Month: January 2012

Arctic Oscillation

Arctic Oscillation

Have you ever noticed how, occasionally, a special phrase pops into your life and you find yourself looking for the chance to casually toss it into a conversation?  Arctic oscillation is one such phrase.  So, despite the fact that strange weather patterns have been mentioned perhaps too often recently in this blog, it’s hard to resist at least one more shot at this winter’s seesawing temperatures, which we have learned are due to — wait for it — Arctic oscillation.           

So, how do we oscillate from winter to spring and back again?

A recent report by Murat Yukselir in the Globe and Mail, using sources as diverse as NASA, the University of Ottawa, and Environment Canada, explains that the lack of snow in Canada this winter is due to changes in the behaviour of the polar jet stream. The polar jet stream usually lies in the upper latitudes of North America, while the sub-tropical jet stream is further south. Jet streams are usually wavy, forming peaks of warm weather further north and troughs of colder weather further south. In the positive phase of Arctic oscillation, the waves in the polar jet stream have straightened somewhat , reducing the size of the peaks and troughs. That tightening traps the cold Arctic air closer to the North Pole and leaves the rest of Canada under the warmer air mass.  Mr. Yukselir’s report is bolstered by a chart showing a significant reduction in the number of days below freezing (O° Celsius) for selected cities in Canada this winter ( up to January 24) as compared to the same period last year.

It would seem that Nova Scotia black ducks
are unperturbed by the oscillations. They simply move in and out of the cove according to the amount of ice coverage, feeding on plant life along the shore.

Earlier heavy snowfalls have all been rained out of existence, so local gardeners who were counting on a good snow cover to protect their plants are wondering what the damage will be when Spring makes its official appearance.  Holly berries and other shrubs have provided particularly good grazing for the deer this winter because of easy access.  One garden in which they are denied access is that of Niki Jabbour, whose book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is now available in gardening centres in the Maritimes. More information on the book is available on her website:

A Snowy Landscape

A Snowy Landscape

At the risk of having this garden blog turn into a weather report, I’m including some more photos of Chester’s winter face, following yet another freak weather event.  After an unseasonably warm day one day last week,  a storm blew in from the southwest bringing a mixed bag of precipitation.

Early morning light glistens on the icy branches

Although the forecasters had been calling for mostly rain for our area, we got a healthy dose of snow, drizzle and more snow. The temperature then fell rapidly and the result was a wonderland of frosty surfaces –snow-crusted fences, sparkling ice-covered trees and, (but less welcome) a few rather icy roads.  The evening after the storm was deceptively calm, and the sky was a delicate pink.

A gentle pink sunset
A frosted world

Because our temperatures are usually moderated by our proximity to the sea, daytime temperatures normally melt away such decorative frosting but cold days and clear skies overnight have kept the frosting on trees and bushes in place for several days.

A view of Chester's harbourfront

Even bright sunny days are no match for the below-freezing temperature but the pristine look of snow in a country or coastal setting makes for a great photo (thanks to Sandy for submitting her pix of the village waterfront). 

The red roof signals the Chester Yacht Club

The Chester Yacht Club is snug up against a seawall, with floating wharves pulled well above the high-tide line. The village slopes up above it and extends along the shore to either side. 

Homes and wharves dot the shoreline.

And, as we close out this post, we wonder what tomorrow’s weather will bring…

Chester is more than our gardens

Chester is more than our gardens

This winter has to take some kind of prize for the extreme fluctuations in our climate locally, and from what I read in the press, across the nation as well.  Here, in Chester, for example, yesterday morning’s temperature started at 8 degrees Celsius (that’s  about 48°F for those of you using the old scale), and then gradually fell so that by this morning it read -11° C, that’s minus 11° C  (roughly  5° F).

A view of Chester's back harbour

 Gardening  stories are hard to come by in this weather so I thought it time to include some information about other attributes of Chester.  Our seaside village is located about 45 minutes from Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, and many Chester residents work in that city.  Many others are retirees or self-employed artists and artisans who maintain a relaxed schedule in the village and surrounding area, commonly known as the “South Shore.”  Chester was founded about 250 years ago and its history includes the standard fishing and trading opportunities, as well as a coastal battle won without a shot being fired.  Today, its attractions include sailing, golf, and live theatre productions.  One of the lesser-known facts about Chester, however, is the number of Francophones who make their home here, whether coming from local Acadian areas or from farther afield like Quebec or Europe. Children have the option of attending a French-language school, one of a number maintained in the province, and francophone adults (and wannabes) have the benefit of social interaction en français (I have now found the key to foreign accents in the WordPress fonts). 

Clotilde's petite fleur

To tie together the two apparently unrelated themes of this post (weird weather and speaking French), I am including a photo of a type of marigold that was blooming as late as December 13th in the garden of a francophone friend whom I met at un souper this week. By chance we happened to talk about gardens and she later sent me this photo. Perhaps that’s another pleasant attribute of this place we call home.  In our small village, many circles intersect.

Lots more information on other attributes of the village of Chester can be found at such websites as or     And in a brief nod to history from a horticultural POV, the Chester Garden Club was formed in 1939 to contribute to the beautification of the village.

Into the New Year

Into the New Year

Back in residence after a two-week holiday trip and I find that the snow has disappeared although the ground is frozen solid.  Even the hardiest of perennials has given up and will wait it out until spring! Luckily, several indoor plants are still in bloom and the reliable old poinsettias provide a welcome splash of colour even though we are past the festive season. Those in the second photo, a window setting, are a mix of poinsettias from 2010 and 2011, a Christmas cactus, and a “Mexican hat” plant (which I’ve been advised is Kalanchoe Daigremontiana in correct botanical terminology).

New Guinea impatiens

Our garden club doesn’t have any official activities planned for January but members are delighted to hear about the forthcoming book launch of one of our local garden experts. In a happy coincidence, the book is a compendium of tips and strategies for just the sort of gardening  that can be done when frosty weather is the norm.  Niki Jabbour – gardener, writer and radio host – has mastered the technique of gardening in all seasons and shares this knowledge in her new book ” The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.”

A cheery combo

Of course, it may be a little late to get started preparing the ground for her techniques this winter but we’ll have more information about her tips and the book itself following the launch on  February 4th.