Friday, July 11, 2008

Discovering my Microclimate

I've been amazed lately as I zoomed through the town making birthday party preparations. Everything is in bloom. The daylilies, the coreopsis, the russian sage... St. John's Wort by midsummer? Not in my garden. While I did plant a plethora of things late this year, procrastination is not the issue here. The issue is the microclimate(s) of my garden.

Basically, a microclimate is a distinctly different climate within one larger general climate. You know, like the climate beneath one grand oak tree within the larger climate of an entire park. Even on a small property like mine, there can be several microclimates, and the garden as a whole can be a microclimate to the larger climate of your block or neighborhood.

My yard on the whole tends to be much cooler than even my next door neighbor's. Why? Because I've got Mama Maple in the back (I really need to get some pictures up of her), Sister Maple out front, a white mulberry in the back corner of the yard, and a 6ft privacy fence surrounding my backyard. Plus, in my neighborhood, the houses are only about 6ft apart. Building upon building creates pockets of shade all over the place. Within this microclimate are several others: right next to Mama Maple, the area of dappled shade beneath her outer canopy, the site of our former compost pile, the clay patch next to the fence, the gravelly space abutting the concrete walkway, the sandy soil along the left side of the house, and many many more. Hell, even the space beneath the dryer vent is a microclimate of its own!

The disadvantages of my space are probably pretty obvious. I have a very difficult time with things like rosemary, which love dry heat. All of my plants tend toward the smaller side, and they definitely mature a little behind their general climate counterparts as my jaunt around town so aptly reminded me. The corn next to the concrete walkway, where the dappled shade of Mama Maple and the substrate gravel make things less hospitable, is markedly behind the corn just a few feet away towards the center of the backyard row. Growing veggies can be frustrating in this plot, fo' sho!

There are advantages as well though. If you discount the freakish amount of lightening strikes we tend to get in our yard, our plants are much more sheltered from wind and other adverse weather. This, in addition to the god awful amount of leaves we get in the fall, makes winter sheltering of perennials a little less work. Rain stays where it falls for the most part, and it evaporates a little more slowly too, even if you take away the protective canopy of intensive plantings. We have an abundance of birds because of our mature trees, and I can grow lettuce when most gardeners' greens are bolting. I don't swelter nearly as much as my friends next door do when they're tending to their crops. Ohhhhh, yeah. Now I'm making you jealous, aren't I? ;)

This year has been great for getting the microclimates sorted out since I'd planted a good variety of perennials last year. There's still plenty to figure out though, and I haven't even begun to tackle the front yard. That's one thing about gardening, whether you're doing it for food like I am or simply for some beautiful ornamentals, there's always more to learn and discover.

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