Unless you’ve been doing time in solitary confinement in an underground bunker, the term ‘climate change’ has been the mainstay in almost all conversations this past week. Agree or not, it is worth mentioning that the global scientific community at large and ones who study the climate in particular are in consensus that the climate is not only changing but human activity has had a detrimental impact on it.
Climate change is a highly complex subject with innumerable moving parts. This makes it really difficult to understand by most minds. In addition, it is an evolving subject and consequently, there are gaps in the data. Unfortunately, these gaps are exploited by those who are inclined to deny climate change. Given the complexity of this topic, does it not behoove us to believe and trust the scientists who know so much about it? After all, if we can accept the super-complicated science in cancer research and treatment, why are we doubting their word on climate change?
Whatever one thinks, lets simply get into the garden and consider phenology. This is the science dealing with periodic biological events that are influenced by weather and climate. In other words, it is the scientific observations of changes in plants and animals to weather or climate events causing them. In the case of plants, the significant stages of its life (phenophases) such as nascence, flowering, fruiting, senescence are studied. Phenology is more colloqually called nature’s calendar.
As gardeners, we are amateur scientists of sorts. Foot soldiers so to speak. We plan for and note all the goings on in the garden. We are aware of drought conditions, excess rain, prolonged heat or cold, sudden or extreme fluctuations in temperature, a scarcity in bees or a population explosion in chipmunks. And as a result of such occurrences, we note how our plants have responded. Last spring, it warmed up slowly, the apple blossoms emerged and then it got really cold so no bees showed up. This lack of bees resulted in poor pollination and hence a lack of fruits.
This year, spring blew warm and cold so the lilacs bloomed early. Meanwhile, mid to late May bloomers like my peonies, baptisia, roses, amsonia and several other plants are only just beginning to flower. A three day blast of summer like heat in early May, hastened the alliums – the early and late flowering types all burst open together. While this loud chorus of color looked stunning, the length of the concert itself was abbreviated.
This past winter was so mild that we are now confronted with an impressive increase in the populations of ticks, chipmunks, rats, mice and other annoyances. Yet, the cooler than usual spring has contained the number of bees and butterflies. Normally, the garden is humming with their activity at this time.
The life cycles of plants and animals are inter-related. Planting and/or flowering times coincide with the emergence of pollinators. Insect problems often occur at specific stages of a plant’s life. When exactly we feed, protect or treat our plants for disease is an application of phenology. What practices and tools we use has impact on the plant and animal populations.
Working with nature allows one to see up close how intimately connected we, as in all biological forms, are to the weather and climate. We cannot ignore the inconsistencies in the climate today. The normal phenophases by which a gardener tracks the garden’s progress get moved back or forward by the vagaries of weather/climate. If you typically plant tomatoes when the dogwoods flower signaling that the threat of frost has passed, then what happens if the latter flowers early? Risk it?
Phenology itself is now being used as an indicator of climate change. It stands to reason that every gardener applies it as he/she goes about working in the garden. The question now is this – are we or are we not going to do right by the world?
I, for one, acknowledge that my choices and life style has impact on my environment. Collectively, we affect the globe. So, I will start with my number one credo – Do No Harm. And that means, being mindful, thoughtful, respectful and considerate in all my actions. This will include those that I do not enjoy or ones I oppose – from invasive plants to pests to people. I realize in many instances it will not be easy. But I’m willing to meet the challenge. Are you?
[To learn more about phenology, look up the USA National Phenological Network at usanpn.org/ ]
Note: All of this month, I have a solo show of my watercolors at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem, NY. I hope you will take time to go visit. Thanks!
The images below are of some of my efforts to do right by my neck of the woods:
(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar