Orange County in “Abnormally Dry” Period

It may be hot and dry this summer, but Orange County is certainly not yet experiencing a drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and North Carolina Drought Monitoring Council.

Orange County is now listed as being in an “abnormally dry condition”, which is the first stage of a drought, by North Carolina classification.

The Sustainability Manager at Orange Water and Sewer Authority, Pat Davis says this hot and dry period has just come on in the past few weeks and that the Drought Monitoring Council did not have Orange County in any sort of drought stage until just recently.

According to Davis in the month of June, OWASA’s Water Treatment Plant only received 1.23 inches of rainfall, the lowest seen in the month since 1993. June also recorded its fourth lowest amount of rainfall at the Cane Creek Reservoir with 1.5 inches.

“So, is June an indicator of July, August, September, October, November, and December?” Davis asks. “Only time will tell, right? We see rainfall flip around pretty frequently from month to month. But if we see July and August well below normal, then that may be the sign that we’re headed into a condition that increases our potential drought risk.”

Davis says water reservoirs are still at almost 91 percent of their storage capacity, due to a “well above normal” amount of rainfall in May and over the last twelve months.

In reference to Orange County’s last drought in 2008, Davis says residents do not have to worry about water conservation just yet, and that OWASA will be monitoring conditions well into the fall before they are alerted of any significant drop in water reservoirs.

Director of Horticulture at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, Jim Ward, says even though he has recently had to show extra care to the garden’s plants, he has battled with far worse conditions of high temperatures and low rain in his 35 years at the gardens than what he is seeing now.

“It is causing us to put a lot more time into the watering needs of the plants,” Ward says. “At the Botanical Gardens, we use captured rain water as our primary source for irrigation and we have a well for another part of our garden. We’re needing to tap into those more frequently and for a longer period of time.”

Ward has combated the dry spell and conserved water in the garden by aiming the water at the ground instead of the plants’ leaves. He advises plant owners to do the same and offers more advice to folks trying to preserve their plants during the hot streak.

“Help yourself out by planting the right plant in the right place so that it’s matching the plant’s growing conditions to the specific site you have in mind so you aren’t planting a plant that requires a lot of moisture to be healthy in a dry site. Mulching helps you conserve the moisture that’s in the soil so we encourage you to do that. And plant in the fall, you shouldn’t be out there planting new plants in this kind of condition so wait until the fall; it’s the best time of year.”

Green Thumbs

I’ve been intrigued by the title of “master gardener” ever since my aunt Anne achieved the prestigious title.  But my interest has never been piqued to a degree that I would pursue the certification, let alone learn enough to keep beautiful green gifts I’ve received alive.  However, I do know enough to know that there is more than a garden variety of things to do with green thumbs in Chapel Hill
No matter the focus, I think one of the best ways to become a master is to WATCH a master.  And we’re lucky to have many masters in gardening to observe the actual fruits of their labor.
The master of them all: The North Carolina Botanical Garden: Known for the carnivorous collection, you can see the amazing diversity of flora of the Old North State all right off Mason Farm Road. 
The twin masters: Two sisters that live on Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill have opened their home garden to passers-by.  No way could my sister and I produce such beautiful plant life. 


The sign at the entrance of Bernice Wade and
Barbara Stiles’ garden on Gimghoul Road

The master of Montrose: This is still on my list of places to visit, but the historic garden Montrose was featured in the New York Times this year. 
Rival rose gardens: If the rose is your favorite flower, you have several places to view all the varieties: Strowd Roses rose garden at the Chapel Hill Community Center and the Morehead Planetarium are the more well-known, but the places I get to view pretty petals in my personal life include my church and my aunt’s continuing care center
Save the date to see these masters: For once-a-year opportunities to see several gardens (or show off if you’re one of those green thumbs!), save the date for the Chapel Hill Garden Tour or the Historic North Carolina Garden Tour (at the above mentioned Montrose). 
Durham detour: I make rare exceptions to include neighboring counties in this blog (and I hate conceding anything to the school nine miles down the road), but it is worth a detour to Durham to see Duke Gardens.  It’s a special place to me mostly because a portion of their Asiatic gardens are named for my friend’s late sister, Julia Harrison. 

My sister and me with a special family friend,
the late Bea Farrington Walden, at Duke Gardens.

But what if you really do want to LEARN how to be a master?  Thanks to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service network, Orange County has your opportunity to become a master gardener.  Unfortunately the deadline just passed to apply for the master gardener certification this year, but there are still many opportunities to learn from a master.  Check out classes at the NC Botanical Garden or consider joining the Chapel Hill Garden Club, who is in its 80th year!


Flower and bee at the NC Botanical Garden

Or maybe you want to strive to SHOP like a master?  Though neither of my thumbs is green, I can definitely vouch for the wide selection of garden stores:
§  Dickinson’s Landscaping: They feel like part of our family because of how much time they’ve spent at my parents’ house, caring for koi.
§  Southern States: Great sale going on now on pottery, and I get almost all my potted plants here. 
§  Fifth Season: I’ve bought plants (in a pinch) for centerpieces here for a party next door at glasshalfull.  Plus they have all the supplies for my favorite kind of gardening: home brewing!
§  Niche Gardens: My mom’s recommendation for a nursery, plus they have tours of their display gardens. 
§  [Shameless plug here] Biannual Binkley-Barbee Yard Sale: This Saturday, my church is host to the biggest and best yard sale and they will have a TON of plants and garden accessories.  All proceeds will go to the Central Children’s Home, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, and the PTA Thrift Shop.
§  And one more Durham detour: Family Gardens (because my friend Dustin’s dad is the owner and has helped my mom so much with her garden needs!)
But the true test is whether someone can GIVE like a master.  Alongside growing your own garden, there are a few community gardens to which you can give your time.  Both the Carolina Campus Community Garden and HOPE Gardens are beautiful opportunities to get your hands dirty and help low-income university employees and local food pantries.  Speaking of giving, master givers Love Chapel Hill have two gardens, in one of which the produce is free for anyone to take and taste.                    
So check out our local gardens and shops, to watch a master, learn from a master, shop like a master, and give like a master. Whether your aunt is a master gardener herself, or you’re visiting the green spaces of Chapel Hill, or you’re trying to see if you yourself have a green thumb, Orange County has so much to offer the burgeoning master.


Tip from my friend Carl Leatherman:
To get your hydrangeas [Carolina] blue,
place lemon slices at the base of the plant.
To change from blue to red, use apple slices.