An Instrument of Grace

We’re heading into another heatwave, though nothing as brutal as the recent Pacific Northwest. Gardening takes place in the morning, then after dinner till sunset.

The gladiolas are multiplying. They’re short-lived but spectacular.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a rare, unscheduled day, and I spent a good portion of it in the garden. I made an early trip to a garden center and hauled home eight bags of garden mulch. It helps retain moisture, and with drought conditions, we need to preserve every drop. I harvested some on our compost mulch as well. I’ll share more about that endeavor in a future post.

A thick layer of mulch

San Jose Water Company’s directive asks us to cut back lawn watering to two days a week. We replaced our lawn with native plants several years ago during the last major drought, so we’re now able to water with an efficient drip system just one day a week. Last week we checked the level of our rainwater tanks, and they’re at about 75% capacity.

One of three rainwater tanks and the filled watering bag, zipped across the top with an opening to pour

How bad is it? Our semi-arid climate averages 15 inches per year. This past season we got just over five inches.

It’s shameful to admit that when I’m in a rush (or if I choose to use that as an excuse), I go the lazy route and fill my watering cans from the hose bib at the front of the house. However, I recently bought a nifty watering bag to make it easier to transport water from the tanks in the back, side yard, then carry through the house to the deck to water the succulents.

Succulents along the front of the deck (and a fairy teahouse made from a birdhouse gourd)
In serious need of repotting
Front garden viewed from deck

The sweetpeas don’t last past June in San Jose. It’s just too hot. So I let them go to seed and then pull them out, assuring a healthy crop next year.

The California poppies, nigella, and cornflowers went to seed as well, leaving some bare patches in their wake.

Last week I bought white verbena and five gorgeous Russian sage to fill the spot. They’re both drought tolerant. Since the in-ground drip system is in place, these plants won’t consume additional resources. I stopped buying summer annuals during the last drought, filling pots with succulents instead. Succulents get by on minimal water and prefer to dry out between watering unlike most plants.

Front garden viewed from street: Verbena, foreground and purple Russian sage

We’ve had success with two of our four tomato plants. One of the two plants in the EarthBox died almost immediately, but the second one thrived. It’s producing gorgeous cherry tomatoes daily.

They are as sweet as they look

The two tomatoes in the VegTrug are healthy, but the cherry tomato plant is the star. The basil is coming along nicely, so we’ll soon be enjoying that in our salads as well.

Cherry tomatoes and herbs in the VegTrug

May Sarton’s quote captures some of the essences of gardening. I’m more at peace after a day spent among the plants.

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” May Sarton

41 thoughts on “An Instrument of Grace

  1. It sounds as if you have adapted your gardening to the climate and conditions rather than making life hard for yourself by trying to grow plants not suited to it, It’s rarely worth the struggle. I know this because my gardening OH tells me so and not because I’m any sort of gardener myself 😉
    I hope you can ride out the heatwave without too much discomfort. I remember the last couple of summers in Southern France being too hot during the day to do anything at all outside. Of course, it didn’t go on for very long and the temperatures wouldn’t be as high as you get there but it wasn’t much fun at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lynn. I had to let go of my idea of a cottage garden many years ago. Now that the garden centers offer more water-wise or native choices, it’s become easier to fill a garden with well-suited plants. I’ve grown to love so many salvia varieties. They thrive in our heat and they attract hummingbirds and bees, so lots to love about them. Do you miss France or are you comfortably resettled in England. I imagine it’s bee a series of tradeoffs. I hope you are doing well.


  2. As ever, I enjoy your gardening update. The sight of those ripening tomatoes reminds me: I must try one of those tomato sandwiches (as in just tomato) that you mentioned before. Well, maybe with a bit of basil as well.
    I’m trying not to crave just a little bit of your weather, and feel grateful for the cool summer (after a cold and wet spring) we’ve been having in south London so far. What is interesting is seeing the many creative ways some are learning to preserve water, wherever we are. Wishing you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting. I hope you’ve sampled a tomato sandwich and that you enjoyed it as much as I do. I’ll bet the basil added a lot of flavor, too.

