Okay, so before you get all “you people in California can do anything,” let me just say that we all have our challenges, garden-wise. Here in Eureka, my challenge is that it never, ever gets warm (today’s temps are high of 62, low of 54, and I am wearing a sweater as I type this), and it doesn’t rain all summer. Not once. We might get mist, we might get fleeting moments of drizzle, but it last rained in late May and we probably won’t see enough water to penetrate to the root zone again until October or November. Maybe December.
So a few years ago, my friend Scott Calhoun (quoting someone else, and I’m sorry I can’t remember who that was) said, “How do you know it’s drought-tolerant if you keep watering it?” and I thought, oh yeah. I should just stop watering. Period. At all. Forever.
So I did.
What happened next was a sort of survival-of-the-fittest competition. I guess some things died–I didn’t really pay attention. Some things self-sowed. I get great orange California poppies every year, and for whatever reason the Verbena bonariensis just marched to the front of the border all by itself–I swear I didn’t do it. Other things probably just got swallowed up, I don’t know.
I didn’t even do the whole “give it supplemental water the first year and then leave it alone” thing. I just planted in early winter, when rain starts, and explained that they’d need to be well-rooted by June, because that’s when the spigot turns off. Sure, they sulked through the summer, but after a couple years, they got the message and grew up big and strong.
Once it starts raining in the winter, I might go out and dig up one of the more successful plants, divide it, and stick it back in the ground in a larger mass. But now I’m not even going to do that anymore. I feel like this thing is pretty much done.
There is no weeding. Sometimes a blackberry vine will make its way through the jungle and head upward, gasping for air–those get cut down, but that’s about it.
There probably should be more deadheading than there is, but–whatever. I’ll get around to it. Maybe.
I think it looks pretty durn nice, and it’s highly unusual for me to have a garden that I consider “finished”–but I like it. Most of all, I like that it’s a response to my specific, weird climate. Through a lot of trial and error, I figured out what grows here with no interference from me and I planted a lot of that.
And by the way, these are not necessarily top-selling plants at local nurseries or mainstays of local landscapers. Some of them are, but others (like that absurdly huge angelica) are just impulse buys from specialty nurseries or big-city garden shows that turned out to be curiously vigorous.
Your climate is probably not my climate. (Be grateful for that.) So what grows without interference for you? What would it be like to fill a front yard with those plants?
Posted by Amy Stewart on August 8, 2012 at 4:19 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling, Shut Up and Dig.