Early spring: What's wrong with this picture?
A typical April in Central Virginia: Tulips are abloom. So are redbuds, cherries, and dogwoods. Grass is a vivid green after the winter's brown, and trees are a paler, spring green as they start to get their leaves. The thing is, that's been happening the past week, and it's still March.
"It's pretty extraordinary," says Peter Hatch, Monticello's director of gardens and grounds. "It's three weeks ahead of schedule, which is unprecedented on my watch. Things are blooming like Scotch broom, tree peonies... things that normally bloom in April."
This area is big on April celebrations of spring. By the time the Dogwood Festival holds its parade April 28, those dogwood blossoms will be long gone. Historic Garden Week runs April 21-28, but the flora that normally blooms in April aren't waiting.
"[W]ith this crazy weather, we’re wondering whether there will be any flowers left by the end of April!," says Holly Maillet, who's working on Albemarle's April 21-22 Keswick-centered Garden Week tour.
The Organic Tulip Festival in Madison originally was planned for the first and second weeks of April, but the weather has pushed up the first festival date to March 31, says EcoTulips owner Keriann Koeman. "I think we're about three weeks ahead of schedule from last year. Some varieties really need that cold period. They're going to be shorter."
EcoTulips still has 20,000 late tulips in the ground. "I think we'll really see a decline after Easter," predicts Koeman. That holiday is April 8 this year.
In local orchards, fruit trees are blooming, and at Henley's Orchard, the peaches are setting fruit. They were unscathed by the March 26 temperature drop into the 30s, reports Sarah Henley. "The only thing we're worried about is an extended frost," she says. And the warm weather means the peaches will be coming early.
It turns out the winter of 2011-2012 was merely the fifth warmest on record in 118 years of keeping track in Charlottesville, says Jerry Stenger, director of UVA's Climatology Office. March appears on track to be Charlottesville's second warmest, and the state's third warmest.
Monticello's Hatch finds himself unable to enjoy the mild weather.
"I hate it," he says. "It's a little too warm for this time of year. When it's too warm and the soil is drying out, it bothers the gardener. I prefer cool, misty days."
And what does the warm March portend?
"It might cool off," says Hatch, "or be a long, hot summer."