Stressing Over Seasonal Aridity

I’m set up for the dry.  The only water available is from our tanks, and we really only have enough for the house.

For this reason, I don’t grow vegetables over the summer, and the ornamental garden is designed and planted  to survive without supplementary water.  There’s one small, sacrificial zone that I water occasionally if I think that our supplies are up to it.  A part of me needs to be able to nurture at least one section of the garden in this way.  But if we’re in any danger of running out of water, as we are this year, then the garden gets none.  In the dry years so far, this lack of water to this zone hasn’t been terminal.  It just means that this part of the garden under-perfoms, and my optimism is transferred to the following summer instead.

All that is uncomplicated.  What I’m surprised at is how difficult I can find it to cope with, or at least enjoy, seasonal aridity.

The Steppe in early spring

It’s not as if I can’t enjoy aridity, or at least serious dry.  There was so much talk about the aesthetic opportunities of gardening with little or no water at The Beth Chatto Symposium last year that it felt like anyone with a rainfall in excess of 500mm might begin to fantasise about huge umbrellas to keep the rain off.  But gardening with constant dry shifts the fundamental aesthetic to a new place, and it’s to this new place that we must go.  Indeed, I’d argue that the talk about plants capable of coping with severe dry in Australian gardening has far outrun the talk about how best to use them for a really compelling outcome. 

The Steppe, early summer

I think I can enjoy – even love – a garden built for the dry.  What I’m finding difficult is the enjoyment of my own garden, which was so verdant and floriferous in spring and early summer, in it’s now parched, and highly stressed late-season state.  It’s as if, having seen it through one lens, I find it hard to change that lens mid-season.  It doesn’t even take having visitors to put me in that zone of ‘you should have seen it a few months back!’.  I talk like that to myself, and can’t get past the contrast between it at its moist and fecund peak, and its current panting, shrivelled trough.

A flattering image (which doesn’t really suit my argument!) of The Steppe, mid autumn, following a killer-dry summer

I can talk myself into appreciating how good it looks, under the circumstances.  But I know that that’s all consolation-talk.  I wonder if I’d find it easier if the garden was designed to look permanently dry, rather than seasonally so.

I’m not looking for reassurance.  I’m just curious.  If I can find that this highly seasonal aridity really challenges my pleasure from the garden, then it stands to reason that the clients for whom I design, or the general public viewing public projects, are likely to find it more challenging still.  Addressing these responses, openly and honestly, is essential to us exploring really desirable garden outcomes in our hotter, drier future.

And just so you can see, up close, how dry this all looks…

More Blog Posts

High Line the undeniable highlight

Christopher Lloyd, speaking to the Canberra Press Club in 1992 about the landscaping around the recently opened Parliament House stated that “the Landscape Architect clearly knew four plants,” the ...

Of the Mountains and Valleys

There’s two particular questions that I’m always dealing with when designing a garden, or evaluating an existing one.  I’ve been dealing with them for years, though they’ve only recently emer ...

On Gardening Australia

You may have seen Gardening Australia on Saturday night.  I was talking to John Patrick about a garden I designed in Woodend North, Victoria.  If you’re interested, you can catch it on iView here. ...