Saturday, February 7, 2015

Why should we believe a groundhog?

Tuesday was Groundhog Day, a day on which a large rodent is dragged from its burrow to predict the beginning of spring.  If the groundhog sees his shadow, winter is supposed to extend its run another 6 weeks but, if the day is cloudy and there's no shadow, an early spring is expected.  Why this assessment based on the presence or absence of shadows requires a groundhog has never been clear to me.  The event and the festivities that accompany it date back to the 18th century in the United States and has roots in European traditions dating back much further.

The groundhog's range doesn't extend to California and, if it wasn't for the television coverage of the observances in the Northeast and the 1993 movie, I doubt it would even register here.  The groundhogs consulted for their annual predictions, like weather forecasters and news analysts, aren't particularly reliable.  According to Wikipedia, of the 34 groundhogs consulted in 2015, 17 predicted an early spring but 16 predicted 6 more weeks of winter.  The prediction of the last one, Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was contested when he bit the mayor's ear during the critical phase of the shadow assessment.

In my own garden, the harbinger of spring is the flowering of my Pyrus calleryana (aka ornamental pear).  It has been dropping leaves since November but, last week, I looked up and noticed that buds had suddenly appeared all along its branches.  I didn't get out to take a photo of it until January 31st, when the first few buds were already opening.



By Wednesday, as I drove up the street toward our driveway, I noticed this:



The tree was suddenly and completely in full bloom:




There are many methods for identifying the start of spring, groundhog predictions being just one. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, spring is the "the season between winter and summer during which temperatures gradually rise."  Our temperatures jerk up and down like a yo-yo throughout our "cool season" so changes there aren't helpful.  I don't put store in the predictions of rodents or temperature fluctuations but my tree is a credible source and it tells me that spring is just around the corner in my area of Southern California.

Standing under the tree, you hear the buzzing of hundreds of bees


As soon as the ornamental pears begin their bloom cycle, I look at my garden more closely and I inevitably see signs that the garden is readying itself to explode into bloom.

Clockwise from top left: Bulbine and Papaver nudicaule, Ageratum corymbosum in bud, tiny Muscari blooms, early blooms on Ceanothus hedge, the first Calla lily, a Freesia about to bloom


Why should our definition of spring be linked to numbers on a calendar or a rodent's shadow?  Our gardens are the real prognosticators.  Bulbs breaking through soil, hatchlings in nests, the first flowers in a border - all signal the beginning of spring.  We just need to look for the signs.  What signals spring's arrival in your garden?


All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

29 comments:

  1. Lovely, lovely post, Kris.

    Lady Banks bloomed for the first time this year yesterday. Other options are Indian hawthorne and pink jasmine.

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    1. I love the Lady Banks rose Jane! I had that jasmine at our old place - now I just enjoy the neighbor's, which hangs over our adjoining fence.

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  2. I'm glad it's not just me who feels sorry for the groundhogs.
    There are plenty of signs of early Spring emerging here but I'm trying not to get carried away. So often the poor plants push out shoots only to have them burnt away again by frost. Your pear tree is beautiful.

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    1. I was rather gratified to see Jimmy the groundhog express his feeling by biting Sun Prairie's mayor's ear. Last year, NYC's mayor accidentally lost his grip on their city's groundhog and the poor thing died a week later.

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  3. Here in San Francisco spring arrives like this -
    http://www.rosekraft.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-joy-of-cymbidium-season.html
    And last weekend the first asparagus spears broke through the soil in the raised beds.

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    1. Asparagus - yum! You just reminded me to check the status of my Cymbidiums, rosekraft - one was getting close to bloom status last week.

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  4. Lovely post Kris and any sign of spring is always welcome! Flowering of a tree is a much nicer way of predicting spring that seeking help from a rodent :)

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    1. Especially when the rodent just wants to be left alone in his burrow!

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  5. On this day last year our high was 23 and our low was 19, plus there was about 6" of snow on the ground. This morning when I finally managed to get up out of bed (I'm not telling what time that was, but it was not early) the thermometer read 57 and there was a brief sun break from the rain. Things are blooming about a month early and this gardener has spring fever, I'm calling it!

