Real Gardens, What's Happening

The Season’s Last Hurrah and a Surprising New Beginning

 

A few more weeks with the hoe.

A few more weeks with a hoe.

There are a few weeks left in my long, fitful gardening season. I will be busy trying to nail those lingering mischievous weeds. (How can I miss weeds, that I pass every day, with seed heads the size of Big Ben?) At the end of September I’ll put my hoe away and take a break so that I can enjoy October with no interruptions.

I grow tired of gardening. Every year, for the last 40 years, at this time of year, I want to get rid the whole bug-eaten mess and put it out on the curb for junk pickup day.

Bug-eaten wild ginger, Asarum canadense.

Bug-eaten wild ginger, Asarum canadense.

But the heat must have gotten to me. Suddenly, without warning, I feel clingy. I don’t want to toss out my garden.

Aster ageratoides 'Harry Schmidt' nestled in the foliage of Iris tectorum, Japanese roof Iris.

Aster ageratoides ‘Harry Schmidt’ nestled in the foliage of Iris tectorum, Japanese roof Iris.

I remember 15 years ago when my mother ceremonially brought my childhood Bill Mazeroski signature baseball glove to my office. Mazeroski played his entire professional career for the Pittsburgh Pirates and is remembered for belting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, in game 7, to win the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Mom said, “I’m sure you’d like to have your glove again.”

I said, “Wow, thank you, Mom,” and tossed the glove in the dumpster as soon as she left. Now I miss the old baseball mitt.

It rained steadily all this past spring. I worried I was getting too old—for not just one garden but also for a second cultivated patch. I have my principal garden in the city and a smaller garden in the country. I pared back the city garden last fall and converted some scree beds into turf. Chores didn’t seem much easier this spring. I couldn’t keep up with the weeds.

Begonia grandis

Begonia grandis

I was in trouble. If I couldn’t find enthusiasm for the spring garden, heaven forbid what was in store for August. But, as outlooks are wont to do, mine changed.

When I was in the retail business, customers would drive to Holbrook Farm (1980-1995) in Fletcher, NC. The frantic, nursery season began in early April and ended in late May. The most ambitious customers would arrive with gardening magazines, and many of those had pages marked for special plants. English gardens were the rage back then.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa

Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa

Some were thinking about a BIG perennial border. How about something along the scale of 200’ long x 18’ wide? I was thinking about paying down my bank line of credit. I knew these spring dreamers were digging a big hole. I was already in the hole.

I would ask, “How much time do you want to spend in the garden?”

They looked at me like I was crazy. “As much time as possible,” they would answer.

I turned the question around. “How much time do you want to spend in the August garden?”

“Well, I don’t want to spend any time in the heat and humidity.”

Rain lily, Zephyranthes candida

Rain lily, Zephyranthes candida

I burst their bubble every time. I stared at big station wagons as they drove back up Lance Lane. The fish got away.

I was not a good businessman. I should have approached retail sales like a tent show revival preacher. Nobody should have driven away with dreams dashed.

My customers were probably happier with smaller gardens, but because of my honesty, I nearly went broke.

I closed the nursery in 1995, packed up and started a new garden in Louisville.

My warning about the dread of the late summer garden rang true for the next 21 years. Legendary weeds, heat, humidity, mosquitoes and chiggers. Who the hell wants any of it?

Well, it’s part of the deal.

Castor bean, Ricinus communis, 'New Zealand Purple'.

Castor bean, Ricinus communis, ‘New Zealand Purple’.

Abigail Rennekamp and I talked about the deal this summer. Abi and grew up together and have been sharing gardening notes for over 30 years. We’re 65 this year and Medicare-ready. Our dopamine levels are diminished. Our gardens are a big chore. We’re tired.

I was at a crossroads.

Abi, a great gardener, told me she’d begun to think of her garden as a fun workplace. I didn’t pick up the meaning right away.

And then it struck me, several weeks later. Of course the garden is work. Some days are better than others. “Sometimes you just need to change your perspective,” Abi said.

Abi Rennekamp in her Crestwood, KY garden with Amsonia hubrichtii in the foreground. Also Tetrapanax paypyrifer in the middle ground and Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' in the background. A sneak preview of the goldenrod, Solidago 'Fireworks' is in the bottom left hand corner.

