December 1, 2012

Silver Linings

the early years
This is a major gardening oops, a basic misunderstanding of the elemental concepts of gardening.

I am sharing this on the first of the month, along with others at Joene's blog. We reveal our GOOPs, or Garden oops there.

The basic mistake I have made from the very beginning is that I assumed conditions would never change.  What I first learned would be the way things would always be.  Forevermore.

And here is the problem --

Everything I learned as a new gardener I learned in the rain.

We bought our house in 2004, and I started planting trees and some landscape plants the next year in 2005.  I was a completely raw recruit to gardening, and had to learn everything from scratch here on this empty plot of land.

summer in 2009
With delight and fascination, I learned.

By 2007 real gardens were built, and in 2008 and 2009 I had learned enough and planted enough to see beautiful results emerging.

Those first years, from 2004 through 2009 were my laboratory years, when I experimented and gained knowledge, not only of plants and design, but also about the conditions I have to garden in.

The first six Julys in my new garden were exceedingly wet.  11.17 inches of rain fell in July 2009.  The year before, July dumped 7.88 inches on us.  The norm is 3.6 inches. Other Julys in those first years were at 4.5 inches, still above the norm.

Those were the conditions in which I built all my gardens and learned what would work.  It never occurred to me that we could get consecutive years where the July rainfall would be zero or two tenths of an inch.

So I designed my spaces with lobelia, hydrangeas, turtlehead, river birches, white birches, camassias, shrub willows, winterberry hollies, spicebush, witch hazels, and other plants that can take, and want, a lot of water.

I built a dry creek bed for run off.  I learned to ignore the plants that shouted "drought tolerant" and I wouldn't plant the ones that wanted sharp drainage and dry conditions.  Yarrow didn't survive my rainy Julys and lavender couldn't take the wet winters.

I learned to mound up new gardens in berms or raised areas for drainage. I put shade lovers in full sun, and they thrived because they were wet enough.

Nothing here is designed for ease of watering --- new tree saplings on the back hill are too far away, and there are about 50 of them now.  I can't tote that many cans of water. Gardens nearer the house are poorly designed for hoses or sprinklers.

Early on I had to learn how to keep young plants from drowning, and how to deal with fungal leaf diseases on so many soaking wet plants.  Almost everything here is newly planted and immature and needs plenty of water to establish.

After building my gardens over six rainy years, the new normal the last three years in July is hot and rainless.

Now that my gardens are maturing, the wet conditions I prepared them for are not just drier but incredibly dry.

Julys in my garden have been torture --- for the plants and for the designer who now has a high maintenance, stressed looking garden in high summer.

Not what I was going for.

This is not a complaint about real drought. Many other parts of the country have been through a true catastrophe, and we did get rain here finally in late summer and fall.

My observation is that I simply designed everything, absolutely the whole garden, for a static set of conditions, not even considering that it could change.  Do you hear the Garden Oops in that?  I never thought conditions could change.

My complaint is that I can't take care of it in summer now and it doesn't look good. My complaint --- wait, this may be an incredible benefit --- is that I may have to start over.

New ideas, new plants, different choices, all new.  How can I complain about that?

Could this be a long awaited storm cloud with a silver lining?

Surely the opportunity to do a whole new garden redesign qualifies as a silver lining in the storm clouds of change.

 

25 comments:

  1. Laurrie,
    It's always difficult to anticipate the various changes in the nature.
    even if you think it will be a drought in July it would not be able to guess how long the drought will last. You're enough experienced gardener now.

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    1. Nadezda, it does help now that I have more experience! I still can't predict the changes, but I know how to adapt better.

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  2. Ahh, the ever-optimistic mind of a true gardener ... when conditions change it's time to redesign. Something tells me you are going to have fun recreating your gardens.

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    1. Joene, I am already having fun with some of the ideas to re-do parts of the garden. I may spend the winter making mental changes!

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    2. What!? You're going to make only *mental* changes during the winter? I see you don't subscribe to my belief: Plant as long as you can dig a hole, no matter the season.

      I salute your patience.

      ~ The Impatient Gardener

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  3. That's the biggest challenge for any gardener, no matter where we are around the world. Sooner of later we begin to realize that things do change and we are taken along for the ride.

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    1. Bernie, that's exactly how I feel -- like I have been swept along for a ride. All the weather (climate?) variability has really thrown me for a loop these past years. But I'm learning now to adapt.

