Extreme weather dominates my thoughts about gardening for this past year. It started with extreme winter mildness. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it was unnerving for those of us accustomed to harsh Chicago winters. January was about 8 degrees warmer than normal on average. Snow melted, the snowdrops (Galanthus) came up early.
The unusual warmth intensified by March, and all kinds of stuff started blooming early by a month or more. On the whole, March was about 15 degrees F warmer than normal.
But if March lulled us with warmth, April slammed us with a frigid sucker punch. A new flowering dogwood I had planted early was annihilated, and stone fruits like cherries and peaches were devastated. Fortunately, many of my spring flowers are extremely hardy, and these bloomed through the cold snap without missing stride.
It was in May that I got the first intimations of the drought that was to dominate the summer. The whole year had been on the dry side to date, but I think it was in May when I really noticed how few and far between the rain showers had become. One change I had made in the front garden was fortuitous for a dry year, however. Inspired by the river of blue Salvia at the Lurie Garden, I had pulled out a long patch of wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and replaced it with Salvia ‘May Night’ and ‘Blue Hill’. The wild geranium will go dormant in a dry summer, but the Salvia is relatively drought tolerant.
In June, I invested in some soaker hoses that I could move from bed to bed. I also had to dig out some purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) infested with aster yellows. I replaced them with yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and Culver’s root ‘Fascination’ (Veronicastrum virginicum). I was pleased with these choices.
The drought, combined with a heat wave, hit its peak in July. I spent a LOT of time dragging around the soaker hoses. We’re lucky enough to live in the Lake Michigan watershed, which means we have no watering restrictions. However, that doesn’t make it free, and when the summer water bills arrive from the city I pretty much have to be scraped off the ceiling. Between the watering and my drought tolerant, mostly native plants, I was able to keep things looking pretty good.
We turned the corner on the drought in August. Rainfall and temperatures were normal, though we still had an enormous moisture deficit to make up. And of course, a “normal” August means, for me, days drenched in perspiration. In any case, I was pleased that in its second year my Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway’ was doing fine even though I had put it in a freely draining raised bed. (Joe Pye Weed likes LOTS of water.)
The arrival of September was a relief. Things were cooling off. The asters and the goldenrods began blooming.
Fall foliage came into its glory as September turned into October.
And November reminded me why it is such a good idea to devote significant space to grasses.
So there you have it, the 2012 garden year. The garden did all right, thanks to lots of supplemental watering. But climate change worries me, and I think it should worry all of us. “Normal” weather is becoming a thing of the past, and gardeners as much as anyone need to let policy makers know that we expect them to get a grip on this emerging reality.