We remember the way things were, and we find comfort in these thoughts. But the reality of our situation is that things change; and now, faster than ever.
Often when I am asked if a plant can be grown here I am tempted to recite a simple answer, based on advice from a trusted gardening reference book or personal experiences from my youth. Now it seems that I am forced to rely on recent biological trends or meteorological data in order to give useful advice.
Here are some examples:
Orange groves were once commonplace around Los Angeles. Now, because of introduced agricultural pests, urbanization and the repaving of large expanses, overheating, and a lack of water, they are essentially gone.
Oak woodlands (and their wildlife) were once all over the CA central valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. Now, due to overharvesting, development of residential subdivisions and shopping malls, and a dropping water table, they are becoming rare.
Snow in the lower Sierra Nevada used to linger in drifts, leading to a spectacular display of Lilacs, wildflowers, and other spring-flowering plants. Now we consider ourselves lucky to get a good show, due to low snowfall, warm winters, and the disruption of insects and migratory birds.
Lawns were once widespread throughout the Bay Area, yet recent discoveries about chemical fertilizers and pesticides, soil/runoff and a shortage of water have all reduced the expanses of green grassy areas that I remember from my childhood.
As an aspiring gardener, I used to think that there was some empirical answer to everything botanical. From one April to the next; even the next ten, very little changed with regard to concepts like dormancy, harvesting, pest control, or cold hardiness. Now that I’ve been around the block I realize that assumption was wrong. We live in a dynamic and rapidly-changing world. We can deny these changes, at the peril of our gardens and the natural environment, or we can embrace them and make the most of what we are served.
Keep in mind that certain things are still worth doing even if there’s no guarantee that it will be as you expected. Planting a tree that won’t mature for another 30 years is still a good thing. Growing your own herbs and vegetables will always be safe. Taking action to bring attention to human impact on climate change is definitely worthwhile.
Remember that future generations will have their own warm/fuzzy memories based on what we are experiencing right now, in the flora and fauna that surround us.