If only Barnsley were an autumn molter, I might prognosticate the coming winter by the length and luxury of his incoming coat, but he doesn’t shed and gets a clipping every four months, whatever the weather. If other pelt-bearers were around, like ermine, sable, or bear, I might be able to forecast with great accuracy and better The Farmer’s Almanac. Certain sorts of caterpillars enter this category, as do the activities of chipmunks and squirrels and then there is always grandfather’s rheumatic knee. But chipmunks and squirrels are forever at their larders and, when I was growing up, one grandfather was dead, the other tossed away in a divorce. The early or late migrations of some Canada geese are equally unreliable. Some restless couples began departing the end of July, and last night a mightily noisy herd passed low over the winter house, enough to rouse me from sleep. There was Sandy, yes, but we have had late hurricanes before her lamentable onslaught. Having seen documentaries on glaciers calving, I have become a chat piece all my own on global warming, but, but, and but I go with Mirabel Osler, who declared, years and years ago: “. . . the weather has always been abnormal.” Where are the seasons of yesteryear, pray?
Were they always so problematic? Indeed they were, but I do observe that of late they are considerably embroidered with weather of the season preceding or that of the season to come. Last winter, for example, was nothing but an awfully long autumn. We are, it would seem, cursed to live in interesting times with drought and flood and high winds and forest fires and high and low temperatures and blizzards and all such rot is making me groggy with coping. Greenland is greening and last winter ferociously low temperatures killed hundreds in Europe. Floods are now in Scotland and Wales. New York City became Venice and Venice nearly sank.
Whatever response one can make in the garden, greater staking is hardly the answer. Eliminating the borderline hardy from the garden’s vocabulary might, however, be an intelligent move. Eschewing the shallow-rooted and the brittle might also be a smart option. Gardeners must make allowance for global warming and reconsider each element in their green portfolios.
Example the immediate would be the Southern magnolia vs. the hybrid Edith Bogue, bred to be more resistant to cold, and is smaller-leafed, smaller-blossomed. Years ago, the Southern magnolia was not reliably hardy north of Washington, D.C. Of course, there were isolated examples, even as far north as Boston, but one had to site them against a wall or a house, south-facing and in a situation of quick drainage. Now, however, not so. I have two doing splendidly with none of the aforementioned requirements. Perhaps it is time to be brave and plant the native tree and revel in its huge blooms and stronger perfume.
Unless ferociously well-staked, Irish juniper, shallow-rooted as they are, go down if you sneeze near them. The ubiquitous Bradford pear, so admired by architects, is really too brittle for our gardens, its bloom rather like fluff found under a sofa. Last year, I had a brief frost in late May. Mindful of that I will not put out tender plants until mid-June. And no time will be lost. Eggplant must have it hot and peppers too, whatever their persuasion.