From Linda: August 6, 2009

August 6th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized

Okay, for you guys out there, this one is about relationships.  But don’t get scared off yet!

Monarch butterfly on Gregg's mistflower
As gardeners, one big-time relationship is with our soil, the plants, and the weather. We have only so much control over the soil, and none with the weather. To some degree, we can control the plants. But pick the wrong one or put it in the wrong spot, and it stomps off in a fury or whines. And the little sapling or tiny shrub grows up, with a mind of its own that changes our relationship with the garden.

I know that extended drought has many gardeners thinking about an overhaul. But as in any relationship, is it just some hard times that you’ll get through, or is it the wake-up call to move on?

It was only a few years ago that I thought I’d try caladiums again. I knew better, but I gave them three tries. Three strikes and you’re out, right?  Obviously, the snails were just as disgusted.

heat-stressed caladium
If you’ve coddled acid-loving, water-loving, or cooler-temp plants that thrive the 3 weeks or so a year that works for them, okay, it’s time to move on.  If they’re something you truly love or were a passalong from your grandmother, put them in a pot and baby them.

If you’ve planted things in the wrong spot, okay, move them in December or early next spring.  The Iceberg and Mrs. Oakley Fisher roses I moved to former photinia-ville are very happy.  Of course, they do get watered, but not a boatload of it.  They’re hunkering down.  Still, they promise to bloom like this again.

Iceberg rose with Mrs. Oakley Fisher

If you’ve discovered that a native plant needs too much water or less water or different soil to thrive for you (because it isn’t native to your spot), give it up or give it away to the right home. Don’t grab a plant just because its tag claims indigenous heritage. Is it native to limestone, clay, shade, sun, bog, moist woodland, or a crack in a rock?

After four tries at four-nerve daisy, (Tetraneuris scaposa), also called Hymenoxis, I gave it up. It’s not native to my clay soil.  I could baby it, build up granite mounds for it, and rearrange life in general to suit it, but was it worth it to me?  No.  I admire it in gardens where it thrives, just as I admire pictures of azaleas in Houston.

But if you’ve got a compatible relationship with your plants most of the time, and right now they’re simply miserable, like you, be patient and caring.  This oregano is pretty fried, but I have high hopes for its return.

heat-stressed oregano

Believe me, the strong links survive this test. A lot of my plants could write this blog about the dry, hot summers they’ve been through.  They could also tell you about the times when they were wilting one day and freezing the next.  Or when we got our 3-month quotient of rain in a week.  Like this spuria iris.  It’s in hiding right now, but in fall will grow like mad to bloom again next spring.

spuria iris

Although rough times are hardest on new gardeners, veterans are not immune.  February’s optimism can dissipate like fleeting thunderclouds by August.  When August lasts for two years, our passion for gardening can dissipate, too.

So, what do we do?  Well, for one thing, we make a tough inventory.  Along with what we can see, this is where a garden diary comes in handy. When our memory is short-circuited by heat, it reminds us that some things that look pretty gone now will rebound.

Some things we’ll lose.  I’ve learned that some perennials aren’t really forever, like my columbines. I think this one will make it, but as always when heat and humidity collide, I lose a lot of them.

heat-stressed columbine

But they matter to me, so every few years I renew their population and enjoy them for the years of spring joy they give us.


In my mulched garden, I rarely see the return on their populous seeds, so I envy the people who get them coming up everywhere.

Like any relationship, the garden isn’t a done deal, ever. And like other relationships, the best thing to do is to acknowledge what we’re up against and respond to it. We make changes, little ones and big. We compromise. We accept that today may not be a champagne moment, but if we’re patient, one is just around the corner. We learn from the joy of birth and the sadness of death. We explore, and find renewal and growth in new directions.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar on passionvine

And we learn to recognize the joy that comes our way, just in this minute.


So guys, that wasn’t so bad, huh?  Until next week, Linda

  1. 26 Responses to “From Linda: August 6, 2009”

  2. By Linda on Aug 6, 2009

    Thank you for a very uplifting piece! I’ve been as surprised by the plants that somehow HAVE made it this summer as by some that didn’t. And some that faced unusual problems–like the tiny agave pup that was almost entirely eaten by grasshoppers!–are looking better again. I’ll keep notes…although I’ve found that even with what appear to be identical conditions, some plants simply do well one year and not the next.


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 2:53 pm:

    Thanks, Linda! You’re right, one of the frustrating things about gardening is why one year is great (when you think it would be rotten for them) and the next year wonderful. I’m so glad for the agave!


