Sunday, September 18, 2016

Learning from Failure


Weather: Some rain before dawn Saturday, but mostly sunny days with futile wind gusts and thunder in the afternoons.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, bouncing Bess, sweet peas, datura, morning glories, Sensation cosmos, zinnia, pampas grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow evening primroses, bindweed, scarlet creeper, green leaf five eyes, goat’s heads, alfalfa, leather leaf globe mallow, broom snakeweed, Tahoka daisies, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, golden hairy and purple asters.

In my yard: large leafed soapwort, calamintha, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, lead plant, Mönch asters, Mexican hats, Maximilian sunflowers, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, French marigolds, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, sweet alyssum, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums. Brought the moss roses inside to see if they could survive.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, geckoes, small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: Gardeners face two kinds of failures. In one case, one should learn after so many attempts that the plants sold by a particular garden center will not survive. There comes a time, when one realizes its not one’s own fault, there really is something wrong. Of course, there are those who take the opposite view, and assume it is always the shop’s fault. We ultimately come to the same conclusion, but they run out of suppliers sooner.

The second type of the failures are the ones we ignore, for if we didn’t, we’d give up completely.

I have a bed I call the island, though it’s actually a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the runoff ditch. Most things I planted there didn’t grow, so when the pinks and snow-in-summer survived several seasons, I thought, "aha - an alpine bed."

Of course that’s not what it was. But those members of the carnation family exist somewhere on that elevation schematic that shows alpines blooming at the top and the dandelions dominating the bottom.

I thought some more, and said "aha - a scree bed." All they need is a little more water and some glacial till to trap it. I duly bought some small-sized shale gravel and covered the surface, then put a weeping hose on top.

Did they thrive?


They didn’t get a chance. The golden spur columbine, garlic chives, vinca, and winecup mallow all invaded, dropping themselves along the hose. The stones make it all but impossible to dig them out.

I learned one of the secrets of post-glacial succession. Those plants that live higher on the side of that mythical mountain side are the ones that have been driven there. They can’t compete with more vigorous species, and only survive at an altitude or temperature where they alone can breathe.

As I weed to protect them anyway, I look out over the yard where I tried to preserve the native grassland vegetation and see scrub advancing everywhere. One cause is my buildings which redirected the flow of water, and other reasons include the actions of neighbors who redirected water or scraped their land bare to create seed beds of disturbed soil.


There’s no point in cursing them - too much. They’re only aggravators who are accelerating changes that are happening anyway.

When I moved here the front yard was some winterfat and lots of ring muhly grass. Some dry summers, and the grass died. The winds stripped the bare surface, and dropped seeds that sometimes germinated. A few years ago it was Russian thistles.

This year in the heat of July the erosion accelerated and broom snakeweed nestled amongst the expanding copses of gray shrubs.


I don’t like it, but I know if I went out to pull them I’d leave loose soil where seeds would drop as I removed the plants. The mere act of helping would be destructive.

It wouldn’t matter what any gardener did. The dynamics of ecological competition will triumph. In the face of that massive indifference by the universe, I weed and cut the small scree bed several times a summer, and observe the rest.


Photographs:
1. Broom Snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae, blooming with the winterfat, Krascheninnikovia lanata. 18 September 2016.

2. Island after it has been weeded. The gray leaves are snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum. The gray-green leaves are Bath Pink, a Dianthus cultivar. There are also some coral bells and a taller chrysanthemum. 15 August 2015.

3. Blooming snow-in-summer with golden spur columbine invading in front. Garlic chives have hidden the pinks in back. 28 June 2016.

4. Snakeweed and winterfat along the property line, where the snakeweed continues into the dirt road. 18 September 2016.


5. Barren soil that’s created an erosion bath between the shrubs. 18 September 2016.

6. Garlic chives resprouted within a week of being removed from the shale gravel. 18 September 2016.

7. Blooming pinks invaded by vinca from the left and garlic chives from the year. 15 May 2016.

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