They say write what you know, but I haven’t been exactly following that advice — see here (time travel) and here (demons invading a Renaissance festival). So I’ll start now with something I do know — my gardening (mis)adventures. I’m no expert, but I can document what worked and what made me cry.
First, here’s a brief rundown on my climate here so you’ve got some perspective. I live just north of Dallas, Texas — technically zone 8a, with minimum temps around 15F. The summers are so hot that at drive-thrus, I just crack the windows and ask them to cram my burger through the gap so that the furnace-like air doesn’t rush in and steam the wrinkles out of my clothes. It doesn’t matter though; if you spend any time outdoors here in the summer, night or day, your body will skip right over that “light glistening” sweat phase and advance straight to “disgusting gusher sweat that takes thirty minutes to stop even after you retreat to the A/C.”
The soil is sticky alkaline clay mixed with caliche — aka hardpan — aka nasty white calcium rock. As you work the soil here, you will grow taller and your shoes will become heavier with the layers of gummy mud until you can no longer move your feet or you just abandon your shoes and make a break for it.
It’s a miracle that anything grows here. A lot of plants that I loved in East Texas will likely die a slow pitiful death if you try to plant them here, such as azaleas, dogwoods, blueberries, … basically anything that likes acid soil or good drainage.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that I can blame the death of my plants on all of the above, even though I know good soil prep and proper watering are more likely the cause. Some of the plants did just fine despite the harsh conditions, while others croaked even though I pampered them. That’s part of the fun — not knowing what will happen. (Actually most of the fun is watching the hardy plants survive, while the remainder of the fun is picking out the plants to start with. Watching the unfortunate ones perish is approximately zero fun.)
In upcoming articles I’ll go through my plants one by one. For many of them, I took pictures with my phone for my own documentation, not realizing that one day I’d share them. So don’t mock the (lack of) quality. At least you know they’re real. (Sidenote: All you online plant sellers out there should stop doctoring your photos. Either the guy posing next to the impossibly-blue hydrangea is a pale frozen corpse or you’re using a color filter on that pic.)