Tuesday, August 23, 2011

At My Wits' End at Wit's End

So much for optimism.  I've changed the countdown clock  back to November 1st, being firmly convinced that nothing but awful is in store for us for way too many days to come.   Yesterday was the 33rd day of 100+ degree temperatures, breaking a record set in 1980 for the most 100 degree days in a single year.   Not satisfied to merely break one record, Mother Nature seems hell bent on making August of 2011 memorable for recording the most consecutive 100 degree days.  23 and counting. with every indication that this will continue through the end of the month.  No measurable rain since June 22nd means that brown is the new green.

What's even more disheartening to me is the prediction that we will see more of the same weather next summer.   Here's what local columnist/blogger/Science guru Eric Berger has to say about it.  

While the gardens here on my corner of Katy continue to broil in the August sun, I'm off to Indianapolis for the Garden Writers' symposium, leaving the Executive Producer and the Assistant UnderGardener in Charge of Containers to keep things hydrated.  Feel free to stop by and water for me if you're in the neighborhood!

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Know It's Bloom Day ...

But experts generally frown upon attempts to operate both a camera and a garden hose at the same time.  At least the expert around here, i.e. the Head Gardener, frowns upon it.  She has good reason to do so, based on her observations of my attemps to water the garden and use my iPhone at the same time.  The weather being what it is, watering must take precedence over photography.  By the time I reach a stopping point in the watering process, the Death Star is painfully intense.  Even if I had the fortitude to stay out and take pictures of the garden, it's too sunny to get the kind of shots I want.  

Pink Salt Marsh Mallow (Kosteletskya virginica) was a prolific reseeder in years past. This year I only have one plant.  Dang.
So I decided to solve that problem by using previously taken pictures of plants that are flowering in my garden right now.  I do have blooms despite the heat and drought but they're definitely not as profuse as they have been in years past. Today was the 15th consecutive day of temperatures over 100 degrees, breaking the previous record of 14 from 1980.   Is it any wonder that the foliage on many plants looks like hell and the plants droop from noon to dusk?  The Head Gardener and I are drooping too!

If I had to pick one plant as the most stellar performer during this hideous weather, it would be Peruvian Pavonia (Pavonia peruviensis).  This tough native shrub is one of the few that continues to bloom profusely and hold the deep green color of its foliage.  It does both with almost no supplemental water.  What a trooper!  In years past, I've decried its aggressive reseeding tendencies but all is forgiven and I am grateful for its presence throughout the garden.

Another member of the Pavonia family has also been a reliable source of blooms this summer.  Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) needs a bit more moisture than its cousin if the HG and I want it to look its best but it's certainly no slacker.  It too reseeds itself freely and I'm planning to harvest seeds to sow in other areas of the garden.  

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthemum)actually prefers droughty/xeric conditions and we've certainly had plenty such weather.  This is one of those native plants I allow to self-sow, which means more often than not I find them sprouting in the cracks between moss rocks or in the granite paths.  (Although I wouldn't try transplanting them to spots in the garden beds right now, I've done it successfully several times over the years.)
  Even though it requires far less moisture than most plants, I've noticed recently that the foliage isn't as deep and healthy a green as it should be.  I'm living with it for now: overwatering them in these temperatures could be fatal.   In years past, I'd find Blackfoot Daisy plants rotting out in one spot or another.  I water in the morning, which means that as the temperature rises, the roots slowly but inexorably steam to death.  I've learned that if I water them at all, it can only be a trickle and only at the root zone, since other gardeners have posited that these plants hate hate hate loathe despise and hate overhead watering.  

The self-sown Gauras (G. lindheimeri) are also thriving in the heat and drought.  I've never had luck with growing the pink cultivars of Gaura; they just don't seem to transplant well.  I haven't tried in a while.  Hmmmm ... I wonder if I should ...   (The HG is sighing and rolling her eyes.) 

All of these plants have two things in common: they're all natives and they all grew from seed.  (The mother plants are long since gone to their fathers, to borrow an expression from the late herb guru Madalene Hill.)  While I don't rely entirely on natives in my garden, in our changing climate, they are becoming not just desirable but necessary if I want blooms year-round.  Elizabeth Lawrence's words on that subject are what prompted Carol of May Dreams Gardens to create Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  If you'll visit MDG, you'll find posts from around the world on what's blooming for other gardeners!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Report from the Head Gardener: The Greening of Wit's End

She Who Must Be Obeyed has decreed it my duty to inform our readers of the dawn of a new era for the gardens of Wit's End. Inspired by our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, and encouraged by my enthusiastic reception of her proposal, SWMBO boldly went where no resident in our immediate area has gone before. Yes, readers, we are indeed going green on this corner of Katy.
I believe that our astute and observant readers will take my meaning after a closer look at the trio of pictures taken early this morning.  A future post by SWMBO will both expand upon this theme and give a broader view of this verdant change.

Would that said changes include an early cool front and days on end of gentle rain but such is not the case.  The gardens here at Wit's End are suffering even more than SWMBO. With her exterior surroundings in disarray, she claims that she has been undone by the chaos of the undertaken greening.  I do not profess to be overly fond of the process myself but such is the way of things when non-gardening outsiders swarm the premises.  Thankful though we both are for their hard work in trying temperatures, we will nonetheless be grateful when their work is done.  Meanwhile, it is my duty to remind SWMBO to keep calm and carry on.

