Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, October 15, 2010

GBBD and Blog Action Day~Don't Let Me Drown*

It's October 15, and that means that it's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day~Brought to you by the talented Carol at May Dreams Gardens. To celebrate the day please follow the link (here dears) to see more beautiful gardens then you can imagine touring in one day! I'm also blogging with bloggers all over the blogasphere about water for Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger global discussions. All flowers shown are blooming today~g

Welcome to Clay and Limestone~A garden in Middle Tennessee

Echinacea tennesseensis blooming still
Water's been on my mind a lot lately. Eighteen inches of rain fell on my garden in Nashville, TN the weekend of May 1 and 2, 2010. Fifty-two of the state’s ninety-five counties were declared disaster areas in what's been called a 1000 year flood event. A week later 4 more inches fell**. Since then we've had a hot, humid and almost rainless three months. Cooler temperatures are here. But, it's not over yet. We're into our seventh week without a significant rainfall. Significant meaning more then a quarter of an inch of rain at one time.
Amsonia hubrechtii this fall
From what I've read, extreme weather may be the new normal***. Periods of intense rains followed by drought has been forecast for much of the Southeastern USA. Our rains have always been heaviest in the winter and early spring (about 20 inches total). Our summers are dry but, not waterless. The new normal is going to take some getting used to~

Smilacina racemosa

I'm not exactly sure when I really began to notice the changes in our weather events. A few years ago the summers started getting dryer when our pop up summer thunderstorms disappeared. September 2007 we had a record breaking drought after a severe late frost. The devastation to flowering trees and shrubs is still being seen today; other wise healthy trees are dropping limbs and shrubs are dying. September 2009 we had 14 inches of rain in a three week period. The first half of 2010 Nashville had the coldest winter in 30 years and the wettest spring with Middle Tennessee experiencing a 500 and some areas a 1000 year flood.

Native ex-asters can survive extended dry periods
Even if the weather weren't getting hotter and dryer each summer…I’d like to have a garden that reflects commitment to conserving water. One solution for gardeners who want bloom all summer long is to plant Xeric plants. They are some of the most attractive, long blooming, water wise plants available to gardeners. They are also known to be pollinator magnets. All good.

Gaura loves it dry, but, needs good drainage

But, xeric is an iffy prospect in the Central Basin in Middle Tennessee. Our winters haven't changed~They are wet, wet, wet! That's typically when we get most of our rainfall....about 20 inches can fall from November through April. Drainage is an issue on my clay soil when it gets that saturated. Plants drown.

Agastaches rupestris is happy in a container
I've tried them anyway! I planted agastaches and salvias after the 2007 drought and they died in the 2008 winter rains. I've amended the soil to aid drainage and planted again. They still drowned! This spring when three Agastache rupestris followed me home, I immediately planted them in containers that I set in the sunniest spot in the garden. They have bloomed all summer and made me and the hummers very happy. It remains to be seen whether they can survive all winter in containers, but, I'm willing to give it try.

Skippers have loved the sunny summer like fall weather
Raised beds would be a good idea in a garden like this one! Were I ten years younger I would dig out the garden and build raised beds. They make sense for the shallow clay soil that sits over limestone bedrock!

Neither rain nor drought stops Goldenrod
There's a simpler solution for me. I can return to my garden roots and plant what I know can not only survive, but thrive here. It means planting more Central Basin and cedar glade natives. There are plenty of shrubs, grasses and perennials that can take the dry summers and wet winters. Flowering plants like I'm sharing with you in this post are the ones that light up the garden each fall. There are plenty of wonderful spring and summer blooming plants, too.
Liatris aspera
My frustrations arise when I veer from the course; when I am seduced by an English garden, gorgeous xerics meant for dry climates or even native perennials that need moist, well draining soil.

I don't mind losing a few agastaches and salvias to the winter rains when they can survive summers.

Sure, I get aggravated at the weather, I get frustrated at the growing conditions, but, I know what grows here, I know what thrives here and I need to plant more of them and less of those plants that break my heart when they drown in the winters or fry to a crisp in the summers.


