Angst In August

“What’s wrong?” 

That was the first question Joe, my partner, asked me the other day.  At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong, other than I felt a little sluggish and unmotivated to do anything.  Then I looked at the calendar.  August. 

I’m quite conflicted when it comes to the 8th month of the year.  I know it’s still summer, which I’m thrilled about, but inside I feel dread and sadness, as if the clock has begun ticking on the garden around me.   And once that thought takes hold, all other melancholic ideas start to sprout.  To put it simply, I’m summer saturated.

For starters, everything in the yard looks overgrown.  The Sunflowers can’t stretch any higher, and they are so crowded and top heavy that they are all falling over at odd slants.  The leaves on the trees are dull green.  Most of the annuals look tired.  The grass is burnt.   The Hydrangea flower heads have started to fade away.  Everything looks sloppy.  My impulse is to go out there and rip everything out of the ground and start all over again with new seedlings.  But that would be ridiculous.  As it is, the days of these plants are already numbered.

Then there is the change in shadow.  As the Earth and Sun have done their celestial dance on the way to the autumnal equinox, I have noticed that where there once was sun, there is now shade.  Just ask the Gazanias.  A week ago, they basked in hours and hours of summer sun.  Now, the shadow of the house lingers a little longer over their bed.

And let’s not forget about the quiet changes in weather.  While the days are still warm, nighttime temperatures have begun their subtle decline.  On some mornings, I can smell the faintest whisp of fall in the air. 

That is, perhaps, where most of my hostility toward August stems from: I know what’s coming.  Leaves will start to change, tropicals will have to be dug and stored for the winter, terracotta pots will need to be cleaned and packed away,  nights will become longer.  I can practically feel Light Deprivation Disorder bubbling up.

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Lily’s Grand Opening

"The stars are ageless, aren't they?"

Let me first begin by saying that this is not the post that I had planned — but some plants tend to be divas.  My initial idea was to give you a “Bloomin’ Update,” with a series of photos documenting the opening of a lily.  My one and only lily that hasn’t been seen in years.  To use a film reference, this lily is my very own Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard fame. 

This post actually began long ago, well before there was a blog.  I had planted three lilies in what I will call the perennial garden.  In fact, the perennial garden was really my first attempt at gardening, and I felt the need to fill it with as many flowers as I could order, purchase, find, borrow, root.  There was really no rhyme or reason.  Regardless, the lilies bloomed beautifully, but their perfume was overpowering.  At times, I wasn’t sure if I was smelling my yard or the funeral home that backs against the woods behind my property. 

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Bloomin’ Update 5: Hot Colors & Cool Thoughts

Hot colors in the heat dome.

The newscasters and weather forecasters are having a field day with the heat wave.  They’re frying eggs on the pavement and baking cookies in cars and they have a new term, “heat dome,” to describe the blistering weather pattern.  The urgency in their voices reminds me of “The Twilight Zone” episode where the Earth is moving closer to the sun.  These are the same people, mind you, who whip up winter hysteria when snow is predicted.  It seems that no matter what Mother Nature throws at us, she’ll never make everyone happy.

I must admit, though, I am enjoying the heat dome — or as I call it, summer.  Yes, it’s hot, and yes, I’m spending lots of time quenching my thirsty plants.  For lots of reasons — too many to get into here  —  I like the warmth.  I like the casualness of the season.  And I like the time spent in the garden, because the days of the heat dome are numbered. 

In honor of this sentiment, I would like to share a few hot colors from around the yard, as well as a few cool thoughts to remind us of what was and what will come.

My reward for saving Canna corms each autumn.

The potting shed.

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Do You Suffer From G-SAD?

I have done what every therapist and doctor advises people not to do.  I have self-diagnosed, but let me first explain.

