Fall garden update: what's thriving in the garden despite drought

As a gardener looks back over the growing season, she assesses what thrived and what didn't because of drought.

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    The leaves of a kousa dogwood in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia show the effects of a lack of rain this summer.
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While I have written about using the scanner to take glimpses of the garden, I have been so disheartened by the extreme drought in my part of Virginia I haven’t done it in a long time.

My home is in the northern Shenandoah Valley, a part of Virginia that is typically the driest in the state, with about 35 inches annually, about the same as the Great Plains. This year has been hot and cruel, and so many plants have just dried up, including a large Korean dogwood and several elderberries that I treasured.

Watering with the hose when you are on a well is risky business. Often, it merely keeps a plant barely alive until the nourishing rains come and provide real relief.

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As I began to write this post, rain was forecast and hope was renewed with just the thought of rain, so I went out and picked several flowers to make a scan. [Click here to read about how I do this.] The result is in the first photo at left.

What's looking good

A couple of the Buck roses [which I wrote about previously] are in bloom, as are all of the asters. I have two blue salvias – one that used to be called Salvia pitcherii, now called S. azureum, with soft full flowers -- blooming and the west Texas sage, Salvia reptans, with tiny cobalt flowers and thin leaves.

The dahlias are tough and resilient. I'm not sure of the name of the lilac one but the orangey one is ‘Little Beeswings’. I tried to grow it last year with no success, but this year it is wonderful. I love the deep texture of the pom-pon dahlias.

The rosemary was started from a cutting from my friend Grace. She lives in Chincoteague, Va., where winter is milder and even though my winters are colder, this rosemary has hung on, happy in the dryness.

The lespedeza or bush clover is one of my favorites. Most of them are magenta, a valuable color in any garden. But my white one is less common and charming in late summer/early fall.

Pale pink sedum flowers are from a variety called ‘Frosty Morn’ which is pretty until it reverts to solid mid-green.

And there is the new variegated Caryopteris, ‘Summer Sorbet’, with pale blue flowers, which I just bought from Plants Delight Nursery, my go-to mail-order source whenever a snowflake falls or successive weeks of 90-degree weather wilt the spirit.

So far, we have received a little more than two inches of rain in this mega-storm coming up the East Coast. Though jealous of more easterly locations that are racking up five and six inches, I still have rain coming down and am hoping for more.

Fortunately, we had that one-incher a week ago that removed the dusty surface of the soil so this rain is really soaking in.

What's struggling

I wanted to show you my Korean dogwood [top photo] that is still alive though wounded by this summer’s excess. The lower limbs are almost entirely crispy. A bit of green shows on the leaves in the closer photo … a welcome reminder of life.

Underneath the dogwood [second photo at left] are my forgotten cymbidium orchids and clivias, which have enjoyed their summer excursion into the outside world. Though I have not watered them, they have survived beautifully under the shade of the tree.

Over to the left of the photo are three kitty-litter containers arrayed to protect my young Rhus aromatica and two remaining boxwoods. One straw-colored boxwood remains as a testament to the neighbor’s dog who felt the need to water it during the drought.

I failed to see what was happening until the boxwood was dead, but hope to provide enough structure for the dog to water away from my plants.

My newly planted garlic sprouted a six-inch spike and I don’t know how to handle that, but am hoping that, with the current rain, the subject of drought can now change into something more interesting.

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Donna Williamson is one of nine garden writers who blog weekly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.

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