Gardening in the time of drought

Now that we’ve closed out August, it is officially true that Boston has just had the driest meteorological summer on record, and one of the hottest, to boot.  We are in the midst of a  miserable drought.  As a gardener, I am a bit bereft.   It has not been a good year in my little backyard Shangri-la.

There is of course a silver lining in every cloud – in this case, in the utter lack of clouds.   In New England this year, the prevailing view is that the drought’s silver lining involves the tomato crop.  Tomatoes, the absolute glory of August, are heavy feeders (and moderate drinkers to boot), but they are also deeply susceptible to a wide range of fungal diseases that get way, way worse in wet years.  Plus, a watery tomato is a less tasty tomato:  in dry years like this one, tomato plants stay healthier way longer, and the tomatoes are intensely flavorful.

Well, bully for me – I planted eight tomato plants, all different varieties, all of which I raised myself from seed!   So let me show you a picture of this year’s tomato bounty:


That’s it.  Two lousy little Sungolds.  There have been a few other small tomatoes in the patch, but the squirrels and chipmunks, desperate for any source of liquid, have nailed every one.   The birds got the blueberries.  The squirrels did in the apples.   It is a good thing I live in the age of Whole Foods; were I trying to live off the land, by now I'd have been dead for weeks.

The silver lining in my garden?   Well, there is at least one plant that is having an absolute banner year – this trumpet vine:


It is a thing of utter magnificence from early July well into September.  And it has never had a year like this one:  it is lush and fabulous and going into its glorious third month of full and spectacular bloom.

 But this plant is a total vampire.  Its roots have clawed their way into the nearby vegetable patch (which is the only area of the yard I water), sending up shoots among the tomatoes and basil, sucking every bit of moisture and nourishment from the soil.  It’s not the drought that’s stunted my tomatoes – it’s the hyper-aggressive trumpet vine.


This season in the garden has taught me many things, as it always does.    I look at this year’s tomato harvest, so meager despite the time and care I put into raising the plants from seed and coddling the transplants.  Every gardening season I start with a vision and I do my best, but the outcomes are often totally different from what I intended. I work in my garden, and I learn non-attachment.


However disappointing the tomato harvest, I am astonished by the bounty of green beans.  Even in this driest of years, the garden has gifts to offer.   I harvest from my garden, and I learn gratitude.


I look at the dusty earth, and at the plants that are losing their leaves and going dormant way too soon. And I remember that while this was a hard year, next year will likely be better; that seasons of drought are inevitable, as are years of rain and bounty.   I walk in my garden, and I learn forbearance.


I gaze at the trumpet vine, unbelievable floozy that she is, and I am astonished at the aggression of this utterly beautiful plant, how it has managed to leach the life out of everything around it.   I gaze at my garden, and I learn to distrust anyone who is exceptionally good-looking.  Those hotties will suck you dry.

P.S. Tropical Storm Hermine – YO!  HEY!  We’re over here!!!!



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