There are so many garden lessons to be learned, and like many lessons, you generally learn best when it’s the hard way. I have killed many beautiful, rare, and expensive plants due to poor understanding (or acceptance) of their environmental needs. Temperature, water, light—these are all factors that vary by site, as does each plant’s capacity to cope with them. Some plants really can grow almost anywhere, but most can’t. My home sits atop an exposed sandy knoll, surrounded by pine and oak, in the midcoast of Maine. To describe the site as well drained is an understatement. In summer, when the sun is at its zenith, I feel I can hear what’s left of my lawn screaming for mercy as it fades to brown. Conditions have been especially trying in recent years, as many parts of the United States, including New England, have suffered serious summer drought conditions. Any year can quickly become the last for many typically reliable plants.
In some of my earliest beds, I included plants I had considered adaptable and drought tolerant, such as coneflower (Echinacea spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), bee balm (Monarda spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9), and catmint (Nepeta spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9). To my dismay, I discovered all of these go-to plants suffered and demanded more frequent drinks than I think they should need to stand upright. This sent me on a hunt for some plants that could withstand xeriscape conditions. I did cave by creating some garden spaces that take mercy on their tenants by providing soil amendments, mulch, and occasionally supplemental water. But some I have left to endure the hot and dry as I have explored what can grow well there without any help—in fact, with a good dose of neglect.
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