After an amazingly extended warm period, we finally got the cold temperatures that are expected during the holidays. By now, I hope all gardens have been put to bed, and gardeners take ample time to reflect upon the past year.
As an organic gardener, I have many memories of the year's growing season: the extremes of temperature, the ice storm, the drought, the survival (or demise) of plants, shrubs and trees. All brought lessons with them.
It may seem a distant memory, but spring 2007 was challenging. March suffered a deep freeze on the 4th and then a devastating ice storm on the 13th. Surviving that challenge, plants faced an early warming trend - unseasonably warm. Then, in early April, we had a deep, extended freeze.
Mother Nature can throw curve balls like nobody else I know. What did I learn from that? Plenty!
While the simple axioms still hold true (e.g., "don't plant annuals until Mother's Day," as tempting as it might seem to get started earlier), there are even larger lessons for trees, shrubs and perennials.
For example, we definitely did not have a very colorful spring blooming season as a result of the extreme weather. The lilacs were almost absent, the dogwoods lost their showy color, and most fruit trees were minus their blooms.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? Well, not quite. What was amazing was witnessing the resilience of our gardens despite that early adversity.
I wager that not many had heard about the secondary leaf growth on trees until this past spring. Healthy trees can store three years' worth of energy. If a tree was vigorous and healthy in previous years, it will respond to a freeze by putting out a new set of leaves from what are called adventitious buds.
Thank goodness nature can compensate for such harsh conditions!
Many other plants fought back, as well. Even though many perennials were disappointing in the early part of the season, some plants seemed more glorious than ever!
Iris blooms come to mind. They didn't seem to care about the foul weather. Most rhododendrons still put on magnificent shows. Blueberries and peaches came on strong, freezes notwithstanding.
You can always count on Mother Nature to give us some memorable moments in the garden, no matter how unexpected the climate.
Next came June, and it seems as if we never had a spring transition. Conditions went from freeze to summer.
While we all worried about our trees, things seemed to be returning to some semblance of normalcy. Novice and experienced gardeners alike slowly came back to the garden and planted with guarded optimism.
While we had several weeks of good weather, rain seemed inconsistent, and this proved to be a harbinger of the drought to come.
It turned out to be a summer with very little rain. Actual drought status was declared in late summer and lasted into early fall. It had devastating effects on all types of plants in the garden.
Here again, there were lessons to be learned. As one who works out in the garden on a daily basis, I can report that native perennials, shrubs and trees, as a general rule, survive better and longer than most anything else in the garden.
I won't say that natives thrived, but they were able to handle more stress without dying.
This was also a good time to learn about watering.
Where trees were concerned, over-watering in a heavy clay soil (which most of us have in abundance) will lead to oxygen starvation in the root system. The best rule of thumb for tree watering is: "deeply, less often." Most woody plants go by this same rule.
Shallow-rooted perennials and annuals needed more constant attention. It seemed as if I saw people watering every day, and this became the major task for gardeners in 2007.
What is the biggest lesson I learned in my garden in 2007? We can't do much to undo Mother Nature's blow. Better to observe, react and work with Her and appreciate the blessings She does offer.
And, as the ever-optimistic gardener, I start dreaming of next year's garden.
Happy holidays and to all a very healthy new year!
Kristin Rust can be reached at .