* Don't let Me Down~Thanks to The Beatles for their title inspiration.

**“One of the clearest precipitation trends in the United States is the increasing frequency and intensity of heavy downpours. This increase was responsible for most of the observed increase in overall precipitation during the last 50 years.” (Global Climate Change Impacts, page 32)Here for more on Climate Change

***Autumn rain has increased markedly over the southeast over the last century. At the same time the global temperature has risen .7C. Here are some quotes from the U.S.Global change report: “Floods and droughts are likely to become more common and more intense as regional and seasonal precipitation patterns change, and rainfall becomes more concentrated into heavy events (with longer, hotter dry periods in between).” (Global Climate Change Impacts, page 44)


  1. Gail, I appreciate you explaining your current weather conditions. From one extreme to another... and it sounds like you are figuring out how best to adapt. In the meantime, you always inspire with your choice of plants, many native, that bloom and attract all kinds of pollinators to your garden.

    Perhaps some eager young, strong workers might help you build a few raised beds?

  2. An insightful and informative post, dear Gail, thanks! Growing what will thrive instead of trying to duplicate the beautiful gardens of other climates are wise words. Now to make ourselves follow that sage advice. :-)

  3. A beautiful and thought-provoking post. I suspect that the answer to gardening in a time of such climate change is to do as you said, and plant what we know will thrive rather than pushing the boundaries because we fall in love. At least it means the plants are happy and require less care, including less watering and feeding, both frequently environmentally problematic. I think one of the reasons I love following garden blogs is I get to admire - and envy - plants I can't grow in my own heavy damp clay garden with little full sun. I love your photos, really glad I found your blog. Another triumph for Carol's GBBD meme!

  4. Very thought provoking post Gail. I do see some lovely blooms in your gardens...Monarda: When the Monarda starts getting those tender green tips of leaves, (spring) I pinch them off. This causes a larger show of blooms. Once those blooms begin to fade I deadhead...and repeat. It's worked for three years now.

  5. Great post Gail. We gardeners were pretty much the first ones to notice the change in climate, I think. Gardening makes us all so much more aware of what is going on with our beloved planet.

    Enjoyed your pics, as per usual, and noticed we have many in common. Here the winters are pretty wet too and summers are definitely getting drier.

    Have a great weekend my dear,

    xoxox Yolanda

  6. It's hard to know what to plant anymore. Even the ex-asters in the Nano-prairie were drooping and the blooms were wilting. Your Smilacina looks so good. Mine all faded so quickly this year.

  7. Great post Gail in your striking photography and words! Oh, what we could all do if we were ten years younger. Going more native seems the best and a very beautiful way to go. The droughts of summer hit us this year too. I think we might be catching up though with the rain we have had of late. Not sure if plants and trees would agree. ;>)

  8. It is very difficult to restrain oneself from planting those 'dream' plants and to stick with the tried and true. You do have the PPP and the susans which always perform. I think it must be the gardener's lifelong lesson.

  9. A very thoughtful and inspiring post, Gail.

  10. Gail I had these exact same thoughts this summer, when the only thing that looked good in the middle of summer was the Summersweet by the old house site. That I did not plant and which grew wild there. We had an even worse drought in 2002 (well heck we've had droughts almost every summer) and although the Clethra drooped mightly, none of it died, which is remarkable. And the winter wet really is a killer. Got to save the English Garden stuff for right around the house and keep it small. I say this to myself every summer, when will I learn. lol

    You have a lot of gorgeous Cedar Glade natives to choose from, and they look marvelous in your garden!

  11. Thanks for a lovely GBBD assortment of blooms, and even more thanks for that info at the bottom of your post. I have to agree that here in southern Wisconsin almost all the rain we have had this year has come in drenching, flooding downpours. That gentle rain that softly falls all night looks like it is becoming nothing but a memory.

  12. It sure does take some time to get used to this 'no wet' summers. I am reworking my beds just to deal with it. Crossed fingers I'll be ready next year. The amsonia is one I simply love and will be spreading it around. It is never fazed by anything. Mine hasn't begun turning yet but any day I'm sure.

