The New Year has brought snow here to the chaparral here in inland Southern California. Although we did have a few hours of snow a couple of years ago, snow that stays on the ground for any period of time is highly unusual. It was fun to watch the big fat flakes plow into each other as they floated through the sky and covered everything with a pristine white blanket. But as I enjoyed the snow, I felt bad for those people returning from their holiday vacations only to be stranded on iced freeways.
My winter wonderland lasted for a day and a half. But even today there remains a pile of white stuff stacked up at the base of my greenhouse where it slid off the roof. Here in the chaparral snow and freezing rain is not likely to be as destructive to my garden plants as cold nights when temperatures drop into the low 20’s F or less. The trick is that snow and ice only chill to 32’F whereas dry cold is likely to freeze the cells of the plants and do far more damage.
I’m watching the snow melt and slowly sink into our already moist earth. Nature will allow a thaw that will be most gentle to chaparral plants so I’m not touching my garden plants.
So far it has been a very interesting year for weather. If the moisture continues through the rest of the winter we should see a gorgeous display of wildflowers come spring. Higher rainfall will give us some relief from the drought conditions, but there are many years of rain shortage behind us that will take more than one rainy winter to neutralize. Plus, with the huge growth of the human population our demand for water will still outstrip our single season of rain. Water shortages mixed with building, air pollution, destruction of open land and other impacts mean we need to start living wiser if we want to save the magic of the chaparral.
So I will continue to grow my native plants and try to emulate my ecology rather than turn it into a grassy meadow or a tropical paradise. When I see the chaparral in bloom, it’s beauty can take my breath away. And even when it shrivels under the hot summer sun, the plants that grow here elicit respect and awe at their strength, power and adaptability. And I will delight in the rare snowfall and thank God for the remarkable plants of the chaparral. Snow in the chaparral may not be a common event, but in the inland areas and higher elevations it isn’t as rare as some people think.