Lucky 7

– Posted in: Plant info, Weather

Instead of a single day of good fortune like yesterday’s auspicious 07/07/07, this has been a week of luck for one reason: rain. Although it can’t be discerned from the surrounding woods with their uncommon fullness bordering on rainforest-like lushness, this summer has been uncommonly dry. Late spring and summer started out so well it wasn’t conceivable that midseason has me contemplating water conservation and rationing. I’m thinking the “D” word but trying hard not to say it.

early summer

Incredible greenness abounded in early June, recreating a vision of Irish green everywhere. I took unseemly pride in the richness of it though I remained mostly an incidental spectator. I took it for granted it would remain so, relying on the typically abundant rainfall to keep everything hydrated, priming for a replication of last year, a perfection of summer.

Two weeks into it, weariness began to appear. I have given in to my fascination with Geranium phaeum and have inserted them as often as I dare into many of the plantings. Hardiness, ease of culture and propagation, quick to grow, early and long flowering (usually), bee attracting, an ability to accommodate and add fullness in any allotted space, thriving in part-shade (its preference) through full sun, and the simple beauty of its dusky, white-eyed and swept back petals are why I like it.

Last year they were beautiful all summer and this year not so good. They’ve stopped flowering and turned yellow, falling open and showing off parts of themselves I would rather not see. The other Geraniums have followed suit, along with assorted Salvias, Filipendulas, and other random plants, yes I’m talking about you Veronicastrum. Flower buds have aborted and even worse never developed on a few plants. Others struggle and gone straggly, sending up a few flowers and then quickly browning out, as if eager to be done with it all, giving up on the season and trying to hang on for a different and better growing year.

Early on, before inserting and opening the earth for the first time here, I had decided that all perennials and most shrubs would receive attentive care and watering to aid in establishing them during their first growing season but ever after they would be on their own. I make an exception for trees and will continue watering them until they show by their growth and performance that my assistance is no longer required. I’m in the Northeast, I reasoned to myself, and my days of endless hand and sprinkler watering are behind me. It is a hard line I have established but I’ve held true to it for the time I’ve been in New York. It has not been easy this year but I have stuck to that philosophy, mostly, but last week you would have caught me sneaking a slow trickle to a favored plant.

Because of my background, the possibility of a drought dryer period is never far from me. Reliant on a well, I would rather hoard water for household use than plants in the garden. That decision seems a little insane considering the gobs of money that has been spent outside but that is how I feel.

This is still a farming community and everyone talks about the weather. The dryness has helped with the haying, ensuring the first cut was perfect but will there be more? The corn is worrying, staying short and wondering how large and full the ears will be. A dry summer affects the fall color, hurting tourism in an area that is already struggling and precarious in the best of times.

Each week, it seems, clouds build up and darken, showing the promise of rain. But then they pull apart and scatter or, even worse, blow by, dumping the rain elsewhere but not here. This isn’t the first time we’ve been dry but I’m more sensitized to it this year than before and I don’t know why.

This week it rained, including the last four days. Not enough to exult in but enough to nurture hope. Is it the vanguard to better days or a blip and aberration to an establishing pattern?

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Ron M July 16, 2007, 9:22 pm

I live in Central Delaware and the rain misses us every time. It rains to the north, south and west. My grass is dead and I have to water anything I want to keep alive.

dana July 14, 2007, 7:15 am


dana July 14, 2007, 7:14 am

hi i love your plants

Ted B July 10, 2007, 7:55 am

I’ll say it – it’s a drought here. I’m 30 miles east of the Twin Cities, in Western Wisconsin, and we are about 5 inches down in rainfall since April – OUCH! Plus more days above 90 in June then we typically get the whole summer. The garden is unhappy!

Watching the radar has been frustating here as well. Most storms have been cold fronts dropping down from Canada. They approach us then skid straight east, staying north of me only to grow back south after they’re past.

Eastern WI is doing fine, Western MN is 5 inches above normal in rain. I’m stuck in the middle.

I try to water as little as possible but in mid June I gave in and started a regular schedule. I starting to wonder if I need to shift my plant palette to more dry land species.

Craig Levy July 10, 2007, 5:35 am

Beth’s brother’s family had a dug (not drilled) well and had to be conscientious of their water use, even in the best of times.

Kathy: Yes, we did get some rain Sunday night but got missed, again on Monday. Frustrating when you know surrounding areas are under watches and warnings. I don’t believe it is enough to fully saturate the soil for the trees but the lawn mowed meadow, as if I cared about turf, doesn’t look as peaked. The creek beds are still rocky gullys, leaving the tiny puddles of isolated baby fish without a way to better water.

It is interesting how topography impacts local weather. The Mohawk Valley to the north of us attracts storms to it and draws them over to Saratoga County. The Catskills to our southeast are the other attractant, explaining why Greene county on its north flank and Dutchess county across the Hudson River are well known for their ample rainfall. This leaves us inbetween, watching storms trundling by but no water.

Robin (Bumblebee) July 9, 2007, 5:04 pm

The rainbow was a welcome sight today. (Icky day.)

I have begun to worry about the drought here. The farmers have been joking that we’ve had all the rain we’re going to get this year. (Farmer humor, I guess.) I am also worried about forest fires now, as we’re surrounded by woods that are dry timber.

I would like nothing more than to be woken up at night with the sound of rain. I might just cry.

–Robin (Bumblebee)

layanee July 9, 2007, 9:34 am


Great shot of the rainbow. I haven’t seen one here in quite a while. Also, that flower bed is luscious! I love green! There are so many variations of green it is astounding.

Kathy Purdy July 8, 2007, 9:17 pm

You and I have similar issues with being on well and needing to conserve water. On the radar screen I see a big orange cloud over your area and I think you are getting more rain than me.