Miscellaneous Ramblings from a semi-retired horticulturist

orange branch - Illustration by Helen KrayenhoffThe past 18 months have me wondering if we will ever get back to life as we knew it. I look back and realize just how much I have taken for granted. Reminiscing: here are some things that I miss about the good old days. 

Orange groves were once commonplace around Los Angeles. Now, because of introduced agricultural pests, urbanization, and the paving of huge expanses of arable soil, 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, suburban sprawl, shopping malls, and a dropping water table, they are becoming rare.

Snow in the lower Sierra Nevada used to linger in drifts in normal years, leading to a spectacular display of wildflowers. Now we consider ourselves lucky to get a good show, due to low snowfall and a warmer vernal season. 

Lawns were once widespread throughout the Bay Area, yet discoveries about chemical fertilizers and pesticides, soil/runoff and a water shortage have reduced the expanses of green grassy areas that I remember from my childhood. 

When asked if a particular plant can be grown in our zone, my reaction is to answer based on advice from a trusted gardening reference book or personal experiences from my youth. But now it seems that I am forced to rely on recent climate trends or meteorological data to give useful advice.

During my youth 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 regarding concepts like dormancy, harvest, 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 our 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 turn out 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 worthwhile.

Just remember that future generations might have their own warm memories based on what we are experiencing right now.