As Drought Continues…

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Our farm pond is the lowest we have ever seen it and most of the fish are gone. The continued drought is unprecedented in our own lifetimes.

We’re winding up another hot and dry growing season here on the farm, and the continued drought conditions have been a serious challenge. Despite a few storms that gave us a few inches of rain and filled the empty rain barrel, our barn well has been dry since July and our farm pond is more of a large puddle than a pond.

The pond is backup water for our farm animals, and a primary irrigation source for our vegetable gardens and my native plant nursery, so needless to say, we have tried to conserve as much as we can. The vegetables have needed frequent watering in this hot year, but the perennials, shrubs and trees all had to get by with what fell from the sky — not much!

So what’s a gardener to do to maintain lush gardens and landscapes in this new climate? As towns and cities begin imposing bans on the use of outside water and irrigation systems, choosing the ‘right plant for the right place’ is more important than ever now. Drought does provide opportunities to assess drought tolerance and resilience in our garden plants.

Here are a few of the drought-tolerant superstars of our own central MA gardens — native plants that seem to shrug at the heat, humidity, and lack of rain! These Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are still looking fabulous in mid-September:

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People scoff at this plant because it’s so commonly planted, but what else blooms for so long and requires such little care and attention?!

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) also appears impervious to the drought, blooming along with White Wood Aster in partial shade and generally moist soil on the edge of our stream:

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This eastern native doesn’t require moist soil though — it’s also happily blooming on a high and dry hillside in full sun:img_5573

 

Canada Windflower (Anemone canadensis)

A 2-year-old patch of Canada Windflower (Anemone canadensis) (blooming at right in June) is spreading nicely despite the drought in a dry, shady spot. It makes an excellent alternative to Japanese Pachysandra or Vinca minor as a ground cover that grows in shade (read my thoughts on Japanese Pachysandra here).

Canada Windflower does spread by underground roots, so it’s best planted where it won’t interfere with nearby perennials. Under a tree or shrub is perfect:

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Canada Windflower growing in dry shade as a native ground cover, to replace the Japanese Pachysandra next to it.

The orange/yellow Helen’s Flower (Helenium autumnale) hasn’t skipped a beat since it began blooming in July, proving that this beautiful native perennial that grows naturally on pond shores does not require moist or wet soils to thrive:

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Another name for Helenium autumnale is Fall Sneezeweed. Despite its name, its pollen is not allergenic for people, it is so named because it a dried powder of the plant was used by Native Americans to ease congestion by inducing sneezing.

The plant shown above is Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’, which is a hybrid of the native Helen’s Flower bred in Europe. Until recently, this and other cultivars such as ‘Mardi Gras’ were the only Helen’s Flower plants available in the nursery trade.

Seed-grown Helenium autumnale grown from seeds collected from central MA plants

Seed-grown Helenium autumnale grown from seeds collected from central MA plants

This year I am happy to offer the true New England native Helenium autumnale from my native plant nursery in Spencer, MA. These are seed-grown from seeds collected at Breakneck Hill Conservation Land in Southborough, MA, where we are in the process of planting several Pollinator Gardens. Their pure yellow blooms are so cheerful!

I’ll have some of these native lovelies for sale at this Saturday’s Harvest Fair on the Common in Leicester, MA. Look for the Turkey Hill Brook Farm tent next to the booth for Common Ground Land Trust!