This has been a strange weather year. Strange weather, unfortunately, has an unpleasant impact on the garden and on the psyche of the gardener.
After the horrid drought of last summer, when I watched plants wither up, came a fall that was virtually a continuation of summer. Finally, however, with a little rain and a drop in temperatures, the plants relaxed and the gardener sighed with relief.
According to our calendars, late fall finally arrived, and we looked forward to the beginning of the ideal planting season. Our hopes were dashed as the rain was sparse and the temperatures continued to be warm.
Winter sadly appeared in December. Heating bills went up and gardeners shuddered when they bundled up to putter around the garden.
A surprise spring appeared in January. All over the county, shrubs and trees began sporting buds, leaves and flowers way before the usual time. A dwarf Japanese maple in my garden was literally covered in tiny leaves in a matter of a few days, months too soon.
Gardeners held their breath, knowing there would be a frost, and there was. Overnight, all those little buds and leaves fell off the trees; flowers turned to mush. We sighed deeply and said to ourselves, this year is going to be another disappointment.
It appeared that this might be the year without spring; winter weather turned to summer weather almost overnight.
What happened to the precious days of spring? Those days when we could hardly wait for daylight to begin the day’s rounds, making lists of what needed to be done, admiring the new bloomers, shopping the garden centers teeming with fresh plants.
About this time, we began to realize what plants were not tough enough to survive this roller coaster of weather. A shrub with no leaves, or a bare place where a plant had firmly stood last year.
It seemed my native azaleas lacked the stamina to hang on in the roller coaster’s ups and downs. A camellia or two was gone.
Not to mention the hardship we saw on all the trees, shrubs, and perennials that had just begun to bloom when the late frost appeared. A beautiful patch of pink hardy orchids looked like burnt spaghetti noodles.
I shook my head and said to myself, probably no hydrangeas this year.
I found a silver lining!
Like many clouds, this one had a silver lining. For every plant that could not handle this past year’s chaotic weather, there were a dozen that did.
Daffodils were blooming all over the garden. The tulip magnolia survived the whole blooming season without a hint of a cold spell that would have turned its delicate flowers to brown clumps.
This spring, we had lots of nice rain and no terrible heat. Yes, it has been hot, but we need that sunshine to help the flowers perform at their best. Gardeners enjoy complaining about the temperatures, whether too hot or too cold.
Then there were bumps in the road
With summer always come a few bumps in the road. The black lubber grasshoppers (more like locusts than grasshoppers) have invaded my garden. Left to their own devices, they will snack on any juicy tidbit in the garden. If it is particularly tasty they might chew it to the ground. I have spent endless amounts of time either stepping on them or bashing them with a shovel.
The deer seem unusually hungry and have learned to jump my 5-foot-tall chain link fence. Their target is my hosta collection, where 100 beautiful hostas had been leafing out under the shade of the trees.
I have sprayed every flower in my garden with a foul-smelling liquid guaranteed to keep the deer away. I guess someone forgot to tell the deer. I will not be undone by a four-footed furry creature and am concocting a method to keep them from jumping the fence.
I dragged my husband out to view the deer damage, and as we headed down the hill a snake crossed our path. I screamed, and it continued on its way. My only regret was that I had not taken a picture to show the other gardeners the snake in my backyard.
I read in the paper that summer 2017 was going to be a bad year for ticks. Since I have already had about 15 bites, I guess that is a true statement.
Then there were more surprises!
It does not take a lot of the beauty that a garden provides to make up for annoyances like grasshoppers and hungry deer.
This is the best year I have had for hydrangeas. Hydrangeas ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Vince Dooley’ were virtually covered with luscious blue flowers, proving my negative forecast wrong. A small hydrangea that had never bloomed finally showed me its delicate pink flowers.
My yard is filled with the delightful fragrance of gardenias, another shrub that enjoys the rain and sun. The bushes are literally covered with delicate white blossoms, maybe the best in years.
The hostas wave showy leaves in various shades of green, blue and chartreuse. At the end of last summer, they looked so bad I guessed I would never see any of them again. About 12 of them did not return; I can handle that loss. All of the non-survivors have been replaced with interesting specimens.
I have planted about 250 annuals in pots and in a color bed. They are beautiful, possibly the most vibrant and healthy in years. The right balance of sun and rain have brought out the best in my caladium collection.
My zoysia lawn is outstanding. I have to mow more frequently, but that is a very slight price for the lush green stand of grass.
No matter how much we humans water, the water from a hose does not equal the power of “God” water (as my friend Victoria Dubose calls it) on the health of our plants. Every time we are tempted to complain about all the rain, we should take a minute to remember last summer, when we went weeks with nary a drop.
So let summer come, bringing the heat, the biting insects and a drought on occasion. Summer also brings such immense pleasure in the garden that gardeners worth any salt will figure out a way to handle that which does not make them smile.
Sherry Blanton is a member of the Calhoun County Master Gardeners Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.