The Weather-Resilient Garden

– Posted in: Book reviews, Weather
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image of book coverPerhaps my weather-induced misery has been exacerbated by a newly heightened awareness of what the heat and humidity are doing to my garden. The Weather-Resilient Garden : A Defensive Approach to Planning & Landscaping is not a book for the horticultural hypochondriac. After I finished it, every spot or other disfigurement on any plant I happened to rest my eyes on was a result of heat, humidity, drought, or excessively cool temperatures at night (when we were still having them). Gardeners of an anxious temperament could drive themselves nuts trying to bulletproof their garden, but author Charles W. G. Smith advises a measured, reasoned approach:

In the weather-resilient garden, the gracious ambience of flowers and form is apparent every day. But behind the gentle, inviting appearance–in plants, soil, hardscape, design, everywhere you look–is a strength that resists and endures the severe, damaging weather that someday visits every garden.

If you’re just starting a gardening library, this is not the first book you’re going to pick–there’s not enough pretty pictures. But after the first ice storm/hurricane/you-name-it hits your garden, you’re gonna run to this book in a hurry. And then you’re going to wish you’d read this book before you planted your garden, so you could have followed the author’s excellent advice. Or at least, planted your must-have non-weather-resilient favorite with your eyes open.

Not that Mr. Smith’s writing is dry–far from it. He divides his book into three parts. The first part covers general principles and terminology. There is much advice here that I’ve read before, but Smith goes further and explains why following this advice helps your garden. I don’t know about you, but knowing the science behind standard garden dictums improves my compliance. Whether it’s taking my medicine or not pushing when birthing a baby, I’m a lot more likely to do what I’m told when I know why.

Part two covers the bad weather that you want to protect your garden from: cold, ice and snow, salt, flood, drought, fire, hail, heat, humidity, lightning, and wind. (Something for everyone, except some of us get more than others: I found myself feeling profoundly grateful for the trouble I’ve been spared.) Each section begins with a you-are-there scenario showing you how that particular type of weather condition comes about. Charles W. G. Smith then explains how this villain-er, conditon–causes damage, and how you can repair or at least ameliorate it. He also discusses which plants are most likely to be killed by the culprit–um, weather condition–and which are most likely to emerge unharmed or at least bounce back quickly. And he tells you how you can modify your landscape as a whole to minimize the damage next time. He seems to know every meteorological disaster intimately, as if he’s endured them all. But that couldn’t be, could it?

The third part of the book is a compendium of plants that are resilient to multiple weather hazards. I noticed a lot of plants I grow are listed here, but why should I be surprised? In my semi-neglected garden, everything that’s not weather-resilient dies pretty quickly. But, of course, I don’t deliberately plant things that aren’t adapted to my area. Well, all right, there have been occasions when I’ve crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. But not too many. After all, a dead plant is time and money down the drain. I try to keep my educational expenses to a minimum.

This is an extremely well-researched book and a good all around reference on the topic. But cold climate gardeners should read A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons first. It’s got more of what you’re looking for. And don’t forget my list of cold climate gardening books, which, unfortunately, hasn’t been moved over to the new format yet; you can find it here.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Alice Nelson July 22, 2005, 6:17 pm

We are indeed fortunate here in the U.P. of Michigan. In our area we don’t have wildfires to a great extent (some out in forest or grassland), no hurricanes, very few tornadoes, little hail, very few floods (in
very low lying areas only). We do have lots of snow, often over 250 inches, and temps to 13-
The snow serves to insulate the plants. We do have to watch zones, since near Lake Superior it is zone 5, here 15 miles inland Zone 4, and south of us Zone 3. There is a lot of sand and rock, and the temps in summer have been know to get up to 100. It takes some knowledge of what will grow where, but we have plenty of plants that do the job, including roses. Makes for interesting gardening! And right now we are in the midst of a drought, so we water and mulch and use those little polymer crystals the store up water.