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Beaten Down and Bedraggled

July 1, 2013

beaten down alchemillaI have long considered late June the best part of the Maine summer, characterized by dry air, sunny skies, soft breezes, and high temperatures in the mid-upper seventies – my idea of perfect. So I was disappointed in this year’s late June weather; it has rained every day for the past week. And these have not been gentle garden-nourishing rains. They have been hard, driving rains, often accompanied by thunder and lightning and sometimes by hail. The rain has washed a gully in my dirt road, left local streams and rivers running high and fast, and left my garden looking sad.

The flowers of Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and flax (Linum perenne) are lying prostrate, having been beaten down by the rain. The Tradescantia plants along the walkways are straining against the rims of peony hoops that are the only thing keeping them from the same fate. beaten down linum
tradescantia straining1 tradescntia straining2

danielle propped upI have found other plants that normally don’t need support lying on the ground and have picked them up and given them stakes to lean on. The blooms of Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ droop over the retaining wall, and I can see that many of their flowers are turning to brown mush before I have ever had a chance to enjoy them.

spirea drooping spirea brown mush
aruncus suspendedPlants like this goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), which would normally be flowering at this time of year, seem to be in a state of suspended animation, waiting for sunshine to encourage them into bloom.

The Serenity Garden has fared better. Plants in this flower bed are sheltered by the branches of the large pine trees that grow high above them. The trees break the force of the rain, collect the raindrops, and continue to shake them down gently onto the plants below after the rain has stopped.

serenity sheltered

I had been thinking of this weather as a weird aberration until the local television meteorologist presented data about the 10 wettest Junes in recorded weather history for southern Maine and I realized that three of the ten were in the past five years. Then it hit me; this weather is our new normal, brought to us courtesy of the same carbon emissions and climate change that have brought searing heat and raging wildfires to the west and a year of record drought followed by a year of record floods to much of the midwest. This realization leaves me feeling as discouraged and dispirited as many of my plants look.

But I find it hard to stay downhearted very long. Even in a garden that is looking bedraggled, there are signs of hope. Yesterday, when I came home after several hours away – hours in which it hadn’t rained, and the sun had come out for a while – I found that the Lady’s mantle had shaken off the raindrops and sprung upright again (even if only to be beaten back down a couple of hours later), and some of the Astilbe had opened a few tentative flowers. And all around me are ripening buds just waiting for a sunny day.

Somehow my garden and I will adapt to climate change. Sooner or later, I’ll let go of the idea that late June ought to be deliciously dry, sunny and mild and discover that the best part of the Maine summer is now in early June or late May or August. If our summers become generally wetter, maybe I’ll be able to grow some of those plants (like hydrangea!) that I love but that need more moisture than I’ve been able to provide.

For now, though, I really would just be grateful for a dry, sunny day.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2013 11:32 pm

    The weather has become more unpredictable over the past two years; it is definitely getting harder to be a successful gardner.

    • July 3, 2013 9:44 pm

      Charlie, I just saw the report on the news tonight looking at the exceptionally severe and unpredictable weather all over the globe in the past 10 years. I find it hard to understand why more people don’t have a sense of urgency about this.

  2. July 2, 2013 3:18 am

    Jean when I read the title of this post I just knew you were experiencing the same weather as we are in NY. Lots of flood damage around me but we are lucky…just lots of standing water in the garden here. We are getting a bit more sun then you between the rain so I am in flower and weed here. Last year we had a severe drought and now too much rain. Not sure what our new normal will turn out to be. Wishing you some sunshine.

    • July 3, 2013 9:47 pm

      Donna, We have not had anywhere as much rain as you have. The vernal pools are full again and I’ve seen ducks nesting in places that are usually dry at this time of year, but we haven’t had flooding along the local rivers and streams. Today, the sun came out, and temperatures are supposed to shoot up into the 90s for the next several days (our third stretch of 90 degree+ temperatures already this summer). I promise not to complain about the heat, especially since many flowers seem ready to burst into bloom with this encouragement.

  3. July 2, 2013 3:30 am

    Here at the SW Washington coast some of my Penstemons and daisies and some ornamental grasses are all splayed and sideways from rain and 30 mph winds.

    • July 3, 2013 9:49 pm

      At least we haven’t had lots of high wind with our rain, just buckets and buckets of rain. I hope things are drying out and your plants are recovering.

      • July 4, 2013 3:05 am

        Now it is too dry! And still windy. Never (rarely) satisfied with the weather. 😉

  4. July 2, 2013 4:29 am

    Well Jean it just shows how tough plants are when they can bounce back from such rough treatment and they always do! Here’s to a good July and August, happy gardening, Ursula

    • July 3, 2013 9:50 pm

      Ursula, It’s true; the plants are tough. It’s we gardeners who tend to be wimps :-).