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    1. You're getting a lot of rain up that way too, I hear. I'm sure that will make a beautiful spring!

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  6. Beautiful flowering 'spring tree'
    Best regards
    Mariana

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    1. Thanks Mariana! It has a musty smell but it is pretty.

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  7. Your blossom is beautiful. No groundhogs here but the birds seem to think it is Spring they are singing their hearts out. It eon' t be long now.

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    1. The birds are lively here too - and eating their way through seed almost as quickly as I put it out.

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  8. I don't count my groundhogs until at least April - we can have frosts here right up too May! It's all too easy to get carried away when the snowdrops, hellebores and crocus blooms here but I like to remind myself that they are in fact winter blooms in my opinion.
    I have two signs of spring that I recognise. First is when I finish work at 3am, I can hear the birds singing and second is when I can pack my thermals away for another year (I work outdoors all night). Neither has happened yet this year.

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    1. I hope those birds break into song early this year Angie! Spring doesn't follow the same schedule all across the Northern Hemisphere - the calendar is a false predictor for all of us. We don't get frosts here (or almost never, anyway) so winter is something of an abstract concept to begin with.

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  9. No, it's not spring here. No. Winter = rain, so it's going to stay winter until we get some. Even if it's 80F all week. I hope.

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    1. I have to reply to HB. I feel that we have skipped winter this year. No rain. No cold. No buds on the fruit trees.

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    2. Regardless of the temperature, like Hoover Boo, I'm still holding out hope for more rain. I've seen the negative forecasts but, just a week or so ago, the LA Times had an article saying we could still get above average rainfall in February and March so I remain hopeful. Hey, Mother Nature, we're not demanding another March miracle but normal rainfall would be appreciated!

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  10. Your garden seems to be in perpetual spring to me; certainly you don't really have winter at all!

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    1. If winter means freezes, no, we don't have winter Christina, at least not in my area along the coast. As Hoover Boo said, winter does, historically, mean rain but there's been a shortage of that again this year - although Northern California was hit with a deluge last week.

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  11. Your Pyrus calleryana is just lovely! I adore California in late winter, it is just a stunning time when everything is refreshed and green....for me, there are two springs in my garden - the first is the bulbs and hardiest flowers, the second is when the first weeds appear - from that point on the garden is in full swing until summer and autumn

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    1. The December rains did freshen things up and turn the brown hills green again, Matt, but we need more rain to keep that fresh look going. The area to the north got rain last week but all Mother Nature did is spit at us.

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  12. This is going to sound contradictory, but here in Central Texas it is Spring (with a capital S!) just after the live oak trees drop their leaves and they begin to develop pollen catkins. That never seems to happen until after all danger of frost is behind us, typically mid March or so. Those oak trees know what they are up to,so I let them take the lead (plus they don't bite!).

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    1. Oak trees seem a much better indicator of Spring (capital S!) than groundhog shadows Deb! I hope the pollen isn't accompanied by allergy symptoms, though.

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  13. Our weather definitely does the yo-yo thing. I haven't seen ornamental pears yet, but flowering quince (Chaemonales) has started to bloom. I also saw the first forsythia buds opening this past week end. Buds are swelling on the daffodils. But I don't want things to open too fast; temps are predicted to go down to 28 degrees tonight!

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    1. Those sharp temperature fluctuations certainly can do a lot of damage Deb. Our temperatures also yo-yo at this time of year but the lows aren't as deep as yours so we avoid freezes on new blooms. However, at the opposite extreme, last May here saw 2 miserable heatwaves that put a crimp on both late spring and early summer blooms.

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  14. Winter still in full swing here....I hate groundhogs :) Maybe we shall see signs of spring in about 2 months now.

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  15. I'm just getting to this, but couldn't resist commenting. When I lived in south central Pennsylvania (home of Punxsutawney Phil), Groundhog Day finally made sense to me. But growing up as a kid in New England, I could never figure it out. Under one condition (and I could never remember which), spring would come early; but under the other, winter would last 6 more weeks -- meaning that it would be over in mid-March, very definitely an early spring in New England. As for the real critters (we call them "woodchucks" in Maine), I'm never happy to see them take up residence in my garden. -Jean

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