Sunday, July 22, 2012

Second Season Stress

Every year around the second week of July, this year starting soon after July Fourth, the garden suffers the heat wave and long dry spell that wipes out the high tide of “solstice crop perennials” – the native day lilies, the ornamental lilies, the red bee balm, the whole cohort crop of June bloomers that peak around the end of that month and the first of July.
The “first” season in the perennial garden has peaked and passed. The second season has begun, generally opening with a dry and difficult patch of weeks to get through before nature makes things easy on the garden, and the gardener, once again by supplying some water.
For the last two weeks I’ve spent all my garden time watering, trying to pump the Quabbin Reservoir dry.
I’ve been critical of outdoor watering to keep lawns green in mid-summer, July mainly: lawn grass is a mix of an annual, non-native species that naturally turns brown in hot, dry weather. Basically, the problem is people pump their local water supply to dangerously low levels in a losing battle against nature, and to the detriment of the rivers, streams, marshes, wetlands, ponds and groundwater reservoirs which hold our supply of drinking water, in order to keep their lawns looking “pretty.”
However, when my perennials start wilting under the same hot, dry conditions, I hypocritically do the same thing. Only new plants are in real danger; even wilted perennials will bounce back when they get some rain.
It’s just they look so “sad” when leaves wilt and flower stalks droop. No pictures. I don’t take any pictures of classic midday wilters – the butterfly bush, the morning glory, some of the tomato plants, the chocolate plant, young hydrangeas.
When they look sad, I feel sad.
I want them to look good, even in bad times. So I walk around with a hose, sometimes for an hour at a time, soaking plants and whole beddings, while clipping away dead stalks, brown leaves, essentially the whole rapidly declining native daylily patch, and gone-by perennials such as the yellow primrose.
Temperature approaching triple digits?
I’m out there with the soaker hose and the watering can in crisis-management mode, addressing trouble spots by watering at the wrong time of day (having failed to get up at five in the morning to do it at the right time), with the sun still in the sky, thick air blanketing my every move, ignoring the natural human tendency to wilt in the heat along with the green stuff, and fighting the good fight.
I will keep this up, regardless of how much water I have to pump out of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, and pay for, because given the powerful illusion (however false) of endless abundance, there is no incentive outside of cost to conserve water. The MWRA gets its water from a huge watershed created in the 1930s by flattening six small towns to create a basin and damming a couple of rivers. There is no practical limit to how much water the MWRA can supply customers like me. And the authority prospers by selling water, so even it if advises us not to waste water, it doesn’t really mean it.
The short-term ethic (or emotion) that governs my actions and those of most other gardeners is you can’t let good, health plants down. And while most will recover naturally, recent plantings may need steady watering to get them through a dry spell. The same applies obviously to transplants and, determined not to learn my lesson, I keep trying to transplant in summer because this is the time I get around to it, instead of waiting to late August or fall when conditions are better.
Ordinarily I’m a believer in letting things be, not too much micro-managing (in life, as in the garden)… until I don’t like what they’re becoming. Then I crisis manage under the sun.
After peaking a week ago with a threatened triple-digit day, however, which wasn’t quite that bad because a breeze kicked up, we got thundershowers, a good soaking rain, and an cool, cloudy day today.
Things are looking up already.