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The Back Garden Project: Surviving Summer

This is the 13th post in The Back Garden Project, one GOOD community member's effort to turn a neglected corner of the city into a thriving garden.

Part of the advantage of a native plant garden is that the species involved are largely happy with the climate as it is. Of course, there are some important variations within the region—from coastal shrubs to forest undergrowth—but by and large my native plants should, in theory, live happily on the amount of water they get from rain in a Northeastern summer. This means that even in my Brooklyn back garden I shouldn't really need to water (at least not anything that's in the ground; things in pots or planters can dry out more quickly).

So far this has been mostly true, despite some abnormally hot and dry weather that we’ve had in New York this summer. Most of my natives look just fine, from the ferns to the native flowers. One major exception is the mayapple, which I think may simply be getting too much sun now because it's looking a bit dry (the knotweed that keeps trying to come up in the middle of it probably isn't helping either).

Anybody know anything about mayapples and New York summers? One of my three wild ginger plants—the one that gets the most sun—is also looking a bit worse for wear.

Native climate aside, I have also been trying to collect rainwater in a variety of improvised rain barrels, and use it for the potted plants and the few non-native veggies and herbs I'm growing. This a good sustainable gardening practice in general, but in my case it's also necessary to avoid making many trips back inside to fill up watering cans since there's no spigot in the back garden. Still, there has been too little water, and it's evaporated too quickly, for collected rainwater to suffice.

Another, separate, project in my ongoing maintenance of the garden has been an experimental effort at phytoremediation—using plants to clean contaminated soil. This also has seen little success—the image below from a few weeks ago shows some new lettuce trying to make a go of it, but between shade and heat and poor soil, none of these plants progressed beyond seedlings.

Regardless, I’m pretty pleased to see that overall the native species are surviving the heat and in some cases flourishing with little or no day-to-day care. Not only is it good news from a convenience point of view, but it's also pretty reassuring to know that even after 400-odd years of heavy habitation, development, and alteration (not to mention substantial air and soil pollution), conditions in Brooklyn are still moderately accommodating to the native species that were here first.

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