We were on Madison's far east side Wednesday night when the rain storm that's passed us by for the last 6 weeks finally stopped in. We were touring the gardens of members of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society when a darkening sky (below) signaled that we should head for home — on the opposite side of town. We spent the ride buffeted by high winds and blinding rain. No limbs came down at our house, just some water in the basement from clogged gutters. It's been so long since it rained that we've gotten out of the habit of checking the gutters; something that's a must when you are surrounded by big honey locust trees as we are.
Mark went out the morning after the storm to check for damage and to see how the garden was faring. The truth is that some things have flourished in this hot, relentlessly sunny summer. The water lilies are the prime example. The leaves have never spread out so well or been so lush and we have a dozen big blossoms almost every day. The leaf coverage is keeping the pond cooler and keeping algae away.
Grasses have stood up well to the weather as have drought tolerant perennials like Epimedium (behind the Hakone chloa grass below). But only the ones that have had time to develop good root systems. The Epimediums that are only a couple of years old are all stressed and have lots of brown leaves.
We've been watering the garden a lot — especially trees and shrubs and the newest plantings. We don't have an irrigation system because usually we don't need to water much in Wisconsin. Luckily we do have three locations where we can hook up hoses and sprinklers so we can hit every section of the garden. Like everyone in this part of the country, we've let the grass go brown and dormant.
When you look at the garden from a distance, everything looks good.
It's only when you step into the garden and walk around that you begin to see the damage. These ostrich ferns are in our neighbor's garden but are visible from our garden so we get to enjoy them as well. They typically put on a show until they get hit by the first frost in the fall. But they gave up the ghost early this year.
It's not easy to determine why things are drying out when plants next to them are doing fine. Usually these little dwarf Solomon's Seal stay green while their Sweet Woodruff companion plants die back. This year the two plants have reversed roles.
We have three very sculptural stems of Euonymous alata growing in the shade along this fence. The two bigger shrubs are doing fine but this one seems to have died. I've noticed the same behavior on the same plant in a garden down the street. Half their Burning Bush is perfect and the other half is dead. Go figure.
I thought I had been keeping an eye on our Golden Shadows Dogwood until I saw this photo. I've been watering and babying this little tree because it has a lot of root competition. It was doing quite well but I think a lot of things just hit the point earlier this week when they could not take the high temps any more — no matter how much water they are getting. There's only so many days of 100 degrees F. (37.77 C.) that any of us can stand before we curl up.
The rain has had some instant results: mushrooms popping up
WEATHER STATS: We got 2.91 inches (7.39 centimeters) of rain at our house in three separate storms Wednesday and early into Thursday morning. This was the first rain since June 21st when we got less than a quarter of an inch.
To get a sense of how widespread the drought is, take a look at this graphic from The New York Times on 7/20. So much more shocking to see it pictured like this.