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  4. Laurrie, your plight and plaint demonstrate a fundamental truth: A garden is not done until the gardener is. So, enjoy your do-over, which certainly won't be your last. I'm thinking Xeriscape plants are in your future. Now, the question: What'll you do with all those great plants you've kept alive?

    Love the creative photos.

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    1. Lee, I don't know that I will go completely over to xeriscaping (I did plant an opuntia this fall in the gravel area, and the poor thing looks terrible and wants me to ask someone for advice). But I will use more plants that will be ok with both occasional drowning and long dry spells.

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  5. This is my first time at your blog it's delightful, Laurrie. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we often have Juneuary followed by a wet early July and then 60 days of drought. It's been an on-going challenge to find just the right spot for perennials, shrubs and vegetables over the last 19 years, and I'm still learning--with a twinkle in my eye. Have you heard of Himalayan Honeysuckle, aka Leycesteria formosa? It grows well in my weather conditions, and I bet it might for you, too.

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    1. Benita, Welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed finding me. You certainly have extremes to deal with in your area. Leycesteria sounds intriguing, maybe not quite hardy enough for winter here, but I am going to check it out further!

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  6. It is fun to have to redo a garden. I am finding that I need to change some things too. Plants that used to be stalwart are now considered invasive. It is always something. It is a good idea to just go with the flow. Change things up and hope for the best.

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    1. Lisa, that's the other surprise about gardening, not just the variable weather -- some plants become too aggressive and you didn't plan on that when they were planted. Changes, changes . . .

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  7. Laurrie, I didn't realize that we both started gardening about the same time. No wonder I relate so well to all your gardening OOPS! I remember some of the rainy years, too, when my roadside garden was under water for a couple of weeks. I started thinking about replacing everything with bog plants, then:) I'm at the point, too, where the early garden areas I created are in drastic need of a re-do. This sounds like a good winter project--dreaming and planning!

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    1. Rose, we do have similar experiences and challenges. I haven't had anything like real sustained drought, and certainly not real floods, but I do struggle with some months too wet, others too dry. My early areas have already morphed into other designs, and I have plenty more to change now too!

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  8. I put in a river birch to solve a huge water problem only to discover many years later that the birch demanded so much water that the area around it was now dry shade. Never thought that would happen! I find myself gravitating towards plants that don't need one extreme or another - they can tolerate whatever nature throws at them. Unfortunately, it's a very short list! Have fun with your re-do!

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    1. Tammy, it's a short list of plants that tolerate variable conditions, but by trial and error I am finding what will survive in my garden, and there are some that do just fine. My biggest issue is that I have shade lovers growing in sun because they got so much water initially, and now in drier conditions they scorch (my bottlebrush buckeyes, the yellowroot shrubs, etc.) They can take variable conditions, just not out in the open sun!

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  9. A total redesign sounds exciting! But be careful of those drought loving plants. As soon as you have them all planted, the rains will probably return.The plants that have done best for me are natives that can take all sorts of weather. We have had weeks of heavy rain, prolonged drought, 100+ heat and bitter frost — sometimes all in the same year! I can't garden for one set of circumstances, and I try to find mostly middle of the road plants, though sometimes I must have one that needs coddling.

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    1. Deborah, your climate is exactly the wildly variable stuff we get up here, except add deep snow to the list! I do use a lot of natives, but around here the native plants tend to be woodland plants that don't do so well out in my sunny, windy open yard. I don't really have a "native" environment for them!

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  10. I suppose if we stopped learning and re learning it would get pretty boring. Nature is fluid and always in motion and so conditions just about anywhere are bound to change eventually.
    Sea shells on top of Mt Everest? Now there's some changing conditions!

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    1. Forest Keeper, Now that puts my gardening challenges in perspective!

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  11. Glad to have found your blog, the name caught my eye- LOVE it! I enjoyed reading about garden oops and I believe that there a silver lining at the backside of this storm cloud! I'm your new follower. Sandi

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    1. Sandi, welcome! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find lots to read here.

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  12. Garden redesign is what keeps it interesting for me. Between that and the porch makeover you've got lots to think about over the winter.

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    1. Sue, Yes, I am really busy just thinking about porch redesigns and new garden plants to try. So much to research. So much to do. whew.

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