Houzz Logo Print

Watering in the land of Mordor

I went down early this morning with DH to the old section of the big garden to water some of the plants we got in the ground last fall. I was expecting it to be bad: it was worse. Dry, pale, bleached, disastrous. Both the young figs dead, as far as I could tell; ALL the box, destroyed by box moth, gaunt white skeletons; the Viburnum tinus dead; the pomegranate dead, or nearly; idem the persimmon; the Julian barberry I grew from a cutting likely gone; both the young myrtles are dead; I could find only one of the line of laburnums. Except for the box, these are all plants put in the ground in the fall. Horrible.

The general appearance of the garden, unmown--DH has been cutting grass in other parts of it--is always pretty dreadful in a dry late summer, the grass tall, messily fallen over, bleached to the bone; tall dried weeds; cracks in the gray clay that we laughably call soil. Of established plants, even the dauntless phlomis is dried up, suffering though not dead, as is one of the vitex; the lilac foliage is shrivelled; the rosemary is alive, but certainly looks like it could use a good watering; the foliage of the St. John's wort is dead.

Some young plants are surviving; some established plants are healthily green. Established smokebush, Phillyrea latifolia, lentisk, are looking pretty cheerful, as do those staples bay and evergreen oak, the Italian cypresses mostly, the two Italian pines, including the one that fell over but didn't get uprooted, so that I left it in place to see what it would do. The olives are fine, of course. A tiny hazelnut looks happy enough. Two plants of Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' that I bought as an experiment last fall are both alive and hanging on sturdily in their less-than-ideal spots. The two threadlike kerrias are both surprisingly alive, as are the two photinias I've seen so far. Photinias are a kind of miracle plant. I know some people don't like their red young foliage, and they are way overused, and in the most banal ways, just because they are so handsome (gaudy) and hard to kill; but they're a welcome sight when much of the rest of the garden is gray. The winter-flowering jasmine is also alive, if battered.

The dominant local oak is downy oak (Quercus pubescens), a deciduous species not unlike English oak (Quercus robur, Q. pedunculata) but better adapted to droughty sunny Mediterranean conditions. There are many self-seeded young ones in the garden, and most have put on new growth this year and look perfectly stout. New seedlings keep arriving to join the saplings and few trees that have advanced beyond sapling stage. It may be that one day I'll just have an oak wood instead of a garden: I get so desperate in periods like these for ANYTHING to survive, that that doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Definitely, I need trees, and plenty of them.

Planting the garden is an ongoing experiment, with Nature, and what we've done to it, throwing frequent curve balls. Not all Mediterranean plants can take the kind of conditions offered by my garden, and its gardeners. Viburnum tinus is out, I think: it really didn't want to live. I still want to continue experimenting with myrtle, especially with box gone, but I need to try it in at least part shade. The lentisk, a southerner, is a really inspiring plant, though rarely offered up here, in my experience. I need sun-tolerant hedging plants to replace the box. I'm taking more seriously a comment from another gardener that figs like water: mine certainly didn't take kindly to these bleak conditions. The Phillyrea latifolia is another one that's hard to find up here; it's also slow growing. Handsome evergreen shrub, though.

The drought is forecast to continue for at least another week, with highs rising to 100F. I know many places in the world have seen worse, but the bleak exposed garden is suffering as it is, and a break would be nice. At least the serious heat didn't start until August, when the days are shorter and fall, one hopes, not too distant. Here at the house we've been moderately comfortable, with the windows wide open and the fans going. The garden around the house, thickly planted years ago, is green and not suffering overmuch. We're all looking forward to rain.

Comments (21)