I will confess this to you, my friends, a fact which fills me with great shame—I have given up on the garden this summer.
Everybody does this at some point, but they usually wait until August or so. This year, on the first of July, I threw in the towel.
I’ve traveled too much this year. I have been too busy. I have neglected it shamefully and it has gone feral.
I have just accepted that I will not tame it again until fall. I no longer need a hoe for the weeds, I need a chair and a whip.
It’s the weather. I honestly expected to come back from my two-week trip to find it wilted and panting in the heat. It’s summer! Summer is hot around here! Usually—in what passes for a normal year—it’s fairly dry and thundery. So, with the best of intentions, I set up my automatic watering system to keep the vegetables from drying out…
…and it rained.
It’s raining right now. If I didn’t have to leave town tomorrow on another trip, I’d be building an ark in the garage. There are flash flood warnings for my entire county and roads that no one should drive down until sometime in October.
Climate change? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe this is the way this climate is supposed to be—we’ve been in drought for quite awhile. We’re not in a drought now, for the first time in three years, and groundwater is finally inching back up to where it’s supposed to be. I look out into the garden and think “Oh god. This is normal. I have been gardening under a complete misapprehension.”
The effect of this rain on the garden is extraordinary. It shoots up eight feet tall, then falls over. My neatly mulched paths squelch underfoot. Water drains toward the low points and stands there, leading to an extraordinary crop of smartweed and frogs and an even more extraordinary crop of mosquitoes. The wheelbarrow fills up with rain and I fish weary lizards out of it. (One wheelbarrow is now home to a population of the predacious diving beetle, which leaves me deeply conflicted, since I was using that wheelbarrow, damnit!)
There are very well-meaning sites that will tell you that you should try and prevent standing water on your property, to reduce mosquito populations. I laugh. Bitterly. Then I go make a mojito. (The mint is leggy and floppy and not as strong as I might like, but one makes do.)
The beans and tomatoes have fused into a single wall of green that eats away at the edges of the deck. My cucumbers are utterly useless–the variety I planted this year is terrible in this climate and turns yellow and bitter overnight, when the cukes are no longer than my index finger. I won’t grow this kind again. Every time I go out of town for a weekend, I return to dozens of fat orange oblongs squatting in the dirt.
The liatris flails like a Dr. Suess serpent. Everything has fallen down and snaked along the ground. Only a few tough salvias stay upright. Everything needs a savage pruning, since the number of plants I am willing to stake grows smaller and smaller each year. Even those plants that never need staking have been beaten sideways by torrential rains. I shall have to cut back at least one arrowwood viburnum halfway to the trunk because whole limbs have been slammed flat and are draped apologetically over the Stokes aster.
Everywhere, the weeds, the weeds, the weeds.
It’s healthy. Don’t get me wrong. Most of my native plants are used to such extremes, and they are terrifyingly lush, horrifyingly lush, almost lewdly fleshy and extravagant. Caterpillars wrap themselves in leaves. Assassin bugs lurk, waiting for the caterpillars. Bees and wasps crawl over the flowers, butterflies puddle on…well, anything they want. You could puddle on anything in the garden at the moment. It is soggy. We have frogs in the oregano, making a noise like a buzzer, and frogs in the pond making a noise like dying bagpipes. My burrowing crayfish (Craw-Bob) has his own moat.
As a wildlife gardener, as one very concerned with conservation, I try to think in terms of what will grow in this region. I have never yet had to think in terms of what will STOP growing.
I had assumed—I suppose, as many of us have—that as things heat up (and they will heat up) that I would be dealing with a desert. I thought of rain barrels and supplemental hand watering and whether it would be worth it to find a spot for a cistern.
Now I gaze at the lush green havoc and wonder if I should be thinking of a rainforest. All those bog plants I shunned because my garden was too dry…what if that’s what I needed? All my waterwise planting notions…do I need to take out my yuccas and echinacea and put pitcher plants and sweet flag instead? Is all this lushness going to rot in the ground over the winter? Should I be chopping everything back by half in early May to keep it from flopping in the mad rains of June?
Forget French drains and other such half-measures–do I simply need to hire someone to build a raised wooden boardwalk through the garden, as is done in swamps and bogs all through the state?
Well. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, one torrential season doesn’t make a trend. But this is proof—like I needed it—that four years is not long enough to learn the ways of a garden.
This fall, I will have mulch. I will have shears. I will have a month or so at home. And I will force the garden back to its allotted spaces and perhaps salvage a few meagre cucumbers.
Until then, it runs on without me, in all directions, an eternity of green.
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