Sunday, February 27, 2011

First Dates

Although I'm a gardener who likes to write, up until I began blogging I was terrible at keeping a gardening journal.  That statement probably raises in your mind the question of whether or not a blog qualifies as a journal, but for the sake of argument, and to ease my conscience, we're going to pretend that it does.  And for clarity, I intend "terrible at keeping a journal" to mean that I was inconsistent at it; I refuse to comment about it or worry about whether an English language fanatic is reading my writing, lest it stifle my output.  Sometimes fools trudge along where wise men fear to tread.

I previously started out each year with good intentions, fast out of the gate, but I normally faded at the first turn.  Each year for at least a decade and a half, I have written down the dates that those first few garden species come into bloom and then peak at the bottom of my computerized plant inventory.  There will usually be a few other random loose notes about something here or there, but after a few weeks my notes trickle off and disappear.  Thus, while I have an excellent idea of when the 'New Hampshire Gold' forsythia first bloomed each year, and when the Rugosa rose 'Marie Bugnet' first bloomed, I have no idea when the Hydrangea paniculata bloomed, or the crape myrtle or the Rudbeckia hirta.  From these notes, I can tell you that my snow crocus, recently blogged on, is right on time, with the earliest I've ever seen it bloom on February 22nd, and the latest March 9th.  Forsythia usually peaks around the 20th of March, but I've sighted the first buds as early as March 6th and as late as March 29th.  Twice, the bright red 'Great Scarlet Poppy', or 'Iranian Poppy' (Papaver bracteatum) has first bloomed exactly on my May birthday.  

Even when I've made an effort, there are long periods when I cease to enter anything, usually due to depression about the garden's progress.  In 2004, I entered nothing between April 27th and June 1st except to note on 6/1/04 that it was official that May ws the windiest May on record in this area of Kansas, averaging over 10 MPH continual wind.  And in 2007, my entries simply ceased at the very hard and very late freeze around April 19th which put an end to the spring flowers that year and threatened all the young plants of my garden.

I have also defaced my Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers guide (authored by Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle) with the dates when I observed the first blooms from a number of native forbs on the tract of land we own (see the sample page pictured above).  In fact, it may reveal a small megalomaniac streak buried deep within my psyche, but I always secretly hope some of those records survive to be used by a future naturalist to document climate changes, just as Thomas Jefferson's garden notes have been used by biologists of the 20th Century.  Mr. Jefferson and I have little else in common, but at least I take some comfort in the fact that his garden notes were also sporadic.  For now, during the 15 or so years that I've been keeping records, I can tell you that I'm unable to conclude anything about global warming or cooling in the Flint Hills, except to say that the native plants follow the general average temperatures of the year pretty well.  The earliest noted bloom of Blue Wild Indigo (Babtisia australis) in this area was on 4/26/04, one of the hottest years on record in Kansas, while in the more recent and cooler years I've found them around May 10th.  In fact, the date I noted for the first bloom of this plant in 1996 (the first year I recorded it) was May 10th, exactly the same as it was last year in 2010.  Maybe if I can keep this up for a hundred years, we'll at least know if Global Warming has affected Kansas. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes, the old 'race out of the chutes in earliest spring and quit recording anything by early summer' syndrome. When I first started gardening, 40 years ago or so, I was much more detailed, and consistent. Nowadays I tend to let things slide and regret it some, but not enough to do anything about it, seemingly. Partly I attribute my slackness to knowledge. I used to write down all kinds of things, in an attempt to figure out frost dates (notoriously unpredictable in my climate), bloom times, planting times for seeds, etc. A lot of that is now in my head, so I don't bother. I too make notations in books, and here I was feeling slightly guilty for defacing them! Shades of my high school English teacher who didn't allow erasures on exam papers, much less writing in books. In ink!
    But Professor, you have inspired me to Do Better This Year! Not so I can 'neener' you, but so when I look back at old garden journals, they won't keep ending in early June. I wish you luck with this aso!


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