As you have no doubt noticed, perennial garden standbys have advanced their bloom times, leaving gardeners to wonder whether their gardens will have any color at all come August.
Shifting seasons of bloom
Rambler roses, platycodon, daylilies, and many more have moved up their shows to start by mid-June, and furthermore, the heat, humidity, and lack of rain make plants and beds look tired and messy, or explode with powdery mildew.
For example, nothing is drearier for the overall picture than deadheads on nepeta, salvia, lavender, potentilla, or spirea, grayed- or browned-out by fog and passing showers; comb over the plants and remove. Toolmakers make various styles of snips that are especially handy for this punctilious job; look for them at well-stocked garden centers.
Formerly pristine and sparkling Shasta daisies look horrible when yellow centers brown out. Cut them, and other perennials, back individually to fresh growth arising from leaf axils, or cut down farther, to where fresh basal growth emerges. Where practical, rake up debris from petal drop under roses, lilies, and other heavily flowering plants.
Small insects, such as Asiatic, oriental, or Japanese beetles or European earwigs, spoil the blossoms of many plants. These insects are most active at night; to discover what is doing the damage, go out after dark with a flashlight. Knock them into a container of soapy water.
Overwatering pot plants and containers is no more useful than letting them dry out and fry (although we may see days when watering containers several times daily seems best), because rot easily takes hold under these conditions. Trialing products such as SoilMoist may be one answer.
View summer 2016 as an opportunity to exercise gardening skills. Water judiciously in early morning or evening, and add liquid feeds, whether homemade or purchased, regularly. Groom and refresh plants, by deadheading, destalking, and deadleafing, or by cutting back altogether. Rebloom may or may not occur, depending on the species and other factors, but you will feel entitled to a cool drink under a shade tree for having made the effort.
Inspired by trees
Speaking of shade trees, there is a voluptuous mysteriousness about trees at dusk on hot summer evenings, heavy with dark leaves barely stirring as the ground respires, and lit with fireflies.
My last column mentioned catalpas, the slightly exotic-appearing native shade tree of a bygone era. There are, however, many more. For us here on the Vineyard, I think it pays to look around our own woodland “backyard” and see what is impressive. One does not have to look far. The North Tisbury oak? Beetlebung Corner?
Both the white oak, Quercus alba, and the beetlebung, Nyssa sylvatica, are among my personal favorites. Who is the human who thinks we can survive in a world without trees? They provide shade. They gush out oxygen. They make possible the survival of the food chain at the top of which we sit. They make our soil. They provide the lumber without which we could barely shelter, let alone live on this planet.
If you want to live in a pleasant place, plant trees. If you want to enhance your property value, plant trees. If you want rainwater penetration, plant trees. If you would like to cast shade on the roof, plant trees. If you would like to establish a peaceful atmosphere of calm and harmony where you live, plant trees. If you would like to experience the seasons’ weather more fully at home, whether tempest, stillness, snow, winter, summer, plant trees.
In the part of the Island where I live, we have white oaks and beetlebungs of approximately the same vintage, pre-First World War, some of which are about 60 feet tall. The white oaks have deep root systems, and are happy to share their space with grass, sedge, and smaller bushes and perennials. If permitted to grow in the open, they become expansive pasture oaks, similar in habit to the North Tisbury oak, spreading almost wider than they are tall. In woodland they tower in a more vaselike shape.
Beetlebungs, on the other hand, are more variable, and are found in several habitats, ranging from upland to swamp, and their pattern of growth is generally intriguing. Prevailing winds sculpt them into fantastic contours, while branches of many in woodlands spread in a lordly downward sweep from heights approaching 50 feet. The neat foliage, fine twigginess of habit, and spectacular fall color are all additional landscape attractions of beetlebung, while the fruits make them wildlife-friendly.
A large component of shade trees’ suitability for the domestic landscape requires coexisting with lawns, which almost automatically eliminates most shallow-rooted trees such as maples. Beetlebungs function well as shade trees in lawns, having a taproot, although they may sucker and form groves over time, such as Beetlebung Corners.
In the garden
Today I celebrate the first two flowers of the season on the 50-year-old gardenia I have had since about 1966.
Garlic harvest is underway. Hold off as long as possible for maximum development of heads, but harvest before the cloves begin to separate within the papery covering. Curing is important to the storing quality of garlic: 10 to 14 days in a shaded, airy place is ideal (no banging to rid it of excess soil).
Head back lavenders.
Sow fall crops to fill spaces left by spring vegetables that have been harvested. These include but are not limited to beets, carrots, bush beans, Swiss chard, squashes, Asian greens, and radicchio.
After over a year of practicing deep litter in the henhouse, we shoveled out a large accumulation of desiccated fertilizer. I am trying out a mulch/worm-farming scheme where aisles in the vegetable garden are covered with cardboard, covered in turn with the litter. I will post whether it kills everything nearby, or acts as an earthworm accelerant.