Are You Observing? Or Are You Ignoring?

Muttering to oneself in the garden must have been at an all-time high this week.

Quite apart from the fact that it is July and there is mandatory muttering to be done after the expensive party that is spring, having to endure day after day of high heat and cloudless skies is enough to coax ripe words out of even the most puritan amongst us.

The water barrels are dry and so are the margins of banana leaves, but self-seeding drought tolerants like this Verbascum thapsus draw attention away from crispier views. Note to self: grow more.

I am no Puritan. The early morning air has turned cobalt blue with my swearing.

Top of the list of things to swear about – my last rain barrel has been drained, and this in the youngest part of the garden that does not have running water yet boasts its sunniest exposure.

As I watched the last drops hit the bottom of the can this morning, I contemplated tomorrow.  Until we can expect a sizeable volume of the wet stuff, I will be schlepping water from the creek à la Little House on The Prairie, and the muttering will no doubt be amplified.

There are other options of course, had I the stomach for them. I have a pump.  I have a tank.  I have a creek. What I do not have is the time or energy to battle heat stroke as I level an elevated area behind the barn and built cement footers for said tank.  Such things are saved for 70 degree days with low humidity and chance of tool-wielding friends.

So I will schlep.  And swear. And, according to my personalized morning’s farm report on Agrible.com, the sky (and the air) will be blue for some time.

No doubt this confession will have the most righteous amongst you clicking your tongues.

Shouldn’t I have drought tolerant darlings in places such as these?  Shouldn’t I be taking heed from authors such as Beth Chatto and Piet Oudouf and planting only those which will thrive in fast-draining, alluvial soils?  Shouldn’t I be constantly amending with organic material to act as sponge for all available moisture?

The answer to all three is that I am.  But my garden is young, and shrubs and trees (and perennials for that matter) need time in which to establish their root systems – particularly in poorer soils. Annual vegetables are dependent on annually-made roots and extended periods of heat and drought after a new spring normal of soaking, every-day rain, are tough to shake off.

Plus, I am weak, and I cannot resist a bit of tropical madness every now and then.  Protected by thick, fleshy rhizomes, the cannas will roll with the punches a fair bit – but the bananas are starting to phone it in. And, as they cannot help but be flamboyant in whatever they do – be it thrive or dive – they’re starting to bring down the mood out there.

allium spherocephalonI have no doubt you are feeling similarly (perhaps minus the creek and the barrels and the tropical nonsense). It’s tough to get motivated when temperatures are high and only the air retains moisture. But nevertheless I must plead with you to put your head down and tend to your plants – or at least pay attention to what is happening out there in order to learn from it.

And, as no one wants advice shouted down from an ivory tower à la Vita Sackville-West (though I believe hers was taupe), it is best to temper the bad news with one’s own struggles.

If we have taken the time to plant them, we should take the time to tend to them until such time as we actively choose to be done with them.  So, be wise and get out there early, when the dew gives you hope that moisture still lives in our universe.

What do I mean by actively choosing to be done?  It is the difference between ignoring your garden and letting plants die and watching your garden and letting plants die.

As I said, my garden is young, and I have more than one shrub handing me a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card right now. But I am observing them. Carefully. As they mature, and I give them less and less, I am interested in how they will behave in conditions such as this, sitting as they are on the edge of the Grand Perhaps.  Is it dormancy or death that beckons?  If after two years of tending, they do not have the resources to cope with baseline conditions, I will let them die or give them away.

There is a difference between ignoring your garden and letting plants die and watching your garden and letting plants die.

If you have established shrubs and perennials that cannot take the rough with the smooth, year after year…if you are forced to help them limp through, never thriving…it is time to re-think your planting schemes and find replacements that will happily (or at least, begrudgingly) accept those conditions.

But that’s the point – you need to be active in your decision making process, not passive.

 

With no additional water, the monarda/miscanthus/cannas of this bed are doing beautifully.

 

That’s a lot of italicization.  But I have a point to make. Welcome the tough times out there.  Mutter by all means, but remember that these temperature extremes will help us to build better gardens. It’s time to carefully observe what your plants are doing in response to stress, take a few notes, and make some decisions.


By | 2018-07-20T14:46:51+00:00 July 20th, 2018|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

5 Comments

  1. waterbearer211 July 21, 2018 at 12:57 am - Reply

    I really enjoy strolls around our gardens. It feels like a little slice of paradise. But yes, it was getting parched out there for a few weeks. Today, torrential downpours and more for the next week or two. I’m learning my plants, too, and I enjoy soaking all that up.

    Great post <3

    • Marianne Willburn July 21, 2018 at 6:16 pm - Reply

      Early evening strolls in the garden are one of the great joys of being a gardener. Hoping for more rain as days go by.

  2. tonytomeo July 21, 2018 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    The creek through my former garden is sucked dry, not by drought, but by pot growers up above!

    • Marianne Willburn July 21, 2018 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      I would be breathing fire! (though perhaps not a good idea in California in August)

      • tonytomeo July 21, 2018 at 6:23 pm - Reply

        There is not much one can do about it. When the season is over, they dump all their debris on the sides of the roads in the neighborhood. They think that they are so peaceful and nature loving and environmentally responsible. It is all such hooey. Anyway, scarcity of water is normal for us The problem is not a lack of rain. It is too many people competing for the same limited resource.

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