For Central Texas Gardeners, Rain is What Hope Grows On
by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden

It rained last night - a good rain, sustained and heavy. This morning, before dawn, I went down to the garden with a flashlight to check the rain gauge - seven tenths of an inch. It came as a surprise; the forecast had not even mentioned the possibility of a shower. I am pleased, thankful that my garden is now soaking in sweet relief. However, I am also a bit resentful that I was in bed when it rained, that I was not able to sit on my front porch and watch it slip off the leaves and fill the rose blossoms with glassy beads. I feel as if I have missed a visit from an old friend.

Rain is the most cherished event in Central Texas gardens, for it is rain that sustains both our plants and our hopes. Without it, our gardens become jealous mistresses always panting for our attention. It is no wonder then, that we develop personal relationships with the weather radar or think of the rain as a friend. I'll readily admit to being a weather junkie, and it is all because of rain. When a predicted storm front dissipates just miles from town I take it personally. I rant at the weathermen and fume about my betrayal. During especially dry times, I have been known to stand in the garden shaking my fist at approaching storms, daring them to rain on me. You know it is getting personal when you try reverse psychology on clouds.

However, when the rain does come, our gardens respond with visible joy. This morning I can already see that the rain has made my garden shine - everything seems greener, fuller, more alive. I feel invigorated too, as if a weight has been dropped from my shoulders. When the sun finally stretched across our courtyard, and I made my way through the garden, I marveled at its response. Even the birds' song seemed brighter. No wonder the ancients adopted the rite of baptism to symbolize redemption and rebirth. Praise God from Whom all Blessings flow, indeed!

I suppose it is because we live where we do that rain plays such a large role in our lives. Austin sits on the 98th meridian, the boundary line that separates the well-watered east from the dry and thirsty west. To gardeners, it must seem as if we are always one step over the line. Some years we enjoy a bounty, as much as fifty inches of rain or more, but more often than not, we end up on the dry side. We obsess about dry stretches to such an extent that we have lost perspective about what a serious drought looks like. Old timers remind us of the early 'fifties where rivers and lakes dried up, dust blew, and nearly all of the younger trees died.

While I still welcome nearly every rain, even in the wettest of times, over the years I have prepared my garden for its absence. Going or gone are the thirsty plants that require my constant attention. It is simply irresponsible, and far too exhausting and expensive, for me to pretend that my garden is located in Houston or parts further east. As time progresses, and Austin continues to grow, water is bound to be a resource that we will pay ever more dearly for. How desperate will our rain dances be then?

Still, even with the xeriscaped portion of my garden ever increasing, I find there is nothing like a good rain. This morning the river ferns were heavy, their fronds shimmering with countless drops of precious water. "God's water," as my neighbor calls it, not the processed, pumped, and treated stuff. No, this was the real thing. The plants know the difference and are thankful. I am thankful too, for the freshness in the air that lingers while I write this. I know mornings like this will soon be a thing of the past. The heaviness of summer is always just around the bend here in Texas. Even in summer though, a passing thunderstorm or two might clear the air and give us hope, and that is what gardeners grow on.

Back to Soul of the Garden / Library