Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Just Add Water

Back, way back, back into time, there was a Bugs Bunny cartoon with Marvin the Martian. At one point he needed reinforcements in his battle with the Bunny, and he turned to a bottle labeled "Instant Martians." Below, the simple instructions: Just add water.

After over a week of extremely sunny, warm and dry weather in my part of New Jersey - so dry at one point the humidity was the same as what you would normally see in the Arizona desert - we had a major rainstorm. This has been the pattern the last few years thanks to climate change-induced warming. The El Nino on the west coast managed to spawn what the weather gurus calls an Omega Block, which moved to the east coast and just sat there.

But then, finally, it moved, allowing the rain to come in Friday night.

I came outside Saturday morning to discover my dogwood tree, which last year only produced a couple of flowers, completely covered in blossoms. Friday morning the buds seemed to be in a state of suspended animation. Until that day it would get hot, they'd start to expand and then the temperature would drop and everything would stop.

It was the same with the azaleas, the lilacs and many of my other plants. Until it rained.

Just add water.

Dogwood flowers (Margo D. Beller)
Suddenly, the bare trees were covered in leaves and flowers; the dogwood, lilac and azaleas bloomed or are about to bloom, the drooping perennial geranium stood up happy and the hostas and hellebore doubled in size. Not only was there columbine growing where I planted it, there was columbine growing where I didn't expect it. I am leaving it alone. When I collect the seeds later this year I'll spread them to more areas in the garden.

It is amazing what a deep, drenching rain will do.

However, I have several concerns. The last few years we've gone long stretches with no rain only to be doused with several weeks of rain in one day. My other concern is with suburban sprawl. There are constant battles with people who want to tear up farms and put up housing, which stresses land and water, adding to traffic and town costs.
Columbine between the paving stones (Margo D. Beller)
In northern New Jersey, to protect the important watersheds, the state passed the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act in 2004 to keep development under control. Some people in the area are OK with protecting the environment but there are always others upset they now can't sell their increasingly valuable land to the highest bidder, split for (already overdeveloped) Florida and leave the mess behind for the rest of us to absorb.

 As James Brown once sang, I got mine, don't worry about his.

I try to use as little water as possible. Most of my plants are perennials and can take dryness. But my neighbors have already started with their lawn sprinklers. Lawns are sacrosanct in the suburbs, and not mowing them every week whether they need it or not and watering them every day even when rain is forecast is like a religion to many people. Those of us who THINK are looked at like pariahs. (My neighbors appear to be more concerned about their grass, based on the money they waste on lawn services, than the nondescript shrubs they put in front of their houses. Flowers are just too much work, especially in Deer Country.)

Luckily, it isn't too hot yet. While my daffodils and other early flowers are now done, the irises are getting ready to rise. And the forecasters say more rain is expected later in the week. It is, after all, only April, where the showers bring May flowers.

Just add water and amazing things happen.

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