Campaign notebook: The drought has turned the garden into a wasteland | Plants

I try not to make excuses so i’m just going to tell the truth: everything in my garden is dead. The drought was fierce and I was sick, distracted. I couldn’t bear to watch it, but I’m trying to watch now.

It feels like sitting in a crypt. I pulled up a damp chair and am surrounded by skeletons, the branches of my perennials dried up, bent and broken. The hydrangea blossoms turned too soon into ghostly brown lace, the drooping leaves turned almost black like prayer flags. There is copper, rust and blood; heaps of viburnum leaves fell early in fear. The Penstemon looks like it was set on fire and then frozen, its orange flames motionless and hellish. When the rains finally came, too late, the parched snails came out of hiding and ate whatever was left. Talk about exaggeration.

A field of dried sunflowers
‘Deep-rooted sunflowers rise above our heads.’ Photograph: Ronald Wittek/EPA

Dead plants trigger strange sensations. I name them, like some sort of emotional botanist. There is sadness. Sorrow wrapped around anxiety. It’s shame there, and this entanglement makes me feel both guilty and yet completely helpless. I am thinking of climate change. I think about my own sick body and how I’m struggling to take care of things now. Everything is a metaphor for everything else.

It’s important to do that, I think. It’s important to sit here and face it because now that I’m here I can see that it’s not all dead, far from it. Strawflowers continue to quietly open and close among their crumbling neighbors. Deep-rooted sunflowers dominate the sky. Verbena bonariensis threw her purple fireworks all over the patio and there’s still the buzz of bees.

If all had truly been lost, it would be easy to give up and walk back home, but a single late rose makes me get up and drag myself to dip my nose into it. I could get my trowel and pruning shears. I could at least restore some dignity to whatever was entrusted to me and bring myself to try again.