Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pushing the Zone -- USDA Hardiness

I sat next to him at the airport gate.  Only his second time flying in the past thirty years, my father sat solemnly looking straight ahead.   His lack of airtime was not due to jitters--he had earned a pilot's license many years ago.  In deference to my mother's strong preference to remain on solid ground, he drove his bride of sixty one years from one adventure to another, with endless detours for roadside food and yard sales.

My folks had angels aboard their Chevy--flat tires in Indiana were repaired roadside by a trucker and his disabled son.  When their trusty Impala was stolen outside an inner city church, the priest drove them home.

The snow is nearly melted, and the early signs of spring are evident in the garden.  This is the first time my mother will not join me on a tour of the emerging yard.  She would have loved the patch of snow caps I found behind the house.  As the blanket of snow recedes, it revealed an amazing amount of growth and survival in the garden.  The grass alone is in a far greener state than usual. 


Golden Liriope

The payoff for the endless snowfall this year is becoming evident here in Zone Five and Half.  Our town is located on the cusp of USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Five (b), The promixity to large bodies of water and the phenomenon of heat retention caused by the abundance of urban concrete contributes to our "microzone."   Global climate changes assist in that regard, as does the adaption of species of plants.  Lirope, which resembles a thick bladed, mid sized grass now consistently survives in the yard, and this year some more tender golden and variegated varieties are already glowing with healthy color.

Purple and white lavender survived well and the usual die-back to the root did not happen.  Strong masses of fresh leaves are clumped around the base of shasta daisies, hollyhocks and black eyed susans.  These plants were under a pile of snow only last week. 

Boxwood hedge

Golden Corral Bells (marginally hardy)

Gardeners looking for variety often "push the zone."  
Coaxing a plant which should not endure a particular climate to survive winter is a bonus to the ardent home horticulturist.  All sorts of creative methods are used.  A fellow student in my Master Gardener class cleared soil from the base of her rhododendrons in early spring, replacing the dirt temporarily with empty plastic milk containers full of warm water.  The poker faced instructor looked rather shocked.  My own effort is limited to an extra shovelful of snow upon clearing the driveway.  Judging by the bright green boxwoods emerging from under the pile of white, this simple method worked well. 

Saturday marked Dad's first visit to Zone Six's Eastern Market.  The blooming tulips blasted color and a reminder that brighter days are ahead.  Breakfast was corned beef hash at the Russell Street Deli. Purchases included whitefish freshly caught from Lake Huron, mixed mushrooms with morels from the cranky guy in Shed One, and shallots, all for about ten dollars.   My father won't be joining us, as he will be a thousand miles west by dinnertime Sunday.

His last trip on a commercial plane preceeded the days of stocking footed pat downs.  Now, he was off to visit family in a state which had been just too far for my mother and the Chevy.  At the gate, we watched two wheelchair bound women led by a gentleman pushing a "Servi-Cart" loaded with his walker as they threaded their way towards the plane.  "Look at them," Dad said "seniors never give up."  With that his row was called and he followed.  The young gate agent inquired whether he needed assistance getting onto the plane.  "No" he said, "unless you can walk me on?"  She flashed a smile and said she would leave her post for him in a minute if she could, but that was not permitted.  He squared his ballcap and headed off to his first solitary adventure.  At eighty three he continues to push his his own zone, even when the pain of loss would make it easy to do otherwise. Happily, my brother reports that my father is enjoying the Arizona sun and looking forward to attending a winter league ballgame. 

By lesser comparison, the harsh winter will produce dividends in the garden this summer.  Pushing the zone can result in an abundance of growth.

At dusk on Sunday, when my mother and I would have together inspected the growth of the week, I had some zone pushing of my own to do.  With the help of friends, family and the solace of nature, I will try to do just that.  After all, I am my father's daughter.