After surveying the casualties of my water restricted garden I have decided to rethink my design. The Pacific Temperate Rainforest lately rains mostly in winter and early spring. The last few summers have wreaked havoc on a number of plantings. During my recent walks in the forest I’ve noticed some of our West Coast natives are taking a big hit.
I don’t even have to look up to know that I am walking under a Hemlock, the short green needles that should be on the tree carpet the ground below them. In my own garden, many of my plants are taking a hit. I don’t have time to water everything and my priorities for hand watering are the 200 newly grafted apple whips in my backyard. If this is the kind of weather that we will continue to have, I am going to have to be smarter with my garden design! If it is going to be rainforest weather in the winter and California weather in the summer, I will have to be a bit cunning with plant choice and location!
Know Thy Soil
I wish I had not slept through a great deal of my soils class in college!! My current clay soil creates a soggy layer in the winter and then draws the moisture back in towards it in summer. A sandy soil will be lovely in the winter and then a nightmare in the summer. Different sections of my yard have different soil compositions as I’m sure yours does. The areas around mature trees are very difficult to keep in groundcovers. A thorough soil assessment with a bit of digging and experimenting with drainage (keep a bucket of water with you) now comes closer to the top of the list when it comes to garden design. Know thy soil and work within the limitations or be prepared to dish out a great deal of moolah on replacement plants.
Light / Exposure
Light requirements should also help steer your garden design. You cannot imagine the number of folks that race into the nursery to buy a beautiful flowering plant for their garden bed and when I ask what the light conditions are, they have absolutely no idea. I wish it were not so, but choosing a plant for a garden design is not like choosing paint colours.
It has never been so important as now to put the right plant in the right place. Map out the area, it doesn’t have to be pretty and then mark where the sun is especially during the hottest hours of the day between 10 and 3. Where once you could have gotten away with shade lovers in a sunnier position just by watering more or putting on the sprinklers a couple of times to mist the area, we are now down to hand watering. Once you have mapped out the area do some research in-store and not just on google
Take a look at the plants we offer. Choose for the different seasons if you can…google will help but Art's is somewhat more effective at pointing out the plants that work in sun and those that are best in the shade and those that work in your particular climate. Where once I scoffed at Xeriscaping, (we live in a Rainforest don’t we?) I will be now taking another look.
Grasses are tough and forgiving. Many can take the wet of our winter as long as they aren’t sitting in water and yet still handle drought like conditions. Hardy succulents will play a greater role in my design but I will place them where there is better drainage in the yard. I will create more shade with larger trees and the amount of hand watering will be repaid with decreasing the temperature by a number of degrees in the yard. I will also give my larger trees and shrubs a bit more elbow room in my design. I will create groupings of plants that require more water and groupings for those that require less and this will take some trial and error.
I do love hanging baskets but rather than having them on either side of my garage and by the door in the blazing hot sun I will bring them onto my deck in groupings on low ground hangers. More attractive as I am not waiting for a month looking at the bottom of the pots while they fill in and having them in groupings increases not only their visual impact but makes the watering easier.
Mulch Is Not Optional!
Mulch is key. I will religiously mulch my garden each spring with no more than 4 inches of mulch around trees and much less around shrubs and perennials. In times of drought I will add some temporary mulch such as leaves, straw, clean disease free clippings. Even a living mulch such as perennial geraniums around my apple trees do wonders to hold in the moisture. Bare soil loses a tremendous amount of moisture.
I will decrease the amount of lawn I have…I liked it originally for the lush green colour, a colour that is absent in my current lawn from July onward. I will take a look at an eco-lawn blend of clover and yarrow and will use different surfacing materials like gravel and mulch and stepping stones in between my plantings.
Judging from the high number of visitors to my current low tech water bowls and birdbath, I am going to seriously consider a small pond just to help them out…also because it is pretty interesting to watch. A customer that came in to the nursery said they made a fantastic water feature using a rain chain hung on the corner of their pergola and a waterbowl. The number and variety of small birds including hummingbirds that perched, drank and bathed was really quite amazing.
Which brings me to my final category…hard features such as pergolas, benches and the like. I will be adding a pergola or two to create some shade and structure for vines to climb on. The vines are not as deeply rooted as say trees (with the exception of the Godzillas like Wisteria) and you can create a living shade canopy for your shade lovers without dealing with a large root system.
Our environmental challenges here on the now Not-So-Wet coast does not prevent us from gardening, rather it forces us to become more aware of our surroundings and makes us stronger and smarter gardeners. It will take a bit of trial and error but if we plan, research and plan some more we might just be able to knock one out of the park as far as designs go AND have it survive the summer!!