Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Drought update: Not whining, still watering

July precipitation report: We had more rain this month than in June: 6/10ths of an inch in the first week (in two showers), the same in week two (three showers), and the same once again in week three (delivered in two showers on one day). But over the past 10 days to the end of the month, we had only one small shower, with 2/10ths of an inch.

The cumulative effect of the extremely low rainfall since mid-May has now put us into "record dry" territory. (See the second dot near Hamilton on the map: that's roughly where we are.) I've never had to garden in a drought like this. It was almost as bad in 1998, the first year we were here, but at that season, we had no gardens yet.

Despite the bad news, I've been in good spirits lately, probably because it's been reasonably cool, especially at night, and at least until now we've been spared the nasty humidity that we normally get. I'm no meterologist, but I suspect that the dip in the jet stream that we've had over southern Ontario more or less all summer long has kept both the humidity and the big thunderstorms at bay. Both have certainly been plentiful south of the border.

Semi-circular perennial bed at the end of July

At this point instead of whining, I simply keep on watering. The end result is that the garden, which I've designed for maximum color and interest for this time year is actually looking pretty good.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Country garden wedding pictures

Today's excitement was a wedding party getting their pictures taken in our garden. There are a lot of wedding receptions held at the golf course near us, and recently we had a request for a bridal party to have their wedding pictures taken here. Today was the day, and it was hot, but perfect for pictures because of high cloud alternating with occasional sunshine.

Diana and Aaron on their special day

We used to get requests from couples to get married in our garden, but I'm reluctant to get into the wedding business (although I would love it if John's daughter chose to get married here).

The lively flower girl in lighthearted moment

The flower girl, who's four-and-a-half, loved the garden with all its flowers and paths to explore, but she wasn't so sure about me taking pictures of her.

Peeking around the flowers

But she was so full of high spirits that I couldn't resist, so it became a bit of game of her running around and me trying to click the shutter.

My dog Toby was in heaven because he adores having visitors.

Diana and Aaron: It was fun having you and your family here today.

All the best to you in love and in life.

PS to any visiting photo buffs: The wedding photographer was shooting film.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lawn and drought: how to keep the grass alive

Here's some great advice about drought and lawns from Kevin Frank, a turf expert at Michigan State University.
Many homeowners choose not to irrigate their lawn and about now the concern becomes whether or not the lawn might be suffering and possibly approaching death. For Kentucky bluegrass lawns (which are the majority of lawns in Michigan), there is usually no danger that the lawn is going to die unless water is lacking for six to eight weeks. However, there are really no hard fast numbers for predicting whether the turf will die as many other factors will come into play such as high temperatures and traffic.

Even if you are not an irrigator, it might be a good idea to give the turf a little water if the turf hasn’t received any water for a month. Apply about a 0.5 to 1.0 inch of water just to make sure the lawn makes it through this cycle of drought. The goal of this irrigation is not to turn it green, but just to prevent the turf from completely desiccating (severe drying out) and possibly death. If we continue in this dry spell, I would continue to give the turf a drink every three to four weeks.
His other tips:
  • Avoid mowing during the heat of the afternoon, which can result in tire tracks or foot prints on the lawn that may be visiable a long time.
  • Mow during cooler times of the day, early morning or evening, and keep the mowing height high.
I've been following this advice, just putting the sprinkler on the lawn areas near the house and my most important garden beds, and it does help the turf quite a bit. Unfortunately, we have a lot more lawn than that, so a lot of our grass has to weather the drought on its own.

You can find Kevin Frank's full article at the Michigan Landscape Alert: look for Drought stresses turf.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More pictures: Four-square garden

Here's a photo of my four-square garden taken earlier this month, which shows a panorama of the entire garden just after the boxwoods were freshly clipped.
The background trees are on the neighboring tree farm

This picture makes for quite an interesting contrast to how the boxwoods looked (see picture below) before their first clipping, which took place last summer.

This was a job I didn't dare do myself, but entrusted to Bob May, a former gardener at Hamilton's Royal Botanical Gardens. Bob calls himself the plant sculptor, and no wonder: what a beautiful precision clipping. The hedge is shaping up amazingly now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Garden pictures - perennial border July

My semi-circular border

I haven't taken as many garden pictures this year, perhaps because I'm a bit demoralized by drought - it's been dry since mid-May. Also first thing in the morning - the best time for photos - is usually the time I'm dragging those hoses around.

