late summer

The Garden Goes On… And On

Gardens are collections of plants. No matter what the gardener does, plants grow, bloom, go to seed, and/or die, depending on the type of plant and whether it is getting the conditions it prefers. The gardener is a mere adjunct, trying with varying degrees of success to impose her idea of what the garden should be on a population of diverse plants. That’s the essence of gardening. It’s a constant struggle an intersection of plants, their needs, climate and weather, and the gardener’s desires and exertions.

Olympic Mullein -- gardener, look out!

Olympic Mullein — gardener, look out! Aaargh — too late!

Shortly after I retired at the end of March, I realized that as far as the garden was concerned, I was late to the party. Spring was early and warm, and growth was well under way before I had a chance to take a good look around. Too late for most pruning operations and moving plants around — two critical activities in this garden. Some plants — mainly shrubs — need frequent pruning, trimming and sucker removal. Others threaten to fade away unless moved to better spots, i.e., not overhung by trees or shrubs, in soil that isn’t full of maple roots.

I’ve spent the summer deadheading, watering, poking around and making plans for a grand game of musical chairs to be executed (what a word that is!) this fall and next spring. And a list of Things to Prune next winter. I’m keen to get going, but August isn’t the time for such exertions.

In the meantime, plants are going through their annual cycles, and so is the garden, which has entered what I think of as the brown season — late summer in a summer-dry climate. I’m getting tired of dragging the hose and hoisting the watering can. I know this happens every year. I know it will rain some day (and rain and rain some more). Hardy cyclamen will bloom. Mushrooms will sprout. Moss will green up. A few spring-blooming shrubs will send out a few flowers. The air will smell of coming autumn. But right now that seems far away.

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore — in September, after rain.

 

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Late Summer in the Garden

August is not this garden’s best month. Since I no longer have a vegetable patch, I don’t experience that plentiful harvest thing. Except for tomatoes. I grow them in pots, and this has been quite a productive year.

August 24, 2014

Otherwise, things have that dry and rattly look.

August 21, 2014

There are a few exceptions.

Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" and Delphinium in new flush of growth

Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” and Delphinium in new flush of growth

August 9, 2014

Today I saw developing buds on my Chinese witch hazel. One branch has managed to grow into a spot that gets a bit more sun than the rest of the plant, and so will bloom next winter. The Convolvulus sabatius I thought was killed last winter is alive and well (although small), and yesterday I potted up seedlings of Gaura lindheimeri. Now the trick is to get them through the winter. For some reason I have had trouble with this plant in recent years. I don’t know if it’s because of late cold snaps (such as last February’s -9 C) or excessive wetness in the dormant season. I do have more seeds if this batch fails.

I see I have mentioned winter several times in this post about late summer. Yes, I am actually looking forward to winter, which here is green and wet, a refreshing change from endless sunshine and drought. Before that, I hope, we will have the delightful season I think of as spring-in-fall, with shorter, cooler days and rain. Many spring-blooming shrubs put out a few blooms then and the garden seems to sigh with relief. Certainly the gardener does.

My “Fragrant Cloud” rose (a rather feeble specimen growing in a pot on its own roots, not grafted) escaped being eaten by deer this summer, so is blooming again.

Rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Rose “Fragrant Cloud”

These dark red sedums have likewise been spared by deer, even though they are in the unfenced front garden. It seems to me that deer have distinct preferences;  a couple of years ago sedums had no chance, but these have been blooming for weeks.

August 15, 2014

The Garden in August

The word for this month is “dry.” Really dry. Only 9 millimeters (0.35 inches) of rain since June 27th. Hoses, sprinklers and watering cans are getting a lot of use, but despite that, the scene has a brownish tinge.

August 25, 2013

This is how I began this post a few days ago. But that evening we had rain, quite a heavy shower. Things got wet, the soil sopped up the moisture. A few more bouts of rain followed, for a total of 17 millimeters (0.67 inches) — not that much, but enough to water the entire garden without me having to lift a bucket or drag a hose. Bliss for the dry-summer gardener!

Tomatoes are getting an orange tinge, and visits by raccoons and deer have tapered off. Quite a few of the tough plants that cope well with drought and/or shade are putting on a late summer show, such as these mulleins, echinops and Verbena bonariensis in the ex-vegetable patch.

August 25, 2013

Regular visits to the pond by raccoons have rendered some areas a near-desert (typical gardener exaggeration here), but recent efforts to clean it up, and the rain recharge, have been encouraging. This spot looks fairly good after extensive “dead-leafing” of daylily “Kwanso.”

August 25, 2013

The front garden looks deceptively lush and colourful.

August 18, 2013

This combination of blue fescue, brunnera “Jack Frost” and a euphorbia whose name I don’t know is particularly fetching. (Does anyone recognize the euphorbia? It has red stems and tiny leaves and grows to about 18 inches).

August 10, 2013

I’ve had this acanthus for years, during which it has gradually bulked up, and this year it finally bloomed. Quite impressive (to me, anyway).

August 10, 2013

Bee-watching is still a big thing, but…

August 5, 2013

…the summer is ending and I’m looking forward to fall, my favourite season, especially what I call the “fall spring,” when some spring-bloomers such as rhododendrons and Clematis armandii, for example, perk up and bloom a little. Mushrooms pop up, mosses and ferns are refreshed, leaves start to turn colour, and the gardener perceives hints of winter gravity behind the morning mists.

Endless Summer

Summer was late in arriving this year, but now that it has, it appears to be here to stay for a while. Record high temperatures are forecast for the end of next week as the dreaded thermal trough develops off the Washington coast. This phenomenon has not manifested so far this summer, so I shouldn’t really complain, even though I’m not a heat lover. Besides, with sunset occurring before 8 p.m., things cool off pretty fast in the evenings, so I don’t expect the hot nights that would happen in a July heat wave.

And the garden? Well, it looks tired and past its best, the way it should at the end of summer. Once September starts, though, I begin to look for that subtle season I call the “fall spring,” when, after a few rains, plants revive and some even flower a second time. The tired look vanishes, and even though the late-season state of things prevails, a modest beauty creeps in. But the last time we had measurable rain was on August 22, and before that on July 21.

On the other hand, it has turned out to be a promising year for tomatoes, after a rather bleak start. In mid-July I would not have believed that there would be trusses of big tomatoes on the plants that at that time had only flowers and pea-sized fruits. And without rain, there is less chance of late blight disease, which causes brown spots and eventual rot, rather than ripening.

Still very green!

A few things are in bloom — not reluctant, end-of-season bloom, but new and fresh — notably a dark blue delphinium that I dug up from one of my tree-root-infested perennial beds and transferred to a pot. Like its paler blue and pink fellows also living in pots, it has prospered and is blooming, late in the season when most other things are in decline.

The thing is to appreciate what is there and stop fretting about everything else. In gardening as in life.

Delphinium