Man, we’re having another dry summer here on the East Coast. And now with sweltering heat it’s looking pretty crispy out there. All over the neighborhood you see sprinklers a’spraying – and a’wasting lots of water.
Not me, though. Got no irrigation system, drip, overhead or otherwise. Got a pretty big garden, though, big enough that the sprinkler has to be moved to 9 different locations, and still some hand-watering is required. What a hassle! And seeing the water shooting high into the hot, sunny air (coz you can’t get it all done in the early morning hours), the inefficiency of the sprinkler is obvious.
So, like growing numbers of ecogardeners, I’m trying to cut back on my use of water in the garden, particularly the large amount needed to keep turfgrass green in the summer. I say let it brown, and brown it does and is. I apologize to my visitors and suggest PhotoShopping the lawn a nicer color. See how even avid gardeners are capable of sacrificing aesthetics for a good cause? Damn right.
And that brings me to a new appreciation for super-drought-tolerant plants. Here are the heroes of my own garden, plants that survive the longest droughts of summer with no help from me:
- Shrubs aucuba, nandina, Heleri holly, junipers, spirea, euonymous ‘Emerald Gaity’, weigela, bottlebrush buckeye, Meidiland rose ‘Alba’, and oakleaf hydrangea (in full shade).
- Perennials hosta, sedum, Russian sage, daylilies, ornamental grasses, liriope, carex, solomon’s seal, garden phlox, euphorbia amygdaloides, purple coneflower, aster, black-eyed susan.
On the other hand, the award for worst-performing plant in my garden goes to rhododendrons, about which I’ve ranted over the years and of which I’ll have few to none if the planet keeps going the way it is. I’m especially galled by the way they die – without giving a moment’s warning. No helpful wilting to force me to water them; they just up and die.
Seeking help in gardening with our hotter and drier summers, I devoured this article in Slate. The author first takes issue with gardeners rejoicing over their new ability to grow crapemyrtles in the North, calling it "nuts" and warning, "Be careful what you wish for" because arriving with those crapemyrtles are kudzu, itchier poison ivy, record pollen levels, and so on. Rainfall is more extreme, either nonexistent or coming in deluges.
Here’s the author’s advice for gardeners in the era of global warming:
- Make your soil hold more water by adding organic matter
- Choose plants that tolerate drought and a range of temperatures, like agastache
- Mulch your trees
And she mentions the much-loved plant supplier High Country Gardens, which got me thinking. Should we all be planting for High Country these days? Coz drought-tolerance is looking like an awfully good idea, saving as it does on my water bill, the local water supply, and my hours schlepping the garden hose all over the place. But what about the humidity and warm summer evenings we have here in the East? High Country’s excellent website addresses that question with this: For "very hot, humid climates…note that xeric plants with very woolly foliage…may rot from
excessive rain and humidity." We’re also reminded to plant in the fall or early spring and that plants benefit from afternoon shade. And then there’s this advice: plants should be watered regularly during the heat. Say what? I wonder if I’m expecting too much of these plants altogether.
The Slate writer ends on this bright note:
tend to be the most adaptable of human beings. In fact, working in a
garden is an experience that trains you to be flexible and to find
consolations where you can. So the poppies never came up and deer ate
the roses? Well, the irises looked great, and the lilacs were fabulous.
Absolutely, gardeners are adaptable; we’re literally grounded in reality. And until further notice, this gardener is adapting by demanding drought tolerance of all new additions to the garden. It’s just as important as that other pillar of sustainable gardening – resistance to disease and severe insect damage. (Notice the tolerance of a few insect holes? Yet another way that our sense of beauty is shifting to the natural, I submit.)
Now readers, can I pick your brains?
- If you also garden in a humid place, have you tried High Country plants and how are they working out?
- If you’ve replaced your lawn with something that can still be walked on, how’s it looking, and how much water does it need?
- And finally, how "dormant" can my lawn get before it’s "dead"?