That said, the garden proper is looking very nice, thanks to my watering - and, of course, the weeding team's efforts too. The lawn looks poorly, except bordering areas that get watered. My beds are looking very colorful now because I grow a lot of mid-summer bloomers. It was wind-still this morning with a bright overcast sky, making it perfect for a few pictures.

Above, you see part of my semi-circular border (which I've actually watered only twice this summer) with the lovely mauve culvers-root, Veronicastrum virgincum 'Facination', in bloom in the back, along with purple coneflowers, fennel, Joe Pye weed, grasses, globe thistle and the ubiquitous Rudebeckia 'Goldsturm'.

A closer shot of some of the plants in this bed

We call this the semi-circular garden because its shape is a half circle with a path through it. It's set into a small slope backed by evergreen trees that act as a windbreak. The evergreens are far enough away that their root systems don't impinge on the beds. There are deciduous trees in the background too, but they're on the neighboring tree farm.

I grow mostly big, tall perennials and grasses here in a meadow-like profusion, plus a few shrubs, which makes it interesting to walk up and down the path: you don't see what's around the bend until you come to it.

The plants I used here are all pretty drought-tolerant country garden stalwarts that do very well in our rich clay soil. The red you see is Crocosmia 'Lucifer', which thrives here because the slope is well-drained.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More rain than we've had, but still very dry

We were off on holiday last week, so it was nice not to worry about rain, or lack thereof. It did rain here twice on Thursday for a total of 6/10ths of an inch, the most rain we've had in one day since about mid-May.
The map above (from the Agriculture Canada site) tells the story of the continuing drought. The red areas indicate record dry, and there's red spot close to Hamilton which is showing up where we are located. Brown means extremely low and orange very low.

There's no rain in the forecast for the coming week. If there is a silver lining, it's the relatively cool weather we've been enjoying. In New York City where we had our holiday, it was hot and steamy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A little rain again

Today's rain was just 2/10ths of an inch. But maybe things will start looking up: at least there are some more showers in the forecast for the coming week.
Here's a recent picture of the four-square garden, which I've been watering faithfully. The lavender is in bloom and its scent is divine. But you can see how dry it is in the tree farm field behind my garden.

I haven't done a post on it yet, but the wonderful limestone sundial base in the picture was actually carved from three blocks of stone by my husband, John. It took him a couple of carving workshops (one in England and one in Vermont) and two years to complete. It is utterly wonderful. I'll write more about it soon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

For Ontario weather geeks only

If you're a weather geek like me, and you live in Ontario, you may be interested in the link below. It takes you to a summary of precipation for June, which saw some northern parts of the province with abnormally high amounts of rain, while the southwest (where we live) got abysmally low amounts.

The following quote is from Environment Canada's Ontario Weather Review - June 2007, where you can find the numbers for the city nearest to you.

Did this June seem a bit warm to you? You're right - it was.

Temperatures across the province were warmer than normal and in some cases two to three degrees above the standard. In general, Northwestern and Central Ontario had the warmest temperatures, but some locations in Southern Ontario were toasty as well.

Unlike June of 2006, the precipitation tended to be wetter than normal in the north. Like last June, though, it was drier than normal in the south. The higher-than-normal precipitation values were largely due to series of thunderstorms that dumped large amounts of rain in short periods of time. Dryden, one of the wettest locations, had four days where the daily rainfall was greater than 20 millimetres, with one of those days exceeding 40 millimetres.
Here's what the site had to say about the amount of rainfall in Hamilton, the city closest to us:

Precipitation in millimetres: 32.6
Normal: 83.9
Difference: -51.3
Driest Since: 1991

By the way, this is generous, as it puts the city at about 1.1 inches of rain. Where we live, west of the city, we had less than an inch all month.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pathetically grateful for quarter inch of rain

We had another thundershower tonight, and unexpectedly this one gave us some rain. I had invited my neighbor over for dinner, and just as we were going to do a quickie garden walk, the rain started. So we took our wine glasses to the front porch and just watched it come down.

