Eye on the sky and longing for rain

Have you had any rain? It’s the first question whenever you meet anyone. A good question in this area east of Georgian Bay, where weather can vary dramatically from one concession road to the next. What a year this has been – the crazy early spring, the frost in May that devastated orchards, and now the drought; the last rain I recorded here was overnight July 7, which was welcome but not huge. There were two instances in the last week of a few drops for a minute or two, but the last significant rain I took note of was in early June – three consecutive days. Two days ago, 20 kilometres away at the south end of the township, I watched rain come down in sheets – for 10 minutes. Within an hour, puddles had disappeared and everything was dry, dry, dry. Not so much as a drop had fallen back here.


This is a time to remember wildlife. We humans have altered the landscape to drive water underground and drain away small puddles and ponds. I have plant saucers filled with water placed at strategic points around the yard – off the ground for birds and flying insects, on the ground for frogs, toads and small mammals. I put a stick or stone in the water to provide a lifeline for small insects that might otherwise drown. I love watching birds drink – it’s so delicate, a sip, then the beak is pointed skyward to swallow, then a look around for any threat, then another sip. I love watching them bathe – they're so thorough, taking a succession of careful plunges followed by energetic shakes. 

I have a cast iron sundial that gets filled with water. It's favoured by wasps. When they land to take a drink, I enjoy a moment of shared experience with a very small and different creature that gets thirsty too. Most wasps don’t sting, by the way, and those that do would prefer not to, if you just leave them alone to do their useful business of pollinatination and pest control.  

A native flower garden shines in a drought. I have the Purple Coneflower in majestic bloom, completely unaffected by the heat. Several varieties of Beebalm are a riot of colour and the dusky pink of Joe Pye Weed is appearing atop the six-foot clumps.  Obedient Plant looks as if nothing could bother it, ever. The delicate white spires of Culver's Root (Veronicastrum) droop at midday but recover in the afternoon. Sunflowers are standing tall. By the pond, there's Rose Milkweed, Pickerel Weed and Cardinal Flower. 

Liatris have not done well for me in the past but I saw them yesterday glorying in the sunshine, wonderful clumps of purple spikes growing out of a dry sandy soil clearing at Lutick’s Blueberries (where there are also effective mass plantings of Tall Coreopsis, just about to flower). I think I shall try Liatris again, next to the native Prickly Pear cactus I planted in gravel this spring and which seems to think this is the perfect summer. 

Daylilies are in full flower, with modern cultivars providing a heady range of colours, shapes and sizes. Yarrow is another tough native plant which has been bred to come in an attractive selection of bright colours. And Ontario cottagers’ favoured combinations of hot pink and red Phlox and bright yellow Black-Eyed Susan and Coreopsis are brightening many a heat-blasted yard around here. 

None of these plants need watering, and I don’t water flowerbeds unless there’s something newly planted that needs a boost. I don’t water lawns either. They go brown to protect themselves against the heat; they’re not dead and they will green up.

But watering can be necessary when you’ve planted things in the wrong place: my Fothergilla bush, against a south-facing wall, is getting more heat than it can handle despite plentiful mulching, so I placed a lawnchair in front of it to provide some shade and offer deep soakings every few days. I’m hoping it might grow to a size that can stand up to the conditions. If it’s still unhappy next year, I shall have to move it. The lawnchair doesn’t work aesthetically. 

I know I have to move a Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) shrub that I placed in full sun a couple of years ago. It hasn’t grown, in fact it’s shrinking. It likes shade, and I have another Summersweet that’s doing just fine with protection from Lilac in one direction, and a Norway Maple in another (both non-natives that can be problematic neighbours). Summersweet flowers in August/September, a valuable feature, and it has the most heavenly fragrance, which makes it even more desirable. Plant near an entrance or sitting area. 

Then there are the Red Mulberries, three of them planted in full sun last year. I should have known better,  they are an understory tree, and are growing very slowly, leaves small and right, in sharp contradistinction to a Red Mulberry I planted at the same time in part sun, part shade and which has taken off with commendable enthusiasm, leaves four times the size of its sun-baked siblings'.

The blueberry picking at Lutick’s was great although the wild variety I prefer is just about finished and the small bushes had been carefully picked over that very morning. I garnered just a punnet. The high-bush blueberries however are in full production and I got three more punnets in short order from a variety called Friendship, which has medium-sized berries with a sweet and tart flavour. A fellow picker (there was quite the crowd) asked me why I wasn’t choosing from the larger sweeter varieties – I said I find the smaller ones with a stronger flavor freeze better. But it’s all a matter of taste. 

The bushes are lush and healthy thanks to irrigation. It’s not the same as rain, I was told. A long three-day soak is what we’re all longing for. It is cooler and less humid today than in the past couple of weeks but the sky is a clear blue and the sun is strong. Tonight and tomorrow, relief is predicted. We’re watching. And waiting. 

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