What I Learned from the Drought

It’s been a long, hard, hot, dry summer and I’ve tried many times to write about it, but it always gets too moany-groany. So here’s the abbreviated version of what I learned from this summer’s drought, which is actually year 3 of a longer dry period.


When it’s dry, plants die. The world is brown instead of green. It’s easy to become depressed.

When it’s dry, there are no mosquitoes, so it’s a pleasure to sit outdoor in the evening.

During the drought the lilac buds just dried up without opening.

There are very few larkspur, although their blooms are welcome.Usually there are hundreds of them.

Leaves on the fruit trees yellow and fall early.

Those plants that do come up seem feeble. They’re shorter. They don’t feel robust, even when watered.

One carries a lot of water from the kitchen to the Magliette Calcio A Poco Prezzo garden. Where will a gallon of water be most effective?

Plants don’t thrive under hose-water, even if it is drip and is from a well. It’s just not like rain.

There are no weeds during the drought. No sprouting elms, no native sunflowers, no buckwheat or mountain spinach (orach), amaranths, pigweed, and tumbleweeds.  There are however lamb’s quarters and purslane. A lot of each.

The first monsoon rain drenching the garden.

The first monsoon rain drenching the garden.


When it finally does rain, which, miraculously it did, we are ecstatic.  Strangers talk with one another with hope and happiness in their voices.

I actually think for the moment that the crisis is over, that our weather world will be normal again.

The world turns greens. Or at least greenish.

There are mosquitoes. Lots of them.

And there are weeds. Hundreds and thousands of them.  They were just waiting for that moisture to fall from the sky. I tug at this grassy carpet pulling up elms, sunflowers and amaranths especially, by the handful. If these little green plants were insects or mice, their sheer number would be http://www.magliettedacalcioit.com alarming. Even as plants, go, it’s alarming. The fecundity of annual plants is such that one year when I didn’t weed then went into the far back yard, I was frightened by their sheer density. (The next year is when I started a garden.)

Sunflowers and amaranths seedlings

And now that the mosquitoes have driven me inside, I check my e-mail, and there’s notice for a conference —next February, which is six months hence—whose topic is “Drought, Opportunity for Change.” And that’s the same conclusion I’ve come to this summer. Despite the puddles in the driveway, drier times will continue and I’ve come to believe that the most important thing to cultivate is not this plant or that, but a rising mind, one that looks for and finds those opportunities that must be met if we wish to continue gardening for pleasure, growing food, and finding joy in our drying world. The conclusion?

I’m not moving to a rainier clime (at least for now). And I’m going to tackle gardening in hard times with gusto.




11 thoughts on “What I Learned from the Drought

  1. Deanna

    I love this piece…I spent a good deal of the weekend reading your entire blog. Your writing is wonderful and I can’t wait to receive my copy of “Vegetable Literacy”. You are coming to my town mid-September and I hope to meet you and get your autograph.

    Deanna C. Rushing

  2. Deanna

    Louisville Kentucky at Harvest Restaurant. I believe I will be baking the breads for the event. Our bakery is at 901 Barrett Ave. just down from Harvest and we would be so honored to have you stop in while you are in town.


    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      Well, Aruthur in the Garden, you put your finger on it. It IS fast or famine – imagine if we actually had to depend on what we can grow in our gardens come rain or drought! Scary, I think.

  3. Nadine Feldman

    My last year in Houston (2011), the drought killed even my native plants, not just what was in my garden. When it finally rained in October of that year, it was a heavy rain that brought out “floodwater” mosquitoes, so even when the temperature was reasonable, we couldn’t go outside.

    For us, it was the last straw (that and the excessive heat). We picked up and moved to western Washington! My husband’s parents had both died, so we didn’t have ties to Houston anymore, so we didn’t feel the need to stay.

    My hope is that you get some consistently better weather soon.

    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      I think Houston must be one of the more difficult places to garden, though every place has its own challenges, excepting maybe
      California, but that’s just an outsider’s perspective. The mosquitoes are truly thick right now, but it’s also beautiful and plants are thriving. From what you say, water is key—to the health and happiness of all beings!

  4. Signe Knudsen

    I think if you mulched your garden heavily with hay you wouldn’t have to worry about the weeds or the drought. Ruth Stout (sister to Rex, the mystery writer) came up with this idea in the 1950s and it is one of the basic techniques of successful nearly work-free organic gardening. Perhaps in your climate mulching isn’t done for some reason that I can’t imagine…

    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      Thanks for the tip, Signe. Yes, I too am a fan of Ruth Stout and I do mulch petty heavily, but perhaps not enough. When the rains finally do come there
      are lots of seeds just waiting to leap up- thousands of them!

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