The fate of a garden is always in the hands of Mother Nature, and those who tend to the gardens must hope she goes easy on them. Heavy winds take down trees; rainstorms cause flooding and drown plants; late snowfalls delay flower blooming, or kill the flowers alltogether. These are some of the unavoidable weather problems horticulturists and gardeners have always had to deal with, and are prepared for. However the strange weather patterns of the past months of 2014 have provided more of a challenge.
The horticulture team at Old Westbury Gardens, a historical tourist attraction located on Long Island, had a particularly challenging job this year. Old Westbury Gardens is open to the public from the months of April to November, and generate the most business during the summer months when the flowers are in their peak bloom.
This past winter was harsher and longer than normal. This caused a lot of long-term changes for the Gardens, making it difficult to grow some flowers while others were actually thought to have grown better. “This growing season has been an interesting one on Long Island. There are plants, such as Hydrangea macrophylla, that were negatively impacted by the long cold winter. Other plants such as Korean Dogwoods were thought to be especially floriferous this spring.” Said Maura Brush, head horticulturist at Old Westbury Gardens.
Brush explained some of the challenges faced this season. “Most of Long Island is considered to be a Zone 7 according to USDA maps. This warmer zone designation is due mostly to Long Island getting the warming effect of the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, many gardeners have planted trees and shrubs over the last decade that were typically found in warmer states. These marginally hardy plants were the ones mostly damaged by the unusually long and cold winter.”
Brush explains that very few plants were actually killed by the cold. The overall health of the plant was not effected, just the state of blooming for that season. What happened for the most part is referred to as dieback. This is when portions of the plant die and need to be trimmed back or there is a loss of flowers for that season. “A cold snap can cause the flower buds on a plant to freeze, which will result in a forfeit of flowers for that season. This does not necessarily mean that the health of the plant itself is compromised.”
The harsh winter was followed by a mild summer this year, which continued to make things difficult for gardeners. Lucy Contreras, another horticulturist at Old Westbury Gardens discussed why other plants bloomed differently this season. “The more tropical plants, such as Canna did not grow as big and as well as they would have if we had more of those really hot and humid days.” On the other hand the some flowers were seen to have a better year because of the lack of heat waves this summer. “The lack of heat waves put less stress on the plants so I would say the perennials and annuals actually had a great season” added Brush.
The strange weather this season also had an effect on the business Old Westbury Gardens brought in. Many events held this season had a smaller turnout than usual due to bad weather. Jessie Driscoll, an employee in the visitor services department, shared her observations on how weather effects business. “On popular days, like weekends of special events, we certainly lose business if the weather is bad. Most of the attraction to the place in general is the gardens, if the weather is bad no one is going to come and pay just to go into the house and miss the gardens.”
So far the weather this year has been very unpredictable. This causes problems for everyone and makes the jobs of gardeners and horticulturists very difficult. It is hard for them to plan ahead and tend to plants when they do no know what to expect from the weather. This past season the horticulture team at Old Westbury Gardens did an excellent job keeping the gardens as beautiful as ever in spite of the challenges thrown at them.