Lessons From a Hot Dry Summer

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

A gardener’s biggest asset is hope for a better garden next year. Gardens need nurturing just as we need nurturing from them. But after a hard summer, we gardeners need inspiration to give us hope for next year. With fall’s cooler and wetter weather we can look back to see what lessons we learned that will help us and our gardens deal with the challenges of climate changes.Mornings, shade and ice water were the saving graces for humans dealing with summer heat. Spending time outdoors allows us to acclimate to the weather. It also refreshes body, mind and spirit even in the heat. Gardening in the morning had a sweet freshness even during the hottest days. There is a freshness in the short time between sunrise and the sun beating down. Shade took on a whole new dimension of comfort. Not only do trees block the sun, evaporation through the leaves cools the air. Even in the 100 degree heat, a pause to view the garden under the shade of large trees felt refreshing. Fresh ice water was a necessary treat all day long. And a bath of cool water finished the day and gave relief.

As for the plants, some did well and others didn’t. Most often native trees, shrubs and plants with their adaptations to Midwestern weather do better in our extremes of temperature and dryness. But this year was a challenge for many natives too. Watering helped all plants. For those that didn’t get water, some perished in the heat. Many plants survived but showed signs of heat stress. Some leaves seemed to dissolve in the heat. Some trees leaves began to fall early. And various insects and diseases did their damage and thrived.

But despite all the damage there were plants that did well. Native trees, shrubs and perennials survived and are always the first choice for any garden. Not only did they evolve in our weather extremes, but the birds, insects and other creatures that create the ecosystem of our gardens are feed and sheltered by these native trees*. Cup Plant (silphium perfoliatum) with eight-foot tall stems bloomed daisy like flowers with seeds the birds loved. The goldfinches arrived when the purple coneflower (echinacea) went to seed, and the butterfly weed (asclepias) plants were filled with monarch butterflies and caterpillars. Natives give you not only the blooms and seeds, but also wildlife that survives because of it. Non natives don’t do that. That isn’t to say non-natives didn’t do well this past summer and shouldn’t be in gardens. Some of the non-natives like crape myrtles, bloomed and stayed green. A new rose, Easy Does It, kept its beautiful peach orange blossoms going all summer long. And zinnia linearis, which comes in white, gold or orange with small quarter size flowers bloomed and bloomed.

Now is the time to take note of what worked for the summer of 2011. Look at gardens to see what grew well and what didn’t. Ask other gardeners what worked for them. Don’t let a hard year be discouraging for next year. And remember that no matter what the weather the most important thing that grows is the garden is hope and the nourishment of mind, body and spirit.

* Find out more about the ecosystem of plants, animals and insects that native plants create at the March 3, 2012 Garden Blitz at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Doug Tallamay, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home is the featured speaker.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a mandala artist and garden designer who uses the wisdom of many traditions in her work. Visit her new blog: www.creativityforthesoul.com/blog or (314) 504-4266.