  3. By Pam/Digging on Aug 6, 2009

    Not bad at all, Linda. In fact, brimming with optimism. :-)

    I’ve had it in mind to write an optimistic gardening post myself. The plants in my new garden have shaken out under the strain of unrelenting heat and drought. The ones that weren’t tough enough have croaked. The ones that are tough enough are hanging in there or even looking pretty good. Rather than lamenting the dearly departed, I feel like celebrating the survivors.


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 3:03 pm:

    I love that! Celebrating the survivors. I often think of you since a new garden this year was the toughest challenge of all. But your garden is lovely and the new pond just too wonderful. Makes me want to just cover the whole yard in a pond.


  4. By Iris/Society Garlic, Austin on Aug 6, 2009

    Thank you for this very thoughtful–far more thought than I can muster at the moment–post! Your great photos always cheer me up, even on this 47th day of triple-digit heat…


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 2:54 pm:

    Thank you! Actually, I’m feeling rather downhearted, so this was a booster for me too. I hope the plants can read.


  5. By mss @ Zanthan Gardens on Aug 6, 2009

    “…is it just some hard times that you’ll get through, or is it the wake-up call to move on?”

    Linda, this is just the question I’ve been asking myself. And, you’re right that these times (while very tough on new gardeners) have also sown doubt some of us who have done this for awhile.

    In fact, I think my record-keeping is actually working against me. I remember TOO much. It’s like keeping a diary of all the fights you’ve had with your significant other. The next time he or she does something irritating, it’s so easy to remember…”Hey. This isn’t the first time he’s done this. Remember when he forgot our anniversary? Remember when he went out with the boys on Christmas? Remember when he embarrassed us in front of our boss?”

    I admire your optimism courage in standing by your man– errrr — plants. I’ll try to emulate it.

    On the other hand, if we’re only wed “until death do we part” then I may be free of my garden very soon.


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 3:10 pm:

    As always, MSS, you are just too wonderful. Now you’ve got me laughing.

    I suspect you’ll be standing by everything. Reading your posts from the past to now indicate that you are a true gardener. You are also so determined to welcome a challenge that you’ll never give up.


  6. By Carol, May Dreams Gardens on Aug 6, 2009

    Though we are far from a drought where I garden, this rings true for us “northern” gardeners, too. Gardening, wherever youare takes work, but is well worth it for those “champagne moments”. Great post.


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 2:55 pm:

    Whenever I get really depressed, I cheer up thinking about you and those peas and that cool weather. I think you’re getting the summer we had two years ago.


  7. By Robin at Getting Grounded on Aug 6, 2009

    Wow, Linda, your comment “When August lasts for two years, our passion for gardening can dissipate, too” really nailed me. As a neophyte gardener, I began gardening on a grander scale than basic landscaping at the beginning of this two year drought. Year one, I had optimistic hopes and babied everything. I lost a lot of plants, but in the fall, everyone said “plant now!”, so I did. At this point, I just spend money on water to save the dying plants that I spent lot of money on. It looks horrible outside, and I’m just trying to keep some roots alive for seeing it all “someday”. At this point, I don’t believe I’ll live in this home long enough to ever see my garden flourish. Discouraged? You bet. Makes me wish I had just stuck with a lawn, and spent all that money on a vacation.


    Linda reply on August 7th, 2009 3:01 pm:

    Ooh, Robin, you have it bad. Believe me, I say the same thing every doggoned year. Really. In fact, I’ve been saying it a lot this past week. When I realized that, I knew that others felt the same way, so I remembered all the times I was going to give up, and then got a surprise. Hang in there, dear one! If we don’t get out there and grump in the garden, we’ll lose our girly figures.


  8. By Sandra on Aug 7, 2009

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m new at this so forgive me if I mess this up.

    I am having trouble with my elephant ears, they’re currently in a pot however I plan to plant them in a week or so. My question is will they do better in the ground and become a nice cluster.

    I think they need filtered light, not a hot location and lots of water. Whatever tips you have are welcome.


  9. By Linda on Aug 7, 2009

    Hi, Sandra! Welcome and you can’t mess up anything around a bunch of gardeners! I suspect you’re having trouble because of the heat and water situation. Indeed, they want filtered light or shade. The water issue could be the problem, though. They need well-drained soil. I’m not very knowledgeable about them, though. Others out there, do you have a recommendation? Mine would be to not put them in the ground right now, unless until it cools off. Sandra, call the folks at The Emerald Garden (512) 288-5900. They’ll have good advice for you. Hope you’ll stay in touch!


  10. By Linda on Aug 8, 2009

    Not the same problems here, but your advice rings true all the same. So often we get a mental image of the plant we want in our garden, and it can be hard to move on from the reality. This is a good time of year to take stock, and you’ve reminded me that I need to diary more, or at least take a photo record for myself rather than for blogging. They can be two very different things!


