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Worst year in history for gardening is now gone

Worst year in history for gardening is now gone

By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger

This is the 23rd annual Garden Path yearly wrapup by your present obedient servant.
It has been a year to remember. Correction: a year to forget. Let us fervently pray we never see another like it.
August was the hottest month in history here, with 15 days over 100 degrees. The most damaging drought in history picked the same year to debilitate flora and fauna alike, with resulting plant damage that has never been equaled. To this day, some parts of the Southeast still languish under severe drought conditions.
We’re better off here, and in fact the ground is plenty wet after one of the wettest Octobers in history. That single month has been a salvation from the arid conditions that held forth from June-September.
Before all that, however, came record cold on Easter Sunday and the following few mornings. April 8, Easter, the mercury plunged to an unheard-of 22 degrees, smashing all kinds of records and freezing to death Japanese maples and all sorts of other early-emerging woody plants and perennials alike.
The year started off blandly enough, with a January that provided snowdrops, crocuses, helleborus, daffodils, winter aconites, flowering apricot, quince and other “spring” niceties. Ditto February and March.
Late March even saw record heat on the 25th, with 86 degrees, followed with a 3 1/2 inch torrent of rain. Little did we know we wouldn’t see the likes of that kind of precipitation for seven months.
That extraordinary heat was part of the problem with the Easter freeze. Plants were well ahead of sapping-up schedule when, on Easter morning, the mercury plummeted to an official 22 degrees. That was bad enough, but unofficially, at close to the ground it was as low as 14 degrees. The damage was astronomical and unprecedented.
What recovery that occurred would have been enhanced by a lot of moisture and cool temperatures. Of course, we got the opposite, with more record heat in April, along with well-below average rain.
May continued the dry heat pattern. It was summer way ahead of schedule and June did nothing to compensate. July was even more miserable than usual, and then came August. Historical August.
What can one say? The big die-out began in August, particularly where irrigation was unavailable. Some plants, even with water, died anyhow. It was simply the overwhelming heat.
Officially we received no rain — that’s zero — in August, while temperatures hovered at 100 degrees or more and up to 105 on the 23rd. True desert conditions prevailed here, in our ordinarily “temperate” climate. Disaster was upon us.
By September we were in the highest drought category, labeled “extreme” by the National Weather Service, and the worst in recorded history. The big plague continued, and many people had given up watering and simply waited for the Grim Reaper to do his work, which he did with deadly efficiency.
Blessed October, normally our driest month, broke the drought at last, too late for the thousands — nay millions — of deads all over the Southeast. We recorded 8 3/4 inches of rain in October.
With shorter days since then, and consequently low evaporation rates, all the rain we have received — and it has been plentiful — has evaporated only slowly and, as we speak, moisture is adequate.
The result of this disastrous year has been — at least on Tennessee Dixter soil — the most ambitious fall planting season in our 33-year history. To date nearly 200 woody plants have gone in and more wait in the wings, that is to say in their pots on the driveway.
We could easily give up. After all, much of that planting will be for somebody else at some future time, when it matures enough to make the show it is capable of, but remember Poor Willie’s Almanack and its admonition from earlier editions:
He who delights to plant and set
Makes after-ages in his debt.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 1.1.08

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