Heat And Light

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My frog visitor chilling on the hottest day

Cooling Off When It Gets Too Hot

This weekend brought high heat to most of the West Coast, blasting people and plants with stressful temperatures and drying winds. A lot of critters were feeling the heat as well, from birds and bees to deer and bears. When I went out to water very early on Saturday, I was greeted with enthusiasm by a bevy of birds and even found a fine fat frog sitting up to her nose in my birdbath. It’s really just an old enameled bowl, plunked down in my miniscule “shade garden”, but it gets a lot of customers over the course of a day. Shade garden is a big name for a very small space; it’s merely a 60-foot by 10 inch strip on top of a retaining wall, yet it’s fascinating how much diversity such a seemingly inhospitable place can host. As an advocate of cramscaping, I’ve packed about 30 kinds of plants in there, from ferns and fuchsias to compact Pistachio hydrangeas and candelabra primulas, Chinese and Himalayan Impatiens, Disporum longistylum and Podophyllum difforme, hardy cyclamen and snowdrops, even some Solomon’s Seal. Birds and bugs and bees are common visitors, and now I’ve got a frog.

As an indicator species, I’m delighted that she is making her summer home with me. It means that despite the tiny size of my garden overall and the ridiculously teeny shade garden, there’s enough food and shelter for her here. No toxic pesticides, of course (!). Since our cats are strictly indoor critters with their own lovely catio/greenhouse/sunroom, she has only natural predators like crows and snakes, which so far haven’t made their way into the sheltered, partially covered shade garden. It’s a very small world, but perhaps it’s enough. I’ve added a nice smooth rock for her to rest on, and I’ll certainly be sure to keep the birdbath bowl just full enough so she can keep her head above water and stay cool when the heat is on.

Watering Well In Heat

Wise gardeners try to water deeply before a projected heat wave arrives. Containers especially are vulnerable to drying out fast on hot, windy days so if at all possible, set them in deep saucers. Once dried out, container plantings can be tricky to water well, since dry potting soil shrinks and lets water slide away without wetting soil thoroughly. Saucers catch the runoff and let it be slowly absorbed. Annuals are especially vulnerable to problems if allowed to dry out; tomatoes are apt to crack or get blossom end rot, while basil, cilantro, lettuce and spinach will bolt or die in despair. Naturally enough, different plants have different watering requirements as well, which can be tricky to keep in mind when watering before heat. Those squash and potatoes are still growing well, so they need consistent moisture, but oops, the onions and garlic are starting to dry out and don’t want more water at all. A friend confessed that she got so worked up about watering wrong as the temperature kept rising that she burst into tears, went inside, and took a nap. Good idea! When worry leaves us frenzied, it’s time to slow down.

Yes, watering methods vary in efficiency and wastefulness, but really, when the heat is on it’s more important to get the water to the plant than to worry about doing it right. It’s best to water early in the day, but if you can’t, then water when you can. Ideally, we’d all be using drip irrigation systems, but that’s not always practical or possible. If the only way you can water is by hand, make it a meditation and take it slowly. If too many plants are flagging and you’re feeling the pressure, water everyone lightly then go back again and again, counting slowly to 60 or 100 each time. At first, the water may pool up, but with repeated visits, the soil crust will soften, allowing the water to penetrate deeply. Check back later in the day, when the sun is off flagging plants, and see if they perk back up. If so, they’re actually hydrated enough but are flagging as a way to shed heat and reduce sun exposure.

Stay Cool And Keep Your Head

Like my neighborly frog, I’m trying to stay cool these days, both physically and emotionally. As each day’s news brings fresh shocks and shenanigans, many of us are stressed to the breaking point. Like my flustered friend, many, perhaps most of us are already so anxious and worried that any little thing can trigger impulsive reactions that are rarely helpful. Not too surprisingly, I’ve really been noticing this lately as I try to encourage thoughtful conversations about all sorts of things from community budgets to racism and white privilege. Some folks have suggested that perhaps this isn’t the best time to try to have uncomfortable conversations but it seems to me that it’s great; when we are already uncomfortable, we may be more aware of our deep feelings than when everything is going along just fine. (Remember that feeling? Barely?) And maybe it’s like watering on a hot day; do a little, move on, circle back and do a little more. There’s lots of ground to cover and the crustiness may be softening between visits.

So I’m interested in having important if uncomfortable conversations. Apparently for many people the openness to having meaningful conversations peaks in the young-adult years and dwindles as life tumbles us around. Apparently too, attending a lecture by an expert feels safer and less vulnerable than exploring our own ideas and opinions with others who might possibly disagree or even call us out on muddled or mistaken thinking. I miss them, though. I miss talking, listening, pondering, imagining with someone or several someones. With so many hot issues seething and bubbling up right now, I’m sadly noticing even less conversation and a lot more blaming/shaming and attacking. It’s especially counter-productive when people who are in agreement about many major issues tear each other apart over secondary or even minor ones. If we want healing for our nation, our community, our families, ourselves, let’s practice our conversational skills together.

How To Know A Conversation

While poking around on the internet, I found a very helpful short article about recognizing when we are having a conversation and when we are actually not. Please give it a read and, you know, let’s talk about it. Please. Let’s slow down, cool off, and talk.

View at Medium.com

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