Respectfully submitted,
The Head Gardener

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Seattle Homesick Blues, Part 2

A shady glade in the West Seattle Community College Arboretum (that's Lorene Edwards Forkner, one of the Fling organizers ... you'll hear more about her soon)
Today was the first time I ventured outside of the house in the afternoon since I returned from Seattle last Wednesday evening and I am now experiencing serious Pacific Northwest withdrawal symptoms. Only this morning, I toiled for several hours in the warm and humid environs of my corner of Katy, savoring the light breeze that made being outside almost pleasant. But when I headed out to run errands at 4:00 pm, it was anything but.  The temperature was 106 degrees per the Weather Underground Station in my subdivision and I felt every frassin' degree.   I am NOT going back out there no matter how many droopy plants I can see through the windows ... they'll just have to tough it out.

Rosa 'Mutabilis' in the garden of Shelagh Tucker. The 'Mutabilis' I planted in early May fell victim to heat and drought.
One of my stops on my outing was Lowe's, where I went looking for the kids' beach umbrellas that my fellow blogger Leslie found at her store in Davis.  Clever and resourceful woman that she is, she immediately recognized that they'd make great sunshades for plants.  Yes, I just said that my plants would have to tough it out and they will.  My intent is that the umbrellas will protect them from the rays of the Death Star and give the foliage a chance to transpire rather than expire.  When the ambient air temperature is over 100 for days on end, gardens tend not to look so good.  And the Head Gardener ... well, she looks as pitiful as the plants!

Deep in the woods of the Bloedel Reserve
Speaking of temperature, you may notice that I've reset the date on the countdown widget to October 1st.  I couldn't handle the psychological trauma that ensued every time I looked at it.  Even though I fear that October will indeed fail to live up to my hopes of cooler weather, I've spent so many years counting October 1st as my benchmark that I decided it was necessary for my emotional health to continue to do so.  However, if October is indeed as hot as it was last year, I may suffer a breakdown of such proportions that a return trip to Seattle is required.  I'll go straight from the airport to the Bainbridge Island ferry and from there I'll head straight for Bloedel Reserve.  Deep in the forest primeval, I'll celebrate the cool and misty green beauty and wait for summer to end so I can return to my corner of Katy and pick up my trowel. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Seattle Homesick Blues ...

The Seattle garden of Shelagh Tucker
My mind keeps roamin', my heart keeps longin', to be back in a Seattle garden ...
Apologies to Gary P. Nunn, Jerry Jeff Walker, et al ... but now that I'm home from the Fling, I am longing to be back in the Pacific Northwest.  Or to paraphrase GPN and JJW, I am home with the armadillo but I'd rather be back with the banana slug ...

Jenny Koester and Barbara Pintozzi in the Seattle garden of Jim and Suzanne Birrell
It would seem that I was overoptimistic in my stated intentions to post a picture a day from the PNW.  (Digression: egads, acronymitis is contagious ... this is what happens when I spend time around Carol of MDG.)  To return to my subject: my laptop never left its cozy travel sleeve while in Seattle.  What with touring so many beautiful and inspiring gardens, both public and private, and socializing with friends new and old, sleep won out over posting when I returned to my room at night.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in the Seattle garden of Christopher & Michelle Epping
Since I returned home, I've been playing garden catchup both inside and out.  The garden handled the lack of attention from the Head Gardener and me with only a few minor casualties. The self-sown Zinnias appear to be the most miffed at the lack of water and since there are seedlings aplenty coming up, I'll pull the manky elders out and allow the youngsters to take their place. I'm also cutting back my orange Crocosmia (I thought they looked pretty good until I saw how big they get in Seattle gardens).  As for the sundry and assorted pots in the courtyard and on the patios,   the NonGardener-in-Charge-of-Watering-Containers did an excellent job of keeping things hydrated.  She will doubtless be thrilled beyond words to learn that she has progressed to Stage 2 of the probationary period, which means she will be in charge of these pots at the end of August while the Head Gardener and I attend the GWA symposium in Indianapolis.

I was NOT foolish enough to bring home any Dahlias but I did think about it.
"... when a Texan fancies she'll take her chances, chances will be taken, that's for sure ..."

Due to "several rash and imprudent purchases" (to quote the Head Gardener) at various nurseries in the Seattle area, upon my return I had to improvise a makeshift holding area inside Wit's End, where the temperature is more like what the plants were used to in Seattle.  As usual, I got carried away by plant lust and threw caution to the wind.  Much muttering and shaking of head ensued on the part of the HG, even more when I decided at the last minute that I should mail my dirty clothes home and pack the suitcase with plants.  She has since been forced to admit that it was a wise decision: the plants spent far less time in the suitcase than my dirty clothes spent in Priority Mail boxes (12 hours versus 5 days). 
Sculpture seen at Dragonfly Farms Nursery
In addition to catching up on garden chores, daughterly duties have kept me busy since I got back.  I'd mentioned last fall that my mother was no longer able to drive due to a stroke in her left eye.  We saw a neurologist a few months ago and confirmed that she also has progressive Alzheimer's type dementia. She and I have been struggling to deal with that diagnosis, and emotions have run high on both of our parts, so my week away was a welcome respite for us both. It's not in the natural order of things for children to parent their parents but that's become a big part of my life these last few months. 

My time in Seattle was all that I'd hoped it would be and I plan to share more of it with y'all in the days to come.  Right now, though, it's time for this cowgirl to kick off her boots and wrassle herself into bed!