Sunday Opinion: Reactionary

Two weeks ago I got a haircut-just this side of a military buzz cut.  I was reacting to the intense heat and the lack of electricity.  I just needed to get that hair off my face, and my neck.  This past week, that reactionary buzz cut was still soaking wet, every day, all day long.  My point?  Reacting to the conditions of the moment sometimes solves a problem.  But not always.  No matter the length or style of my hair, I perspire-copiously.  I cannot wait for the temperatures to cool down, but cutting my hair won’t make this happen any faster.  No matter the season, I have a point of view about the landscape.  My point of view is not so much different than my propensity to sweat.  It is God given, ingrained, instinctive-and above all, stubbornly reactive.  But my expected reaction is not always the best way to cope.  The heat shouldn’t make me throw up my hands in disgust.  It should only make me shower and find a way to cool off more often.  It should make me garden early and late, and not so much the middle of the day.  It should make me watch the need for water, better.

Our high heat and lack of rain has been stubbornly persistent.  This is not Georgia, Alabama,  Florida, or Texas-I live in Michigan.  Typical July weather in Michigan is hot, but not mid to high 90’s hot. Tropically high heat has made every gardeners life tough. Every gardener I know is sweating buckets, and reacting.  None of my plants like being subjected to this blast furnace style weather either.  They react-dramatically.  They shed green leaves.  The leaves on my lindens yellow, and drop.  My dogwoods are in a sustained wilt, no matter how much I water.  They just don’t like this heat.  My magnolias are rife with fungus.  They have been barraged by inclement weather since the April.  My grass is panting. My roses contracted black spot instantly-those long leafless stalks are not so good looking.  I water a section of them-every night.  My stands of Monarda Claire Grace have lost all of their lower leaves to mildew.  I have flowers and sticks to look at.

I have seen a lot of over watered plants.  Though a dip in my fountain makes me feel better and cooler, water does not mitigate the heat.  Dahlias wilt from intense heat, even when they do not need water.  Begonias will rot in an instant, should the water be stepped up in the heat.  A sure sign of overwater in a landscape-yellowing yews. You can smell ground that is overwatered.  Unlike the fresh pungent smell of compost, over watered soil smells rotten-which it is.    

My good friend Julia has thrown in the towel.  She tells me that the romance the over.  This season is a wash.  She cannot wait for the 2013 gardening season.  I understand her frustration.  She has a large garden without any in ground irrigation.  She has been dragging hoses around for weeks.  She must feel like she has a hose duct taped to both hands.  Never mind her efforts-she tells me her garden looks terrible.  Exhausting, this.  The work involved in attempting to intervene in a drought and high heat summer is considerable.  Daunting.  However I recognize that this is her reaction, and no more. 

World weather cycles span more time than a human lifetime, though I remember a season in the late 80’s-intense heat, and drought. I could not sleep for weeks-no air conditioning then.  I was planting gardens and landscapes.  There was a ban on watering.  I worried all night long about what I had planted-would those plants survive.  Reactionary, my initial response.  In retrospect, there was little loss, but lots of worry. 

Given over 30 years gardening at home, and professionally, I am inclined to ascribe the particulars of this particular season to a bigger picture.  This is just one year of many, with its own particular circumstance.  As much as I am inclined to react to the moment, I know better than to do so. As much as I would like to think that my lifetime establishes weather parameters, and thus defines nature-I know this is foolishness. It varies over a time period much longer than a human life.    My reaction to our untoward weather only makes me perspire more.  My patience, in spite of my perspiration, is more useful than my reaction.

This gardening season is not so much my favorite.   But is it what we have.  What we have-I have no plans to react.  My plan is to live, and garden.


  1. Me too Debra. Each year brings it’s own challenges and as the saying goes–“It is what it is” and I plan to enjoy what I can each gardening season. Hope you get some relief soon and your weather returns to normal

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks Carla. The weather for our garden cruise this coming Sunday is supposed to be 85 and partly sunny-I am so hoping for this prediction to come true! Thanks, Deborah

  2. Good attitude, I am focusing my efforts on the border, the beds close to the house and and ornamental trees. Also once a week choosing a large bed with ground cover and tall maples and beeches to water. Last year, we barely brought out the hoses! The deer are ravenous and thirsty, eating things at night while we sleep that have not been eaten in previous years, the birds are enjoying the feeders and fresh water in the bird baths, the dog is enjoying the AC!

  3. Silvia weber says

    I too thought about cutting my hair – tired of the sweat soaked mess on top of my head – how funny!! This filthy heat can go away – its been cooler in Key West than Ohio for days. Lettuce, spinach bolted weeks ago, even the Swiss chard bolted?!? Our Hydrangeas, filled with blooms, shriveling up. Watered the lawn the other night around 9:00 pm and “steam” rose up from it – no kidding. While at a friend’s garden party recently , I spoke to a woman whose family has a 100 acre farm in southern Illinois – they grow corn. The farm has been in their family since 1840 – Abraham Lincoln wrote their deed as a young lawyer. This year the corn is “black” – a total loss, apparently for the first time. A cool August? This gardener can only hope.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Silvia, it does make you wonder what August will be like. My heart goes out to people who farm-who live from what they grow. I cannot imagine. The irony-all of the Michigan fruit crops that will be nothing this year-from frost. Installing landscape is a mild version of farming-and it is about to do me in. Just keeping our nursery stock watered is a full time job. Some days its just not possible to work late into the afternoon. Stay cool. Deborah

  4. Tom in NC says

    Deborah. And to think just today I was wondering why only I had to endure the conditons you describe. If it’s any consolation, every summer around this time, the dogwoods go wilty here, too. But, not to worry, as they invariably bounce back, – even withot watering. And, as I sat inside today, a virtual prisoner to the intense heat, I gazed out through the simmering haze upon a robust bunch of irises, their defiant swords poking at the sun. Showing just their leaves now of course, but they are looking great – and seem to prefer less to more water. Note to self was made. Plant more irises.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Tom, good idea-more irises. Actually, a lot of my plants look good-what I can see of them from indoors. Being a prisoner of the heat-that is an accurate way to put it. Air conditioned spaces are so annoying, but I would not want to do without them right now.

  5. We plan our week long Michigan beach trip every summer in August just because the lake will be warm enough to swim in. As of three weeks ago it was already warmed up. I am another person who has a hose for a third hand! I was supposed to be out there tonight watering the front garden and trees but I didn’t, we are all getting tired, tired of this heat and drought. Try to keep cool Debra.

    • Deborah Silver says

      My fountain is the closest thing I have to a lake-and get in it every day. It revives me enough to give me the energy to go water something-as in hydrangeas, perennials, roses and pots-that are parched. That deep down dry is worrisome-we so need some drenching rains.

  6. Finally some rain here in southern Wisconsin this week but temps back in the 90s by tomorrow and no more rain in sight. I am trying not to overwater but a group of gardeners from Seattle are coming to Chicago and Madison in late August to see Midwestern gardens. The grass will be brown but I’m hoping to keep as much green as possible. From a distance things look good until you get out into the garden and see all the brown leaves. I used to joke that the reason I drove a van was so that I had an excuse to sweat like a truck driver!

  7. I don’t think I know what ‘normal’ is anymore. 108 here in OKC yesterday and the great summer bake is on. Seem to spend more time watering than sleeping and eating. Ah, hurry fall!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Linda, every time I think that something should “normally” do something at a given time, I am proven wrong! Deborah

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