At our last meeting of the Paris Pessimist Club, the members (two) unanimously agreed that we are in for a terrible winter. 

In fact, old man winter made his smashing entry on Nov. 13 with a low temperature of 12 degrees. 

With sapped-up hydrangeas, Japanese maples and various and sundry other garden plants extant, all the reliable omens, from fuzzy caterpillars to heavy corn shucks, agreed with the Pessimists, not to speak of hornet nests close to the ground.

Now, here we are on the very cusp of real astronomical winter that appears Dec. 21 and brown city is all there is. We have missed this year the great majority of what should have been our fall foliage color. 

Worse, however, is possible damage to some things that had formed their buds for next year’s performance. Prominent among them are the popular macrophylla hydrangeas that are seen after mild (i.e. average) winters in dooryards thither and yon. Some tender azaleas are in that crowd too. 

Frigid temperatures in January and February are one thing, the same in November are something else. We have, more than once, gone whole winters without seeing 12 degrees. 

Record cold either late in the fall or late in spring causes more damage many years than if it were in the dead of winter. 

Just remember the Easter freeze of 2007, when in early April temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees or thereabouts with all kinds of ornamentals sapped up for their new leafage. Even crape myrtles were killed to the ground, with trunks burst open like frozen water pipes. It’s not that bad this time, we think, but next spring could bring some surprises. 

The problem with our weather here in West Tennessee is not particularly heat and cold but heat and cold at inordinate times. Just look at this year’s late summer and fall for instance. 

August eked out 1-3/4 inches of rain in the usual stifling heat and humidity. Then September gave up zip rain — nil, nada, nary a drop — along with numerous heat records from coast to coast and here in Tennessee as well. 

Temperatures hovered near 100 degrees most of the month. Water from your hose evaporated almost as soon as it hit the ground, and by month’s end the water table was somewhere down near the Bad Place. Enter October, the “golden month,” this time the “brown month.’” Record high temperatures — the hottest in history in the month — continued until, on Oct. 7, an inch-and-a-half of rain seemed a drought breaker, but in reality moistened only the top inch of soil. 

Otherwise, October, even the pessimists admit, had comfortable temperatures and Nov. 1 had the first killing frost. Then on Nov. 13 the already infamous 12 degrees hit. 

Record high temperatures one month, record lows the next. It is said if you don’t like the weather here, just stay a week or so and it will change. True, and it must be repeated that any weather phenomenon much outside long-term averages means trouble. 

My pessimism strengthens with every passing hour. At the end of a pleasant day, I worry about what tomorrow will bring. 


From Poor Willie’s Almanack — With apologies to Samuel Langhorne Clemens: “There’s no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old pessimist.”


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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