Monday, September 29, 2014

The Garden Water-Bearer; or, My Aching Back



            It's summer, one last time (presumably), with temperatures in the high eighties last weekend. We're in the last days of September, that month of mildly gentle farewells (assuming no hurricanes) and easing up to the fiercer embrace of October.
            And here I am putting the sprinkler on the garden. It feels so July.
            Typically, some time in July, in the midst of a nasty heat and humidity spell, driving up air conditioner sales (and suicide threats) all over the Northeast, I reach a point where I can't stand watching plants wilt groundward, stick out their tongues, and appear to beg for death. So I drag out the old made-for-lawncare sprinkler, try to remember which way to point it, and give everything a good soaking (generally self included). I like plants to look the way they're supposed for the given time of year.
            This year, since we did not get a peace of mind-destroying heat wave in July, I ignored the watering question -- except for potted annuals, which you pretty much have to water every day -- until I noted the leaves of a certain valued class of annual plants, namely tomatoes, turning yellow.
            The vegetable garden is always a special case. Veggies are almost all annuals, so they have a shorter growing season in which to send their roots deep into the ground, sprout flowers, then turn those flowers into fruit before that fell messenger nature says 'time.' If the tomato plants and others wither and turn yellow, there's no getting back those lost days and weeks, and even if the weather improves and the rain comes, you still fail to get value from the plants.
            So some time in July, the first of our three very low-rain months in a row, I began what felt like starting an intravenous daily drip to the vegetable garden, by means of carrying fully filled watering cans to placate the tomatoes. Actually I started by spraying the garden hose in their direction, a nearly pointless exercise if you're up against a serious dry spell. Some vegetables, of course, don't need this degree of coddling. The Swiss chard we had for dinner last night kept producing leaves with very little help from me. 
            Plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans -- not so much. We got tomatoes this summer because I carried water to the plants.
            But then all the perennial flowering plants started looking for the same treatment. This is the moment when I give up completely and try to remember where I put the lawn sprinkler, where I should slip it in among the perennials to do the most good, and how to aim it to soak the plants rather than the patio or the house. (Or the neighbors.)
            The thing is, unless I come up with a wholly improved irrigation method -- and I won't -- I have to remember that the wise man gives in and starts depending on the unfashionable sprinkler early in the season with the ultimate, entirely estimable purpose of saving his back.
            First I started feeling a soreness at the top of my right shoulder. It took me months, literally, to correlate carrying the two-gallon watering can around the property with that persistent soreness. Then came the day when I attempted an-ill timed contortion involving the use of my back. Almost all physical movements connected to watering plants do also connect to the human back, a notoriously temperamental piece of bodywork. -- and, according to most authorities, a poorly designed committee-solution to the problem of standing up straight.
            I can still stand up straight these days, but bending is just a pain in the, well -- lower back.
            Not that I've stopped watering, entirely. Especially the late-season new acquisitions such as Joe-Pye Weed (third photo down) and a blue cliome that perked up the late season color profile and, of course, my perennial favorite anemones (top two photos). I like them almost as much as my back.