Garden truisms

Crinum 'Super Ellen' that continues to expand despite the weather. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

There are some garden truisms that simply defy logic. My advice is to accept them as otherwise they will drive you crazy.

Gardeners always lament the current weather – and I’m not talking about global warming, deplorable as that may be. We’ve always complained about the weather. We either don’t have enough rain or we have too much. We have too much sun or not enough. We bake, especially during the months of July and August, yet many of us fear the electrical storms that ensue. We’re mesmerized by the weather reports, hoping rain is in the forecast, yet we complain if we get a rainy week, as then we will have too much water.

I gave up religiously watering my garden about five years ago. In the first place, there are sections of the garden where the various hoses refuse to stretch so I either have to lug buckets of water to these places – or forgo watering them. In the second place, the idea of water as a finite resource seems to be etched into my brain so my conscience now appears to limit my watering.

Here in the Piedmont, the weather conditions during the growing season differ. Some years are wet, others are dry. The results of my non-watering have been mixed but among my established plants I haven’t lost any. The roses shut down during our brutal months, only to revive when the nights become a bit cooler. The bulb plants, lilies, crinums, and crocosmias seemingly increase in number or size. Somehow, the plants manage to soldier on.

As I write this article, we have just emerged from a solid week of rain, emphasizing the need for “well-draining” soil. The majority of plants require this type of soil, simply because their roots require both water and oxygen. If these roots sit in a puddle of water for a certain length of time, they will drown – it’s the equivalent of holding our breath as we swim underwater. We can only do it for so long.

Admittedly, there are some plants that can handle a rain garden location but they are few and far between. These are plants that can handle overly dry and overly wet conditions, conditions that can make most of our garden plants rather crabby.

Perhaps this obsession with our weather is based on the fact that plants, while they apparently can communicate in some fashion to each other, refuse to speak in English to tell us what the problem is. We grasp at straws, trying to determine the cause of plant unhappiness. Is it due to a pH factor? Do we have the wrong soil? Is the plant unhappy dwelling in our gardening zone?

It’s far easier to blame the weather. Hence, we grumble and complain incessantly about climatic conditions.

Another garden truism is this: Add sandy soil to our clay soil and the end result will be cement. Clay soil consists of tiny particles that cling to one another, especially when wet. This is one reason clay confounds us gardeners as it can retain too much water. Equally frustrating are the sandy soils, consisting of larger particles, as they permit the water to seep through the soil too quickly. Now logically, it seems to make sense to mix sandy soil (larger particles) with clay soil (smaller particles) in an effort to loosen up clay soils or to tightened sandy soils.

I can only tell you that this combination does not work as it makes the resulting soil unworkable. Yes, that old adage of adding compost to either sandy soil or clay soil is the way to go. Accept it and move on.

Perhaps my reluctance to water regularly is tied up with my frustration with hoses. Another garden truism is the myth of the hose that will not kink. I have tried a myriad of hoses, ending up with a love-hate relationship (mostly hate) with them. Some were expensive, some were guaranteed not to kink, and some were endorsed by gardening experts. I need long hoses so perhaps there are fifty-foot hoses that have lost their ability to knot up but all my hundred-foot hoses are expert kinkers.

There is little more exasperating than lugging the hose to an outpost in the garden on a scorching day, only to have a water jam – and water jams on a hot, humid day are not my idea of gardening fun. This requires putting the hose down, then trudging back to find the inevitable knot the hose is reluctant to release. You walk back to the hose nozzle only to find that you have another water blockage due to another kink. Guaranteed to occur during the hottest days, the procedure to unkink the hose is seemingly endless.

The thing about garden truisms is that most of them simply have to be accepted. We cannot bring on the rain or stop the rain through simple wishing. The hose probably will never be my friend, so tell I tell myself that water is a finite resource. Just remember this: rarely is the weather ideal.

However, you refrain from adding sandy soil to our clay soil. You can purchase compost, adding it to the garden. Take comfort in one garden truism you can activate.

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1 Comment on "Garden truisms"

  1. Virginia Saam | July 7, 2023 at 12:51 pm | Reply

    I always seem to relate somehow to Kit’s columns. They are always good reading and worthwhile.

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