Hope Emerges after the Height of Hopelessness
When times are tough we seem only to sense the negative. When it is 100 degrees or higher for weeks on end and rain is nearly nonexistent for months it is hard to have a positive outlook. When plants that you grew from seed, and have nursed for years, suffer and die from heat and drought, and there is no relief in sight, you tend to lose hope. When a “cold hardy” plant dies because the weather throws a curveball with 80 degree temperatures one day, and 16 degrees in a matter of a few days, it takes some energy from you. You may ask “what is the point to all of this gardening business”? What is the purpose of pouring gallons of water on plants, mulching around them, fertilizing them and caring for them when they continually look horrible or even worse die? The plants that do survive are attacked by deer, packrats, grasshoppers and other vermin and all that is done to protect them is to no avail. All the money and time poured into this ridiculous hobby called gardening seems a waste! I Quit!!! Have you ever felt something like this before? I know I have more than a few times. I have been so disgusted with the whole process I have just wanted to walk away from it all and go collect stamps or choose some other pastime that is less of a struggle. Maybe move to a high-rise in the midst of a city and never touch or look at a garden again. Why there are plenty of folks who can’t tell a live oak from a post-oak or a pansy from a petunia and they are happy. Why do I put myself through this?
Though I have no clear reason why I persevere, I do. To invoke a cliché “there must be chlorophyll in my veins” or some innate energy that drives me to dabble or plunge in the act of gardening regardless of the struggle involved. Why else do I do it? I have come to the conclusion that I have no choice. I have contemplated on numerous occasions what else I could do beyond messing with plants and nothing seems to come to me. I guess I am destined to remain on this path and must cope with what I am given. Some may say move to some place other than Texas, where the climate is less harsh. But call it fate, circumstances or divine providence, something keeps me here. This is the place I am bound to, at least for the moment, and I must deal with deck of cards I am dealt.
So you say where is the hope promised in the title of depressing repose? Well for all of my bemoaning and griping there are positives amongst the horror. As unappetizing a benefit as knowledge is, for most would rather start on dessert than the main course, I have gained knowledge from the past years’ struggles. I have gained some insight as to what plants are truly tough under trying conditions and thus I can relate this information to others that choose to peruse a similar course. I have better ideas of the importance of bed preparation and site location on planting success. I now think I know what kinds of plants to stay away from and which to pursue (very beneficial to the pocket book). Even though I would love to grow Trilliums and Dogtooth violets I know this would be unproductive in my current conditions. I feel it is better to concentrate my efforts on growing Agaves and other better adapted plants. Knowledge can be like fiber in a diet, it is hard to swallow sometimes but it is good for you in the long run.
Beyond general knowledge there have been specific successes to report in the past several years. Sabal minors, if well established, can take drought and poor drainage. Raphidophyllum hystrix will stand up to drought, poor drainage, deer and arctic blast and look good doing so. Viola missouriensis with minimal care and irrigation not only survives but thrives making a nice, low groundcover for the woodland garden. Zamia floridana can survive drought and is gopher resistant. Iris hexagona provides fresh winter foliage followed by mass spring blooms while also being moderately drought tolerant and then capable thriving in poor drainage when rains are in excess. Angelica pachycarpa is a must have for lush, winter green foliage and then dramatic, spring architectural bloom. Trachycarpus fortune plants are tough as nails can survive horribly dry conditions, though those that receive some reasonable irrigation grow 3 times as fast. Agave americana var. protoamericana has many great virtues and is great for the beginner and the seasoned pro alike. So there has been landscape successes despite the tough times which will eventually lead to future online offerings, so for all my bemoaning, not all that had transpired over the past several years has been disaster.
Things also seem to be getting better. Even though we still seem to be in a below average rainfall pattern, rainfall totals since the horrific 2011 are steadily increasing. The last two years have also not been as hot as 2011 (Note how 2011 keeps being mentioned as a benchmark for terrible weather). Though we still are having hot spells, we have not had the record breaking 100 degree F for months on end, like we did in 2011. I also used the bad years to learn a few things and implement new strategies. I have increased rain-water collection, during the periods that it does rain. I used the rain water on certain sensitive plants that resent the piped in water that is high in sodium and other bad-for-plant compounds and as a result I have improved plant health. This improvement in water quality has now allowed me to grow and now offer some plants, which I could not grow well previously. Grasshoppers though, still a problem, have been much reduced over the last several years and other problems have been lessening.
Even in the worst of times an optimist can find a sliver of a diamond forming in a lump of coal. I will admit to a tendency towards pessimism but there are strains of optimism in me as well when given time and struggle, the optimist ultimately conquers. Maybe one other most important trait a garden must have or cultivate in a harsh climate is endurance or the capacity to not give up. It would be easy for a Texas gardener to give up and select a different pastime given the weather conditions of the past number of years but the truly dedicated ones just can’t, or maybe stubbornly won’t do it. Amongst the failures there are triumphs, even if they taste bitter at the moment they occur. Often, in retrospect, the accumulation of knowledge, hard as it sometimes comes, is satisfying. Like the development of an acquired taste, or like the increase of appreciation for a bottle of Scotch or other aged liquor, that mellows and only gets better with time. To all those stubborn gardening souls out there I lift my glass in Salute!