Gardening in a Changing Climate

Western View, Acorn Hill 2012

By now we are all aware of climate change and probably just beginning to grasp what lies ahead.  But the title of this post refers to something much more local:  My climate right here at Acorn Hill.  I refer very literally to the weather right outside my door which is often different from what my good friend Mignon experiences less than two miles away as the crow flies.  I also refer to my ongoing struggle to accept that the full sun garden at which I arrived in 2002 is now very shady.  And I refer to my personal climate of back aches and lower energy levels which are reflected in my sliding standards of garden tidiness.

As I write this post, bands of rain from Hurricane Florence are drenching us in Western North Carolina.  Winds are gusty, but we’re getting buckets of rain for sure.  We’ve had an incredibly wet summer which has bought dramatic and dangerous mudslides.  As of 4:00 pm this afternoon, Florence has brought 3.125″ of rain to Acorn Hill.  Mignon and I have been comparing rainfall totals all summer and have close totals of 8.25″ and 8.0″ (me) for July and 9.875″ and 9.675″ (me) for August.  These totals are more than double the average rainfall for our area.

Mignon, who is an avid user of our system, and I got to talking about gardening and weather and came up with the idea to include weather records in Muddy Boots Plant Tags.  (Thank you Mignon, great idea!)  You may now record your own weather readings including rainfall, snowfall, high and low temperature, and the moon phase.  You may add a note to your weather record such as the one I entered this morning: Rain fall from Hurricane Florence.  You may sort your weather records by all of these data points and we have a few summary charts by week and month.    If you’re a user, give it a try if that sort of thing appeals to you!  Click here to learn more about Weather Records.


If you’ve gardened in one place for several years, you know that changes in your sun and shade can sneak up on you.  When we moved to Acorn Hill, it was full sun, everywhere, all the time.  Note the picture at right of the Western View in 2003 with Dennis trying to make something out of the barren waste land that was our lawn.

So I planted trees and shrubs and the surrounding woods grew and grew and before long I was scratching my head trying to figure out where to put the full sun plants that I’d just brought home.  In the early years, I struggled to find spots for a few precious shade plants.  Now, I have the opposite problem.

Back then I was adding plants at such an intense pace that the “full sun” category just got lodged in my brain.  Now, I am looking for ways to add light to the garden without taking down large trees.  We are working on lifting the tree canopy by taking off lower branches and we’re doing a little judicious thinning so more light comes through.

I have also shifted my expectations, especially with regard to my vegetable garden which is planted on the far side of the Formal Garden.  You can see from the pictures below (2011 left, 2018 right) that the Hollies, Boxwood and Falsecypress in the Formal Garden to the left – which is south – have really grown.

So, I am growing crops that I really love to have fresh and that will do well in part sun, including lettuce, spinach, and kale, beans, peas and strawberries, and for the one or two boxes that still get 6 hours of sun I’m putting in one or two tomato plants and a few zinnias.

Lot’s of herbs do well in part sun.  Below is a harvest of African Blue Basil.

I am also experimenting with pushing the edges of sun requirements to see how plants will do in less than ideal light.  For example, I had a hedgerow of old roses that succumbed to Rose Rosette Disease.  In their place I decided to make a mini meadow with switch grass, cone flower, black-eyed susan, tall verbena, butterfly weed.  When the roses went in, this area was six to eight hours of direct sun.  Now it gets perhaps five.  Well, I am less than impressed with the result.  I got blooms, but they were all leaning toward the sunlight and looking floppy.  I think I will move most of these plant to the west side of the house where my patch of precious full sun still shines, and figure out something else for this area.  I wouldn’t try this in a client’s garden, but in my own garden why not!

Mini Meadow in too much shade

And finally, my own physical climate has changed how much I’m able to do and consequently how the garden looks.  Getting older and feeling it is inevitable.  As a result, I am now far less concerned with perfection and spend more time enjoying the garden than examining its flaws and worrying about tasks to be done.  What a relief that is.  I knew there was some cream filling to this aging thing!  Establishing a well-structured garden early on is the key to a garden that ages gracefully.

Western View, Acorn Hill 2018
(photo courtesy of Julie Hooks)


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