  5. July 2, 2013 7:57 am

    Living in your neighboring state of NH, I have expressed the same feelings about this summer’s weather. We have been stuck inside so much, it resembles being inside in winter only when you look out the window it is green outside instead of white. Having moved here permanently 11 years ago, we have seen a dramatic change in weather and it hasn’t been a change I would have wanted. But, I guess we play the cards we have been dealt. Hope we both see some sun soon. 🙂

    • July 3, 2013 9:54 pm

      Judy, The sun came out here this afternoon, and we even had some cool breezes before the hot, humid air started to arrive. I scrapped my afternoon work schedule in favor of spending the afternoon sitting out on the deck with a novel! I plan to catch up on all my laundry during these coming days of hot, sunny weather, and I hope to get caught up on some gardening work, too. (We’ll see if I can make good on my promise not to complain about the heat. :-|)

  6. July 2, 2013 11:52 am

    I’ve heard people say that one of the main draws to gardening is learning to deal with whatever the weather sends you. I bet the people that say that aren’t gardeners though. I sometimes think about the smog in L.A. and how they say it makes for a great sunset. Maybe the silver lining of the dark cloud of carbon emissions will be that late August will be your garden’s new magical time.

    • July 4, 2013 9:49 pm

      Chad, I’m generally a person who can find the silver lining in any cloud. Climate change, however, really worries me — especially because we seem to have passed some tipping point in which massive change is inevitable and the rate of change is speeding up and because our leaders don’t seem to “get” how urgent it is that we take responsibility for our high rates of carbon use (and stop trying to blame others, like the Chinese and Indians). I will be able to find the silver linings at the micro scale in my garden, but I fear the macro scale change that is coming.

  7. July 2, 2013 12:47 pm

    I hope you get your dry, sunny day. I’m afraid your conclusions about the climate are spot on. I hate it when my plants have been beaten down by rain or are keeling over from watery top heaviness.

    • July 4, 2013 9:52 pm

      Jason, I’ve gotten about 3/4 of what I was wishing for. It is sunny and dry enough (despite very high humidity) to catch up on a backlog of dirty laundry. Getting out to mow and garden in the heat and humidity is a bit tougher, but the hot weather doesn’t usually last very long here.

  8. July 2, 2013 12:49 pm

    Hail in June? Blimey Jean I don’t envy you that. It most certainly can be disheartening to see damage to your garden caused by mother nature but you’re right, we have to learn to work alongside her and take the rough with the smooth – we’re gardeners, we’ll adapt!
    Despite the harsh weather you’ve had though Jean your garden looks amazing still!

    • July 4, 2013 9:54 pm

      Linda, I suspect that my “harsh” weather may be a walk in the park by your standards. Happily, the hail was just little tiny bits that made its presence known by pinging off the window glass, but that didn’t pile up or do any noticeable damage to plants.

  9. July 2, 2013 1:42 pm

    Imagine how climate change would create even more stress if instead of growing plants for pleasure we grew food to earn a living.

    • July 4, 2013 9:56 pm

      Allan, I know. I remember the owner of my favorite nursery quoting her accountant that “going into business with Mother Nature is a high risk venture.” Going into business with a Mother Nature that has been seriously wounded by human greed and stupidity is even riskier!

  10. July 3, 2013 10:09 am

    Jean, it always amazes me how plants bounce back and even sometimes seem to grow a foot or two come that sunny day! I remember a June like this, too, a few years back. I am also hoping for a dry, sunny, non-windy day – even hot! It would also be a good day to be on the river!

    • July 4, 2013 9:57 pm

      Kathy, We have definitely got the hot and sunny weather here; did it make it to upstate NY, too? Suddenly, all kinds of flowers are bursting into bloom. I get out to enjoy them in the morning and then retreat into a cool house in the heat of the afternoon.

  11. July 3, 2013 12:31 pm

    Sadly, the trials and tribulations posed by the climate change are affecting all of us, albeit in different ways. Where you get more rain, here in SoCal, we’re getting longer and more frequent bouts of scorching heat and drought. I agree that we gardeners need to adapt but I hope that some of the bubble-headed climate change deniers will at last also begin to face the fact that we’ve done damage to the earth that we need to face and address.

    • July 4, 2013 10:00 pm

      Kris, I couldn’t agree more. I sometimes wonder if the climate change deniers are actually less dangerous than the climate change diminishers — the ones who say, “Yes, it’s real; and we’re going to have to do something about it — but it’s too expensive [or inconvenient] to do it now.”

