Posts Tagged unseasonable weather

Frost? What Frost?

Italian summer pepper varieties still going strong.

Italian summer pepper varieties still going strong.

The wacky, way-above-normal-temperatures weather continues in my piedmont garden. We live in a frost pocket. Our yard gets zapped by frost when nearby neighbors remain un-iced. So when I tell you that my house — on November 4 — still hasn’t seen a speck of frost, that is testimony to the strangeness of this year’s “autumn” weather pattern.

The weather forecasters have been promising cold any minute now for the last month or so. But every time a front approaches, it fizzles out, so that the cold air behind it never gets here. There’s talk of record snow in Siberia that will eventually mean deeply cold temperatures for much of the US, including my area, but I gather that weather is at least a month away. In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the best Italian sweet pepper crop we have ever grown.

Pepper plants falling all over themselves.

Pepper plants falling all over themselves.

In normal years, my staking system for these peppers is entirely adequate. Usually they are long gone by early October, either due to drought or frost. But this year, the peppers just keep growing, and flowering, and pushing out gorgeous large, heavy fruits that drag down overlong branches to the point where I’m having trouble finding the ripe fruits lurking deep inside this pepper forest. Those blue flowers bumping into the peppers are Blue Brazilian Sage (Salvia guarantica) — a very frost-sensitive perennial that is usually long gone by now.

Four different pepper varieties are hopelessly tangled together at this point.

Four different pepper varieties are hopelessly tangled together at this point.

No ripe fruits appear in these photos, because I had already picked them before I took these shots. I picked every ripe fruit I saw, because the forecast called for a nighttime low that usually translates to frost at my house. And peppers are very frost-sensitive. But the chill didn’t materialize, and today I picked a dozen more beautifully ripe fruits, some red, some yellow, all tasting of summer sunshine and vitamin C.

Planted garlic bed

Planted garlic bed

Wonder Spouse only just planted the garlic he ordered, because the soil thermometer warned us that the soil was too warm until just a few days ago. Yes, that’s a potato in the foreground of the shot. A tiny spud somehow eluded Wonder Spouse during last spring’s harvest, and he didn’t have the heart to pull up such a healthy-looking plant.

Salad Season, Part II

Salad Season, Part II

About six weeks ago, I direct-sowed all the remaining seeds of the greens I had planted for this past spring’s crop. I sowed thickly, because the seeds of lettuce and other greens are not supposed to keep well. Mine had been sitting in a box in my study, so I guess the air-conditioned house kept them happier than I realized. I think I got 100% germination from all varieties, including the carrots. I thinned as much as I could, moving seedlings to adjacent beds. But eventually I ran out of room. And enthusiasm.

Salad Bed #2

Salad Bed #2

Those are Queen Sophia marigolds in the foreground of the shot of the second big greens bed. They’re usually done for the season by now too. Not this year. I couldn’t bear to pull them up to make room for more greens. They were there first, after all.

Protected from the frost that refuses to materialize.

Protected from the frost that refuses to materialize.

A couple of days ago, the weather forecasters began speaking excitedly of the imminent arrival of seasonal autumn temperatures, so I broke out my row covers and covered the salad greens. The big tent on the left is protecting broccoli. However, the crop is not happy; I think it’s just been too hot for the plants to thrive. Of course, now the forecasters have raised the predicted nighttime lows to temperatures well above freezing. But the weather is at least cooler now. The row covers will probably just encourage the lettuces, spinaches, carrots, beets, and dill to grow a little faster, meaning more fresh salads. We aren’t complaining.

Queen Sophia marigolds own otherwise empty summer beds.

Queen Sophia marigolds own otherwise empty summer beds.

The marigolds I tucked in beside squashes, tomatoes, beans, etc. months ago have grown to epoch dimensions, spreading out as dead summer crops were pulled out of their way. Local bees — and the few stray butterflies still flitting about — are delighted the Queen Sophias continue to reign with enthusiasm.

A closer look at the Queen Sophias.

A closer look at the Queen Sophias.

What a strange autumn. We had almost no fall color, because the nighttime temperatures were too warm. A cold front that blew in today denuded many of the canopy giants in my yard. Yet summer peppers, salad greens, and sunny marigolds continue to thrive. That’s why I’m still gardening after more than 50 years of playing in the dirt. Every year — and every season — is different.

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“I’m so confused!”

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' -- blooming today!

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ — blooming today!

I’m a fan of the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck. It is full of fine actors having a wonderful time. Many great lines from this movie are permanently implanted in my brain, including the one in this title, stated tearfully by the actor playing Cher’s grandfather, who is deeply befuddled by the goings-on in his household at that moment. Deeply befuddled is exactly how I feel these days as I wander around my little corner of southeastern piedmont.

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) in the background

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) in the background

Multiple species of frogs chorus lustily. Wonder Spouse had to gently relocate an enormous toad from the middle of our driveway this morning. The green anoles are scampering around the front garden chasing insects and each other. Robins and Carolina Wrens are beginning to trill mating calls. And the plants — I am so confused — and so are they!

How I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior.

I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior — pure heaven!

I have recently written about most of the blooming plants in this post, but I was shocked — shocked, I say — by the opening flowers of the Royal Star magnolia. Granted, this is an early bloomer, but the earliest I’ve ever seen it open in my yard is the third week in February.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

We haven’t seen an actual sunny day in my yard in at least two weeks. It may have been three. Frankly, it’s gone on so long, I’ve lost track (I would not survive Seattle weather for long.) The humid, warm air holds the perfume of the blooming Prunus mume trees close to the ground. When we step out any door of our house, we are greeted by their wondrous fragrances.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

But the mood lift I get from these bouts of aroma therapy are tempered by the knowledge that this is most of what I’ll see and smell from these plants for the rest of the winter. In past years, the flowering apricots doled out their flowers judiciously during the brief warm spells that usually punctuate our winter season. But this December’s insanely mild weather has caused them to abandon caution and open all their flowers simultaneously. It is gloriously reckless, breathtakingly lovely, and deeply confusing.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

Of my three flowering apricot trees, only one has not opened the majority of its buds yet. I think it is sited in a slightly cooler spot, which slowed its enthusiasm just a bit. It is my hope that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior) will be able to protect a fair number of flower buds for later blooming spells as winter progresses.

P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (junior)

P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior)

Peggy Junior’s flowers are much pinker than the rose-colored blooms of Peggy Senior, and they lack the cinnamon undertone to their perfume, but they are still very lovely.

Raindrops don't dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

Raindrops don’t dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

As you might expect, mushrooms/toadstools/lichens are all flourishing in this un-wintry landscape. I like the serrated edges on this grouping of fungi.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

My witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ hasn’t opened much more, probably because we’ve had no sunlight to encourage it. Still, it was pretty enough this morning for another shot.

Witch hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch hazel ‘Amethyst’

The biggest surprise of the day was a blooming stalk of native columbine. The flowers are pale — either the result of a genetic mutation or perhaps the near-total absence of sunlight, but the flower at the top of the stalk was open. The earliest columbines normally bloom in my yard is March.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

It has rained every day for at least a short while for most of December — or at least that’s how it feels to me. Yesterday, a line of showers came through just before sunset. As they headed east, the tall canopy trees on the eastern side of our yard were illuminated beautifully by the rays of the setting sun, which appeared just in time to disappear.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

The moral of this confusing tale — if there is one — is to appreciate the precocious bloomers now, for their moment is nearly past. Seasonable winter temperatures — with actual sunshine — are predicted to return for a prolonged stay beginning New Year’s Day. I’m hoping that’s a sign that 2016 will be a more orderly, predictable year — hey, I can dream, can’t I?

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