Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Gardener's Constant Companion

I had the pleasure two weeks ago of hearing plantsman Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, speak at the Nancy Stallworth Thomas Horticulture Lecture, sponsored by the Garden Club of Houston. Having visited PDN in September during the Garden Writers of America symposium, I was eager to hear more from the man behind the plants. His talk was both entertaining and enlightening, as he expounded on the subject of "hot plants for hot climates". That title was a bit ironic, with the talk coming as it did just days after our extended hard freeze. Tony acknowledged that and then told us, "You've been in zone denial for the past 15 years and it's finally caught up with you." I don't think I imagined the rueful tone to the laughter that ensued from the audience: he's all too right and we knew it. We imagined that we had our weather all figured out and we grew comfortable planting even tender tropicals out in our gardens and landscapes. Then came the great "blizzard" of December 4th, 2009 and 4 days of below freezing temperatures in January. Whoops.

This past weekend I was reading an article in the Houston Chronicle by Ray Sher of Houston's Urban Harvest, in which he discussed the effects of our hard freezes on his winter vegetable garden. Those of you who garden in colder climes would probably be interested in reading it, if only to see how different our growing schedule is from yours and to understand just how different this winter has been from those of the past few years. His closing words were what struck me, though: Farmers, backyard gardeners, fruit tree growers, plant enthusiasts all have the weather as a constant companion.

That's why Tony Avent stressed that we should be mindful to "plant for what's coming" and choose plants that can take the extremes that our weather throws at them. It's not so hard to remember that our summers have days on end of 95 degree or higher temperatures and that nighttime lows are in the 80s. We've been dealing with that for several years now and we're painfully aware of how tough that is. But it's been so long since we've had a real winter that we've forgotten that our plants must also be able to handle temperatures below freezing, possibly for several days at a time as they did earlier this month. I think we also underestimate how hard it is on the plants to cope with such extremes in the space of a few months.


The weather is a gardener's constant companion. After all these years of gardening AGAINST the weather, I believe it's time for me to start gardening WITH it. I'm not saying that I'm going to completely redo my entire corner of Katy or that I'm going to stop pushing the limits and stretching the boundaries when it comes to planting zones. I'm just saying that Tony and Ray have encouraged me to be more mindful of the weather in my gardening and to think of it as my constant companion, a friend who's always with me when I'm outside. Be she fair or foul, we're in it together.

3 comments:

Leslie said...

So true Cindy! This is a good time for many of us to learn from your experience.

Rose said...

This is so true, Cindy! My father was a farmer as was my husband for a long time, so the weather was always a concern. I knew that rainy springs or falls meant tense and grouchy men at home. I'll never forget the drought of '88--I never saw my father as down in the dumps as he was that year. This is one reason I've stuck to native plants as much as possible, though I can't resist trying a few new non-natives every year. You've had more than your share of hard lessons learned from Mother Nature this winter.

I've see this Plants Delights Nursery mentioned so many times on different blogs--sounds like a great place to visit.

Cindy, MCOK said...

Leslie, we can all benefit from each other's experience!

Rose, Plant Delights catalog is truly a delight. Go take a look!