This is a tough time of the year to be a gardener. Yeah, it’s hot, but that is just the cherry on the top of a melting sundae.
This is the time of year when we deadhead (remove spent blossoms), toss annuals who have given up in the blistering heat, pull weeds that thrive in this weather, trim some bushes, clean out our beds and stage a frontal assault on aggressive perennials.
In my opinion, being a gardener requires three traits: optimism, persistence, and poor memory. And this time of year we need all three.
My summer hydrangeas are just a shriveled memory. It was a good year, now I begin the task of deadheading hundreds of blossoms. My pink astilbe flower spikes look like rusty sticks. The abundant yellow, maroon, and orange flowering daylilies are gone. Their dried up leaves look like straw. It is time to cut the dried flower stems, rip out the withered leaves, and cut off the irises’ seed pods.
And there are the roses, they didn’t have a good year. This year they witnessed the worst invasion of Japanese beetles that I have seen, sometimes I had to pick four off a single leaf. Several years ago, I applied an organic bacteria to my soil to permanently make my soil hostile to grubs (it takes 2 years of multiple applications, but it works); so all of these ugly jewel-like beetles are coming from neighboring plots. They test my organic resolve.
My hosta looks like Swiss cheese as greedy slugs, beetles, and black bugs have made them into an eyesore.
My lawn is grass in name only, it is actually a collection of grasses, green, and brown weeds. The weeds spread weekly into the neatly edged beds. Crabgrass continues to thwart my organic gardening ambitions. Other grasses, weeds, seedlings, dandelions, and those damn violets pop up in the perennial beds despite the summer heat and late summer drought. While my chosen perennials bend to the elements, these unwelcome guests thrive in their place.
By now, the invasive perennials have taken over all of the beds. I planted none of these. They were probably planted a hundred years ago and will last another hundred years. There is no getting rid of them, all I can do is try to keep them contained.
English Ivy is my worst offender. (I have a saying, “anyone who brings you English Ivy is NOT your friend.”) Three times a year, I yank it out as far as I can, knowing that it will recover within a couple of months. Vinca (also called periwinkle) vines have spread long, skinny ugly trails through the beds. Gooseneck loosestrife has now completely overrun my side and back gardens. Their white goose-head shaped flower heads have lost their tiny petals, and now look like green branches coming out of the ground, choking the hydrangea, hosta, daylilies, and astilbe. I yank them out and cut them back, but like the terminator, they’ll be back.
One of the worst offenders is one that I receive so many compliments on. Oenothera speciosa (pink Missouri primrose) is the weediest of them all. For about two weeks my garden is saturated in pretty pale pink blossoms. The rest of year, they transform into a bitter enemy of all perennials that try to share a bed with them. Hardier than any weed, they appear everywhere. One time I transplanted some astilbe into another bed, and guess who came along with it? Weekly weeding is a must.
This is where the gardener’s critical trait of persistence must take over. Refusing to fight these demons is fatal to these beds as all other flowers will succumb to their unrelenting assaults.
My garden is tired. The echinacea blossoms are seed cones now. Despite their ungainly appearance, I don’t cut them because goldfinches love them. My rudbeckias (Black-eyed Susans) are hanging on, the only color left in the garden bed.
By now, many annuals have had it. The petunias are begging to be put out of their misery. Even caladiums, which are a tropical plant, are wilting in the heat.
The crepe myrtles are blooming, but they are better seen from a distance. They are messy and spread small petals over my walkways. Every morning I use a blower to clear the patio and walkways, knowing that tomorrow morning it will look like I haven’t been there. This is where the key traits of poor memory and persistence are required.
My composter is full of past summer victories and greedy loosestrife.
So all that remains are the limelight hydrangeas, a few stella-de-oro daylilies, geraniums, impatiens, begonias, and coleus. The limelights are stunning, but the rest of the plants are just hanging on.
Every morning I follow the same fruitless routine, get started before the heat, yank and cut, yank and cut, yank and cut. Stuff the compost bin. Fill up the trash bins with plant remains. Wipe off the sweat. Yank and cut and yank and cut yank and cut.
This morning, I tripped over a ubiquitous vinca vine. While falling, I noticed that the purple blossoms on the liriope are beginning to emerge. How beautiful, I think, they will look great next to my three-season azaleas.
There is that optimism requirement.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.