I define my gardening style as casual. I always used to just let plants die. I mean I planted them and gave them a little care at first, but then I figured I should give them back to nature. Plants either lived or died. If they lived, I enjoyed a delightful surprise when next they sprouted and bloomed; if they died, I cheerfully replaced them with something with a little more stamina, a bit more of a will to live.
But that was before I fell in love with hydrangeas.
I always admired hydrangeas. Aunt Belle and my neighbor Mim grew them. But I didn’t understand them. Over the years, I’ve probably planted a half a hundred, and all have eventually succumbed to my ignorance and to those scourges of the South: glaring heat and hungry deer.
Deer love hydrangeas more than do I. They have won the hydrangea battles for years.
So I saved to get a hydrangea fence. I got the fence one year and the plants for it the next. And now I am remembering that the lovely hydrangea is a dramatic plant and needs water as well as shade. With too much sun and not enough water the leaves curve down and shrivel and are scorched from green to brown in an afternoon. And this year, so far, we have had too much sun and not enough rain.
The South is getting hotter. I should be planting a tropical garden or a xeriscape, but I cling to my hydrangea dream in the face of changing climate. I believe that eventually all of us will die of thirst. Water is a limited resource, and we are not taking care of it. We waste it. We pollute it.
So choosing to water my new hydrangea garden has caused anxiety. Is it selfish of me to want lovely billowing blossoms in my house, to want the fluffy color of an Endless Summer or a Penny Mac decorating my table? Shall I give up green and blooming plants so that my great grandchildren can live? And will my watering cause local rationing? And aren’t vegetables more important than flowers?
Aside from the existential, environmental problem with watering, there is also the mental and physical stress. I must balance my use of reasonably priced city water against my need for groceries and lights. I spend my morning monitoring the heat index hour by hour. I have to practice triage — do those azaleas and dogwoods need more water than the hydrangeas today? What will be saved? I drag heavy hoses from faucet to garden corners. The hoses are against me, as well. They twist and kink and sometimes escape my control to fly about like a twisting dragon spraying water instead of fire.
Alas, one cannot enjoy a garden without hours of monitoring, sweat, discipline and editing. In fact, years ago I learned that enjoying any art and beauty, from quilting to sculpture, is momentary compared to the hours of work required — even if it is enjoyable, passionate, devoted work.
Why can’t I be satisfied with lantana and crepe myrtle, salvia and buddleia? My chaste tree has burst into bloom without even a cupful of extra water.
I do appreciate the heat-loving plants, but I still yearn for a few hydrangeas. Could I have one thriving bush? So this year I am saving to buy a few fast-growing trees which will eventually branch over my fence and provide dense shade for my hydrangea garden.
I know, I know. I will have to water the trees as well. More anxiety, more triage, more stress. But perhaps this spell of drought is not going to be typical this summer. I pray that we will be blessed with cloudy days and showers, thunderbursts and cooling air, as well as gentle sunshine and plenty of food for the deer.
Plenty of food for the deer.