Drought On My Mind
Lately I’ve been preoccupied much with the prospect of drought. So far, this is the second driest May on record. April was also very dry. Normally, this is a region of fairly generous rainfall, but we haven’t had a good rain in months. Precipitation for this year so far is less than half what we usually get: 5.5″ versus an average of 12″.
According to the public climatologists, our region of Illinois is undergoing “moderate drought”. Looking around, however, it doesn’t seem immediately apparent. Lawns are green, as is my garden. But we are living on reserves of moisture below the soil surface and the fact that we have had an unusually cool spring. Without rain, the summer heat will create a very different landscape.
If you look closely, you can see the beginnings of plant stress, depending on how dry that particular spot of the garden is. For instance, the foliage is almost completely brown on one of the big patches of ‘Purple Sensation’ Allium, though the flowers look all right. And some of the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is looking rather droopy.
Because I am one of those gardeners who worry, I have started compulsively checking the weather forecasts, including the weather app on my phone. This adds considerably to the angst. Several times substantial rain has been predicted. The clouds come, but the precipitation doesn’t materialize. At most we get one or two tenths of an inch, leaving me gnashing my teeth and with Judy telling me to calm down.
Most years, I hardly water my garden. OK, I water my containers and the Clematis. And new plants, especially woody ones. Otherwise, the garden is mostly full of prairie and woodland wildlings (or close relatives) who can generally shrug off a drought. Also, most of the garden is planted thickly with little bare ground, which helps preserve moisture, and much is shaded.
This year feels different, but I suppose that comes out of my own mind. Because of my illness and retirement, I seem to be more focused on the garden than ever before. Emotionally, at least, I need it to be beautiful. So I’ve already spent a good deal of time spot watering strategic plants and places. I’ve even tried to perform a little reverse psychology, betting that if the sky gods see me watering they will be more likely, out of sheer contrariness, to provide a good rain.
Just this morning I ordered some gear that will enable me to water larger areas of the garden without lugging around a hose or watering can. Our place is not much more than an eighth of an acre – drought is one circumstance that shows the advantage of a small garden. Also fortunately, I live in the Lake Michigan watershed, so there is no talk of watering restrictions, and there is unlikely to be. On the other hand, the water is not free, and I expect the water bills this summer to be substantial.
To friends in California and elsewhere, who have been enduring really dreadful drought for years, this post must sound like privileged whining. If so, my apologies – but I can’t help myself.
Of course, in the next few weeks we could get all kinds of rain and everything could change. But I’m not counting on it. And I want to be prepared if the drought continues and intensifies.