Climate change

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.



15 thoughts on “Climate change

  1. I keep having the feeling that the bottom is about to fall out of this “balmy” winter ! We seem to have missed so many tragedies that the rest of the country has faced … and it is unsettling.


  2. You are so right, global warming is playing havoc with my garden too, that is, if I let it. On the one hand we have had two horrendous winters, when everything died, and on the other, we have this mild winter where everything sprouts far too early. Climate change is upon us.

    I think I’ll play safe and stay with hardy plants, which can survive both extremes.


  3. Winter is passing us by this year, up here in the Northeast. I’m not complaining, except I do hope it gets cold enough, for long enough, to kill off the worst of the bugs.


  4. I haven’t been here long enough to notice a change. I arrived in the midst of it. Wonder when I can order that palm tree?


  5. I had a fothergilla plant in Illinois that kept getting eaten by rabbits in Illinois. You say you saw them at Foster gardens? Hmmm… I wonder if I could grow them at my house here on Oahu. None of the neighbors have it. The weather here in Hawaii does seem to have changed from when I was a child. I swear it’s even hotter in the summers now.


    • What i saw in Hawaii was the lemon bottle brush (Callistemon pallidus). The red one is very common. This one looked like my Fothergilla, which is native to the Southern US. You may not be able to buy it in Hawaii, (the Fothergilla) owing to USDA or local restrictions on non-indigionous plants.


  6. Yes, I was in DC many times in the 60’s. I even honeymooned there with my first husband. It did snow….all the winters I was there. Ugh! Snow in the south? But further south in Fort Eustis, it snowed there too. We will come next in October hopefully in time to see the show in Jefferson’s slaves at the Smithsonian. No snow then I hope.


  7. For sure, plant people have recognized the general warming trend for quite a while. Visiting the Monongahela National Forest was interesting years back. At about the same latitude as D.C., it was a splendid place to observe trees from southern and northern forests growing in the same area. Perhaps I’ll get another chance or two to visit and see what changes the altered growing seasons have produced.


  8. As you know, it is perpetually green here in Hawaii, so people think anything and everything will grow here. Not true. I wish I could grow tulips in my garden, but that will never happen. Also, bugs and pests thrive in Hawaii and they can wreak havoc in my garden, as well. I love that photo of your 2010 garden. Pretty!


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