August 6, 2016

An Unexpected Flood - of Plants

The El NiƱo summer that has produced floods in West Virginia and tornados in the South has left New England parched.  Most of Massachusetts officially passed into a Stage 2 drought this past week, and nearly every town now have complete bans on lawn watering along with other water use restrictions.
Our front garden as it appeared this
morning, August 6
The reverberations are being felt in local nurseries.  If people fear they won’t be able to water their gardens, they won’t buy plants.  And nurseries face the same water scarcity: retention ponds that allow them to keep their stock well irrigated are running dry, and the alternative is expensive town water.  The result is that everything is on sale: trees, shrubs, and perennials that are out the door are plant that don’t have to be watered.
The drought is getting worse
Following a heavy spring planting schedule, we had decided to use the summer to see how the new additions to the garden filled in.  But then the offers began arriving.  First, Cochato Nursery in Holbrook offered Master Gardeners a one-day special discount.  Betty drive over and came back with six specimens of Betony (Stachys officinalis), a full-sun-tolerant flowering ground cover which she promptly used to begin filling in a previously unplanted part of our front garden.
Betony comes in many leaf colors,
and makes a great ground cover
The following week, we received a mailer from Weston Nurseries with an arresting offer of $25 off of $75 worth of plants, including ones already on sale.  Betty went off to investigate and came back with a car filled with yellow Coreopsis and Shasta daisies.  They were all in magnificent bloom and we planted them immediately.  While picking out plants, she spoke with one of Weston’s staffers who was candid about the low levels of the retention ponds and the fallback position of using expensive town water.  When Betty tried to give back the discount coupon at check-out, the clerk gave it back to her saying, “We’d rather you came back in and use it again.”
Avant Gardens' greenhouses
overflowed with interesting plants
This week, the discount offers came from Avant Gardens in North Dartmouth.  I’ve written about this specialty nursery before.  North Dartmouth is an hour from our home in a direction that makes it on the way to nowhere else that we ever go.  But the lure of unusual plants at substantial savings drew us to a part of the state where our mental maps say “Here Be Dragons”.
Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold'
Betty’s avowed purpose in going was to procure three specimens of Caryopteris x ‘Hint of Gold’, a deer-resistant butterfly magnet with distinctive lime green foliage and vivid blue late summer flowers.  But allowing me to tag along on any shopping expedition is an invitation to blow the budget, and it took me about two minutes to start dragging out Geranium ‘Rozanne’ which we need to extend the ‘river’ of that perennial that we have created across the front of our property.  Betty, too, started seeing plants that she had on her wish list but had put off buying.  I capped it off by spotting a Cape Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) ‘Imperial Blue’ with phlox-like flowers in an ethereal shade of blue.  I said I wanted it for my birthday.  We filled the back end of our Prius with plants.  So much for three small plants.
I got a Cape Plumbago for my birthday
We planted almost everything we purchased at Avant Gardens this morning.  It took four hours in weather so warm and muggy that our clothes were drenched when we finally called it quits.  We started early because the forecast today was for rain.  In fact,’s maps showed the entire Northeast getting socked by thunderstorms and torrential precipitation.  But it is going on 5 p.m. and the current radar shows just a few showers, all north of us.

Our fizzled day of rain
This summer of drought will apparently linger well into August.  And through serendipity, our garden is a little – no, a lot – fuller than we had anticipated a few months ago.  Which means we'll have to keep finding innovative ways to keep it watered.