  13. I did a recent post on this same subject of growing what does well in drought. We're dying here in NW Ohio, too. This is the fourth summer in a row that we've had it hot and dry, but this one is the worst yet. Worst since 1988, when we had a real drought, too. :-(

    May we get the rain we need when we need it (and not TOO much at one time!).

  14. Hi, Gail;
    I really enjoyed this post as I've been struggling with the opposite problem - I'm getting your rain and we're just not used to it. (One of my favorite waterwise perennials simply rotted in the soil last June because of the unusual, heavy rains.) Good inspiration for more native plantings as they seem to tolerate anything Mother Nature decides to dish out. :)

  15. Gail, We are also having odd weather patterns here in Niagara Falls. Sadly, it has been a really, hot, dry summer, many 90 and above days. That is unusual for up along the Canadian border. Last year we had excessive rain, where plants died from too much water. I applaud the bloggers post on water. I only found out about it too late to post.

  16. Hi Gail,
    Your blooms look great, and your thoughts on water and what kinds of plants to have have been on my mind, too. Here in Nebraska, we have enough water to water our gardens. I do, because I hate seeing things shrivel up and look terrible. I sometimes feel guilty, and think I should do a better job planting things that can handle the hot and dry.

    I've been noticing longer winters. This spring and summer we got more rain than normal, then had a hot dry August. I wonder what next year will bring.

    Thanks for your comment on my GBBD post. I can't remember if I was going to say anything about anything you said. It left my brain. I'll have to come back and visit over the weekend. My break at work is over.

  17. No doubt about it, you've got a tough (new) climate to garden in. I'm with you - time to plant the natives. My goal in my own garden is to never have to water... (aside from out of rain barrels.) Great post, Gail.

  18. I think in the Uk the biggest problem we are going to have with climate change is wet and cold winters which many plants dont like.
    Thanks for drawing the Bloggers Action Day to my attention

  19. The term "unsettled weather" would definately apply to the past decade as we wait for the new normal to show itself. On top of the conditions you mentioned we have to deal with the occasional coastal storm or hurricane here, but at least they bring rain. Happy GBBD to you!

  20. Oh Gail your poor garden or should I say your great garden because what you showed today looks fabulous. We have been told here that the temperatures in the next few years are going to be getting warmer and we are to prepare for wacky weather patterns than we have ever had not to mention insects that we have never had because they get killed off with the cold winter. Our growing zones are going to change. Cactus anyone?

  21. So many excellent reasons to plant natives in our gardens Gail. I do hope they'll continue to thrive in spite of the erratic weather we all seem to be experiencing. With so many young plants in our garden, even though most are drought-tolerant and many are natives, I did still have to water a few times this year, but a lot less than in previous years as the garden has continued to mature.

    I didn't think I'd find a reason to like our swale, but as I'm discovering more moisture-loving natives, I'm liking that always-wet spot more and more.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  22. Great, thoughful post. Although not as extreme as what you've experienced, our weather here in Portland is much like that. We get most of our rain during the Winter, with some in the Spring and Fall, but out summers go by without any rain at all. Xeric plants can do well if their drainage is good, but our winters claim quite a few (at least for me). Good luck in your plantings!

  23. I wholeheartedly agree that planting natives is a sensible and sustainable way to cope with climatic extremes and changes, particularly in regards to water.

    Speaking of that, I'm not sure if elm-leaved goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) can survive the wet winters where you are, but it can certainly handle very, very dry shade in summer. This is my first year with it so I'm not sure when the seed becomes viable, or I'd send you some. Keep you eyes out for the plant, and if I gather seeds that turn out to be viable I'll save some for you!

  24. Gail, I think you've done a wonderful job in creating a garden that will thrive no matter the weather. This hot, dry summer has certainly made me re-think some of my desires for more exotic plants; more and more natives are finding their way here, and I love the visitors they attract.

