Gardener's Guide to Drought Recovery: 1) Start with Goals

The grape vine seems to love the drought.
We know with certainty that no gardener planted a garden with the hope that eventually she could water by hand day after day and still watch the plants die from lack of water.

"Oh please, please, no rain. I like to provide all the water for my garden myself", was never spoken by any gardener that I've ever known.

I know I didn't sign up for constant watering when I decided to be a gardener. (Yes, I know I decided to be a gardener when I was about five years old and getting to hold the hose and water was fun back then. But if I had known then what a drought was, I know I would not have wanted it for my garden.)

I planted a garden for a thousand other reasons besides wanting to water.  Yet, I find myself watering day after day and see that in spite of my best efforts, some plants are probably not going to survive the Extreme Drought. Or, if they do survive, they'll be smaller than before and will need a few good seasons to catch up.

But now that I'm in a drought recovery program, which yes, I am making up as I go along, I won't be forever watering my garden.  I'm moving on, adjusting, and taking the drought in stride because nothing is going to keep me from gardening and I refuse to let gardening look mostly like watering.  No more hand wringing for me. No more wondering when it is going to rain again.  I'm recovering now!

Can I get an "amen"?  Thank you.

The first step in recovery from a drought is to go back to the beginning and remember why it was you planted a garden and what you hoped your garden would be once you had established it. Perhaps just as important, what did you imagine yourself doing in your garden?  (If you imagined yourself sitting in the shade of your weed free garden, drinking iced tea and reading a book, I assume you also imagined hiring help to do some of your gardening for you.)

I remember that I used to garden a bit haphazardly. I planted a vegetable garden. I had some flower borders. I planted trees and shrubs.  But it wasn't turning out to be the garden I wanted it to be. So I thought about it all one winter and wrote down what I wanted my garden to be, which became my gardening goals.  Then I worked with a garden designer to come up with a design that helped me achieve my goals.

That was two years ago. Between the garden designer and I, with help from several others, I've   made great strides toward those goals in those two years.

Tonight, I'm reviewing my garden design posts again to remind myself what I want my garden to be because I know without that idea of what I'm trying to achieve, i.e. some goals, what's the point of all the watering? (No, surviving the drought is not a goal. Remember, we are recovering, moving on.)

With my gardening goals fresh in my mind, I'll move on to the next step in my drought recovery program.

If you are playing along at home, think about why you garden, what you want your garden to be, and what you want to do when you are out there gardening. Start with goals. Then we can discuss the next step in drought recovery.


  1. It seems I have some difficulty in answering some of your questions. Yet here i am in the same place you are. For me it is not so much the hand watering but the fact I can't be there to tend my garden all the time. Yes, I need to re think what it is I want in a garden. It is certainly not to slave for hours each time I return from a trip. Maybe a plant designer is in my future.

  2. Carol,
    Rains will come again. That's what my blogging friends told me last summer after my poor garden endured over 100 days without a good rain.
    Someday the rains will come. At first it will seem like a dream. "Was that thunder or a jet passing was THUNDER!"
    Now a year has passed and it has rained so many times this July that I have to put plastic tubs over the parts of the garden that I want to dig up because our daily rain shower will turn it back to mud! I've had to bring some agaves in and run fans on them so that they can dry out rather than rot. All of this seems unimaginable to me when I think back a year ago. The best news of all is that your plants will make up for lost time once it rains. Sadly, droughts are also the best time see which plants are tough and which are the weaklings. We plan on droughts yearly here in Texas, so most of my 'sissy plants' have faded away long ago. I still miss some of them because they were so beautiful. Yet I can't afford the luxury of watering a plant two times a day no matter how lovely their flowers! I hope you get rain soon.
    David in Houston/:0)

  3. I'm a container gardener and have been for 35 years. This is the first summer I can remember having to spend the WHOLE on drought patrol. I have two large puts that I do have to water twice a day and there is absolutely no way I'm going to abandon my two babies. I even have a lovely pot of pansies that I've nurtured throughout heat, deluge and wind. I've weeded out the Prima donnas - they know who they are - and kept the good ones.

  4. Amen. We understand completely what you are going through, Carol. As David mentioned, this is a time to see what can survive. Think of how wonderful the rain will be when it returns, too. Hang in there.

  5. You are right Carol. I am looking at this drought as opportunity to redo reconfigure what with things about to die. One must look ahead.

  6. Heidi/IN Woodland GardenerFri Jul 27, 09:57:00 AM 2012

    What an excellent reminder! I'll dig out my gardening notebooks and remind myself today.

  7. What you write makes great sense. Unfortunately, I have a hard time embracing it because it is just so difficult to let go of certain things. Of course, a few more water bills like my last one might do the trick. Luckily we have no water restrictions, but that doesn't make it free.

  8. Honey, I'm right there with you. It's good to have realistic goals. Yes, indeed. I've written so much this year about drought, and I'm enduring drought. I'm sick of drought and high temperatures. The clouds teased yesterday, but again no rain. I'm sorry, I had to whine a bit.~~Dee

  9. What do I want my garden to be? What a great way to begin! Or to carry on, as the case may be.

    Now, after living through this hellish Indiana drought, my list may change. My values may be clarified and my goals become more focused.

    For one thing, it may not be what "I" want it to be that's important, but what the wildlife and environment needs. Here's my thinking at this time:

    Native plants that can withstand the drought, with
    flowers that span the seasons to keep the pollinators and songbirds busy, happy and healthy, that offer enough variety that passers-by and guests can enjoy, appreciate and learn from, that aren't invasive and spread their fetching-yet-inappropriate beauty where it causes unintended consequences, and that offer me opportunities for physical work (just the right amount!) and spiritual uplifting.

    I have some such plants now, and I am carefully watching to see which are managing to survive (even thrive -- my switchgrass and little bluestem just went into a growth spurt), which are hanging on and which I may or may not see again in my garden when this is over. I have several nice surprises: for example, amsonia of several varieties planted last fall and early this spring, are doing nicely, false sunflowers planted in April are tall and blooming, purple prairie clover is done blooming but still looking good.

    Not the most formal or exotic of gardens but it'll do.


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