Monday, July 12, 2010

7.10 Ahead of Ourselves

Everything, both backyard gardeners and market farmers agree, is two or three weeks “ahead” this year. So far it’s the signature truth of the of the 2010 growing season in New England.
I’m getting ready to cut the flower stalks off my stands of native day lilies. Might as well since there are no more flowers on them. Native orange day lilies, which grow in traffic triangles, on road sides, in countless backyards all over this state – one of the most reliable sources of mid-summer color in Massachusetts – are a flower whose blooming season start-up I used to date to July Fourth. This year they were pretty much done by July Fourth.
It feels a little bit like moving Massachusetts to New Jersey. Are we on route to North Carolina? Virginia?
At the end of last week I noticed a first blossom on a tall young Rose of Sharon bush this year. A freak vanguard bloom? No, within a day or two both our bushes were in fully blossoming. A gardener I spoke to yesterday made the same point. Her Rose of Sharon bushes were going great guns. It feels less like a gift, and more like a conspiracy.
It’s hard for gardeners to be happy over this early performance of old friend perennials, whose habits we thought we knew and understood, since most of rely on these plants a stable provider of late summer color. Judged by what’s going on, they won’t be this summer.
I’m not sure what if any perennial flowering plants will provide late season color this year. My dead certain lock for August color in the front garden – a dark purple hibiscus with sandwich plate-sized flowers – opened its first bud three days ago. It was easy to remember when this plant started blooming last year – exactly Aug. 1. With about a three weeks supply of blooms, the “August hibiscus” may finish before its month begins this year.
Can we all take August off, like the Europeans, and go away somewhere cool by the sea? There may be nothing much to occupy us in the garden here.
Here’s the hot-button question. Is this undeniably accelerated bloom schedule a clear forerunner of climate change?
You can’t make generalizations from the particulars of a single season, or course. Every time we get a cold snap in the winter, somebody says, “What happened to global warning?” as if it were killing thrust of logic? Not long ago Jon Stewart satirized climate change skeptics by having his correspondent fearfully predict the end of the world one evening because the sun was disappearing.
But long-term weather trends are statistical glaciers advancing at a snail’s pace (by human standards of time) punctuated by occasional bursts into the open – and I think we may be seeing one now.
Last summer was unusually rainy, short on sun, and some usually reliable annual plants – such as tomatoes – were either late or absent in blooming and fruiting.
This year a warm spring followed by a stretch of hot, sunny summer weather has brought about the opposite effect: accelerated blooming.
Both more rain and higher temperatures are predicted effects of global raining. As I said above, amateur weather-watchers should be wary of drawing conclusions about long-range trends. And these are clearly amateur observations. But I think we’re seeing something unusual and quite possibly portentous. We may be seeing the blooming clock of our garden perennials move forward.
If we’re smart, maybe we should start looking now into hot-weather plants.