulbs and the Helleborus are covered with blooms. I just hope it doesn’t warm so fast that my northern plants (tulips and peonies) are ruined by the heat.
The good news is that nursery growers have been developing plants and bulbs that can survive warmer temperatures. Actually, many of the oldies from the nineteenth century are making a comeback. This is good. As Adrian points out, gardeners and growers have known for ages the climate was changing. Actually, if you have been gardening long enough you know this part of the US went through a mini-ice age in the 1960s.
I was living in the DC area in the 1960s, and I recall the cold vividly because 1/ my daughter was born in 1961 and it was so cold I bought her a snowsuit; 2/ I remember standing next to John Kennedy’s grave when it was new and was very cold; 3/ I got frost bite when we visited the National Christmas tree display on the Mall a few weeks later; 4/ I drove from the Anacostia naval station to Quantico in January with a broken heater.
As for climate change, Adrian points out that some areas on the USDA map like the Sierra Madre are actually colder. This is probably why my CA friends who live high in the mountains above San Francisco are having trouble with tomatoes in the summer. I advised them to buy the fast growing early producing variety and start them indoors. We gardeners know how to work with Mother Nature.
PS I also bought $200 worth of LED light bulbs this week. That’s my small contribution to global warming, and it should reduce my electric bill.