Garden Notes: Meadowsong

Listen for the fading sounds of summer.

Buddleia’s ripening seedheads self-sow prolifically. —Susan Safford

The fair gets underway today, Thursday, and runs through Sunday. It is the Island’s homecoming weekend, beautiful baby contest, bragging-rights fest, and face-to-face meetup. Do yourself a favor and avail yourself of VTA bus service to get to the fairgrounds.


Birds now fall largely silent, apart from distant cawing crows. The bittersweet realization is inescapable: Summer really is winding down, we are on the far side of our circle around the sun, and winter — and far fewer photons — is our imminent destiny and future. It seems unjust.

Still, the “sweet” of that bittersweet characterization is the throbbing continuo of what I call meadowsong. Pay insufficient attention — go to work every day and watch the nightly news — and it remains unnoticed, just a dial tone or white background noise.

Is the phrase my invention? I do not know, but in the context of Island life, as soon as you read this, you must recognize what it is: the quintessence of high summer.

Listen for it, focus — turn off devices, block out traffic, sirens, airplanes droning — and sometimes it is thunderously audible. Every cricket, grasshopper, katydid, and cicada is urgently performing, for us incidentally, but mainly, to woo mates. They must be found, eggs must be laid, and the future performance of the meadowsong orchestral suite must be planned for.

It is true that the digital and cash-based communities function on linear time, but time viewed the meadowsong way is cyclical: endless spirals of timeless repetition.


And drenching dew

Partnering with meadowsong are characteristic late-summer atmospheric conditions that produce heavy morning dews. This is the go-ahead signal for powdery mildew, which may now be seen on foliage of lilacs, phlox (of course), squash, sunflowers, grapes, and just about anything else green that happens to host the spores, if the conditions are right: dampness above and dryness at the root.

Practice watering that serves the root zone only, avoiding the foliage. Water early in the day, to allow maximum drying time. Transplant or thin plant clumps to allow for better air circulation.

Neem and horticultural oils, compost teas, antidesiccants, and quaint sour milk/baking soda mixtures all have value as spray ingredients to foil powdery mildew, but once a leaf is afflicted, its ability to photosynthesize is compromised, and it is essentially kaput.

Hoped-for harvest

August characterizes the time of ripening. One old adage says we must plant three times as much as we need to receive our own portion. There is much competition for what we grow: the birds and bugs want to eat too, not to mention diseases our plants may invite. Planting with a generous hand helps ensure everyone’s share.

The concept of the fruit cage is more familiar to European gardeners (thieving magpies, etc.) than it is to American ones. While we are apt to put up ramshackle arrangements to keep marauders off, the serious British, French, and Dutch gardeners are masters of armoring every square centimeter of their fruit plots to maximize their harvest.

With thought put into designing and siting these structures, not only can we harvest more blueberries and raspberries for breakfast, but our gardens may also acquire architectural gravitas from their presence! The following link illustrates a variety of fruit cage styles:

In the Northern Hemisphere, as the earth spins along and receives a longer light wave, a signal is sent to everything under the sun, one that precipitates the processes of ripening. We subject cultivated plots to conscientious deadheading, pruning, and harvesting in order to counter this, to keep the beans or cukes or flowers coming.

However, late summer signifies not only human edible harvest but also the ripening and harvesting, by other life forms, of seeds and fruits of wild plants of our less tended surroundings.

Flowers of sumac are heading up. Rose hips and blue viburnum fruit clusters are now visible where in July they blended in with the background greenery. Many, such as ripening grasses, are beneath notice unless a flock of goldfinches happens to be delicately picking them over. However, it is hard to ignore towering pokeweeds bending heavily under the weight of plump berries, especially if birds target the clothesline or deck furniture with purple-stained fecal bombs.

Everything under the sun in the Northern Hemisphere is ripening seed, dispersing it, and setting the stage for the next generation. What does this have to do with my garden, you may ask.

To garden is to live in cyclical time. You may want to save seed for next year’s garden. You may want to propagate cuttings, or strawberry offsets, for the coming 2018 season. You may want to lessen the weeding burden, now and next year, by being as meticulous as possible about eliminating ripening seedheads, whether of weeds or of plants that self-sow heavily, such as biennials and shrubs like privet, sycamore maple, and buddleia. Ripe seeds of goldenrod and aster become airborne, much like dandelion’s.

In a more general way, this is a good time to take stock and jot down some notes about the direction and planning for the coming year: plants to be moved or eliminated. More of ephemeral cilantro and less of flourishing parsley? Will ‘Pink Princess’ take some of ‘Sungold’s’ space? Soil testing is appropriate at any time of year, but may be especially helpful now, as recommendations can be put into action over the coming eight or so months.

In the garden

Dig and divide irises.

Crops, such as greens of all kinds, brassicas, peas, and more, still have plenty of time. With approximately 10 weeks until frost, depending upon where your Island garden is located, this link from the National Garden Bureau cites 15 All-America Selections for fall planting at