|hoarfrost on leonard messel magnolia|
|touching the frost on the garden bench|
This is the hardest time of year. Winter is dragging on. Everywhere it's either gray, crusty snow, or re-frozen glare ice, or, if you're lucky, slush.
I remember reading that the ancient Romans took days off of the month of February to add days to July and August, so that Julius and Augustus Caesar could have longer namesake months. I think that maybe they also just wanted February to be over more quickly.
There are beautiful days in the middle of the cold and the slush though. The fog that hung over the city last week,
|not a thorn bush- lilacs|
The view down the street was entirely covered in white. Very little snow on the ground, but hoarfrost coating every surface and giving a sort of ghostly glow to everyday things that I wouldn't have paid attention to. The lilac bush by the front door looked thorny as a barberry, but the 'thorns'
|the view down our street the morning the fog went out|
I like this about winter. It's surprising. It usually wears out its welcome by this time every year, but this year is an exception. It's not what most people would call a real Minnesota winter- but that is changing.
What is a real Minnesota winter is changing, that is. We are now officially in zone 4B according to the USDA, and only a few miles from a little blob of zone 5A, in south Minneapolis and Richfield.
The map released by the Arbor Day Foundation in 2006 was even bolder, putting most of the Twin City metro solidly in 5A.
Reportedly, the USDA had prepared a similar map in 2005 and had circulated it for comments. I was working at a nursery at the time as a landscape designer and talked to the manager about it. He confided that he thought it was a terrible idea- that it would give customers the idea that they could grow zone 5 plants here, and that they'd bring them back for refunds when the plants were winterkilled. He went on to tell me that there were a lot of growers and nurseries sending letters to try to stop the release of the new zone map.
It must have worked, because the map went nowhere. I also wouldn't be surprised if some of the powers that be, or that were, saw that the map was changing most of the country to a half or full zone warmer, and got a tiny bit worried that this could, maybe, just possibly be seen as proof of global warming.
So, seven years later we have a new, but watered-down version of the map with the USDA's stamp of approval.
|From the USDA National Arboretum website. Click the image to go to the interactive map.|
Still, it's surprising to see the difference. On the old map, zone 3B started somewhere just north of Anoka, in the far northern suburbs. Now a patch of real estate around the MSP airport is shown as 5A. That's major. I might be able to overwinter the banana plants outside from now on.
I do have several plants that are supposed to only be hardy to zone 5 in the yard, and none have shown any dieback over the last 3 or 4 winters. Stella Cherry and Leonard Messel magnolia are listed as zone 5 or as 4/5 in most catalogs, but have done well with little protection in the front yard. I've seen a number of Japanese Maples in the neighborhood, that shouldn't be able to survive in 4A, but they appear to be thriving.
If we don't have any new subzero temperatures this winter (and it gets less and less likely now that we're over a month and a half past the winter solstice) we will have had a lowest temperature of the season of -11F. That's a 5B winter-- more like northern Missouri (even according to the new map) than what we're supposed to have in Minnesota.
A new concept?
This is unrelated to weather or zone maps, but I thought it was entertaining. Since I work at an architectural/engineering firm, I sometimes get spam related to new trends in building, or what the spammers hope to be new trends.
|copyright Hanley-Wood LLC. see the whole thing at http://www.builderconcepthome2012.com/|
I think this falls more under the heading of 'desperately hoping for a new trend'. This bit of spam is pushing new homes in communities that purport to have designed homes appropriate to three different generations- baby boomers, x'ers and y's.
The generationally-targeted housing idea was funny enough- but the thing that really caught my eye was the 'Suburbs of the new economy' tagline, and the assertion that 'the days of one-size-fits-all homes, blah, blah, are over.' How about admitting that the days of filling up corn fields with McMansions are over? That nobody of any generation seems to be very interested in buying houses in cornfields these days? That most people aren't able to afford a new house, and even if they could, why would they when there are so many low-priced slightly used ones? That suburbs, or at least the outer suburbs, are destined for a long period of slow decline.
How about also building houses to last- rather than full of closets and places to plug in our technology- as the Generation X house is said to have- the house that I am supposed to want. Implied in the idea of generation-specific housing is also the idea that it's necessary to buy, and re-buy a house to fit your stage of life as you age. It's a bonus for builders and real estate agents, but a money-losing proposition for the homeowner. Better to stay in the house, and neighborhood and build to suit. Keep the connections to neighbors and to your garden and make your current house fit you rather than the other way around.
It seems like a long time now since this type of house porn was common and it's kind of shocking to see it again.
I don't fault the builders for trying to revive a collapsed market. That's their bread and butter. I get that. But to revive the same tired thing and try to sell it as new? As if the whole market hadn't fallen on its face in the last five years and leave vacant poorly-built houses like these ones everywhere? Is there really a demand for two-story foyers that are expensive to heat and functionally useless? For big expanses of toxic Chinese drywall? Have no lessons been learned?
OK- that's not everyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had the pleasure of talking with the members of the Northeast Minneapolis Transition Town group on Saturday afternoon. I've heard about the Transition Town movement before but haven't ever been to a meeting or gone out of my way to try to find one.
Someone who read this blog contacted me, however and asked me to come and speak about permaculture (or about home-scale sustainable agriculture, since I'm not an official permaculturer, or whatever the title would be if I went through the official process). It was more fun than I thought, and I learned about rocket stoves as well! If I find the time to make one, I'll post about it.
More than that- it was fun to be in a room of kindred spirits- where most of not all are familiar with John Michael Greer's or James Kunstler's writing, and working to build a more sustainable life in the city. It's always hard to say how much of what is talked about actually makes it into practice, but if the 'show-and-tell' projects that people brought in are any indicator, then there really is some real reshaping of the urban landscape taking place, in back yards, here and there, one by one. It's a beautiful thing.