Like White Roses in a Wet Spring

The weather’s always bad for gardening…right?

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY MADRY T. EY

Mike is taking a sabbatical, so we’re reprinting one of his classic older columns (this one is from GP No. 44, Winter 2000-01).

That’s ‘Spring’ the season, not ‘spring’ as in a body of water (which would HAVE to be wet or it wouldn’t BE a spring, come to think of it…) whose contents when packaged in small, cheap, toxic plastic containers retail for more than gasoline (which must first be located [as oil, or ‘Earl,’ as some of you might properly pronunciate it], pumped, transported, refined, then pumped and transported again and finally pumped one more time—so it sure makes sense that water costs more than it, right?).

Anyway, the title of this edition of our little Proofreader’s Nightmare represents pretty much what the whole season was like here in My Little Garden (where the garlic is strong, the tomatoes are good-looking, and all the salad greens are above average).

It is also literally correct, because:

This year it seemed to start raining on New Year’s Day—and still is.

1) I grow a fair number of white roses (mostly that second color released by Flower Carpet, the cool groundcover roses I got sent to test ages ago, and which, despite my tender loving gardening care, still refuse to die on me). And

2) It was a wet Spring this year.

…followed by a REALLY rainy Summer, which I personally did not find to be much of an improvement.

Apparently it wasn’t just me, as lots of folks are calling this past season ‘the summer without a summer’ (except, of course, those of you in hot-and-sunny-all-the-time Arizona or Southern Florida or San-Diego-and-South California whose season is just beginning now, isn’t it? you pain-in-the-butt slacker gardeners, you! Only kidding about that last part, Sun Worshipper friends [oh heck—no I’m not! You people really burn me up, ya know? You’re probably out there picking a bumper crop of ripe WINTER tomatoes, and I’m probably chipping ice off my windshield already! And I don’t even live where it’s REALLY cold—like Minnesota! You know how many gardeners are frozen DEAD already in Minnesota? Huh? Do you? ALL OF THEM! OK, maybe they’ll get better next May, but…]).

…What’s that, Pat? ‘Get back to the story?’ Is this the first time you actually READ one of these things or something? Since when is there a ‘story’ to get back TO? Why, I…

OK, OK, stop yelling. Cheesh—such language from a Christian man…

Anyway, a year ago during gardening season it never rained. Nope. Not once. (Well, at least not while I was looking.) It was SO bad, as revealed in these very pages (actually a different tree died to print that ish, so they’re not the same…) that by the end of August I had resorted to illegally watering my parched little patch. (My wife was right—that minivan she talked me into buy-ing DID come in handy! If I parked it right, nobody could see my misdemeanor of a sprinkler merrily rotating all night long.)

This year it seemed to start raining on Y2K New Year’s Day and still is.

Actually, it’s weirder than that. Most years, the overflow pipe from our well turns into a drinking fountain for our giant Great Pyrenees of a dog (our second GP if you’re keeping score), who awaits this Miracle of the Artesian with great anticipation, and mopes terribly when the traditional dry times of summer kick in and he is once again reduced to using his regular old water bowl (“So common!” you can almost hear him say). But, while it sure SEEMED to be raining all the time, and well the fountain did appear at the scheduled time (right along with the Spring bulbs—makes me wonder what I might have accidentally buried down there), it also dried up in June, just like always. Yes, I know, things like this seem to happen to me all the time—which is good, ‘cause otherwise I’d be throwing Latin names at you in rapid succession and freezing some wretched type of arborvitae or something—but in this case, I believe it was a clue that it wasn’t really RAINING all the time; it was RAINY.

As in not sunny. As in spitting a lot, cloudy and cool, light drizzles, and yes, occasionally pouring down like Hades. But apparently not as much as I was perceiving, because in years when it DID rain like Hades (which would mean what—boiling water?) all summer, that overflow pipe was like the patch of ground poor old Jed kept plugging a .22 into every week during the opening of The Beverly Hillbillies.

So now I know what it’s like to live in Seattle. I already KNOW what it’s like to GARDEN in Seattle ‘cause my little wooded veggie patch only gets four or five hours of sun on a good day (of which there were none this year—have I mentioned that yet?). And so I battle slugs the size of the Chrysler Building on a regular basis. Must use up a box of Brillo a week trying to get that slime off my hands. (Yes, I know all about salt, vinegar, copper, sharp sticks, diatomaceous earth, small caliber firearms, and trapping them under boards, but it’s just so emotionally satisfying to pitch the little slimers into the center of the nearby road. It puts the slugs’ fate in Hands Higher Than Mine, and it slows down the teenage boys who used to take that curve too fast. Can’t get much purchase on slug slime, no sireee.)

I’m guessing that white roses aren’t the smartest color to choose in The Land of Constant Rainyness, as mine tended to look awful about 12 minutes after opening and then deteriorated fast. Couldn’t convince them to become diseased and go away, despite my paying the kids to sneeze on them repeatedly. In fact, they probably bloomed more than usual. Just looked like Hell On A Stick once they did.

None of my roses look particularly good by Day Two, come to think of it. And although I managed to keep all of my crops alive, few thanked me for it. You’d think they’d’ve LIKED all that rain, but nnnnooooooo, they got all sulky about it, bloated up, and kept talking about going on the Atkins diet. With one exception, that is (well, actually, a lot of stuff did well, but I better get to the point before Pat starts counting nouns on me again): my Goldilocks Volunteer Impatiens.

My front flowerbeds are even LESS sun-drenched than my veggie garden, so you know what’s out there: hostas, begonias, and impatiens. The coward’s shade garden. There are also a LOT of really cool flower-filled planters and big containers close by, around our front door. They look great, and it’s cheaper than getting the siding fixed.

This year, I put a big test shipment of mums (these new “My Favorite” things) into two HUGE, coconut-shell-basket, lined cradles that cover up the worst of my entryway injuries, and surrounded them with all my leftover impatiens—and the odd hosta, simply because it shouldn’t be there (OK, neither should the mums, but so far, nobody’s told them).

Then, one day back in September, my wife says, “It sure HAS been raining a lot this season—you’ve got little trees growing up through the cracks in the decking.” She refers to the little boardwalk at the front of our house on which the containers reside. And I have pulled my share of poplar and ailanthus sprouts (“Tree of Heaven,” my posterior body part!) out of the tightly spaced boards, so her announcement was no surprise.

But the true nature of the ‘weeds’ was. Impatiens. Tiny sprouts, but hundreds of ‘em, packed into the spaces between 3 or 4 square feet of decking. Ha! So I filled some pots with peat, perlite, and compost and began harvesting, wondering aloud howcum I never get this many when I start them deliberately in the Spring—or, more importantly, why there aren’t one-tenth as many volunteers in the garden, where there were MANY more plants to drop seeds and lots more (and better quality) doit to drop onto.

Anyway, my Goldilocks theory: Last year, it was (all together now): TOO dry. The year BEFORE, it was (stay with me now): TOO wet. Apparently this summer really WAS just right! This had prob-ably tried to happen every Fall, but either a pounding rain would wash the youngsters away at some point, or a week without would wither them before they was big enough to notice. This year’s constant moisture—without a lot of heavy pounders—appears to have done a better job of accidental propagation than those little self-misting greenhouses do at the deliberate kind.

I’ll coax these puppies through the winter inside and then really hit the ground running with BIG plants come Spring. I generally wait WAY too long to start my impatiens and wind up with pretty puny plants ‘til like August, so this is GREAT!

Eh, but it was still too wet! Really! It was awful…

Oh, c’mon—don’t I get to win one for a change?


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