It’s Charlie Brown’s cry of guilty anguish as he puts the last ornament on his Christmas tree, promptly causing it to keel over. It is not a happy moment. And it’s precisely how I feel when I kill a plant.
There are many ways to kill plants. A lot of them have to do with water, either too much or too little of it. This summer’s drought compells me to write about the too little end of the spectrum. Because that’s what we had too little. Of.
We have a sad casualty on our street this season: My sister’s mature Euonymus alatus compactus, or dwarf burning bush. It is brown and crispy, instead of red and resplendent, the way it has been every other fall for the past 12 years or so.
Every time Helen walks by she mutters, “I killed it.”
But it’s not entirely her fault. She didn’t cause the drought. We really had next to no rain this year. Some ridiculously low number of millimeters fell, which I guess is hardly any. Unfortunately, I can’t visualize it because it’s in millimeters, a measurement I confess I have a hard time grasping. (It took me several years to figure out how to picture 2 cm of snow. Or is is 5 cm? Anyway, don’t get me started on the metric system.)
The last time we had this miniscule amount of rain was in 1952 or something, so believe me when I say it was DRY.
My sister Helen is into low maintenance gardening. She has a soaker hose coiled strategically all around her front bed, but for some reason this year it didn’t get turned on that often. Any OTHER year that would have been okay.
Here’s what tends to happen with gardens.
The garden is dry, you probably need to water, but it looks like rain, so you figure it’s pointless to turn on the hose because it’s going to get some rain soon, and off you go, thinking about something else. The next day you realize it didn’t rain after all, and the garden is still dry, but they are forecasting rain later, and you don’t want to waste water, so you don’t turn on the hose because there’s probably going to be a good drenching tonight.
This can go on for a few days while the garden is gasping for moisture. Finally it will rain and all will be well. But this year, not so much.
The activity of standing around with a hose slooshing water on the soil is something you either like or you don’t. I like it. My neighbour M. likes it. We often wave to each other while we are out there watering in the morning. I like that I get to fill up my birdbath, so the neighbourhood cats can have a fresh drink. (No, I have never seen a bird on my birdbath)
As far as watering is concerned I treat my garden like a potted garden that happens to be growing in the ground. I have to because of the root competition and the sandy soil. No moisture retention.
I have a few spots where I direct my hose strategically. Some plants simply need to be watered more often, and some can get by with what the rain brings, when there is rain.
I have a leaf mulch and I like seeing the water bounce onto the leaves, slowing it down, so it has a chance to soak into the soil.
I like the fact that the word mulch comes from a French word meaning something like soft. It softens the force of the water, whether coming from rain or from a hose, so the water doesn’t crash against the bare, powdery dry soil and drain away wastefully onto the sidewalk, carrying good topsoil along with it.
Helen doesn’t like this standing around with the hose stuff. She prefers the soaker hose, and the soaker hose does the same thing that the mulch does. Little tiny mists of water are naturally “soft” and get a good chance to soak into the soil.
She has mulch too, tons of it. I think the problem with Helen’s soaker hose is that the garden tap handle is too far down the wall, it’s bloody awkward to reach, and well… factor in the likelihood that it probably will rain soon, later on tonight, or at least on the weekend, they are calling for a real downpour…and then, the reality that more often than not the clouds will break up, the rain never materializes and the sun shines again. While the garden gasps away.
The point of all this? To give this word of gentle encouragement to all those with garden hose-itis: Yes, they are calling for rain in a few hours, or later on today, but the garden is dry right now, so turn on that hose, get some moisture in now. You might feel stupid uncoiling the hose even as rain drops are falling ( I often do!) but these days we can’t count on Mother Nature to deliver enough of the good stuff. She never seems to care or scream, “Auggghh!!!” when the plants droop towards the earth’s core.
No. All that wailing and gnashing of teeth is left for us.