Guest Rants, Shut Up and Dig

I give up on my garden in the dead of summer

Reeves2I have a confession. I let my garden go to hell in the dead of summer. Even worse? I think I might be okay with that.

In the intense sun and dry heat of the Colorado summer, I become a lazy gardener. I have to admit that unlike ranter Allen Bush, I know how to “sit a spell”; it’s possible that by late summer, I’ve become too good at sitting back and watching my garden do as it will.

I let the bindweed get out of control before I drag my heels through the yard and pull it out in a huff. I let my newly xeriscaped front yard get parched and faded before I even consider watering and deadheading it. I refuse to water my established perennials at all, and, by now, only the most xeric flourish. I don’t even bother fertilizing. And that area that’s supposed to be the “lawn”? Forget about it. We decided to stop wasting water on that a long time ago.

While I try to be confident in my laissez-faire garden attitude, I still feel guilty when I think about all of the plans I made for the yard in the preceding months. A xeric, pollinator-friendly garden to replace the lawn. A lovely flagstone pathway with creeping thyme perfectly filling in the spaces. A native wildflower patch bursting with flowers and buzzing with bees. Swaying swaths of ornamental grasses. A tidy little veggie garden. While I made a brave attempt at all of the above in the spring, I do little more than water the veggie garden and containers by the time we hit July.

I can live with a little garden guilt — I am a mother after all — but the gardens I admire on my daily walks have the potential to send me into a downward spiral of garden despair and insecurity. These gardens have colorful flowers, verdant plants and lush lawns. It’s clear that the owners of these gardens water, weed and fertilize. In other words, they garden.

I claim to be a gardener, but when the endless dry spells and scorching heat of the Colorado summer hits, I question my fortitude. Do I have the grit? Maybe I should stick to the reading, dreaming and designing that I enjoy so much. Maybe I should stick to enjoying the true gardeners’ gardens.

Nope. It turns out I can’t entertain that notion longer than it took to write it. My garden may not be perfect, but it sure as hell is well-loved. So, I guess I’ll keep forging ahead as a “fair-weather gardener”. I love to dream in the winter, work hard in the spring and sit a spell in the heat of the summer. And I think I might be okay with that.

Posted by Emily Reeves on July 26, 2016 at 7:31 am, in the category Guest Rants, Shut Up and Dig.
16 Comments

16 responses to “I give up on my garden in the dead of summer”

  1. So glad that you continue to enjoy gardening, despite the challenges. That is what makes a true gardener! I understand the difficulty of gardening in the heat, this scorcher Colorado summer has pushed my farm chores to the early morning hours and evening. I’m proud of how the gardens are faring under this heat!

    • Emily says:

      You must have the right stuff growing, Lynn! I’m looking at everyone else’s gardens around town and taking note of what’s blooming, because I think part of my mistake has been not planting enough flowers that bloom in late summer.

  2. Susie Hesse says:

    Hello Emily,
    Your rant was a breath of fresh air for me this morning!! It was like my same words on the screen. I talk at my garden in the heat of summer and say, “I know some of you aren’t going to make it, I had big hopes for you! You were going to fill in that empty spot with beautiful healthy foilage and breathtaking lasting blooms!”
    I could go on, but the freedom of reading all the rants is so refreshing. Sharing this reality of a real garden isn’t negative (maybe a little) it’s reality! It’s not just me!! Thanks so much.

    • Emily says:

      Thank YOU, Susie, for your response. Sometimes I feel like I’m a failure at this whole gardening thing, but I love it too much to throw in the towel. I’m so glad I’m not the only one, too! Today is our first cloudy, cool day all summer long, and I can’t stop thinking about all of the stuff I want to get done before the heat returns!

  3. Jenny says:

    Ditto. It’s been over 95F for weeks now and with the humidity of the coastal south it’s just brutal. I’ve given up on the veggie garden, too, although the peppers, okra and basil all seem relatively happy on their own. I’m pretending I don’t see the chamberbitter and Mexican clover taking over.

  4. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Emily, I enjoyed your piece very much. I’m very happy you can sit a spell.

  5. Eliz. says:

    With hundreds of people participating in open gardens and garden walks throughout July in WNY, rest assured that we are irrigating! It has been very hot and dry here too. Maybe not 100s but 90s.

  6. marcia says:

    For me, gardening really takes off in mid-July here in the hot D.C. suburbs.
    My garden is only indirectly for me. It is really for the wildlife. My house took their land, my car pollutes their sky. The food I consume destroys their habitat. Thus, I give back and it’s from July to, now, November, that I need to offer help.

    Fertilization and water increase not only the number of flowers but also the amount of nectar pollen per flower. There’s a reduction in time to first discovery and increased visit length. Sugar content of nectar increases. Most moths and butterflies have only recently emerged and it is now when they need a food source for nutrition and reproduction success.

    I water the plants, the native insects come day and night, I enjoy their company, they pollinate my vegetable garden, (studies demonstrate that tomatoes pollinated by native bees produce larger and more numerous fruits. Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes because they cannot vibrate the tomato flower and the flowers do not produce nectar), and as everything fades around me, my oasis, their oasis, becomes as necessary for my happiness on our increasingly stressed planet, as it is necessary for their survival.

    • Emily says:

      That’s a great way to look at mid-summer gardening, and I, too, am passionate about habitat gardening. I do make a point to have only drought-tolerant flowers and grasses, and many native flowers in my landscape, so the birds and pollinators still have some blooms to visit. We have many bees, swallowtails, hummingbird moths, yellow finches and hummingbirds in our yard, for instance. However, the water is definitely missing. I know pollinators and birds would appreciate a water source and that’s something I need to figure out in the future. Thanks for your insight!

  7. skr says:

    Watering is easy with an irrigation system and/or greywater distribution system. Drip is quite efficient and you can just set it up to water deeply once a month in summer to be frugal. Greywater can completely change how you garden as it is a constant supply of water. With a branched drain layout you end up with areas that stay fairly wet and as such requires different plants than the super drought tolerant ones that a typical xeriscaped garden would use.

    • Emily says:

      Ah, yes, drip systems are the best. That’s what I have in the veggie garden, and I love it. I think once-a-month watering would be do-able, even with my strict “waterwise” gardening approach in our drought-prone location. I love the greywater idea. Thanks!

  8. Laura Munoz says:

    I think it’s just a tad bit harder for those gardeners who receive extreme summer heat and drought. You almost can’t keep up with the watering unless you water with sweat and never mind the weeds.

    I remember one summer in Austin, TX where the heat was so bad I couldn’t look at the garden. We had something like 100 days over 100 F that summer. The garden was fried, and I thought for certain this was the end. Come late September – early October when we got rain, most things bounced back and made me proud. Those that died weren’t meant to be there.

    • Emily says:

      Agreed. I try to limit my plantings to xeric, heat-tolerant plants that will survive anything. And my garden is at its best in the spring and fall. The heat is exhausting, that’s for sure. The only time I feel like I can get anything done is after my son goes to bed, and by that point, it’s getting dark and all I want is a glass of wine!

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