It was a heavy rain, but didn't last very long. Still, after a couple of showers early in the week that left an unmeasurable trace, we were both pathetically grateful for the quarter inch we got today.

Totaling up what has fallen so far in July, I figure we've probably had one inch of rain if you count the couple 1/10th of an inch sprinkles that we got earlier this week with passing thundershowers. The total for the month is now over what we got in June (we had only 7/10ths of an inch the entire month!).

I've never experienced a drought like this. I felt quite depressed and down-hearted this morning, as yet again I began hauling hoses and setting up sprinklers before breakfast. I actually had to tell myself to stop moping and just get on with it. I'm trully sick of watering and worrying about all the trees and shrubs that I can't water because the place is too big.

Since we haven't had a decent rain since mid-May, I have been watering all my major beds using trucked-in water, or watering from the pond with the fire hose. I've even been filling the barn cisterns with water from our well, which I really shouldn't do because our well isn't the most productive. But I let the water dribble in over a day, and the well hasn't run dry yet. Because of these efforts, the garden beds still look nice, although the surrounding lawn is toast. I'll try to post some garden pictures in the next day or so.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Drought watch, continued

This was the quote of the day on my personalized Google page:

The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
- George F. Will
Today, again the thunderstorms passed us by. We had about 4 minutes of rain around 4 p.m. and 1/10th of an inch.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Despite my whining about drought

Many gardeners see setbacks such as drought and gypsy moth invasions as part of an environmental disaster caused by the human race. Despite my repeated whining about this summer's drought, I tend not to buy apocalyptic prophesies of environmental doom.

I'm with the sceptics like Brendan O'Neill, Guardian columnist and editor of spiked, who writes:
Forget fundamentalist Christianity or Islam: environmentalism is by far the most influential death cult in existence today. It is inculcating in the masses the idea that the end of the world is nigh; that we shall we punished for our sins; that penance is our earthly duty; and that anyone who says or thinks otherwise is a "heretic" or a "denier" who should be held up to public ridicule.

The extent to which environmentalism echoes old religious values is striking. A key aspect of the monotheistic religions was their belief in an "end of days" scenario in which the world would go kaput and a new messiah would come to judge us harshly.

Many decades ago, this belief system had a deadening impact on people's lives. It encouraged fatalism, a conviction that mankind was not in control of his destiny. Our role was simply to be always on our best behaviour and await our fate at the end of time.

Today, it is environmentalists who make shrill warnings about the end of the world.
You can read the full article here. See also Bjørn Lomborg's article on making the world a better place in the here and now. Lomborg is author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and the forthcoming Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Drought watch: July catching up to June

Could the drought pattern be breaking? Already in July, we've had almost as much rain we got in June. (Mind you, what we got in June was almost nothing.) Yesterday, a steady, soft rain in the morning netted 4/10ths of an inch, and this morning we had a similar kind of rain that brought 2/10ths.

With today's hot and muggy weather, there might even be more later if a thunderstorm actually makes it to us. One small storm cell passed frustratingly close at noon: close, but no cigar.

This adds up to just over half an inch for July, and the month has only just begun. Considering that the total for June was about 7/10ths of an inch, things must be looking up. Right?

I sure hope so. All this hose wrangling and buying of water has got me down.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Garden water feature No.2: bubbling fountain

My husband, John, found the black boulder that he used for this fountain at a local quarry. At first he thought it was granite, but it turns out to be slate.

Basically, he just did a bit of carving to level the top so the water would come out evenly and he polished the surface to a nice shine. Most important, he had a hole for the bubbling water bored down the length of the rock by a guy who has the right tools. (This fellow makes garden lighting for the landscape trade out of carved granite stones that he imports from China, and he has drill press machines that do the job.)

The stone is set on top of a large plastic basin that serves as a water reservior and holds a submersible pump. It's covered with screen and fine pea gravel. It looks simple, but John had a few setbacks. His first plastic basin was too small, and the pump he's bought wasn't powerful enough either. Once those problems were solved, the bubbling fountain worked beautifully. As anyone who has done these kinds of projects knows, putting a fountain like this together is never as easy as the magazine articles make it look.