A Symbiotic Relationship


I miss my garden whenever away from it for an extended period of more than a day or two. My garden misses me, as well. We exist in a mutualism type of symbiotic relationship, one in which both organisms benefit. There are three types of symbiotic relationships: Mutualism-Both organisms benefit; Commensalism-One organism benefits, and the other is not affected in any manner; Parasitism-One organism benefits, and the other is harmed. My garden and I need each other, harm comes when we are apart, to both of us.


In times of drought during the growing season, the garden needs me to help out by supplying extra water. It is mostly only those newly planted and/or moved things that need the additional moisture, since over the years the garden has been adjusted to include the growing of mainly xeric types.

Above: The very xeric Echinops bannaticus ‘Blue Glow’, not quite glowing yet.


Hydrangeas which were grandfathered in when the xeric rule was implemented are the first to show signs of stress when the temperatures climb and there is no rainfall. Sometimes they will succumb outright, sometimes they will drop their leaves and wait until better conditions arise. Other plants will also go into survival mode, drop their foliage and hunker down. Over several years of that sort of thing, they might die.


The Fairegarden clan goes on a weeklong vacation every summer, in addition to shorter excursions of overnight stays. Seven plus days away during the often hottest and driest time is a test of the survival skills of the garden. I am happy to report that some, but not all plantings not only survived but seem to thrive during my absence.

Above: Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ and Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’.


Real joy comes when the first garden perusal occurs upon our return from being away, usually as soon as the car is unloaded. We might miss a daylily blooming or a new lily flowering, but those are small ‘taters compared to outright losses in our absence. Learning through experience can be cruel, but Nature is wiser than human gardeners. There is no point in planting what cannot survive here in Zone 7a Southeast Tennessee without automatic irrigation, which we don’t, and won’t have.

Above: Orienpet Lilium ‘Holland Beauty’, nearly missed


For the first few days away, thoughts about the garden are rare, there are too many other distractions involving travel, family and/or friends. There is no sense worrying about something over which we have no control, like the weather. But as the end of a fun-filled trip draws near, a gardener’s mind turns to home. Did the container plantings, so carefully chosen and well hydrated before leaving, make it? Did the blueberries shrivel up? Did the pole beans grow and begin to flower? Are there any red tomatoes?

Above: Helictotrichon ‘Saphhire Blue’ and ginger mint on the left. Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ and red cabbage on the right.


All of those questions and more are answered soon after our arrival back home. The answers are: Yes, sort of, yes and yes. Well, one little cherry tomato had colored up, plus there was a little baby zuchinni about three inches long. But there was no rain and I don’t live in a neighborhood with watering helpers available, so the garden was thirsty and more than a bit parched upon my return.


But there were some bright spots, too. Those plants that seem to do the best with neglect include ornamental grasses, Euphorbias, Mediterranean herbs and some natives. The planting of the Shed Bed, one of the driest and sunniest locations here is a beacon of hopeful Xeric-ability. Surrounded on one side and at the bottom by a short boxwood hedge, the Eryngiums, Nasella (Stipa) tenuissima, Salvia greggii and just coming into bloom Belamcanda chinensis look happy and healthy. Echinacea tennessensis and Lilium ‘Regale’ line the lower portion. It seems that the Mexican natives that are hardy in our winters do quite well. Note to self…


The garden gives me great joy at all times, whether the weather is pleasant or not. The least I can do is to try and make it joyful as well by using proper plantings for the conditions that continue to evolve. And water them.

Above: Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’

Frances

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14 Responses to A Symbiotic Relationship

  1. Jane Carroll says:

    Lovely post as always! Glad most of your ‘friends’ survived your absence and will again thrive in your presence!

    Thanks Jane, I appreciate your readership! If I can just restrain myself from planting or moving things after early to mid-spring, the garden and I are both happier for it. Easier said than accomplished, though.
    Frances

  2. So glad you found no real tragedies when you returned home, Frances. Thank goodness you weren’t away this weekend when all of us 7 zoners were needed to man the water hoses against the brutal 100+ heat. I found myself dousing the leaves of my Japanese maple hoping the cool water would lower the ambient temperature. Not sure it did any good but at 106 I had to do something. Your photos are lovely, even the prostrate hydrangea.

    Thanks Georgia, for those kind words. I am mighty thankful that we were not away when those hellish temperatures struck. I am also hoping they have gone away for now. It is sad when 97 is considered cooler!
    Frances

  3. Reed Pugh says:

    I love your photos, I can feel the heat in your shed be all the way up in Boston.

    Hi Reed, thanks and welcome! I fear much of the US is feeling the heat. May it subside soon, and bring some rain to those who need it.
    Frances

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It is joyful to return home to see that all has survived your vacation. You have asters blooming already?? We finallly got some rain yesterday. We also have a mess of tree limbs to cut up and get out of the garden. Loved the rain. It is amazing how rain can make things perk up so much better than hose water. Have a great week.

    Hi Lisa, thanks,it really does the heart good to see that most of the garden looks pretty dang good. There are a couple of very early asters here, the New England and Bluebird. But this year, even the sheffies are already budded, so who knows? I hope you did not have too severe damage from that crazy storm. You too, enjoy the week!’
    Frances

  5. Dee says:

    A breath of lovely fresh air this morning. Nice to see your garden looking so well in spite of the heat and drought and a vacation too. I love that Orienpet lily. I wonder if I could grow them here? Hmmmm.

