PLANTING IN THE DROUGHT

Sometimes I hate following my own advice. I hate it especially when it concerns properly digging a bed for planting.

You remember the July Fourth weekend don’t you? Unbroken bright sunshine, temperatures in the nineties and humidity thick enough to can. Those were the climatic conditions when my wife and I decided we didn’t have enough color in our front yard. Garden centers, pinched by the drought, were offering two-for-one deals on flowering annuals and perennials. What better time to grab a shovel and transform the area around our mailbox?!

Five minutes into the chore, I could make a lengthy list of better times to plant. “Any time but now” headed the list, followed by “three months ago”. However, the annual “Friends and Family” cookout was coming up in just a few weeks. The best (and only) time to plant was ^now^.

SOIL SHOULD ACT LIKE A SPONGE Knowing that I never wanted to dig the bed again, I decided to go whole hog and do it right – heat or no heat. With my round-point shovel I flipped over clod after clod of clay. Our small, two-cycle tiller pulverized the clumps. After an hour’s work, the soil was silky, but any gardener worth their 10-10-10 knows how quickly soft clay solidifies.

“More compost!” was the command. Barrow after barrow of composted wood and leaves was heaped onto the clay and mixed in with the tiller. “More?” came the plaintive plea. “More!” I replied. “The plants will thank us now and we’ll thank ourselves next year.” Finally the whole five foot by twenty foot area was finished. The red clay was now brown soil. Trillions of organic morsels were ready to absorb whatever water came their way and the clay particles were thoroughly separated from their brick-making buddies.

COLOR? WE GOT COLOR! Pink caladiums now grace our mailbox. Red and white impatiens grab attention. Variegated hosta leaves arch gracefully in front of the darker green leaves of Lenten rose. Bleeding heart vine (^Clerodendron thomsoniae^) climbs a short trellis beside clumps of yellow/red coleus.

THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING I can see how much difference a properly tilled and amended bed makes during a drought. Two years ago I sweated buckets digging a smaller bed in deep shade where grass refused to grow. Now an ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea prospers there, covered in white blooms slowly turning green. While the French hydrangeas out back are pitifully wilted and droopy, the ‘Annabelle’ has been watered only by the rain since April.

Digging a flower bed in July is not an easy chore. We took frequent breaks to catch our breath and consider our progress. A pitcher of water was always nearby. I feel certain, though, that our efforts will be appreciated by plants and passers-by alike. And, best of all, my new black mailbox with its shiny brass numbers is now properly landscaped.