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daylily

At the end of summer, ‘Happy Returns’ daylily still blooms.

When I say that I’m not ready for summer to end, I also have to admit that it would be great to have a break from the relentless heat and humidity. So it was nice to step out into a 62-degree, blue-sky day this morning and realize that it was a morning made for gardening.

My calendar shows that it’s a busy week ahead, but I set my timer for two hours, covered myself in bug spray, got out the tools and compiled a mental list of garden priorities:

amaranth1. Pull out the last, giant stalks of amaranth that have been shading everything else. It has already gone to seed, so that means I’ll have it again next year, but at least the kitchen garden is navigable again.

2. Finish digging the crabgrass and weeds out of the strawberry bed. This was a job I started late one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, but had to stop when I ran out of daylight. What I had to leave has continued to grow, and what I had already cleared of crabgrass, wild violets and wood sorrel was getting covered again, and the roots of weeds and strawberry plants have intertwined underground so it was a tedious job. But it’s clear of grass and weeds now, and that makes it easier to consider whether I should continue to maintain this strawberry patch, or dig it all up and make room for something else next year.

mulberry3. Pull out, cut down and dig up as many of the invasive paper mulberry* sprouts as possible. There’s a large paper mulberry tree and a thicket of smaller trees next door and its roots have sprouted in the kitchen garden and perennial beds since we’ve been gardening here, but this year, with all the rain, it’s been even more vigorous. It’s amazing how these sneaky sprouts grow out from under rocks and gravel and fence posts, and almost freaky how fast these things grow to tree size. They can quickly take over an area. I pulled and dug and cut as many as I could until my alarm buzzed (and a few more after the timer went off).

The priorities list is even longer, but my time is up. At least now I can see a way to start on the third garden season. I may try planting garlic this fall to see if I have as much success with it here as I do at Farm in the City. I may plant more spinach. Is it too late to plant beets?

* Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) is a fast-growing deciduous tree native to Taiwan and Japan that was introduced as a shade tree in the U.S. in the early 1900s. It can quickly out-compete and overwhelm native and other vegetation. It spreads by sprouting and suckering from the roots as well as by seeds distributed by birds. A suggested method for control is to pull up seedlings as soon as they sprout, but once they become trees, the only way to keep them at bay is to cut them and immediately apply herbicide such as glyphosate (Round-up) to the stump to destroy the root. I avoid using chemicals in the garden, but in this case I can’t say I’m not tempted!

August update

Zinnias

Zinnias are growing toward the sun and attracting bees in the garden out back.

I admit: with the mosquitoes, the chiggers, and the oppressive July heat, I’ve spent very little time in the garden out back — enough to harvest the beans, cucumbers and squash and to cut a few flowers, but not enough to dig weeds and clean out the raised beds. It’s a mess out there right now.

But when I had a little time on an overcast afternoon this week to begin to tidy up the garden beds, I found a few surprises. Here’s what’s happening out there as summer starts to wind down.

summer-cleomeCleome (aka spider flower) is a volunteer in one of the garden beds every year. The bed is on the shady side, and the flowers are usually wimpy and sparse. But the loss of a large portion of the massive elm tree a few weeks ago has opened up some sky, and all the beds are receiving more light this summer. The cleomes are happily showing off this year.

summer-tomatoThe volunteer tomatoes that inevitably sprout in the garden each year are usually the marble-size cherry tomatoes, good only for snacking on while I’m working in the garden. But yesterday, as I was untangling a tomato vine that had come up in a patch of snapdragons, I found this. I don’t know the variety, but it’s possibly a ‘Black Krim,’ which I had grown in one of the raised beds last year. It had been hiding on the ground, under the leaves, so I propped it up on an old wire cage and hope it ripens before the squirrels find it.

summer-amaranthThis scary-looking stuff is amaranth, which also goes by the common name love-lies-bleeding. It’s in the garden because several years ago I bought a bouquet ofsummer-leaves flowers that contained the unusual dangling seed heads, and later put the spent bouquet in the compost; the following year, when I spread the compost in the raised beds, hundreds of tiny purple seedlings began popping up. I’ve had amaranth in the garden every year since –whether I wanted it or not!

