{tending a garden in an unpredictable climate}

I’ve spent the last several months doing everything possible to keep my flower beds and garden areas from frying. High temperatures and water rationing aren’t exactly garden-friendly. It’s been difficult deciding which plants will live and which might need to go.

We took up the grass in the backyard. I couldn’t stand looking at the dead patches and it seemed unreasonable devoting water to green I didn’t care for, while a twenty year-old hydrangea was going down for the count. Even the succulents look stressed and need an occasional drenching.

We also sacrificed some very old, and once favored camellias. I couldn’t imagine any way we were going to resuscitate them without heroic measures. They are now gone, but I found a way to divert attention to revive multiple gardenia bushes I just couldn’t think of losing.

The point is that we’ve adjusted our expectations. I’ve rejoiced at every little rain shower, no matter how infrequent or short-lived, and stopped complaining about inconvenience in personal water usage if I could share a little more with my thirsty garden favorites.

You’d think that would be enough! But I couldn’t say “no” to the possibility of another garden challenge. I’ve taken on the volunteer responsibility to oversee the multiple raised garden beds at Sophia and Karina’s school.

The modest but charming garden area has seen better days. The school is saddled with the same water rationing–two times a week–as every home residence.

Strawberries--will they make it?

These poor strawberries don’t look too good. I think it’s pretty great they survived summer, but we’ll have to see what happens next.

I’m starting small with a few pollinators and hummingbird-friendly plants. We planted a few herbs in the “pizza garden” and we’ll see how it goes before we add much more.

All future plans are dictated by weather conditions and water delivery.

And what if we have too much water?

Maybe there’s a change in the near future?  Wouldn’t that be something!

It’s hard to ignore nearly hourly reports that El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean are growing, and to quote a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “Whether El Niño gets slightly stronger or a little weaker is not statistically significant now. This baby is too big to fail.”

In hopeful preparation we have purchased three rain barrels, added new gutters to the entire house, and will continue a project started last weekend of adding just a little  ground cover to some of the recently created “grass-free” areas. Rain and dirt equals mud.

It seems a little early for our rainy season…or maybe I just forgot how that cycle works. Sixty miles north of where we live, but still in Los Angeles county, freak flash floods put all sorts of havoc in motion this afternoon.

One news anchor asked, “Will this have any bearing on the Dodger game tonight in Chavez Ravine?” The meteorologist hesitated slightly in his response–perhaps he wasn’t expecting such a valuable question, but he then politely responded, “No, I don’t believe it will.”

The anchor looked very relieved as she said, “Good! That would be a BIG problem.”

Well, she’s certainly breathing a bit lighter than the poor people stranded in mud on Interstate 5! They needed to be rescued from the freeway and taken somewhere by bus. I think they probably missed the Dodger game entirely!

So this weekend we’re going to do a little more weather-proofing. It looks like we just might be in for a little change!

IMG_5909While we work in the garden, our dog sets the tone for not taking it all too seriously.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, I hope you capture a few breathing lighter moments.

We’ll compare notes next week!

41 thoughts on “{tending a garden in an unpredictable climate}

    1. I really don’t think we live in an area where there will be much flooding, but we could have lots of backyard mud! LOL! WIth a long-haired white dog. Oh boy! 🙂

    1. Zena was 40 pounds when she came to us two years ago, and is now 60 pounds. She was neglected in her previous home, and her anxiety levels so high she didn’t eat much. We spoil her with lots of treats! And it was hard to part with some of my plants. But when we went to mandatory water rationing I knew there would be loss and after plants start to look just terrible it’s easier to let them go.

  1. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of drought you’re having Debra. So clever that you have rain barrels and new gutters at the ready. I do hope that you get some rain soon – just not too much at once! I had to laugh about the Dodger comment from the reporter. It’s all things baseball here too, but I think I’d be more concerned about cars stuck and buildings flooded. That said, I did find myself pre-stressing about how I’m going to juggle my new schedule to accommodate the Cubs games that cannot be missed. Ha! Have a beautiful weekend!

    1. I think the “news” sources are really trying to shift attention away from drought-talk to El Niño talk, and if they can possibly create a little hysteria around all the potential dangers, then they’ve done their job! Last night when the Dodgers played their last game we transferred our excitement and will be rooting for the Cubs! I am sure there will be much anticipation in your household for this series–as if you’re not busy enough, right? But fun! You, too, have a wonderful weekend, Kristy!

    1. It’s hard to be traveling and keeping pace with your usual sense of fun and adventure if you’re having trouble with an injury I hope you’re not inconvenienced or in pain for very long, Jo. And I’m all expectant about the rain, and any amount is going to be welcome. 🙂

  2. All the best with your prep work, it will pay off, I’m sure. I felt so sad reading about your plants and you having to make choices. I no longer have any plants here, I didn’t have a garden because of the drought. Also, because of fire abatement, I have only dirt around my house so after yesterday’s rain, I’m in a muddy mess again.

