We are under the solstice sun, the longest day of the year. Kristin Kimball summed up the impact of this in her Essex Farm (N.Y.) blog post of Week 22, writing, “You understand the urgency of June when you think about what farming essentially is: the art of capturing sunlight, converting it to matter, and using it to meet human need. We have sunlight in abundance now, but it peaks … [today], then recedes until the tide turns again at the end of December.”
The late spring garden
Gardens display the late spring combo of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), roses, and peonies. In traditional gardens of our area, they make for a lovely composition. The forms, the colors, the fullness of June gardens — at this moment they peak.
The peonies and roses are garden “lifers,” planted in the hope that they perform for many years in the garden. Almost all blend with each other effortlessly. Choose carefully and plant well; these are capable of standing by you, and your children’s children. Give them some purple salvia as companions: Voilà! A perfect arrangement. Ah, but with the addition of foxgloves, then you have added the magical element. Foxgloves might be termed fickle and flighty, unlike those lifer roses and peonies: biennial, planting themselves in places and colors that please them, and collapsing when done. The stately plants stand silent sentinel in the garden, giving it a hushed aura. If they are what you desire, follow these easy tips.
Select the colors that you like, whether at the garden center, or from plants sown from a packet of seed. In Digitalis purpurea these range from white through creamy yellow, to blush pink, to mauve and full-on purple-pink.
(There are other races and hybrids of Digitalis, such as short-lived yellow perennial D. grandiflora and strawberry pink D. x mertonensis, but for purposes of naturalizing in your garden or wilder areas, D. purpurea is the one you want.)
Let the flower spikes age on the plant until seed capsules become plump and green; then, when turning brown, and just before they break open and shatter, cut the stems and lay the stalks where you wish to have future foxgloves. The dustlike seed will spread itself and germinate.
Do not mulch where you are attempting to establish the foxgloves: it smothers the tiny plants. You should have foxglove babies by the bazillions! Gently transplant them to locations where you want them to grow, and let them grow in place. This is a shade-tolerant biennial.
Share the garden
June 10: First sighting of tiger swallowtail. June 16: First sighting of clearwing dragonfly. Fireflies: None seen yet. Hoping I am not sounding overly precious, I want to note these visitors. All insect lifeforms seem to be under stress that makes their existence tenuous; but these are showy enough to have fans and supporters.
The lowliest life of the garden constitutes dinner for the next level up, birds, spiders, wasps, and other predators. They in turn express the life we observe when we are outside, although what we see is just a fraction of what is really going on. Take your time reaching for the sprayer, and remember: All things are interconnected; everything goes somewhere (such as those sprays); there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and Nature bats last.
It appears to be taking over the Island’s waste places. Cleavers, Galium aparine, also known as goosegrass, is said to be one of the inspirations from Nature for the invention of Velcro, and is apparent now everywhere. When we take the sticky little seed balls home with us on our socks and pants legs, cleavers is hitchhiking to its newest location.
However, according to the Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants (Andrew Chevallier) cleavers is a valuable diuretic; is taken for skin diseases, for swollen lymph glands, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. The use is dried aerial parts in tea. Collect just before flowering in late spring.
In the garden
Stephen Anderton, a well-known garden figure in the U.K., wrote the useful “10 Gardening Mistakes” in a May garden supplement of The Times of London, bit.ly/UKmistakes (a subscription is required), which I condensed and paraphrase below:
“You prune roses too gently.” You need to be brutal to encourage strong growth and not let roses become old, woody, and unproductive. Keep growth coming from low down by taking out selected fat, old wood from the base.
“You don’t plant things deeply enough.” It may look deep enough when placed, but once soil settles, roots may be exposed. Make sure you dig a deep hole in the first place. (I am guilty of this.)
“You overwater pots.” Water generously but occasionally; do not water again until soil looks and feels dry on top. Overwatering may produce wilting that looks identical to that of a thirsty plant. Lift pot; water only if it feels light.
“You hoe when the weeds are already too big.” Hoes are for slicing through seedlings, not established weeds.
“You pot on into containers that are too big.” Pot on gradually, into pots only a few centimeters bigger. Overpotting produces sour soil.
“You prune in winter to slow down growth.” Applies more in the U.K. than here, but Anderton claims that winter pruning provokes fast new growth, while July pruning produces slower, bushier growth.
“You plant hedges that grow too fast.” Everyone wants maximum privacy fast, but planting superfast-growing species, such as leylandii, means more clipping later when they outgrow their space.
“You are too rough with tools.” Use, do not abuse!
“You tuck shoots behind wires.” Or drainpipes, a lazy habit. Tuck some string in your pocket when gardening or working on ladders.