In the spring, I pull most of them out or dig them under. The stuff grows six feet tall and has thick stalks, and tends to shade out other, more desirable plants, but I leave a few because they really do add interest to cut-flower bouquets. And last year I discovered another use for it: as a trap crop for cucumber beetles. In my garden, the beetles chew holes in the amaranth foliage and leave the bush beans, which are growing underneath, alone.

Every time I’ve planted yellow squash, the plants have succumbed to squash vine borers before the squash gets large enough to harvest. As an experiment this year, I planted a squash plant in a large pot to see if it would grow and produce, and another two plants in the ground. This year, success! Thought it needs to be watered more often, the potted plant has produced several perfect (and perfectly delicious) squash; the plants in the ground have also survived, so we’re getting plenty of squash this summer.

summer-hibiscusLast year I received a Summerific® ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus (a common name is rose mallow) and planted it beside a path in one of the sunnier perennial beds. The shrub itself is still pretty small, but it began opening its giant blooms about three weeks ago and should keep blooming until early fall. It turns out to be a stand-out attraction in a summer garden (and the blooms are big enough to see from the air-conditioned comfort of the house!)

What blooms in your garden in August?

Vine-ripened

tomatoes-basketWe returned from a four-day trip to Chicago to find that Nature had been kind to Nashville gardens all week. A visit to Farm in the City this morning resulted in this basket full of vine-ripened tomatoes – ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Mister Stripey’ and ‘Mortgage Lifter’ — all of them heavy and full and quite a

Ripe and ready! That big 'Mortgage Lifter' tomato weighs in at a pound-and-a-half.

Ripe and ready! That big ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato weighs in at a pound-and-a-half.

few already ripe on the vine. I harvested those that were ripe and a few that have started to turn. A few of the large tomatoes had cracked, some to the point that they weren’t worth saving, but there were enough perfect tomatoes that I was able to share a few with a couple of garden neighbors and bring the rest home.

Back at home in the kitchen garden out back, I found cucumbers ready to cut off the vine, green beans ready to pluck, two yellow squash* and a handful of ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes.

Tonight’s dinner: gazpacho!

*This year’s experiment: growing squash two ways — in the ground and in a large pot — to try to deter squash vine borers. So far, the potted vine has produced more squash.

The chainsaw crew prepares to remove the second downed limb.

The chainsaw crew prepares to remove the second downed limb.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about the massive limb that split from the giant American elm that we share with our neighbor, falling squarely into their back yard. The limb was one-half of a heavy V-shaped trunk that grew from the main trunk over the back of their lot.

About 3:30 this morning, we woke to a loud crunching sound, got up to investigate, and found that the other half of the V had given away. This time, the long, heavy limb had twisted slightly and fallen along the fence that separates our properties. Most of the downed canopy had fallen into our yard.Tree-downOn its way down, the elm sheared off several branches of a large silver maple that shades their yard and some of ours. Its heavy branches took out a span of their six-foot-tall fence, and a portion of the six-foot cedar fence that creates a hideaway for our recycling bins. The elm’s top branches covered the hydrangea/azalea bed that I planted along the hideaway fence, landed on the large oak-leaf hydrangea between the neighbors’ fence and our driveway, and broke off several branches of the tall, slender magnolia that is growing there.

Tree-Break-3As I write, the chainsaw crew is removing the downed branches, and I may discover that the redbud and the dogwood, both of which have been growing from volunteer seedlings and had made it to a nice size, may be damaged, possibly beyond repair.

Fortunately, again, no houses suffered any damage. As I wrote in the earlier post, we had our side of the tree relieved of much of the weight of the canopy over our roof, and the arborist assures us that the stately tree is still healthy, and better now that it’s load has been lightened. But now we have to wonder if the tree is sending a signal, laying down its large, heavy limbs as gently as it can, one by one, telling us that it’s an old tree, and tired, and that someday soon we may have to let it go.

Tree-fence

With the branches cleared away, we have a temporary view of the neighbors’ landscape full of hydrangeas in full bloom.

Summertime

sunflower

A sunflower growing at Farm in the City welcomes the first day of summer to the community garden.

The solstice, rising so quickly out of Father’s Day this year, allows me to think even more about my Dad, who died more than three decades ago.