Abi Rennekamp in her Crestwood, KY garden with Amsonia hubrichtii in the foreground. Also Tetrapanax paypyrifer in the middle ground and Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ in the background. A sneak preview of the goldenrod, Solidago ‘Fireworks’, is in the bottom left-hand corner.

I thought of an interview I heard on NPR, with the writer Reynolds Price, many years ago. Price, who had grown up in rural North Carolina, was asked what his greatest gift as a child had been. He said his favorite gift had come from his grandmother. She had told him a story.

Reynolds Price’s grandmother compared life to a traffic light. She explained that the light stays green for a long time, but eventually it turns yellow and you have to slow down. And then the light turns red and you have to stop. And wait.

Be patient and the light will, sooner or later, turn green again. Is it any wonder that Price’s outstanding novel is called “A Long and Happy Life?”

A pawpaw (Asimina triloba) seed germinated in Louisville on August 31, a year after raccoons had eaten the fruit clean and left seeds scattered all over the place. It’s intriguing why pawpaw seeds wait so late in the growing season to germinate. (First frost may come within six weeks.)

Pawpaw seeds have an undeveloped embryo that requires an extended ripening period, in the ground, before germination. Naturally occurring chemical inhibitors may delay germination for two years.

A new paw paw tree.

A new pawpaw tree.

This pawpaw seed sent up a cotyledon (pictured here), and within 10 days, a full set of leaves emerged. The seedling is putting down a courageous taproot sufficient to get it through the first winter.

During this god-awful, hot and humid late summer, the heroic pawpaw seed pulled away from its mooring and came to life.

The traffic light turned green again.

I grabbed my lunch pail and thermos and walked out to the garden.

I had work to do.

Posted by on September 14, 2016 at 9:41 am, in the category Real Gardens, What's Happening.
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30 responses to “The Season’s Last Hurrah and a Surprising New Beginning”

  1. Sarah says:

    Great post, Allen. That paw-paw seedling came along in the nick of time!

  2. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Thanks, Andrea. I love chartreuse. I’d love to get back to Elizabeth’s one day.

  3. Andrea Sprott says:

    Allen, This is so wise… so well said. It made me sad, thinking you were so close to giving up on all of the magic a garden brings. Yes, it’s work. as my mentor, Elizabeth Lawrence said, “a garden demands as much of its maker as he is willing to give.” Granted, I’m a bit younger than you, but I already feel the yellow light coming on. The trick is to slow myself down just a tad now – and leave a little more space between me and the car (exhaustion) in front of me. Hopefully, that will lead to a lengthy CHARTREUSE light situation… a happy medium between those green and yellow lights. Thank you for always inspiring me with your insights. And please come visit me in Elizabeth Lawrence’s garden someday!

  4. allen bush says:

    Katherine, gardeners are a very resilient bunch. More dreamscapes, please.

  5. allen bush says:

    Greg, Amen brother!

  6. marcia says:

    I do love to work the garden in late summer and the fall, because November can be special, too.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKl9DwlR9Hs

    BTW, there are some good articles online on acclimating to the heat and how adaptations to heat are reversed at twice the rate they are acquired once exposure to heat ends. So, we can’t take too many days off! :-)

  7. Greg says:

    I remember about 5 years ago when I was working in the garden on a hot southern Virginia day. After about 4 hours, I was pushing my wheelbarrow into the backyard and noticed my heart was pounding, my breathing was labored and my head was dizzy. And then it hit me – “Dude, you’re not 25 anymore”. I’m now 60 and I am a little wiser, and understand I’m allowed to slow down and just enjoy the garden more. That helps keep the light green quite a bit longer.

  8. the drought and record breaking heat takes a toll on both the garden and the person who tends it, but we gardeners are eternal optimists. Once we receive a good rainy spell and the return of cooler temperatures we will revisit our little haven and conspire more dreamscapes.

  9. […] The Season’s Last Hurrah and a Surprising New Beginning originally appeared on Garden Rant on September 14, 2016. […]

  10. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Thank you, Tom. I miss the cooler nights along Fanning Bridge Road. We’re getting a dose of cooler nights, but the daytime temps are still way too hot.

  11. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Renee, I hope October lets you forget the weeds and the deer. I’d want to save asters, solidagos, ‘Limelight’ and even a floppy black-eyed Susan, too.