    Although we didn't have the floods you had in May, thank goodness, our weather has been much the same. Last year it rained all September and October, and this year virtually nothing. Finding plants that will be happy in either condition is certainly a challenge. Containers and raised beds sound like perfect alternatives for the more finicky ones.

  25. Lovely photos Gail - I see that you and me both have wet soil and its the winter wet that normally kills plants in my garden. I just bought a book on native flowers for a UK garden - and thats all down to you inpiring me to take an interest in native flowers as I have so many problem areas in the garden I think I will have to plant some natives in those spots. Have a lovely weekend :)

  26. I love the shot of the blue asters climbing over the blue bench.

  27. Your photos are inspiring. I haven't seen a native cone flower and mine are already gone for the year. I too have begun to rely on more native species are those that thrive on my neglect. I always think I will take better care of my garden than I do!

  28. Your lovely natives are marvelous plants. They will adapt. I have never experienced a drought such as this. UGH... I hope my garden survives. I hope your garden survives too.

  29. These drought conditions do make one wonder what to plant. Your natives are the very best for your area. I can grow a lot of them too, and do. Happy GBBD.

  30. I love your sentiment about growing what will thrive. I am trying very hard to do that here and that means growing a lot of native plants and accepting that things need to be drought tolerant as my soil is stony and very fastdraining. I am finding that if I plant carefully with organic matter and accept that the first year will be a bit of a lull, by the second year things get established and get their roots way down. Salvias love it here but this is my first year for some that are not fully hardy up here so we shall see how I do at keeping them alive overwinter!

  31. Thanks, Gail for a very interesting post. We struggle here too with extreme weather. And as a gardener, I struggle with myself -- sometimes the plants that are best adapted to my particular spot just don't appeal to me. But I'm working on it!

  32. Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking post with beautiful photos. I love gaura and recently replanted it for the second time. I keep hoping it will adapt-- maybe I will add more gravel to the soil it is planted in.

  33. I too am trying to change my gardens trying to work with the weather. Here it is either too wet or too dry. I've seen part of my yard covered in water for weeks. Of course some things I have put in containers just because of this.
    I see there is still plenty of beautiful blooms in your garden. It's always nice to read & see about your lovely gardens.

  34. Gail,
    You're right on target in thinking how we need to adapt as gardeners.

    Global climate change is basically global weirding, with weather extremes that aren't familiar.

    I do think we'll need to default to our toughest plants for year-round interest in our gardens (and that usually means very adaptable natives and non-natives).

    But I'm going to keep trying the most adaptable of drought-tolerant species form the Southwestern US, too, and see which ones can survive the soggy cold winters that we have!


  35. Great/sound advice, Gail. You are a wise woman and gifted gardener that rolls with the punches. The times they are a changin' ... like the dinosaur, we must all adapt or die :)

  36. The little skipper looks so happy on the pretty lavender Aster, and oh, the blue of that Salvia!
    Wonderful photos and thoughtful words on this drizzly morn here in upstate NY, Gail. There were even a few snowflakes in the air earlier.
    Your native garden is a great example of working with the earth to "just get along".
    We've had dry/hot and wet/cool periods all spring and summer. A happy medium, with just the right gardening conditions seems elusive.
    I hope your Agastaches overwinter in their containers and that a day of gentle, life-giving rain falls on your garden soon.
    Lovely October blooms!

  37. Great post Gail! I had to get used to dry conditions when I moved west too. It's surprising what can thrive although I still plant a few things that should not be here....
    Apparently Colorado used to have afternoon thunderstorms too (which is why no one had air conditioning ~ just when it started to get hot, a rain shower would cool everything off) but that hasn't been happening regularly here either. Kind of scary where it all might lead...

  38. What a good combination post! Extremes of temperatures, drought, flood and records falling one-by-one is all that I've known since coming to Austin over 11-years ago, Gail and when my clay gets cold and wet it kills xeric plants the same way that like yours does.

    It's certainly hard to plan when you never know what will live or die, but the constantly changing cast may keep us from getting bored!

    Love the asters - my natives have died but Aster frikartii (think originally from Switzerland?) has been around for 5 years! Go figure.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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