My Unruly Garden 2015: Drought Garden

This year we decided to cut back on our usual garden pursuits. I had spent the last year very ill with Crohn’s disease and trying my best to take care of a baby and a blossoming Kindergartner. That took everything out of me, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that even watering a garden once a day was too much to ask. Elias also spent a long month trapped in a cast after breaking his elbow, and during that time the garden was off-limits. We played outside in the front yard with a gaggle of neighborhood kids, or had outdoor playdates, instead. If he went in the backyard he would sit in his unfilled pool and cry. The playing in the backyard meant playing in the water, and that was forbidden with a cast. I watered my potted plants sparingly and only when Elias napped. The garden basically didn’t exist during that long, hot month.

The drought made the prospect of growing a garden a wager I wasn’t willing to gamble. Even with a fancy water-wise drip irrigation system we had lackluster success with bell peppers and full-sized tomatoes. Our cherry tomatoes came in like gangbusters but they require dedicated watering, as does the pumpkin crop we’ve always had great success with. I didn’t want to sacrifice what little water we had on crops that may or may not turn out, and I felt that it was time to give the forever-thirsty pumpkin crop a break. I didn’t have the watering ability in me, and I didn’t want to dedicate resources to plants that might never fruit. This year, it wasn’t worth it.

But that didn’t mean we didn’t want a garden! We very much did. Instead we focused on native plants, drought-tolerant stuff, and our modest, low-maintenance container garden. I missed the cherry tomatoes all summer long, they most likely would have died from inattention due to my illness or Elias’. In May we planted a gargantuan amount of poppy, marigold, and sunflower seeds. Anthony and the kids cleared the weeds from the beds and prepared the soil while the kids and I planted the seeds and watered. We lavished them with attention for three and a half weeks. Nothing happened. Not one sprout appeared.

I’ve gone over and over it and the only conclusion I can come up with is that we were too late. By the time we got them in the ground it was already too hot and too dry, in the middle of May, for the seeds to germinate. The signs were there. We should have planted in late March, or early April in the latest, when our hummingbird friend arrived. I’ve never, never started a garden that early before, but this is the shift of the climate in action. It is real. And it is scary.

The poppies surprised us. Although we couldn’t coax any of the seeds to sprout, we had, and continue to have, a riot of poppy blooms all summer long. Our poppy crop from the year before did not disappoint and it managed to reseed itself for this summer. I’m confident that’s what happened because they are all last year’s variety (Cup o’ Gold) in places I didn’t cover with this year’s seed. This year I planted California poppies and Copperpot poppies–no Cup o’ Gold. I’m hoping all those seeds we spread will bloom next year or maybe this fall, so we won’t have to miss out on the orange and reddish poppies.

After an initial burst of blooming like wildfire in our flowerbed, the rest of the poppies seem to enjoy popping up in the barren wasteland that is our lawn. The patch of scrubby earth resembles the head of balding man: bare in the middle, still stubbornly clinging to life on both sides.  We have watered our backyard exactly zero times this summer. After years of repeated failed attempts at growing a lawn (and finally discovering a sprinkler failure was to blame this whole time) we no longer had the will or the funds to pump into the project anymore. And since learning of the severity of the drought, it seemed immoral to try. Since our poppies seem to live the barren lawn so much, maybe next year I’ll sow the whole thing over with poppies.

The kids still had a great time playing in our failed garden, before and after the month Elias spent in a cast, that is. It wasn’t beautiful to look at but it was ours, and Isobel was used to the cycle of living and dying plants from helping me with the container garden. There is always next year and always more plants to look forward to. Isobel really understood the power of the drought and how it affects her on a daily basis.

Elias was just thrilled he was allowed to use a shovel.

Though we did lose some plants the container garden did well overall, and we nursed it through these past hot months with greywater from the kiddie pool or the dishes or the remnants of water from cups and glasses and reusable water bottles. Isobel loves the experience of going out on the patio and plucking a basil or oregano leaf off the plant and popping it into her mouth. Our garden is limited by the drought, but we have still found a way to savor it.

We’ve still had plenty of backyard fun:

  • endless bubbles
  • mud (or even just sand) cooking
  • drawing in our nature field journals
  • reading books about plants to plants
  • making endless fairy houses
  • learning about new types of insects and plants
  • drawing with chalk
  • playing in the kiddie pool and sprinkler
  • laying out a blanket and looking at clouds
  • listening for birds
  • stargazing with a telescope
  • playing with the cats
  • archery
  • kicking a ball around in a sportlike fashion
  • sword fighting


My Unruly Garden, Early Summer 2015

I haven’t posted photos of the garden in quite awhile and I have a backlog of them. Most of these were from early summer when my garden was in full swing. Things were growing and the weather was nice enough to leave the doors open much of the day. We were outside constantly. I’m working on a post about what the garden is like now, deep in its summer hibernation, just trying to withstand the heat and the drought. During the spring and early summer the garden is such a huge part of our lives.

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