Gardening has become torturous, and I’ve been mulling over a question in my mind lately. Where is the pleasure in gardening when forces continually work against you? I realize that gardening is not an exact enterprise, and we all have to deal with setbacks here and there. I’m talking about constant interference– the kind that rattles you to the core. It’s been a tough year at Sutherland and I really do hope I don’t sound whiny, but damn, I could use a break here.
It was a dry winter, and we never got back into balance because the spring rains were stingy. Spring was really warm and everything broke dormancy at once. It was really exciting until the frost came. More than once I covered my young Japanese Maples to prevent the tender leaves from damaging frosts. For the most part I succeeded, but some damage could not be completely avoided.
As the beds and borders came to life, it seemed that we were off to a great start. Still could use a little more rain, but that would surely come. Then while strolling through the garden one evening, I noticed some light colored markings on the base of my Kiyohime Japanese Maple. The damage was considerable as large sections of the cambium layer were exposed. The cambium layer is the ‘growing’ part of the tree which produces new wood and bark. Extensive damage to this layer is fatal for the tree. I inspected all the other young trees and to varying degrees, found similar damage on every one of them. We’ve had beaver damage in the past, but this had to be something else. A beaver could/should have taken down the thin trees entirely. In the end, we lost only one very young Black Gum tree. Was it the work of the new groundhog family? Squirrels? Still not sure, but to prevent further damage, we wrapped the little trunks with a vermin proof jacket.
I was on high alert to catch the culprits and witnessed a squirrel doing a strange little jig around one the trees once. Still, I couldn’t be sure that was what had caused the damage. Then one morning as I made my way to the back yard to begin my watering ritual, I spied one of the container trees lying on its side. As I approached to stand it up, I noticed something that really shocked me. This new tree had been vandalized. Only an eighth of the original tree remained. It was particularly disconcerting as human tresspassing is a rarity. The layout of the property does not lend itself to easy access. Trying to make sense of it, I obsessed over this random act of vandalism for many days. I wanted to believe that it was the work of a beaver, but the cut was too clean. And why that tree out of dozens of trees on several acres. It still mystifies me.
If that weren’t enough, the dry spell slowly gave itself over to a full fledged drought. It’s not news to anyone living in the US. I know we’ve all been dealing with extreme weather situations, but this drought was like a slap in the face. As stated in the previous post, a gardener makes tough choices when battling a drought. In this case, the drought has prevailed. July was a particularly awful month in central Indiana and August shows no signs of improvement. No rain and several repeated days above 100°F were no match for the already parched land. I’ve seen terrible things happening in the garden this year that I’ve never seen.
Rather than enjoying my garden’s beauty, I’ve spent all spring and summer trying salvage the dreary looking plants. That means dragging around several hundred feet of hose across the lawn for hours– daily. To make matters worse, a watering ban was put into place early July. It stated that one could only water ‘by hand’–no sprinklers or irrigation were allowed. Mind you, we have two acres of beds, borders, and several new trees which were planted last year. There is literally no way we could stand and water those areas ‘by hand’ unless we were willing to stand there 24/7. So, that has led to covert watering operations and very strategic planning on what to water when. Tough choices were indeed made and we had to prioritze what and when plants would get watered. In the begining, I foolishly thought I could keep up with watering everything. It finally hit me a couple of weeks ago. I was fighting a losing battle. The prospect of loss was really weighing on me, and mid way through the month, I realized that everyone would most likely lose some plant material. I would not be alone. The water ban also prohibited any landscape plant installations. Talk about tough– if this was the year one would start a new landscape business, you were sure to go under. I reached out to a friend of mine who owns a landscape company and his report was as expected; sobering. With no irrigation or rain, the mowing jobs had come to a halt. With no installations allowed, and heavy fines at stake, clients were reluctant to forego plants and implement only bed prep or hardscape until the ban was lifted. Like many others, my friend was faced with letting people go. Creative minds saw an opportunity and anyone who owned a large tank or water truck, turned their skeleton crews into watering crews. This would be accomplished by filling up outside the ban area and selling the water and labor to water-restricted clients. Of course, business owners and many residents took advantage of this and the landscape companies are able to recoup a bit of otherwise lost income. The watering crews work pretty much 24/7.
Garden Centers and Nurseries are hurting too. It’s been so extremely hot that no one is working in their gardens, let alone planting anything. Several business have reduced employee headcount drastically, shortened hours of operation, and are even closing a day or two of the week to reduce overhead. That has only complicated things further down the line. The growers who supply the plants to garden centers are now sitting on tons of unsalable inventory.
And the farmers? Well, let’s not go there. It’s really bad. Crops are ruined and no amount of rain will change this now.
It did finally rain yesterday. The thunder that accompanied the rain clouds was startling as the sound has become unfamiliar. We got about 1 inch total– not enough to lift the ban by a long shot. And while I enjoyed looking out over the grayed skies listening to the gentle hushed noise the rain makes as it strikes the surfaces, one thought kept running through my mind. “It’s too little too late.” Tomorrow, I start watering again.