Horticultural Experiments in Alpine Environments

There comes a time, somewhere during late spring when my lady fair’s fancies turn to flowers. Specifically, flowers, annuals to be exact, planted in boxes up on our deck and nurtured to give beauty throughout the summer. We only plant flowers on the deck nowadays, because anything planted within seven feet of ground level will be devoured by some sort of wildlife. Even the stock up on the deck isn’t safe, the chipmunks will happily scamper up the supports, and dig around in the beds of the planters, looking for goodies, burying them again to be later dug up, moved six inches and reburied. Or as we discovered a couple of years ago we’ll trap some sort of nocturnal beastie, of a genus and type that we’ve never heard of before, that had a particular affection for geraniums.

But voracious wildlife, green in tooth and claw, are not the only thing you have to contend with when trying to tend a garden up above 7500 feet. There are the seasons. Or I should say, there’s a single season – winter, that can be counted upon to last well into what other parts of the country think of as late spring or even early summer.

Every year, I start asking Mary around the end of April if it’s time to go buy this year’s crop of annuals. Every year she says, not yet, and three days later there’s a late season blizzard that deposits twenty inches of frosty cold death on our doorstep. Around mid-May I’ll start inquiring again, and once more I’ll be gently put off till, at the end of the week, the skies will again cloud over and a nice slow moving snowstorm will leave a further half a foot coating everything.

Finally, around the beginning of June we’ll plant and then we’ll have almost exactly three months to enjoy it before the first sleet mixed with snow hits in early September. That’s if the inevitable hailstorms don’t shred the delicate flower petals in the meantimes

This year, though was different. This year, across the country everyone had a mild winter, and spring arrived the earliest than in recorded history, and if it didn’t, just assume it did, since it works better for dramatic impact. This year, it wasn’t yours truly at the end of April, wondering aloud if it was time to plant, it was Mary. Even we, in our remote mountain fastness were experiencing an unprecedented warm spell right at the beginning of May. Days with highs in the seventies and nights, while cool, still well into the forties. Finally, Mary broke down, and against all her better instincts she agreed that the time had arrived and it was time to till the loamy soil and bring forth bountiful vegetation.

This is a day-to-day diary of the ensuing floral disaster:

May 3rd. Forecast is for rain later in the week, days in the seventies, nights in the forties. Time to go to Lowes and buy the flowers.

May 4th. Flowers purchased, A dozen flats, all in perfect shape. Put the flats on the deck to allow them to acclimate overnight.

May 4th, late afternoon. The weather has suddenly changed. Clouds are moving in and temperature is dropping fast. Now projected to stay just above freezing overnight. We have to cover all the flats with tarps to protect the flowers.

May 5th. It did stay just above freezing overnight, but the day has not warmed appreciably. And now they’re saying that it’s probably going to drop into the high twenties tonight. Have to spread tarps over the living floor and bring all the flats inside.

May 6th. Snow. All day. Accumulation of three to four inches. Flowers are all over the living room floor. We spend the days downstairs in the family room.

May 7th. Drizzling all day. Probably will fall below freezing tonight. Flowers have to stay indoors again, cant go out and play. We’re being driven slowly mad. The heat’s back on, so the air inside the house is dry, so we need to water the flowers, but how to do it without damaging the wood floors. Misters! We emptied several squirt bottles of cleaning fluids and refilled them with water. Took hours but we watered everything.

May 7th. A short break in the clouds let the sun shine through for 15 minutes. Still raining off and on. Forecast, hah, says we might be able to plant tomorrow. Just in time, I’m beginning to have horticultural nightmares and they’re strangely worse than ones where the TSA is making me strip to the buff because I triggered an alarm, and I’m wearing Transformer underwear. Why? I don’t know, I don’t even like the Transformers.

May 8th. Day dawned bright and sunny. At 8:00 am we were out on the deck feverishly planting stuff. By 9:00 it started clouding over. At some point in our haste, one of us buried the container of plant food. Can’t spare the time to dig through the boxes to find it. Go, go, go!

10:00 am. The temperature is dropping again. We finally chuck the remaining couple of flats over the side of the deck, too exhausted to finish planting them. There is much squabbling among the critters down on the ground over the unexpected bounty. We’re too tired to care much.

12:00 noon. It starts raining again.

1:00 pm. The rain changes to sleet. One of us, the one who has a raincoat that fits, has to go out and put the tarps over the just planted and still fragile flowers.

3:00 pm. The sleet changes to snow. How I have to go out again and remove the tarps because the weight of the snow on the tarp will crush the plants. I catch a chill. It’ll probably develop into pneumonia if my luck continues to hold.

6:00 pm. Now it’s hail?!? WTF. At this point it’s all survival of the fittest. And I’m losing.

May 8th. After last night’s meteorological cavalcade, we estimate that approximately 15% of the flowers will survive to the end of the week.

May 12th. I buy six flats of new flowers. They’re on the deck acclimating.

3:00 pm, the temperature is starting to drop……..


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