Blue Ridge Country - November/December 2017 - 64
In the garden
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the
house. -Nathaniel Hawthorne
Text and art by Ginny Neil
When I was in kindergarten, my family
moved to the foothills of the Smoky
Mountains. The stone patio off of
the kitchen in our new house faced
south. It didn't take me long to discover that I could nap there in comfort on most sunny fall days. Even if
the wind was blowing, the cement floor
of that rock-lined patio acted as a heat sink creating a
cocoon of warmth for my cat and me. I didn't know it
at the time, but that was my first experience with microclimates.
My mama also recognized the value of that little
microclimate. She planted her herb garden in the yard
at the base of the same wall. There, the southern exposure and the heat-retaining warmth of rocks allowed her
to grow some herbs like rosemary that wouldn't have
made it through the snowy Tennessee winters.
I grew up and lost interest in curling up with the cat.
Then I moved to the mountains of Virginia, married My
Own Farmer, and started an herb garden. According to
the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, my farm is barely in
zone five, and many winters, when the wind howls off
of the mountains, it is squarely in zone four. I longed to
grow rosemary, but like Mama, found the climate too
cold for it to survive. That's when I re-discovered the lesson of the patio. My house has a stone patio that faces
southwest, and if I plant rosemary in the sheltered corner, sometimes it lives a couple of years before a really
brutal winter takes it out.
Microclimates are a great way to play with your
growing season. Basically they are small areas around
your property that are either a bit cooler or warmer than
your designated hardiness zone. This variation in normal temperature from what's the average around your
yard is due to either sheltering or warming structures.