    1. I heard Tehachapi mentioned on the news yesterday and thought you must be getting a very big downpour at your place, Inger. Did you get any of the hail? We didn’t get any of the rain, but I kept watching the news footage and hearing the weather anchors saying over and over that we all need to be prepared. Weather events are always in cycles and sometimes extreme, but I don’t remember a time when there were so many messages of alarm. It’s a wonder we don’t all panic. LOL! We needed some work on drainage and definitely needed new rain gutters, so I think we’re as prepared as possible. I hope you’re doing well, my friend. I’m so glad to hear from you. ox

  3. When the rain does come I just hope it won’t be too much at once Debra! I shall keep my fingers crossed for you and hope your water butts (rain barrels) fill up nicely!

    1. I appreciate your high hopes for us, Cathy! I suspect that we will have a lot of rain, and that much of it won’t be captured adequately, but we are as prepared as possible and my garden will be so much happier. If we are inconvenienced by too much rain, I have promised myself that I will not complain. LOL!

  4. I really admire how you have adjusted your landscaping to fit the demands of nature, Debra.
    It is amazing how much water rain barrels collect, even in a light rainfall. I mourn your loss of hydrangea and camellias. 😦 The hydrangea, particularly, is usually water heavy, so, sadly, probably a good move.
    What does surprise me is your watering restrictions; not that you have them, but, that you haven’t until fairly recently. For as long as I can remember, in every town I’ve lived in, we have had watering restrictions, usually three a week. Here on the Cutoff, we have our own well, so, don’t need to follow restrictions, but, I’m so used to it that it is just on my “inner calendar”. I did worry about it a few years ago when we were in a drought.
    Love, love, love your volunteer tending to the the school garden. Did you put any dill in? Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars tend to like dill – but, will devour a good part of it. Still, fun to watch the process.
    Busy times here, Debra, as the leaves are falling and we’ve had a first frost, a serious medical issue with my sister, but, also a wedding tonight. The bitter and sweet of life. I’m taking the morning to “veg out” and breath lighter. Take care.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion of dill! No, I hadn’t put any in, and I didn’t know that it would also attract butterflies. You’d find it interesting that despite all the warnings that to overwinter milkweed would disrupt the monarch’s migration, the garden centers are selling it with signs “informing” that it will attract the butterflies. It’s a shame. I would love to put these plants in the children’s garden. They would be quite lovely right now–but of course I won’t. So much misinformation!

      You raise such an interesting topic, Penny. I have never thought of the midwest ever having a drought. Isn’t that something! And in my lifetime I can only remember two or three times that we’ve had any restrictions placed on water, yet we are perpetually told that we live “in a desert,” and rainfall is frequently less than expected, even if not labeled “drought.” True conservation methods haven’t been a high priority in the state for most of my lifetime, but I think in the last year, when things turned so severe that we have seen sinkholes because the water table is so low, ordinary citizens have seen that despite poor state planning, we have to be prepared to adapt differently. I would be very surprised if the restrictions are lifted, even if we return to average rainfall. I’ve been interested for years in the story of water in Los Angeles and the greater Southern California area, and with what we’ve learned over the last four years I’m even more fascinated. The next thing we need to do is put a curb on growth…good luck with that, I think! LOL! I never thought about any water restrictions in Illinois, Penny, so you’ve given me a whole new area I want to research. We really must be in denial “over here.”

      I”m so sorry to hear about your sister, my friend. THe bitter and the sweet…I wince a bit thinking you may be entering a tough season. Short-falls in rain and losing special plants is a pale problem when those we love are in ill health and danger. Sending a hug and prayer. ox

  5. We got a thunderbanger moving through really early this morning, big enough so the dog came in for reassurance. Rain came with it, but not for very long. It was very welcome. Oregon is supposed to be wet, but right now it’s not.

    1. I am wondering what this winter will be like for the entire west coast, Jim! I’m sure you are, too! I am hopeful that at least we can replenish some of the ground water. It is funny how celebratory we get every time there’s even a little moisture. LOL!

  6. Debra, not a day goes by that I do not think of you and other Californians trying to deal with drought and now rain and mudslides. First, I’m glad to see that you’re safe. Second, I know that change is never easy, but Californians may have to take the lead in teaching other parts of the country how to live and garden more water efficiently. Third, the garden at the girls’ school looks great, despite the challenges. I was wondering if those umbrellas in the one photo could be used to shelter tender plants during the heat of the day — just a thought. Be well — and keep on doing what you do!

    1. Thank you so much, Kevin. I really appreciate your sensitivity to how hard this for those of us trying to keep a balance between conservative water use and caring for our gardens. Gardening is such a personal joy, and I can almost hear some of my plants suffering. But I think we are going to have a very wet winter, and although in some parts of the state this is really going to be tough, on simply a personal level it should offer me what I need. I think California legislators and those who are elected to monitor our infrastructure have been ridiculously negligent in not using the past four years to massively improve the ability of our reservoirs to hold more water. THere is so much of our water that goes right back into the ocean. THe history of water in California is very political and just ridiculously short-sighted when it comes to planning, but I think that it has become a more serious issue and perhaps we’ll see more change and become leaders in resource conservation. And I appreciate the suggestion about the umbrellas, but I’ll have to check. I think they may be attached to some lunch tables. At home, we purchased several little café umbrellas and we do use them to protect the plants. I think they have saved us more than once! I appreciate your interest and care for the situation. If we get lots of rain and you ever hear me complain, please call me on it! LOL! I think I’m so ready. 🙂

  7. Your question about the weather, i.e., water, over the next few years is a valid but recurring question. Overall, I believe we are generally following a general cycle during my 6 decades here. But…we certainly have a large increase in population that add to the “leak”.