      I understand craving the weather you wish you had. I would love summer rains, and cooler temps. I enjoy the evenings of these hot days, but the daytime temps can be a real slog. Thank you for poppig in and for your always-kind words. I hope you are doing well. Alys

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eliza. It sounds like you’re familiar with this particular sage, thought it’s new to me. I’m so pleased to have discovered it this season. It will be a beauty once established.

      It is so hot and dry here and the fire season is two months early. What a slog. Thanks for popping in. I hope you are doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your quote from Mary Sarton is spot on.Gardening is an instrument of grace, and your garden shows that. The Russian sage will be lovely there ~ it is a soft plant, as well as being tough. I love your watering bag too. It is such a sensible solution. Unfortunately my water tank is right on the ground and getting to the tap, even to turn it on and off, is a nuisance. I must fix it so that I can use the water in it rather than relying on the mains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad the quote resonated with you, Anne. Thank you, too, for your kind words. Your description of “soft but tough” is spot on. I’m looking forward to year two when the plants branch out once established. I love purples in a garden.

      I’m sorry to hear about the hassles with your watertanks. I learned years ago, that convenience rules. If something is difficult to use, access, put-away, etc. we don’t or wont do it. I reinforce this with my organizing clients as well.

      I hope you find a solution for your water tank challenge.


  4. After a few years in this house, I have a much better idea of what’s tough and what’s tender. When we moved in, there was an extensive and elaborate irrigation system. It was hell to maintain, cost a fortune in water, and merely prolonged the lives of plants totally unsuited to the environment and climate. We’ve turned it off, and everything there now has to sink or swim. We’re nowhere near as dry as you, being in the tropics, but our summers are fiendish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your summers are legendary, Kate. You are wise to go the sink or swim route. I’ve learned so much about native and drought-tolerant plants over these past several years. I’ve come to love many of the plants in the salvia family. Who knew they were so plentiful and varied? Further, they attract hummingbirds and bees, both signs of a healthy ecosystem.


      • I do envy you the hummingbirds, which are unknown here. We have honey-eaters, nearly as small and with long curved beaks, and one variety known as the sunbird particularly enjoys my red hibiscus, my ixora, my golden shrimp plant, and the white-flowered callistemon in the back yard. I do think north Qld plants need to be pretty determined, to put up with so much heat, humidity, monsoon-style rains and cyclones in the summer and dry warm winters.


        • It’s been a life-long dream of mine to visit Australia. When we came to see Pauline and her girls a few years back, I considered it, but Mike suggested a separate trip instead. He’s traveled Australia twice on business, and understands how vast it is. It’s a long flight, with days of adjusting, too, so one day we’ll manage it. Covid certainly tossed a monkey-wrench into travel.

          I hope you’ll post about your garden one day, Kate.


  5. Your garden looks lovely and I like the quote. I can only work outside in the mornings. Even with shade it’s too warm in the late evenings. We have never had these temps here all summer long so drought will be on our list too. I don’t water often but when I water I make sure it goes deep so the roots of the plants keep going deeper. I need more mulch too. Summers are a lot of work. No two ways around it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summers are a lot of work and the heat is no help at all. Like you, I chase the shade for as long as I can, then I come inside. Our evenings have been cooling off, though, so that helps. It’s actually my favorite time to garden.

      Thank you for your kind words, MH. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wowzer, those tomatoes are looking voluptuous. Jim tried to grow 2 variety’s this year but it’s not going too well. Maybe next year. He was having fun farming so I hope he tries again. We’re suppose to get some rain tonight. Fingers crossed for both of us xK


  7. Your garden looks so pretty Alys. That was a great idea with the Russian sage and mulch. There is a very tall yellow flower in the photo of the front garden view from your deck… do you know the name? I am intrigued! No pumpkins this year? The tomatoes are looking good! 😃


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