In Saratoga Springs, where I live, water is definitely a problem. Our leaders are always looking for new sources to drain: Saratoga Lake? The Hudson River? And there is always that moment in the summer when we’re supposed to cut back.
For me, July and August are real moral dilemmas. No one thinks about xeriscaping in the Northeast. But the soil in Saratoga Springs is so remarkably beachy pale and sandy that even in a season like this one–when we’ve had beating rain since early May–one hot dry day like last Saturday, and my garden is full of wilting flowers and shrubs. At some point in every summer, I start muttering to my husband, "It’s like gardening in Phoenix."
And this is the Northeast, after all. We can’t do tropical, but we can do lush. Our gardens are supposed to look lush.
So my neighbors all water without a thought. In fact, one of my neighbors has the most wonderful ostrich ferns. Hers are waist high, whereas mine top out somewhere in thigh range. I asked her how she does it, and she pointed to a discrete soaker hose snaking among her plants.
But I can’t bring myself to do that. It just feels wrong to be taking a hose to an ornamental garden, when I could just as well choose plants that might like my admittedly awful conditions.
So I tend to watch the wilting with a kind of perverse fascination. Since I have a lot of shade, I have many theoretically moisture-loving plants. Some of them are complete heroes in dry heat: hellebores, Solomon’s seals, cimifugas, aruncus, hostas. And some of them are utter wusses: the astilbes.
I tend to fill up the watering can for those wilters that I truly love: the gorgeous brunneras, with their huge heart-shaped white leaves, my tall dahlias. And I stint those plants that don’t fascinate me–astilbes. In fact, I am thinking right now, no more palliative care for the astilbes. If they dry to a crisp and blow away, so be it.
Of course, my friend in Atlanta informs me that it so hot in the summer there that without supplemental watering, there is no garden. I don’t know the answer. I just know there is something wrong in HGTV’s gentle reminder:
No matter what zone you live in, many common plants require more water than naturally falls.
Those plants deserve to be much less common.