It’s spring, season of gardening hope. Grass pushes up, green and lush, the trees put out their odd little blossoms and action stirs in the flower beds. The urge comes on to rush to the garden centre, come home laden with pots of bedding plants and fistfuls of seed envelopes sporting bright photos of all the blooms and veggies that will overflow in abundance.
I have long ago finished being fooled by these false promises. My soil consists mostly of shale gravel with a little dirt in between. The region has the second lowest rainfall in the province and the only source of water is a rural well not designed for mass watering.
After watching cheery little sprouts from the garden centre start out gamely and then collapse from heat and drought, I gave up such cruelty and decided to let nature do what it would. So the yard sports local wiregrass that can stand whatever the season throws. In drought, it simply dies down into a crisp brown mat that becomes a fire hazard and appears as dead as it can possibly be. But give it a sprinkle of rain and up come new blades and the land blushes green again. You can’t kill county grass.
The other survivors are the orange day lilies that decorate roadsides and provide a thick green border round the house. They smother weeds and defy drought with tuberous roots storing their own water. Other kinds of day lilies lack that fortitude but the orange sort are indomitable.
The young sugar maple I planted years ago put out new shoots each year trying to grow a few more feet, all in vain. Inevitably, the shoots would die off and the tree remained the same dwarf size. One dry year, it turned brown all over and gave up the ghost. Only it’s stump remains.
However, nearby, there is a big Manitoba maple that has stood there ever since I can remember. It sports a massive trunk, a great crown of leaves that never turn yellow no matter how bad the drought. Much maligned as a weed tree, this rugged species springs up unwanted along fences, in waste lots and even thrusts vigorously through the cracks between pavement and wall. My tree, sitting on bedrock a foot or so below, has put out a far ranging lateral root system and may even has been lucky enough to find a crack in the limestone, letting it send a shoot down 120 feet, the depth of the well, to where water might be found. It is kindred in spirit to the scrappy red cedars which take so enthusiastically to poor soil and jeer, like hardened gang members, at more civilized breeds gasping for moisture.
Oddly, peonies can take the worst and still produce lush blooms. Also yucca, which I thought was a southern desert inhabitant, stays green and puts out tall, impressive stalks of creamy blossoms against a backdrop of brown grass. No matter how dry and hot, blue devil, or viper’s bugloss (wonderful name), thrusts up out of the dormant lawn, ready to stab anything that dares touch its blue flower stalks. In the flower bed, gold and pink yarrow still have enough wild yarrow in them to stay alive no matter what.
And, of course, there are the ubiquitous lilacs, lining the roadsides, filling the air with heady perfume in the spring, surviving and spreading a century after the homesteaders who planted them are long gone.
So every spring I pass up the garden centres, wishing best of luck to all the geraniums, marigolds, impatiens, zinnias and nasturtiums on their way to pleasant new homes. By not buying them myself, I am sparing their lives. Among my orange lilies, yuccas and yarrow, I’ll do just fine.