February 11, 2012

That Was the Winter That Was

The photo at left is of a snowstorm, Massachusetts style, 2012.  This is the winter of the Arctic Oscillation and La Nina.  It may well be the spring of few blooms.

Double-click on the image and you'll
see snow falling.  Unfortunately, it
melts as it hits the ground.  The red
arrow points to our snow 'pile'.
If you are reading this from Europe, you are doubtlessly saying, ‘feel free to take some of ours’, because Europe is having one of its coldest and snowiest winters on record, with Rome digging out from a once-in-a-century eight-inch blizzard and more northerly cities shivering from a never-ending Arctic blast.

Here in the Boston suburbs, we have had exactly seven inches of snow, and two of those inches fell in October.  We were supposed to get a measurable storm today.  One of the Boston newspapers even called Betty looking for a comment on its implications. 

But the predicted storm has fizzled.  The snow at 2,000 feet turns to rain as it hits the ground.  We have a wet driveway to show for it, and nothing else.  That tiny patch of white in the photo is the remnant of our January “storm”, and it’s only there because we pushed all the snow from the driveway into one pile.  Betty and I usually take bets along about now on when the last of the snow on the property will melt.  This year, the bet is off.

Rome gets snow, we get bupkis.
As everyone knows by now, this is all the result of the Arctic Oscillation.  The jet stream has pushed unusually far north and some poor town in Alaska has received 22 feet of snow.  Weaker Atlantic trade winds allow little pockets of cold air to descend into unusual places like, say, southern Italy, with the result that the Romans have snowball fights for the first time in living memory.

This would all be sour grapes except that New England gardens are likely to pay the price for this weather anomaly.  This morning, when I went out to get the newspaper, I found that yet another spring bulb had popped out of the ground – thrust up by the heaving of the earth caused, in turn, by the fact that the ground isn’t frozen down two feet like it ought to be.  I only saw the bulb because it’s a hyacinth, which the squirrels and rabbits won’t touch on a bet. 

The lack of frozen ground and snow means our trees will ‘pop’ weeks earlier than is good for them.  If the Arctic Oscillation dissipates and we get a couple of late season nor’easters, we’ll have branches and entire trees breaking over.  The perennials will have weakened roots because of the aforementioned heaving and will come up earlier.  That will require more soil moisture, and that’s exactly what we have a deficit of because of the lack of snow.

We will get through this, of course.  Plants are, for the most part, resilient.  But we breed plants today for their showy blooms and textured foliage, not for hardiness.  I suspect that by this fall, more than a few of our specimen shrubs will have gone to Plant Heaven.

No one said being a gardener was easy.  This winter – and the coming spring – we’ll find out just how difficult being a gardener really is.

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