We'll all have drought stories to tell from this 2011 Summer just like the old folks have from the Depression and The War. We'll have pictures of the cracked, crusted earth at the bottom of Lake Brownwood taken at the bridge on Highway 279 that will bring amazement and awe of nature's mysterious wonders.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be bored with stories about what 'this place looked like before the Summer of 2011.' Remembrances of long-established, lush green grass and fragrant smells from trees, shrubs and flowers, struggling to survive long after the drought, will be embedded in our minds and conversations, much to the disdain of youngsters.
We'll tell about watering on a schedule based on odd and even numbered addresses. We'll have fond memories of just turning on the sprinkler system and letting it run endlessly while rapidly learning about alternatives to large, labor-intensive yardens. Horrific wildfire damage, dangers and escapes will be on our minds for a long time, in spite of burn bans all around.
My drought stories are many. This is the time when I vowed to use groundcovers as much as possible, thus cutting down on watering, mowing and fertilizing. I have a lot of groundcover around the place in Taylor County and it doesn't even know we're in a drought. It hasn't had supplemental water in five years or more, and I don't remember when it was cut back or mowed! It's wintercreeper, a survivor par excellence.
This is the time I vowed to use only native plants and heirlooms in flowerbeds and the edible gardens. There'll be no sacrifice in "the look" of the landscape, just more manageable. Now, why did I need to wait for a severe drought to see the need for this decision? There'll be no decrease in edible production by using heirlooms, either. In fact, there'll probably be more production, fewer pests because of increased biodiversity in the soil, and certainly more old fashioned flavor in the produce.
Just as a side note, a severe drought is proof positive of the importance of embracing organic gardening techniques. With no chemical pesticides, beneficials and birds have had food, clean water and safe nesting places. The use of thick, native mulch has protected soil and plant roots. The shrubs I've lost have not been mulched.
I'm encouraging me to seriously work on an attitude adjustment. Long days of blood, sweat and tears do not necessarily spell gardening success. Because gardeners love being outside as much as comfortably possible, we tend to over-care for growing things. If a little plant food is good, just a bit more will be better; if an inch of water is good, another inch will be better. The reality is no, this is not the case and the opposite is usually true--less is more.
Why do we think we have to be feeding, watering, digging, squashing bugs or swatting flies when we are in the yarden? I think it's OK to sit, think, listen, watch and enjoy being outside.
In the last 15 years, I've spent a lot of time, energy and money in soil amendments to make a rich place for plants to grow, and will continue to do so, but with my enhanced attitude adjustment, comes a dedicated focus on garden birding, another dimension of serious gardening.
The next column or two will be about garden birding in the drought of the Summer 2011.
MGU McDaniel is an organic gardener, writer and lecturer who gardens in Brown and Taylor counties in Texas. firstname.lastname@example.org