While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

Gardening in the Dust

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Dust covers the horizontal surfaces of my house.  I brush it away but more returns by the end of day.  Windows open, fans on high, curtains sweep forward and back as the house breathes, outside shade covers pulled down to block the sun – but nothing blocks the dust.  This is a hot, dry summer.  I am reminded of our years lived among the hot, dry, soil-saturated winds of Yakima.   Shelter from the heat was possible; not so the dust.  Minute particles of soil, pollen, plant debris – the cast-offs of life – swirl in the air before settling on stationary surfaces.  It waits patiently to be relocated but it seems never to float back and settle from where it originated.

The soil in my garden is dry under its cover of compost, mulch and anything else I’ve decided to return to a garden bed.  Drier than I have ever seen at this time of year.  I don’t water often; some summers I’ve not watered the garden at all.  Water conservation has been a priority in my life for over 10 years; since I first noticed something amiss with the precipitation patterns here in the PNW.  However, this year is different.  The heat and drought are so extreme that I began watering in mid-June, after having used all the water in our rain barrels.  Because 90% of our property consists of garden beds, watering weekly to compensate for the heat and drought would require taking out a loan to pay the water bill, so instead I have been even more conservative than in past years.  I collect our greywater for use on the youngest ornamentals in my garden and for container gardens.  I save unconsumed tea and coffee (sans sugar), dilute it with water used for washing fruits and vegetables, and use it in the gardens.  And our showers are shortened by 50%.  I’ve decreased the food crops I grow by 60% and have not planted any water-hungry crops except tomatoes.  (A summer without home-grown tomatoes simply isn’t an option.  Like a summer Sunday afternoon with a good book and a glass of wine, homegrown tomatoes are one of the requisite luxuries of life.)  But most ornamentals have only been watered twice each month this summer, and they are tired.  Some plants are weathering this dry storm with grace – stoic stands of Andropogon gerardii, Festuca californica, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Calamagrostis sway in the wind and nod at my commiseration of their thirst.  These prairie, chaparral, or meadow grasses were made for the long, dry punishment of summer winds.  They’ll be ok.  Guara lindheimeri, Echinacea purpurea, and of course Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Bright Star’ seem indifferent to the drought.  Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘White Surprise’ looks better this year than I’ve ever seen, and it’s only been watered once since the last rain.  But my collection of rare rhodendrons has received attention and water this summer, as have our dwarf conifers and deciduous trees.  Signs of stress are evident in leaves – brown tips, slight curling, yellowing.  I resist the urge to turn on the soaker hose and let it run all day.  Instead, I have resorted to watering by hand the plants that show the most extreme signs of suffering.

This hurts.  All of us – plants, wildlife, humans – have no choice but to adapt to new, harsh conditions.  Each form of life is dependent upon each other and we must do all we can to help each other adapt.

Nothing is untouched by this environmental change.  Not even dust.

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Author: dphare2014

Horticulturist, Lead Steward Carkeek Park Demonstration Gardens, Author

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