Garden shed


It happens every August. I decide the garden is a mess, a failure and a burden. The season is drawing to a close, and has not lived up to expectations.

This garden looks best in spring and early summer. Given our climate and the Norway maples that shade the place and suck more than their share (so say I) of water and nutrients from the thin, sandy soil, the August decline is inevitable.

dry leaves, drought
Maple leaves that fall before turning colour are often seen in August

Add to that the fact that many plants have achieved their maximum size and leafiness by now, and many of them look weary. Windy days aren’t unusual here, pummeling the plants and making them lean. Many just stay that way, as though resigned, giving the garden an unkempt look. Yellowing leaves on perennials that have been there and done that add to the effect. The gardener, already tired from lugging watering cans and dragging hoses, says, “To Hell with it,” and goes inside to commune with the computer.

I noted at least three major pruning projects that will have to be done sooner rather than later. The magnolia is a hulking monster, despite annual attention with the pruning saw. The trellis is getting shaky. The pond has a bad case of duckweed. Too many plants, such as Russian sage and Japanese anemones, that are in glorious bloom in other (sunny) gardens, barely manage a meager handful of flowers here. Why bother?

The tomatoes are smaller than last year, both in size and number, because of cool weather in June and early July. The plants are showing signs of late blight, so it’s not likely they’ll produce many more tomatoes. Daylilies failed to bloom this year. Nine tenths of an old climbing rose died after being blasted by cold winds in March. My latest (and maybe last) attempt to grow blue poppies has failed. Why bother?

Plants don’t say “Why bother?” They just get on with it.

August-itis is a disease of the gardener, not the garden. Despite failures of individual plants, the garden itself is just fine, going through its annual process. This is the way it’s supposed to look in August, and in fact it looks better this year than it has in Augusts past. There have not been a lot of faded green leaves falling.

When I allow the ideal of green perfection to interfere with my expectations, I regard that normality as a failure. Looking at other gardens, especially the ones perfectly manicured by hired gardeners and watered by elaborate irrigation systems, only intensifies that feeling.

There’s only one cure for August-itis. The gardener must engage with the garden and do something that improves its appearance, even a little. Something straightforward and not too difficult. Clip that lawn edge. Do some deadheading. Cut down the wilted stalks.

After that depressing tour in the glare of noon that concluded with, “To Hell with it,” I took another look at the place late in the day, when the magical light of near-sunset transforms everything. I did a bit of deadheading and a little raking. I noticed buds forming on the Chinese witch hazel. They will bloom in January. I saw a new frond unfurling on a struggling little fern. I topped up the pond and scooped out much of the duckweed.

I noted plants that are looking good.

Hosta "Stained Glass"
Hosta “Stained Glass,” a new addition last autumn, has done well.
Blue lacecap hydrangea
This hydrangea is blooming well due to diligent watering and removal of lilac suckers.
Pink dahlia and Echinops ritro
Old reliables–pink dahlia and Echinops ritro.

I’m on good terms with the garden again. For now, I’ve recovered from August-itis.


  1. I have had the same problems this year with plants peaking early because of a lot of rain followed by occasional hot days that have made it very humid. I have just stripped out half my pots and replanted with some perennials as well as late summer/autumn plants.. I have quite a few hydrangeas which like yours are doing well.. I would not have been without the garden the last few months that’s for sure..Sally

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    1. That’s true, Janet. You may have noticed I tend to zero in on the plants that look best in my posts, rather than showing the entire bed or area, including bad spots.


  2. I love your renewed hopefulness by the end of this blog post. Our pansies have managed to struggle and straggle through a hot humid summer–most unusual for pansies in central Virginia. We’ve had a lot of rain the past few weeks so local lawns and meadows look almost spring-like with unusually lush verdant grass for mid-August. Fingers crossed for a good fall color. I have not heard any local experts expound on the possibility.

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    1. The main thing is to commit oneself to a garden. It’s not a pastime you can put down and pick up later. But it can be rewarding in different ways. Thanks for your comment, Robbie, and good luck with gardening!

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  3. I relate to your feelings about August, and I agree that we may be tired, but the garden isn’t. Let us therefore attack our August chores with the vigour and youth of May and June!

    Yesterday, I told my husband that I’ve changed my outlook: August is now my favourite time in the garden. Why? The large fragrant white hosta blooms; the white phlox is radiant and some pink ones still flower; the misty blue caryopteris is coming into bloom. A walk by a bunch of these and – what a gently sweet perfume.

    With the other plants deadheaded, there is a calm to the August garden that wasn’t there in July with its yellows and oranges and new colours popping up. So I’ve been deadheading, while making plans for my beleaguered husband to move certain plants around. Happy August to you.

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    1. Thanks, Cynthia. I think adequate rain in summer makes a big difference. Our normals are about 15 mm in July and 20 in August, but I’ve seen these months with no rain at all. Watering can become tedious. I didn’t realize caryopteris has a perfume; will have to check it out when mine blooms.

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  4. It’s actually rather cool that you’re such a committed, talented gardener that you even get August-itis. I’m surprised the dahlia grows so well there. I think of them as a Southern flower, but I guess they’re more robust than I thought.

    The pink dahlia, the Echinops ritro, and the blue hydrangea are so color-saturated and perfect in form that they look ethereal. I could stare at them all day.

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    1. Thanks, Priscilla! Those are the brightest blooms in the garden right now. Yes, dahlias do quite well here, surprisingly. I don’t even dig them up for the winter as many gardeners in colder areas must.


  5. It’s good to take a fresh look at something. If it were so easy, everyone would be doing it. Your garden always looks marvelous to me, Audrey.

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    1. Thanks, Pete! I do wish my place was suitable for growing vegetables, but the soil is sandy and there’s too much shade. It’s easier to succeed with ornamental plants that tolerate the conditions. I’m glad so many bloggers seem to like it!


  6. I have a small vegetable garden, and I also suffer from ‘augustitis’. There isn’t much to do, though, except to remove the overgrown plants. Soon, our short, short summer will be over.

    Your garden still looks beautiful!

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  7. I had August-itis last weekend and attacked the garden. Well, not attacked, but you know what I mean. I tidied. And you’re right that just a little bit of work (like a full day) made a huge difference. Happy Gardening, Audrey. 😀

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