Whoever designed my house utilized some great ideas even though I still don’t understand why there’s a wet bar in my bedroom. The home office is really an antechamber to the bedroom, and with a sink and cabinetry, it’s as though the space was planned to function as a reception room. I’m sure there are reasons why one might host a cocktail party in the bedroom, but only one comes to mind. I’ll just leave that with you.
Outside, the majority of their plan was to let nature have its way. With some effort, horticultural treasures were revealed that first full summer five years ago. After observing the light and the weather patterns, I made my own gardening choices. Some have been amazing, and others have been quietly dug up and noted.
Free plants are my favorite, and with a little patience and trial-and-error, I’ve grown some great plants from seed, a few by dividing, and now I’m spending a day each week figuring how to propagate herbs and hydrangea from cuttings. I’ve been given bulbs and rhizomes, and the hardy succulents are always being pinched off and jabbed into some new spot. My good friend Anne seems to always arrive with a pot of something; a new variety of salvia, a cherished agastache, or a plant she says won’t do anything for her. Every plant in this garden has a story.
From March to Labor Day, my conversation is predominately about gardening. Either mine or yours; former gardens, future plans, propagation riddles, and back-breaking projects. I’m interested and assume everyone else is, too. My first cup of coffee is usually consumed while standing at the windows overlooking the color-coordinated garden borders in the back. What’s working? What’s coming on? What critter has staged a pre-dawn invasion and how can I fortify against their next assault?
The front is basically woodland. Beneath the sequoia, fir, and two blue spruces, I occasionally have to mow though it’s not really grass. Mowing prevents the unconquerable blackberry from taking over, but there comes a point with the big canes that you remind yourself that the antioxidant properties of the berries on these brambles are unbeatable. Like slugs, you have to learn to live with them.
And like the wet bar in the bedroom, I’ve been just as puzzled as to why the previous people planted a ponderosa pine in this region. Based on the bushel of beer bottle-caps I’ve unearthed in this half decade along with the considerable neglect, I have never thought that the previous gentleman had his mind on garden design. This ponderosa pine has struggled along and the branches, which are beyond my reach, interfere with the blue spruce because the person who placed them had no notion that trees grow outward as well as upward.
I’d considered taking this tree down so that the native trees have more room, and a few months ago I joked to some friends that in a few years, this would be the only tree standing because climate change will have wiped everything out. We laughed. Why not? This odd tree was never going to live up to its potential in a place that had never seen a temperature above 103 in any of our lifetimes.
And three weeks ago the most horrendous thing that could happen to vegetation in the Pacific Northwest happened; 117 degrees for a long weekend. Palm Springs friends tsk-tsked and thought it a shame but really didn’t understand the fragility of what grows here. Even I didn’t realize what could happen to “established” vegetation under those conditions. Southwest friends realized it was unbearable to us, but those who experience those extremes for a week or two every summer also didn’t realize. We can’t grow crepe myrtles and okra very well. Tomato plants never reach their potential height, and there’s a reason why most native residents have never eaten a fresh black-eyed pea.
A few of us stayed ahead of the situation. I figured out a way to use bottles for a drip system in a climate where one doesn’t very often have to consider watering. The sky usually does it for us until July, and by Labor Day, Nature takes over again. During the heat, I watered twice a day. It was so hot that even my drought-tolerant Mediterranean herbs were exceedingly wilted. It didn’t cool down enough in the evenings and there was no moisture to restore them without applying cans of water.
There was loss of human life, and I’m sure animal life, too. The birds splashed like crazy, and I had to refill the birdbath each time I watered. The temperatures have returned to normal. Some days they might even feel a little cooler than normal for July. In my daily survey, I’ve finally been able to see what’s happened. The hydrangea bloomed early, but most were wet and shaded enough to thrive. The potted plumeria and tomatoes on the deck loved the heat, and a hibiscus that has stubbornly refused to bloom in five years is taller than normal. The lavender and salvia are as big as ever, and even the pampered forsythia is sending up canes like mad.
Heat-loving, drought-tolerant plants are obviously the Pacific Northwest’s future. Every evergreen within my sight has been badly burned. These scorched trees bear brown needles as though they are dying or have been singed. The damage is heartbreaking. The only exception is that ponderosa pine. I looked it over two days ago and it seems taller, prouder, and quite green. I don’t think its needles have ever been so impressive. It might even make those lovely pinecones.
However, that’s very little compensation when you consider that everything from our oxygen supply to the timber industry will reach dangerous levels if something isn’t done to find solutions to the climate change effects in the West. The elected ones need to marginalize the doubters and accomplish something.
© 2021 by Patrick Brown