When it comes to my children, I’m a softie. But when it comes to my vegetable, herb and flower gardens, I employ more of a tough love approach. Don’t get me wrong, I love my gardens. I spread mulch religiously and marvel audibly at their beauty, fragrance and fruits. But because I prefer to encourage my plants to grow deep roots and find drinks on their own, I only drag the hose out during excessive rain-free periods.

Linda Hezel

Linda Hezel is a visionary land steward.

Photo Credit: Linda Hezel

Jerusalem artichoke

The native Jerusalem artichoke produces edible fruits even in very dry conditions.

Photo Credit: CREDIT

Serviceberries

Many species of native serviceberries produce delicious fruits in early summer – but harvest them before the birds do!

Photo Credit: Dr Gerald L. Klingaman

Unfortunately, Missouri has some of the most deadly summers in the nation due to our tortuously hot and brutally humid conditions. And rumor has it we’re in for another hellish, rain-scarce season – a frustrating forecast for card-carrying kitchen gardeners like me.

None the less, with the cost of fuel and food increasing by leaps and bounds, I’m determined to grow an increasing amount of my family’s food this growing season.

But how can I achieve a productive, yet water-efficient fruit, vegetable and flower garden with minimal maintenance? For the answer, I sought the advice of one of my best friends and gifted farmers, Linda Hezel. Linda holds a Ph.D. in nursing and retired from a teaching career to rehabilitate a 15-acre prairie north of Kansas City. She’s a brilliant visionary who’s in touch and in tune with her natural surroundings.

Here are Linda’s growing secrets:

  1. Go with natives. “But not hybrids, and preferably not cultivars,” she says. Linda doesn’t believe that “human manipulation” necessarily improves on a plant’s qualities. When it comes to drought tolerance, she believes “your plant has a better chance if humans haven’t messed with its genes. … When we fill our yards and gardens with things foreign to the creatures with whom it evolved, we impact the whole ecosystem.”
  2. Scan catalogs for the term “drought tolerant.” Plant heirlooms because “they’ve stood the test of many droughts,” Linda says. She recommends elderberry (Sambucus), Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), clove currant (Ribes odoratum), serviceberry (Amelanchier) and persimmons (Diospyros).
  3. Rethink your definition of “weeds.” Like her European ancestors, Linda enjoys the taste of dandelion (Taraxacum) greens, “very early in spring before bud formation.” She likes purslane (Portulaca), too. “It’s tough and a very healthful herb – high in omega-3 fatty acids.”
  4. Mulch. “Mulch the dickens out of all gardens,” Linda suggests. “It holds moisture and keeps the ground cooler. It also allows earthworms and soil microorganisms to create compost in place.”   5. Give up your lawn. “Get rid of as much lawn as possible,” Linda advises. “It creates runoff, so your garden’s surrounding soil dries faster.” She also recommends going organic because “chemicals kill the critters that keep the soil healthy and resilient.”
  5. Give up your lawn. “Get rid of as much lawn as possible,” Linda advises. “It creates runoff, so your garden’s surrounding soil dries faster.” She also recommends going organic because “chemicals kill the critters that keep the soil healthy and resilient.”
  6. Use rain barrels to take advantage of heavy dews and rain. And use drip irrigation – not overhead sprinklers.
  7. Keep a garden journal, so you’ll remember what you’ve planted season after season. Linda recommends making particular note of “what does well and how much rain you’ve really had.”

Climate change promises to throw us many challenges. But by sharing our growing secrets and celebrating our harvests, we can hope to heal our planet – and live healthy lives, too.