    Hi Dee, thanks. Some parts of the garden look much better than others. I try to look mostly at those. Black Beauty is a stalwart, one of the toughest lilies here, always the last to bloom. I planted 5 bulbs in a circle years ago and they have never failed to be quite the spectacle.
    Frances

  6. Right now, as a fellow east TN gardener, I feel like I’m in training for an Olympic event called “Competitive Hose Moving”. Lordy, lordy, it gets wearying but it’s a compulsion and obligation. I find some comfort in reading that your hydrangeas also show vulnerability to the heat and dryness we’ve been hit with. It seems like I just about can’t water them enough.
    Yum, that combination of the Euphorbia “Blackbird” and the Japanese bloodgrass is delicious…looks like an exotic dessert. Does that particular euphorbia have the chartreusy blooms that so many of its kin have? A local nursery had a bunch of different varieties of euphorbia for purchase but none of them were labeled. I bought a bunch and figure I will wait to be surprised.

    I hear that, Michaele!!! HA Every morning it is the same exercise, hose dragging all over. I even bought more cheapo oscillating sprinklers, I believe Lowe’s is going to run out of them. Blackbird is similar to Ascot Rainbow in form and size and flowering, except every part of it is dark burgundy. The actual flowers are like most of this type of Euphorbia, an inconsequential yellow and red, very tiny. But the calyx are the dark color like the foliage. Quite attractive. I hope all of your are wonderful. They certainly are drought tolerant once established.
    Frances

    Well, thanks to you and some google research, I think I know the name of at least one of my euphorbia mystery purchaese. Looks like I have an Ascot Rainbow so that’s a start.

    That’s a good one, Michaele, good score! They need water to settle in, but excellent drainage, as well. I am sure you’ve got that covered.
    Frances

  7. Debbie Davis says:

    That euphorbia/blood grass combination is sensational!

    Thanks Debbie. I have found the blood grass to go well with everything here on my dry hillside. It is NOT invasive in my garden, barely spreading several inches from the planted by me sprigs. I have spread it all over and love it.
    Frances

  8. Mark and Gaz says:

    Lovely post and photos as always 🙂

    We too miss the garden when we are away from it, and will plan holidays partly with the mindset of how long we will leave the garden, as well as planning round my parents holiday plans as they house, garden and cat sit for us when we are away!

    Thanks Mark and Gaz. How lucky to have such wonderful and reliable house/garden/cat sitters! That must help set your minds at ease while you are away. Much better than no one to watch out for either. Our cats can stay a week here by themselves, but they are very glad when we come home.
    Frances

  9. We miss our garden when we are away too. We enjoy being away but keep wondering what is going on in the garden so now we tend to only go away for 3 or 4 days.

    Hi Green Bench, thanks for stopping by. 3 or 4 days is ideal, a week or more is too long but we do it every year anyway.
    Frances

  10. Crystal says:

    I used to leave my garden for two weeks every summer. I always gave the plants in the garden a good soaking before I left, and set up self-watering systems for all my container plants. But in those days, the UK climate was very kind; sunny days interspersed with light rain showers.
    The garden always rewarded me by flowering in my absence, I would return to see just the end of the display.

    Hi Crystal, thanks for adding to the conversation here. Having been in the UK, I found the difference in climate to explain how beautiful all the gardens were, that and hired staff to keep the hedges trimmed, etc. Sunny days interspersed with light rain would make my garden very happy! Me too! HA
    Frances

  11. I too have learned to not worry if I plant my natives….they will survive even the unusual heat and drought here…I really loved this post and how we relate to our gardens…they are part of us.

    Hi Donna, thanks for joining in here. Natives have proven to be stalwarts and are always a good idea. They do need water if newly planted, but in subsequent years they will hold their own. These higher than ever temps are stressing everything in the garden right now, however, but the natives and the ornamental grasses look the best.
    Frances

  12. Rose says:

    I’m glad all was well when you returned home, Frances; you have planted your garden wisely. In these few short years since I started gardening, I have turned more and more to natives and am avoiding the temptation, as much as possible, to add any plants that might be a bit fussy. We’re in the midst of a drought here, too, not to mention the extreme heat, but there have been years when it seemed the rain would never end. Natives seem to be the one type of plant that can adjust to every extreme. But I can’t give up my hydrangeas:)

    Thanks Rose. The garden has forced me to edit and adjust to these changing weathers. When we first bought this house, the average annual rainfall was over 60 inches per year, same as the Pacific Northwest. That has been updated to less, and should probably be changed again to reflect even less. We get most of the rain in the winter, too. Natives are the right plants for such craziness. I won’t give up the hydrangeas unless they die outright, which some do. They don’t get replaced.
    Frances

  13. Kay Schmid says:

    This hot weather is unkind to all (!) living things. We have had such an unusual weather year, here in south-central lower Michigan, from 80’s in March to hard freezes and now to drought. It is enough to make a gardener despair. I have a sister who lives on Isle of Palms, on Carolina Blvd, and have been there many times. Great fun! Greatly enjoy your blog, Frances.

    Hi Kay, thanks for visiting. I agree, these over the top temps are not good! We have been having drought years for a while now here in Southeast Tennessee. It seems to be the new norm and I have had to change the plantings to reflect that. I know Carolina Blvd., cool place!!!
    Frances

  14. While helping daughter move my Epiphyllum oxypetalum bloomed. 😦 Don’t see any other buds for later blooms, but crossing my fingers. Your garden did fine in your absence.

    Oh no, Janet! Sorry you missed the big blooming but hope more buds develop. I have yet to see any flower on mine, but haven’t given up hope that I live long enough to see at least one. Although what I have might be a different plant, but the same idea. HA
    Frances

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