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Kip Anderson
Gardener Kip Anderson

November: The Determining Factors of Latitude and Altitude

Kip discusses how latitude and altitude combine to determine which plant life thrives
by Kip Anderson

November is the month when wine just doesn't get it done, unless it's fortified. It's the month when chill sets in against our will and against any measures we may take to thwart it. Long days are over with, as darkness creeps in from both ends. The farther south you live, the less drastic the autumnal plummet. Sometimes I envy people who get to garden in Alabama and Mississippi — south Texas, too — but I wonder what it's like when days of rest, the gardener's holiday, come in high summer. That is not a time when I can kick back in the shade, watch the heat rising from the fields, or slumber if I feel like it.

My brother-in-law has a garden in Dallas, Texas. It's strictly ornamental, but he might as well be growing eggplant on the moon for all the familiarity I have with the plants he is obliged to use or the pains he must take to make them flourish. Shade is a valuable commodity in Dallas, and he has plenty of it in his yard, but I was shocked when he told me that it is too hot there to grow hostas successfully. I shudder to think what life would be like without that staple of the shade garden.

It's interesting how latitude and altitude combine to determine how plant life, and life in general, are managed on the skimpy surface of the earth, and it's easy to forget that regions a mere five miles above sea level (a distance comparable to a ten-minute drive to the next town) are uninhabitable. For me, the ideal climate is found where latitude and altitude are balanced in one particular way: High altitudes at low latitudes yield mild days both in summer and in winter — for example, mile-high mountain regions of southern Arizona.

As lost as I would be, at first, trying to garden in the Deep South, I can scarcely imagine what it must be like gardening in the tropics. No, wait. Come to think of it, I know exactly what it's like: pretty much the same conditions as you would find at any garden center, in their greenhouse growing area — but without the fauna.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007