    I went to the desert look in my front yard and find the Hummingbird sage a wonderful attraction for them… but I don’t think Darwin would like them. 🙂

    1. As you mention, Darwin, Koji, I’m a bit worried for him if we have too much rain. I don’t now if I’ll be bringing him indoors! That’s far from ideal, but we need to keep him dry. I’ve added that to my list of concerns. The different varieties of salvia and sage are so lovely and I am enjoying the way even cities are doing more landscaping with these colorful additions. I know that we’ve had these cycles before, but I’ve been following a few NOAA and JPL climatologists who are saying that this could be the largest El Niño event we’ve had in 30 years, and with everything so dry I’m genuinely concerned we may be in for it! LOL! As long as we don’t float away, I will be the last person to complain. (I say that now!) LOL! I’m doing my best to prepare. 🙂

      1. I still have my yearbook from junior high school (won’t mention the year but it was in the 60’s!)… There’s a picture in it captioned, “And it rained and it rained and it rained!” 😁 Gotta find it!

    1. We even had a little rain again today, Frank, and even in the best of years it doesn’t rain in October, so I think this is a good sign. I’m glad I don’t live in the foothills. The areas that have had wildfires are going to be in real trouble, but at least we’ve been given plenty of advance warning.

  8. I’m sorry to hear of all the water rationing. We were in a drought a few years ago and we had severe restrictions placed on us. It was challenging to live with and sad to see your garden wilt and die before your eyes. I’m sorry you’ve had to sacrifice so many of your plants. Fantastic that you’re volunteering at the school! And how wonderful that the school is teaching children how to grow food and get involved in gardening xx

    1. I think it’s a shame that we in California haven’t been taught from childhood about being responsible towards water conservation methods in good times as well as in drought. I think that generally we’ve been very wasteful and irresponsible even though we know we are prone to drought. Up until recently we’ve just been fortunate that the droughts haven’t lasted this long. That we plant “English gardens” in a desert is mostly folly and always a gamble. I think the children’s garden at school is a bit of a gamble right now, too, but we actually had a little rain again today. The frequency of these little showers is very hopeful for later in the season when we could begin to expect rain. I’m going to choose to be optimistic. LOL! And if it rains a lot this winter, as we’re being told to expect, I have complained so much over the last four years I sure won’t have any room to complain about too much rain, will I! 🙂

  9. Weather and climate is more unpredictable than ever. Of course the lack of water in California has made us all think about where the climate on Earth is heading. I hope you will get just the right amount of rain soon. 🙂

  10. Debra, I need to fly you in every season to use your magic touch on my “garden”…this would be heaven for you! Plenty of rain and very, very rich soil! I wish I had your green thumb…I’m certain I could learn how to garden online, but there’s just something about worms that I haven’t been very fond of since I was a child 😉 and there are plenty of those in the fertile soil here! You are definitely welcome anytime 😉

    1. I would enjoy the rain, Stacey, but I’d probably have a great deal to learn about how to garden in what to my experience would be a very foreign cold winter climate! I’m sure that every region has very specific needs for each different growing season. I do envy your rich soil if you’re seeing worms! It’s rare that I even see one. Almost doesn’t seem fair since they don’t bother me, don’t you think? Stacey, get some good gardening gloves and jump right in. Go to your garden center and see what’s growing and what you like and you’ll likely make a few mistakes along the way, but you’ll learn quickly, and I think you’d enjoy gardening. It’s very therapeutic. :-)Let me know if you do!

      1. Maybe I should have learned gardening in Southern California since you don’t have many worms! Haha…last spring I saw too many to count…quite literally! But you do inspire me…and the gloves will help I’m sure 😉

  11. I’m proud of you for taking on the school garden – not least because the pests may include ‘little horrors’ 🙂

    It’s sad to loose those much-loved plants but perhaps it’s a chance to discover new friends. You could increase your range of succulents and cacti for example (Darwin permitting). Or perhaps – tumbleweed… Only joking with that one though spraying it gold and silver could be good for Christmas decorations! Another thought, though perhaps more suitable for the school garden, is a wild section – a selection of the natural flora that is at home in the climate. An opportunity to use it as a teaching aid? Sorry – I’m waffling 😉 Good luck with your experiments at home and at school Debra 🙂

  12. It’s amazing isn’t it what news reports say on TV to sound funny undermining the lives of others. Kudos to you Debra for taking such measures in your nest and garden. I have resorted to a few pots of herbs and fruits and thank goodness for the coastal dew we experience so that watering isn’t all that necessary.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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