It’s summertime, and Joe and I are going on vacation for a few days.  It’s a chance to relax, to get away from everything, to reconnect, to breathe.  In actuality, though, the days leading up to departure mean a growing sense of unease and worry.  I become consumed with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and stress — and none of it comes from the what-to-pack, what-not-to-pack scenario, nor from the airport pat-down, nor from who will mind the dog and the cat, nor from the last-second question, “Did I remember to take my trusted Swiss army knife out of my carry-on?”  No.  For me, the physical-emotional symptoms stem from leaving my garden and entrusting its care to someone other than myself.  I am now calling these symptoms Garden Separation Anxiety Disorder, also known as G-SAD, as in, “Gee, that’s sad.”

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Yankee Doodle Gardeners

In a previous post, I compared my father taming the wilds of his suburban yard to that of the colonists first arriving in the New World.  It’s an interesting idea, when you stop to think of the immense responsibilities facing those early Americans.  Imagine – an entire continent to landscape, the creation of a national identity for a fledgling nation.  Someone should probably write a book about it.

Fortunately for us, Andrea Wulf has.  Her recently published Founding Gardeners has been well-received by critics, and rightly so.  It is an impressive work that takes an in-depth look at the great figures who shaped a young nation – and she does this by weaving moments in early American history with the beliefs and philosophies of our Founding Fathers, most of whom were avid gardeners, botanists, landscapers and farmers.   In fact, they were as passionate about the idea of the United States as they were about seed exchanges and experimenting with new agricultural methods.

Rich in historic detail, each chapter is devoted to a revolutionary, starting with George Washington.  Her insight and descriptive style paints a new portrait of the men we’ve only considered to be statesmen, generals, or lawyers.  As readers, we are treated to each man’s creation of their personal gardens, such as Mt. Vernon and Monticello.

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Celebrating The Good Old Summer Time

Aaaahhhh.  The Summer Solstice.  For me, it’s a reminder of just how little we are.  Just think about it.  As we go about our ordinary lives, our giant orb revolves and rotates in a celestial dance, rewarding northerners with the longest day and shortest night.  (Of course, the pessimist in me says, “Great, now the days start to get shorter, the nights longer, and winter is just around the corner.”  Quite a jump, I know.) 

The Three Village Garden Club held their judged flower show at the Neighborhood House in Setauket, Long Island.

In any event, it’s no wonder that ancient Druids to modern-day beachgoers celebrate this day.  That’s why I took up my friend Rachel’s invitation to attend a judged flower show, hosted by her Three Village Garden Club on Long Island and scheduled to coincide with the Summer Solstice.

Although I do consider myself a gardener, I am of the backyard variety.  Garden club members, though, are a whole other breed of gardener.  I mean, I like to garden, usually for myself and Joe.  Garden club members take it to a competitive level, and the Three Village Garden Club is no exception.  These gardeners know latin and common names, and they carefully drive their entries, each in small glass vases, to the competition.  I get upset when my grocery bag with the milk falls over when I make a left turn — can you imagine if my hydrangea entry took a spill?

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To Plant A Seed And Wait, Is To Believe

A few years ago, a friend gave me a plaque with this inscription and a bag of muscari bulbs.  I was struck, because I am by no means a holy roller, but I did hang the plaque on a wall in my potting shed.  And each day when I worked in the shed, I stared at that nine-word phrase, and I gained a greater understanding of why I enjoy gardening.  So, as my first post, I again look to that plaque as a starting point, because what better way to start than with a seed.

I love seeds.  They come in all sizes and shapes, and each one holds so much promise of growth and color and bounty.  My favorite part of winter is actually after Christmas, because that’s when the seed catalogs arrive.  I spread everything, including myself, out on the living room floor, surrounded by pages and pages of color photographs and plant descriptions.   I am like a child again studying the Sears and Penney’s Christmas catalogs.   And after I go through the catalogs once, I start all over again.   And let’s not forget about the free gifts.  I would never purchase my own tomato seeds–but a free sample??  That’s a gift for me and for my father on Father’s Day.  I make a wish list, and then edit it down to something that’s more manageable and realistic.  In my head, I am a LAND owner.  In reality, space and time are very real limitations. Continue reading