I have an early memory of him singing, as a lullaby, “Summertime,” from the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. Daddy’s voice could never have been called operatic – in fact, it was pretty weak, and he was generally a quiet man, so it’s a wonder that he sang at all. But when I listen quietly I can still hear it: “Summertime,” he warbled sincerely and without embarrassment, “and the livin’ is easy.” And so, in the days when troubles could be soothed by a lullaby, it was.

*

Susan, our yoga teacher, reminded us this morning that this June solstice falls on the same day as the full moon – a rare event. We acknowledged the full moon solstice with a Sun Salute, and I left the class to head downtown to Farm in the City, where I could continue celebrating the first day of summer by digging out weeds and tying up tomatoes.

Ansha-potatoesAnsha, my community garden neighbor, was also there, and her summer celebration began with the discovery of several ready-to-harvest potatoes in the loose soil at one end of her garden plot. She’d been fretting about the yellowing potato plants that hadn’t bloomed, and I suggested she explore the soil under one of them to see what she could find. She unearthed a large, perfect potato right away, and by the time she finished exploring, she had dug out, with her hands, about five pounds of ‘Yukon Golds,’ which she graciously shared.

The tomatoes in my community garden plot are plump and heavy enough to break their branches, but haven’t begun to turn red. It seems a good time to celebrate the garden anyway, so I brought home two green tomatoes that are large and firm. Back home, in the kitchen garden out back, I picked about a pound of ‘Blue Lake’ and ‘Kentucky Wonder’ beans, and a couple of cucumbers.

Dinner tonight will include fried green tomatoes and fresh-from-the-ground Yukon Gold potatoes, green beans in a recipe inspired by a fellow blogger @judyschickens, and fresh cucumber soup, all gifts from the garden to celebrate Summertime on the full moon solstice.

(According to the astronomy site EarthSky.org, based on Universal Time, the last June solstice full moon in the Northern Hemisphere was in 1967, and the next one won’t be until 2062. You can read more about it here.)

veg-basket

This morning’s harvest, tonight’s solstice dinner.

Out on a limb

elm-tree-prunedWe share a massive American elm tree with our neighbors to the west, on the fence line between our two back yards. A week ago today, with a terrible popping and cracking, a large, tree-trunk size limb split from the main trunk and came down in the neighbors’ back yard.

They were incredibly lucky. It’s a small back yard, and the branches came down across the power line and ripped the electric meter from the house, but they barely brushed the back of the house, and fell squarely onto the patio between a lush bed of boxwoods on one side and a full-blooming bed of Annabelle hydrangeas on the other. It seems to have broken a few branches on a line of small oak trees they had planted for privacy, but they avoided major damage to the house and backyard landscaping.

Coincidentally, a couple of weeks earlier, we had met with an arborist, Cabot Cameron, the owner of Druid Tree Service, to get his advice on maintenance on our side of the tree. This elm is truly a majestic tree, but its giant limbs hung heavily over the second floor back bedroom of our house. In strong wind the branches whipped ferociously, in heavy rain they drooped over the house, and last winter’s snow bent them down to the roof. There were also several dead limbs, and a couple of “widow-makers” – dead, broken-off branches hung up in the canopy – that needed to be taken down.

elm-tree-guys

Look closely to see the tree trimmer out on a limb in the canopy of the elm tree.

Cabot had suggested a dramatic pruning to lighten the load, and last week’s break lent urgency to the job. The crew came this morning, threw their lines and hoists over the limbs, climbed up into the canopy and got to work with chainsaws and pruning saws. By early afternoon, the big tree – still a majestic giant — had cleaner, safer limbs. You can see the newly groomed elm in the top photo. Bonus: the lightened tree canopy allows more sunlight onto the garden beds below.

Unfolding

un-coneflower

Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, a cultivar called ‘Pixie Meadowbrite.’

Out in the garden this afternoon, I began to notice so many things that are about to unfold, unfurl, and burst into bloom.

un-hydrangea

Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’

Un dillDill head about to flower.

un-monardaBee Balm, or Monarda didyma ‘Pardon My Cerise.

un-cilantroCilantro, just before it flowers and goes to seed.

un-snapdragonTall snapdragon that wintered over from last year.

What’s unfolding in your garden this weekend?

 

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