  12. July 4, 2013 1:05 pm

    We’ve been having much the same kind of weather here, Jean. Lots and lots of rain, every day for about 2 wks. And it was a pleasantly ‘cool’ spring. It’s been extremely humid and muggy though, even with the rain, and that makes it a prime target for mosquitos. So i have to spray up any time I go out in the gardens. I always feel gross with the humidity so the spray doesn’t make it much worse…
    I always despair when my plants spread apart from a downpour but they do have a way of bouncing back! We’re off to the beach for some summer fun with the family so I’m hoping the rain that has wreaked havoc on the east coast is about done. I hope so!! Take care 🙂

    • July 4, 2013 10:02 pm

      Jan, You were able to leave a comment! Yeah!! With this Burmuda High controlling weather and pumping the hot, humid air up the length of the east coast, it seems the perfect time to be at the beach. Have fun!

  13. July 4, 2013 2:52 pm

    Reminds of June 2012 in the UK – my sympathies! Hopefully as long as stems are not damaged most things will perk up again. Really interesting to see what you have flowering at this time of year, Jean

    • July 4, 2013 10:04 pm

      Cathy, We had a year in 2009 similar to yours in 2012 — a much more prolonged period of rain than we’ve had this year. I thought of it as a “lost garden season.” The hot, sunny weather got here yesterday; both the plants and I are perking up. 🙂

  14. July 4, 2013 4:46 pm

    Hi Jean, oh don’t get me started about the weather! The forecast is looking better for this week and next, but it’s only taken four months of wet, windy, dull, cool and cloudy conditions for it to arrive. I’ve noticed the effect it’s had on the garden this year, a reduction in the flowering “enthusiasm” of plants. I do wonder about what the new “normal” is that we’re going to settle into. At least the siberian irises are liking the cooler conditions, probably the only plants in the garden that are!

    • July 4, 2013 10:08 pm

      Sunil, I think that gardeners, like farmers, can almost always find some fault with the weather — but months of cool and wet, ugh!! We’ve had wet periods alternating with periods of unusual heat. The result is that my Siberian irises went by faster than they normally do (although the ones that have particularly high moisture needs were very happy). When we had very wet weather in 2009, my ‘White Swirl’ siberian bloomed a second time in July; I’m waiting to see if it will repeat that behavior this year (a nice bonus from the rain).

  15. July 4, 2013 6:27 pm

    Your garden is on the verge. Hopefully you will get some warm sunshine soon! Our summer hasn’t been too bad so far. The last of June was very hot and humid, which is normal for us. We have had a fair amount of rain, which has cooled things a bit this week. Today we only went into the 70s, a welcome change! As long as we don’t have a drought, I am thankful for what we have. I still shudder when I remember the summer a few years ago when we had virtually no rain for two months.

    • July 4, 2013 10:10 pm

      Deb, The warmth and sunshine got here yesterday and, literally overnight, a number of different plants burst into bloom. I can remember some pretty serious droughts here in the ’90s (such that people’s wells ran dry), but nothing like that in about 20 years. it makes me think that one of the consequences of climate change for this part of the country is to make it wetter.

  16. July 6, 2013 1:56 pm


    thank you so much for having the straightforwardness to address climate change like this. I find myself heartened just by the fact that you do so and others respond so sensibly and well. That is the ONLY heartening thing in my eyes. terror and debilitation set in all too easily for me. Only just been able to see your blog so that’s why I’m so late but I always enjoy it and your voice, which is clear, sane and intelligent.

    Here in Europe many people have been feeling that the cold long wet spring and the harsh winter prove that the climate isn’t warming. I find myself unable to speak sensibly when I get too much of that. Must try harder, get some numbers at my fingertips, more like you.


    • July 6, 2013 9:02 pm

      Jane, I sometimes share that sense of despair about climate change. I feel as though I have done what I can to make change in my own life and live more lightly on the earth, but I’m not sure how much I can do to make effective change where it’s really needed, at the national and global levels.

      I think scientists have made the shift in language from “global warming” to “climate change” as a way of undercutting the simple-minded thinking that says,”Global warming is a crock; it’s getting colder here.” If warming ocean temperatures disrupt the North Atlantic ocean currents (one possibility) and the warm Gulf current no longer flows by western Europe and the UK, global warming will indeed create much colder climates in those places.

  17. July 6, 2013 10:40 pm

    That same line of storms drenched my area and knocked a shrub almost to the ground. I practically had to decapitate it just to keep the branches from breaking. At least you won’t need to water for a while!

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