Summer Wisdom for Summer Afternoons

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To quote Henry James: “Summer afternoon–summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

What’s clear to me about the above quote by James is that he either wasn’t a gardener, or he had someone–or a staff of someones–to do his gardening for him!

Most gardeners I know find that by about this point in the gardening season, the weeds are as high–or higher–than the plants, the lack of rain has made constant watering a chore (or the converse has happened–it’s rained too much and molds and mildews are rotting out plants). By this point in the gardening season, I am heartily wishing for winter.

That’s why it was such a treat to receive a complementary copy of Garden Wisdom: 365 Days by Cheryl Wilfong.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the accompanying letter instructed me to open the book to “today’s date” and read the meditation, so I did. And then I read the one from the day before. And then I back-tracked and read randomly from the “Spring” meditations because I didn’t want to skip ahead and spoil the ones that I had in front of me.

Each one is a little treat, like a perfect little sweet at the end of a meal, or a cool, freshly made drink (you fill in your favorite drink of choice here!)

The book is made up of meditations from Cheryl’s blog The Meditative Gardener. Both the blog and her book have won numerous awards.

And so now, thoroughly brought back to the wisdom of living in the moment–or attempting to, anyway–I will say that I do highly recommend the book. Anything that can drag me out of a weeding funk has really got something going for it!

Sterile versus “Fruitful” Flowers

We all think about planting for bees and other pollinators most of the time, I think. It’s constantly in the news that our pollinators are in trouble, so if we have the choice of planting a shrub, perennial or even an annual that will provide some nectar, why wouldn’t we?

At first glance, these two flowers seem fairly similar, don’t they? Yes, one is a single form and one is a double. One has green leaves and one has variegated leaves. Those are the obvious differences.

What’s not so obvious–and what took me a few years to figure out–is that the flower on the right–the double variegated form (Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon or hibiscus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’) was sterile–in other words, it made no pollen for the bees.

This is a double edged sword because for those of you who know the characteristics of a typical rose of sharon, you know that unless you deadhead them after bloom, you will have fields of seedlings to contend with. And they root deeply too.

But the bees–and even hummingbirds–do love them. That pollen laden cone (made up of anther, stamens and filaments), in the center of the flower is generally covered in bees. This particular variety even has a red eye to draw in the hummingbirds. (This variety is Lil Kim, or
hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two.’)

So what to do? Does that mean you shouldn’t plant Sugar Tip? Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be taking my advice if I said “no!” I planted it in a spot where I clearly didn’t want a lot of self-sowing seedlings from another sort of hibiscus and that’s worked out quite nicely.

It does sort of break my heart when I see the bees visiting, though, looking for nectar that I know they won’t find.

Crop Circle?

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This first appeared in my lawn about a month ago. It was followed by something that looked like this.

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I was really mystified.

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And then I saw this. The rabbit is a little far away to see–she’s underneath the crab apple and quite alert to my presence. That’s why I didn’t want to get too close (although she does hop into my rose garden if I even dare to drive up the driveway)

So yes, by now you’ve guessed it–this isn’t an alien invasion after all–it’s a rabbit’s nest. And what I feared was destruction by a predator in the second photo (and may in fact have been) didn’t mean that the baby bunnies weren’t still alive–you can see the tunnel in the lawn. I presume they were in there. That’s why the “Mama” was so attentive and so reluctant to leave them in my last photo.

This nest has been used twice so far this summer. We’ll see how many more times it gets used before it us ultimately abandoned–or before nature takes its course and predators do get it.

Herbs for Pollinators?

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I have posted about herbs for bees before, when I was talking about self-cleaning annuals. But I think this group of plants gets over-looked as a pollinator source and it shouldn’t.

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Not only are the blossoms some of the prettiest around (these are chives, from earlier in the season, and yes, they are edible, although you don’t want to put a whole chive blossom on your salad. Better to break it into pieces,) but their colors are the right colors usually for bees and butterflies–purples and blues and whites.

The photo at the top is oregano.

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This is cilantro, going to seed and forming coriander seeds.

And sage (mine got too winter-killed to bloom this year) blooms in a lovely blue.

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Finally, this is anise hyssop (agastache) which is an herb in the mint family. Most folks just grow it as an ornamental perennial but it can be used for tea if it has been grown organically.

So in addition to growing herbs for use, why not grow some for the pollinators too?

Hydrangea Time

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This is my favorite time of year in the garden. I don’t grow any roses that are suitable for cutting. But my hydrangeas are, obviously, and I usually have some in bloom from about July 4 until–if I am lucky– early October.

What I particularly like is the way that the blooms change color over the season–and this is true no matter what varieties I am growing.

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The arborescens, or Annabelle, type, with their big white (or I do have pink varieties as well) will soften from white to lime–much like a PeeGee will.

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The pink arborescens fade to a buff color.

And of course, the blues change to muted mauve (but this will happen later in the season for me so no photos yet). Very nice.

I have different varieties coming along as well too. So much to look forward to!