  12. allen bush says:

    Rosella, Paul McKinney was a former neighbor of mine in North Carolina and a very wise man. During one dry spell, I asked if he thought it was ever going to rain again. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “it’ll rain again one day.” And, of course, it will but prolonged dry spells are the worst. Day after day. I hope you get some rain soon.

  13. allen bush says:

    Gail, thanks. You’ve got a sweet little pawpaw of your own. Congratulations!

  14. allen bush says:

    Helen, you never know when the little pawpaw moment will come. It came in the nick of time, here in Louisville.

  15. allen bush says:

    Louise, you got a dose of our heat and humidity this summer. Come back soon. It will cool down — I hope.

  16. allen bush says:

    Be patient, Ruth. The light is about to turn. In the meantime, see you this weekend.

  17. allen bush says:

    Marcia, I’m going to cut the difference with Kipling — plod along a bit with mulberry weed (Fatoua villosa) and then sit in the shade for a spell, and look across the garden for more mulberry weeds.

  18. allen bush says:

    Carol, my Asteromea (Kalimeris) is going strong.

  19. allen bush says:

    Thank you, Abi. You gave me the little push to keep on going — well, at least until 11:00 this morning. Then it got too hot. I am enjoying the cooler evenings.

  20. Tom Ranney says:

    Oh, how I do love your great musings. Please write more. Thanks so much. Tom

  21. Renee Beaulieu says:

    Thanks for this. I am definitely at a red light at the moment, and ready to pave the whole thing over. Drought, weeds, deer are winning. Hmmm. But maybe I wouldn’t quite pave fence line to fence line. I might save the asters, the solidagos, the ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas, the floppy tall rudbeckias, even though they’re floppy. Oh, and maybe a few other things. Really looking forward to cooler weather, though.

  22. Rosella says:

    Allen, thank you for the encouragement! I am pushing 80, and have been gardening since I was 6. Sometimes now though the green light is awfully slow to show up, especially this horridly hot and humid summer. And still no rain in Virginia to encourage this old lady.

  23. Gail says:

    Thank you Allen, I so needed to read this post.

  24. Ruth Rogers Clausen says:

    Loved your rant Allen. I remember visiting Holbrook soon many years ago! First place I saw Angelica gigas! It was quite new at the time.
    Can certainly relate to red and green lights! Seem to have been struggling on yellow for quite some time in the drought/heat/humidity of Z&. . .and I thought NY was bad! Too hot eve to do a rain dance, although we sorely need it.
    Thanks for your friendship and fine writing! Ruth

  25. Waiting for my paw-paw moment. Hope it comes soon. This was a lovely read, Allen.

  26. Louise Gray says:

    You did a great job explaining why we just
    keep going back outside to tend our plants.
    Can’t help it!

  27. Ruth Rogers Clausen says:

    Loved this Allen. Remember coming to Holbrook way back—first time I saw Angelica gigas! I can certainly relate to your plight in the garden, especially since I have moved to hot, muggy Z7! I thought it was pretty bad in the NY area. I wonder why I seem to have so few pictures of gardens in late July and August! i so enjoyed life as a traffic light. . .so true! Waiting for another green light very soon!

  28. marcia says:

    Personally, other than the need to weed and water if necessary, there’s not much to do in the garden through July. From August through Fall is when I really need and want to be in the garden. The vegetables are rockin’ and the pollinators are out in force and need me to deadhead, water, and fertilize for months. We’re in a drought, so I’m kept busy. Heck, it’s so dry in Maryland, I had five species of butterfly on my sliced cantaloupe and watermelon this morning.

    You said, “I had work to do.”
    :-)

    Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.
    ————-Rudyard Kipling

  29. Carol says:

    That was beautiful. I’m heading out to my garden now, too.

  30. Abi says:

    I love it and so agree with this. I think in August I don’t want to garden anymore then we begin to get those cool mornings, the spiders weave their webs, a few good rainfalls and I am out pulling weeds, cutting back the stems of hostas that the deer chose not to eat and taking pictures of the cool seedpods of paeonia obavata, euonymous americana and the berries of the different callicarpa and ilex verticillatas – and I am happy once again in my garden. Thanks for all your contributions to the natural world, Allen:~D