I’d already planned to write about global warming when White Flower Farm’s e-mail scooped me! I suspect this subject has been sitting front and center in most northeastern gardeners’ minds since the weather of the past few weeks arrived. The upshot of WFF’s message is that based upon the latest Department of Agriculture study, we garden today in zones considerably warmer than those we had twenty years ago. I’m glad to hear this climate swing confirmed by science. But what’s to become of events like the garden centennial I’m helping organize, carefully scheduled to coincide with the height of peony bloom?
Non-gardeners simply don’t understand. I know from my days as a nursery-operator that most people view a warm sunny day in spring as something that can’t be improved upon–and that they find cool, rainy weather “bad.” It doesn’t matter to them that such weather is normal for early spring– at least in the northeast–and enables plants to grow as they should at this time of year. Warm dry days, and yes, for March, 70° or 80° is too warm, are really not good– for anything. Spring bulbs are done in a blink. The usual splendor of spring-flowering shrubs and trees is muddled in a short avalanche of bloom. And am I the only one noticing how little rain we’ve had this spring following a virtually snowless winter?
The implications of these changes are so much more far-reaching than our own gardens. Extremes and unnatural sequence are stressful to plants, animals and entire ecosystems. On its website, the EPA says “Many, but not all, human sources of greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise in the future. This growth may be reduced by ongoing efforts to increase the use of newer, cleaner technologies and other measures. Additionally, our everyday choices about such things as commuting, housing, electricity use and recycling can influence the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted..”
No one can better appreciate these truths than gardeners. For centuries, we have recorded our annual observations of relatively reliable events, such as the date that snow drops emerge, or when the first oriole arrives, because as gardeners– we must pay attention.
On the plus side of the equation, the mild winter wasn’t all bad. We harvested our last Brussels sprouts at February’s end—temperatures didn’t dip below 0 here, so they continued growing—and then tasted our first spring cilantro from plants that never died last year.