Gripping graphics, and a kindly coda.

So - Helen Popper's talk at our chapter last night was wonderful. I was happy to see some unfamiliar faces in the audience. A friend and neighbor of mine came to hear the talk, too. I hope that the article I wrote in our local paper to publicize the event enticed some gardeners to come out and learn more.

I particularly liked how Helen structured her talk around the tasks of the gardening year using the following two graphics.

The first graphic shows the monthly average temperatures and rainfall of Helen's father's home town in Czechoslovakia - Klatovy. A place with a familiar northern European climate - warm wet summers, cold drier winters. (Actually where I come from the winters were as wet as the summers.) It's the type of climate out of which the traditional gardening practices of America emerged.

Helen Popper's graphic of weather in Czechoslovakia (used with permission)

Then, the same type of info for Los Altos Hills, in the Santa Clara valley, California. Helen calls it Muir's World because John Muir so eloquently understood this climate. (Reminder to self: read John Muir.)

Helen Popper's graphic of weather in California (used with permission)

Doesn't that dramatic hour-glass shape just instantly convey all that is different about California, and why we garden differently here? Helen showed graphics from other locations in California - north and south - and all have the same general shape. Hot dry summers, cool wet winters.

This is why watering many plants in a California summer is so bad for them - Mother nature did not provide hot wet weather here, so plants evolved accordingly. Add water in the heat of summer and Bad Fungus results - and dead plants. Except, as Helen added, those that live with their feet in a river. She added that we do need to water young plants till they are established, and that we should do so in the cool of morning, and not overdo it. In general, let the soil dry out between waterings.

Helen pointed to the Muir's World graphic as she walked us through each month in the garden. It was really reinforcing. These graphics are not in her book,  California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide. I appreciate that in a speaker - having something new to present, for audience members who are familiar with the book already.

A Kindly Coda
I received a lovely email today from a person in Berkeley who is reducing his books "from 50,000 to 49,000." I don't think he would mind my reproducing his mail here:
I note from your blog that you are interested in Lester Rowntree — how could one not be? And I judge from your photograph that you have a small child.  I am trying to reduce the number of books in our house from 50,000 to 49,000 and wonder whether you would like (as a gift, of course) copies of two children's classics, with Lester Rowntree's bold signature on the title-page or endpaper — I suppose she bought them to read them to her grandchildren. They are Ruth Sawyer's The Enchanted Schoolhouse (first edition, 1956) and Robert McCloskey's Homer Price (1953 printing of 1949 original).
Of course - I sent him my address and my thanks. An actual trace of Lester Rowntree herself! Here's a link to the first of two posts I wrote about her.

I've not read either of these books - have you? They sound like a lot of fun, fiction from a particular slice of time (like the marvelous 1944 book, The Wind on the Moon). And one a first edition, too, gosh.

I've been happy all day, since receiving this kindness. BTW, the small child in my profile pic. is my granddaughter in the U.K., now nearly 8 years old and a perfect age for reading these books - via Skype!


Brent said…
I think I once had The Enchanted Schoolhouse read to me - probably at around 8 years old. I remember a fun story with interesting anachronisms.
Brent said…
On the main topic of your post, the graphics are a great way to present the differences between a mediterranean climate and the more usual climate that most gardening is designed around.
Country Mouse said…
Yes, I enjoy these anachronisms - even the ones that make me wince - we forget how things have changed for women, of course, but also for men. Yes - I was very taken with these graphics. A picture is worth...
Jason said…
Those charts were a great way to convey the message. The Midwest is closer to a northern European climate than California, but still different, especially in the relative extremes of heat and cold. I would like to see such a comparison for where I live.
Town Mouse said…
So, I actually checked this a bit on Wikipedia, and there are big differences between more maritime climates like London (yep, rains all year, a little less in February), more middle European climates like Frankfurt (rains all year, a little less in winter) and central European climates.

But in the end, the big difference is still between "rains all year" and "doesn't rain at all in summer" and all the points Helen is making are very valid - and great graphics to prove them!
Ed Morrow said…
If are interested in the use of graphs to depict the reality of our California coastal climate you should checkout Olivier Filippi's "Dry Gardening Handbook", published by Thames & Hudson. In a section entitled "A Tool For Indicating Drought" (p.40) he describes a diagram - its title is an ombrothermic diagram - that plots the relationship between temperature and rainfall.

As an exercise I plotted out the data for Carmel Valley using the data from the CIMIS data system at the head of the Valley. The graph shows that the Valley is in a "hydraulic deficit", aka drought, from April though October. This climate is similar to that of Athens in Greece and Marrakech in North Africa. This is why English and East Coast gardening books are so frustratingly useless to those of us in California.

You can see an example of the graph at Its a plot of the temperature and rainfall for San Luis Obispo.

By the way, if you've not looked at Filippi's book, you should check it out. It got nine reviews on Amazon, all five stars. Filippi runs a nursery in M├ęze, France, which is just south-west of Montpelier, on the Mediterranean coast. It is the best book on gardening in a dry climate. He advocates a no water thought the summer regime
ryan said…
That graphic's a keeper. Really does explain a lot.
James said…
The graphs are great. How better to picture our unusual climate? (I will admit, though, that with the election season just concluded, seeing the little red and blue lines moving in contrary motion in the second chart made me think of representations of poll numbers.) I hope Helen Popper makes it down to our plant society!