Already in Bloom

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I’ve been gardening in the same places for 20 years and once had to defend my knowledge that Japanese magnolias bloom in February, not March! The earliest, pinkest flowers sometimes bloom only to suffer icing right away. Although it doesn’t affect the trees, the ruined flowers are a sad and nasty sight. On the first day of February, 2012, I’m looking for enough rain to knock their petals right off but no freezing weather. Here’s what else I’ve already seen in bloom before their usual February appearance. Ok, flowering quince usually leads the show and the hedge I watch for each year started up weeks ago. That old hedge has already popped out some leaves to signal the end of the precious salmon blooms and I’m sure the owner will prune it into neat gumballs very soon. Ditto on witch hazel. I usually pick some to force in the house, but was too late and it bloomed out in my neighbor’s yard. Kwanzan flowering cherry tree is a favorite because it blooms in rhythm with the mildest winter and it sure has done that this year. I love the flowers, brilliant hot pink against my blue house and the sometimes gray sky. That color repeats in the lorapetalum that has put on its earliest flowers ever, too. Last year, it bloomed several weeks later with the tulips but they have not put up the first leaf yet and it flowered alone. The daffodils I have so carefully collected for their early, midseason, and late flowers seem to be in a quite a confused state this year. The tiny, early Tete-a-Tetes bloomed right after Christmas, almost before the earliest paperwhites instead of right after them. Daffodil leaves came up all over the garden in the course of one week and are blooming sporadically now. I fear there will be no succession of daffodils blooming up the borders, since some of all but a few are already flowering or in bud, altogether, at once. So, what does this mean? Yes, the statistics tell us that the climate is changing relative to the last 100 years or so and the forecasters’ predictions for this one seem to be holding up. Many have written that our coldest weather of this winter would be short-lived and spread out over the season. So far that’s been true, but it might be possible that the daffodils and other early bloomers are finishing up before a very cold patch hits them and us. More likely, it’s simple botany. Lots of plants, particularly those that survive long term in climates where dormancy is but a dream, are able to grow a bit and then shut down again in response to changing soil temperatures. When enough cold and/or warm growing hours have accumulated to satisfy the species need, the plant blooms. Everybody wants to know what’s up with the wild weather, including me and every other gardener. We’re not accustomed to really severe weather in January and, although tornadoes have been confirmed, were more fortunate than our neighbors to the East and West in the recent outbreaks. I learned a few years ago that not every ‘truth’ is true. For my entire life, I have been told that Native Americans built their settlements in the bends of rivers because tornadoes avoid those geographies. I have even said that the tribes moved until they found places that were undisturbed, like my hometown on the Ouachita River and my current homestead on the Pearl River. The tornado that tore through my neighborhood a few years ago and topped my beloved red oak, not to mention subsequent storms, disabused me of that notion in a heartbeat. I don’t keep records, but fortunately others do. Last week, temperatures plunged to 29 one night and rebounded quickly to nearly70 degrees in 36 hours. The Gulf of Mexico keeps pumping warm air northward, Arctic ice is limited to the Polar Region and Alaska, and in between we’re all catching front after front. Twice this week, we’re predicted to cool off, warm up, rain, and then cool off again because Pacific storms are sailing smoothly over the Rockies and down the Plains to us here in the Deep South. You can check the scientific references for a dozen rationales for this weather pattern, but my take is this: garden today as if it could be freezing or springtime in two weeks. And send me your bloom sightings in the comments section of this blog.
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