Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Phenology - a great garden tool

Definition of Phenology

What I seek is a scientific approach that takes into account information gathered down the ages by observant human beings – and goes on from there. ....phenology: the study of the growth stages of plants which can be used to predict the approach of sparing and all that implies about planting datestahe mergence of insects and other data vital to farmers and gardeners.” Eleanor Perenyi in Green Thoughts 1981.

She also writes how the Chinese and Romans were using phenological calendars several thousand years ago.

I decided to take a closer look because my instinct says this is good stuff. Then a little more delving and I realised I had always had my own indicators when I live in the south of England.

The sight of Fosythia sprouting little yellow pointers drove me into positive paroxysms of excitement – Spring was on the way! We always wrote down the date that the housemartins arrived to reclaim their territory. And what about the cuckoo...? Under a bi -line "Silent Spring: Cuckoo Numbers are falling....." Birdlife International were pointing agricultural practices which are decimating bird populations through out the world - " ...we need to be looking at some of the policies and practices that affect our wider landscape..."

Here in Spain it is the arrival of cuckoos, swallows, martins and bee eaters arrival and departures which are my personal indicators, My english gardening neighbour is more dedicated and has started a weather diary, now into his second year. He provided me with confirmation that this year there have been much colder winds and and a lot more rain.

In the San Francisco Gazette last year I found this quote.
"If there's a father of phenology, it's Robert Marsham, who began recording "Indications of Spring" on his Norfolk estate in 1736. (His correspondent Gilbert White, author of "The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne," kept similar records but published only the earliest and latest dates.) Marsham, an arboricultural pioneer, tracked the flowering dates of four plants and leafing dates of 13 trees, as well as the seasonal activities of birds, butterflies, frogs and toads - in all, 27 "Indications." After his death in 1797, the Marsham family kept the tradition until 1958.“

Ooops - I just realise I havent put up the stuff I had prepared on Gilbert Whyte whose estate was close to us in UK - will rectify.

Something I pulled out of the above article was to do with carbon dioxide encouraging the early budding of plants and larger size faster growth and so on. In my mind that means that they will at risk of frosts as the proper rhythm has gone or maybe there wont be frosts because it is much warmer anyway....

In February 2004 this area of Spain was decimated by a late frost striking down old almond trees and other plants, fundamentally killing the landscape. The good news is that I see that nature is recovering but it has taken years for this to be achieved and is only partial.

Now a big warning to myself as much as anyone else – this is such a tricky area and it so easy to be manipulated by the “facts”. However I am swayed by these kind of facts pretty succinctly summed up here but you pays your money and makes your choice. for a good summary about carbon dioxide and global warming.

Reducing the world population – what a can of worms if you will excuse the gardening analogy.


There has always been this interest and scientific diary-keeping in fact in UK and other northern European countries and there is a European Phenology Network which appears to have a vast array of projects mostly coming out of univerisites and forestry organisations with studies of particular trees and plants being scientifically managed. (I see mentions of lilac and birch for instance. Some UK examples are:

Research Armagh Observatory

Woodland Trust UK

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

I note Finland Germany weden and Switzerland are all part of this network.

There is also a great push to get volunteer observers in society at large who are interested in these matters and long may it last.

So the value of garden diaries is a worthwhile discipline. It doesnt have to be terribly sophisticated. At a time when we dont know what is happening to global climate change we may be our own best predictors.


Mike said...

Swung over here from #31DBBB . don't you just love acronyms?

My wife writes a lot of gardening stuff about European gardens on her blog

She's on her way over to have a look here too.

suescribe said...

Hi Mike's wife! I have one piece about Lanzarote nearly ready. Please come back soon.

gowshika said...

I enjoyed reading your blog ~ thanks for posting such useful content./Nice article and great photos. Very nicely done!

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