Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mother Nature and ‘Hardy’

This winter was a rude awakening for many gardeners. I am one that loves to push the envelope on zones. Pressing nature to make it be something it isn’t or can’t or won’t.
I adore the tropics; hot days and warm nights filled with exotic songbirds, intense fragrances and the pulsating feel of nature as it runs uninhibited by cold weather or the concern of such banal things as snow.
But I live in Portland, Or. Snow happens. Cold spells that even though they may show up only occasionally…they DO show up. And in those winters when that occurs it can wreck havoc on our gardens.
Playing it safe has never been the way I live or garden. I was walking my dear friend Valarie around my gardens a week ago and was devastated by the amount of plant material that had simply died during the winter. Many plants that should have been hardy did not make it and many that were on the cusp didn’t stand a chance.
On the bright side, many did. A great plant from South Africa (I will say more on this in my next blog, ‘Bring out your dead’…) that truly should have been dead is pushing new growth. Although I lost about 50 plants in all, the process of removing them, identifying them and the possibility of replacing them made me start pondering the concept of the word ‘hardy’.
In this Industry we are constantly looking for the next new plant. One that will be different from it’s predecessors in some way and will make it necessary for everyone to have. Although this can be fun and exciting, It is incumbent upon us, the people that sell these plants, to make sure that they are hardy in our area or at least tell customers when they are not. Opinions abound about just what that means. For me the bottom line is what does the word ‘hardy’ mean. We first have to have a base understanding that we can all agree on. If you have to wrap something to protect it, it really isn’t hardy. If you need to move it up by the house or in the garage or greenhouse, that’s not hardy. If you must mulch it heavily, probably isn’t the true meaning of the word ‘hardy’.
Websters defines hardy as
3 - a. inured to fatigue or hardships: ROBUST b: capable of withstanding adverse conditions
Hum…there you have it. ‘Capable of withstanding adverse conditions’. This winter certainly threw its fair share of adverse conditions at my gardens and many of my plants couldn’t withstand those conditions.
So what does that mean? Am I less likely to plant in a zone denial state? No! Will I perhaps spend more time ‘protecting’ those more temperature sensitive plants. I would love to answer with a resounding yes…but no! Will I still try to create a tropical paradise in Portland…You betcha! Because it’s my nature. And my nature is well able to take on Mother Nature any time. Sometimes with success and sometimes, like this last winter, with dismal failure. But even in that failure I can choose to learn. What worked and what didn’t and why. Many things are factored into why a plant survives sometimes, and why…sometimes…it does not. That for me is the joy of gardening.
So whatever your proclivity in gardening is, whatever style you enjoy, whatever design you want to achieve, make sure that as your buying your plants you are well informed. Ask questions. Your Independent Garden Centers are well equipped to assist you with those questions. And if you, like me, had some failures this year…take heart! Try again and rejoice in the beauty that you can create with this wonderful nature we call “Mother”.


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