  11. By Cindy, MCOK on Aug 8, 2009

    Linda, you and I seem to be on the same wavelength lately. I’m starting to look at my garden and take stock of what still looks good after 3 months of intense heat and too little rain, and what’s just hanging on. Some of the latter would probably look better were they in more hospitable conditions elsewhere in the yard. Some aren’t going to look good no matter how much water and attention I lavish upon them. This is a year of hard choices and it does take a lot of the joy out of the gardening process. I’ve taken a note from a character in a book who required herself to think of three things each day for which she was grateful or that made her happy. I’m working at applying that to my life both in and out of the garden.


  12. By Meredith on Aug 8, 2009

    Words of wisdom. Gardeners have a hard time letting go of plants they have tried to nurture for so long. Watching a plant succumb to heat, drought, poor soil, or insects can be very painful to the heart. And deciding which seedlings must go when thinning can tear the gardener up a little inside. But when one plant goes, another has a chance to grow!


    Linda reply on August 9th, 2009 2:25 pm:

    Meredith, great philosophy! And I do encourage you not to wait to apply for NWF. They definitely understand that all gardens are in process. If you wait for the “perfect” garden, as I was thinking I’d do, it’ll never happen!


  13. By Linda on Aug 9, 2009

    Cindy, that’s a great idea! I’ve been doing that too; indeed, we’re on the same wave length. I remember a few years ago I saw an article on defining the top 10 “things” you really really needed to have every day, and let the rest go. Naturally, my Felco pruners were on the list, though they’re are pretty dormant these days.


  14. By Judy Tye on Aug 9, 2009

    Boy, have you ever given me something to think about! I have become a slave to a couple of variegated gingers in my fence bed: those yellow and green leaves against the cobalt blue are beautiful, alright, but at what a cost! They have sinking spells if they get the tiniest bit dry; in fact, they’d really prefer that I water them TWICE a day! Well…nuts to it. I’ll find someone younger and richer to adopt them and cosset them as they demand, and I’ll find some less finicky plants to put there. You are right as always! Are you as ready for cool weather as I am? Take care, Linda…love your blog!


    Linda reply on August 10th, 2009 10:37 am:

    Judy, as much as I love the variegated ginger, I suspect they’ll be getting an eviction notice soon. . unless they evicted themselves while I was at work. Indeed, some hard thinking to do. But too hot to think!


  15. By Vertie on Aug 10, 2009

    Well, using your relationship analogy, I may be getting a divorce. As a relatively new gardener, I’m not sure my garden and I have a strong enough foundation to survive such trauma so early on in our relationship.

    Of course, if/when fall arrives, I may just have to take on a lover.


    Linda reply on August 10th, 2009 10:36 am:

    Anyone who rescues garlic cloves out of the compost pile is probably not ready for Judge Judy!


  16. By Jenny on Aug 10, 2009

    This is the year that I finally decided I cannot grow hollyhocks. Not even the French ones that did so well over the winter, putting out wonderful green leaves. They too eventually succumbed to rust. Enough. Why did they do so well the first year to goad me on to believing I could grow them. There will always be something. One winter will be very severe and the cassias that have bloomed so well year after year will not make it. I think we live in this in between zone. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. I don’t feel ready to be limited totally by what will be a surefire success. I have to keep having a go at the plants I love- all except the hollyhock. However, I will be trying foxgloves again next year but I may not be growing them from seed. Easy for me to talk this way sitting 2000 miles away and having no idea what’s going on in my own plot.


  17. By bangchik on Aug 11, 2009

    A very frank post… questioning relationship. We may like a plant, but will the plant like us, the new home and the way we are treating…. Now that’s interesting!


  18. By bruce at digthedirt on Aug 13, 2009

    First time poster here. There’s so much to consider in your article. “Give up or move on” is so counter intuitive to many of us, but getting the right plant for the right place is a whole lot of what gardening is about for me.

    I’m not too good at it, but my wife does a good job of moving things around to where they fit. To be fair, you have to be able to find the right plants in the first place. There are so many variables: bloom time and color, soil ph, drainage, and composition, sun, zone, problems like wind, deer, squirrels or rabbits… the list is endless. It’s the hunt that gets me excited. Local blogs like this one are very important. Local nurseries, and not just the chains, are also critical. There’s also the web, but it’s hard to find a database that’s big enough and yet easy to search. (Right now, at DigTheDirt, searchability is our core focal point, but we have a long way to go.)

    Thanks again for a thoughtful post.


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