A review of decades of advice from a longstanding Alaskan gardening column is offering insight into a warming climate and an evolving social awareness of how to adapt.
“In observing the small, local experiment in fitting plants to soil and climate,” Anchorage Daily News columnist Jeff Lowenfels “has created a long-running account of climate change in the state where it is changing the fastest,” writes The New York Times. And, in doing so, he is “providing hints of what awaits as people take part in a similar but much bigger climatic experiment, one now rearranging plants across the planet.”
Lowenfels began writing his weekly gardening column in November 1976. Much of his work covers minutiae such as new crop suggestions and reminders for planting dates. When compared over time, however, his recommendations show striking changes, from his early lawn care prescriptions for dandelion control to later columns addressing newly spreading invasives like oxeye daisies or orange hawkweed.
“Even if you are not a gardener, surely you have noticed that the fireweed, traditionally a mid- to late-August bloomer, is almost spent, and it’s only the third week of July,” Lowenfels wrote on July 21, 2005. “It’s global warming, and it’s our turn now. At least you will have a nice green lawn, right?”
The evolving relationship between people and the environment can also be seen through the changes that Lowenfels himself undergoes, the Times notes. After seeing a photograph in the 1990s of fungal hyphae strangling a pathogenic nematode, he changed his gardening philosophy from to depend on organic methods rather than chemical controls, reflecting the larger shift toward organic agriculture at that time.
Now, Lowenfels’s column reflects the even more extreme changes to come, the Times writes—like how researchers are predicting that Alaskan forests, now composed of mostly spruce, will “give way to forests of deciduous trees, like birch, aspen, and cottonwood” by the middle of this century. This trend, too, is captured by Lowenfels as he responds to a growing number of readers seeking to replace dead spruce trees.
True to form, his replies mirror an evolving social awareness of the need to adapt to climate change collectively, and with open communication.
“We need to talk as friends regarding replacements” for dead spruce, he wrote. “We need to have community discussions. You sure don’t want a cranky, arthritic, guilt-ridden (for past advice that was non-organic), moralistic, organic garden columnist making decisions that determine what Southcentral communities will look like for the next 100 years.”