Hello, happy mid-August, how does your garden grow?
In Oklahoma, we are already enjoying a few softer days here and there, with temperatures often below normal and rainfall above. Then the heat returns. Then it’s mild again. And again, more equatorial heat. We are challenged by army worms but blessed with butterflies and wasps and frogs and birds, and we still have the prettiest daybreaks and sunsets anywhere. The Lazy W gardens are still producing tomatoes, tomatillos, herbs, zinnias, and peppers. And seeds I have sown recently are already an inch tall. But the brightest summer colors are beginning to fade. I see it first in the hydrangeas, and they are as beautiful as old linen or well worn blue jeans.
The older I get and the longer I garden intentionally, the less I see each year as a separate event. Certainly, they do all swim together in the fast moving stream of time; but more importantly, it is all a beautiful continuum. One gardening seasons leads and contributes to the next. Last year’s failures and successes become this year’s goals and puzzles, which set the stage for next season’s main show. The flowers reseed and the perennials grow and mature. Some die. The trees change silently, imperceptibly, then all at once one day they are towering and full bodied. Our tastes evolve, building aesthetic ideals one upon the other, hopefully honing ever more clearly on what we actually want from our gardening lives.
And there is always, always something happening outside. Something I absolutely love about living here is how much quiet drama is constantly available to us outdoors. Yes, summertime is rightfully the most glorious group of months because of the exuberant food supply and almost tropical colors everywhere. But the end of summer is hardly the end of the gardening year. I love knowing that. I love feeling deep in my bones the connectedness of all these efforts and all these various months and days. The life-affirming continuum of summer that leads to fall that leads to winter that was all preceded by dozens, hundreds, thousands of repeats of the same pattern. What if I die and someone takes over my gardens here? The work I do now, the choices I make, will become that gardener’s starting point. Just as the work done here fifteen years ago started me in my adventure. Or my Grandpa! His garden, though never my own, really started it all. I digress.
For most of this month and next, I am following a self imposed five step plan to keep the gardens thriving and happy and prepare for the coming season. I see it in these stages: Edit, Nourish, Fast Food, New Color, and Reflect.
#1 Edit ruthlessly! This is hard for me at first then becomes deeply satisfying. I pull hidden weeds, prune overgrown, leggy perennials, shear back flowering annuals to give them a chance to bloom again, and then completely yank out the summer vegetables that are well past their primes (looking at you, Japanese eggplant). I do a little bit every day, sometimes in passing, and then I do a lot with more focus in certain areas of the farm, a few times per week. One day it will stop growing back, ha. I have developed the habit of walking around with a five gallon bucket, a pair of scissors, and a little hand trowel to make the job easy and accessible. I was so gratified to hear that my friend Dee does this too! Once I get over the emotional conflict of uprooting plants, the thrill of creating blank space for the next project is even better than emptying an overstuffed closet in the house.
#2 Nourish! This time of year, all the shrubs and perennials especially benefit from a generous application of farm compost. I mound it up generously and let the chickens scratch it in then water lusciously, knowing most plants can still grow, still embolden their roots plenty, before frost. I am eyeballing the beds during this task to see where I might add more structure in fall, especially some evergreens. I am also tallying up how many new bags of mulch we will need when it goes on sale soon.
#3 Fast Food: As I type this, Oklahoma still has at least 62 growing days to go, probably more like 73. That’s a lot of warm, fertile weeks! I have already been sowing seeds for fresh sweet peas, bush beans, Swiss chard, pok choi, spinach, and arugula, all quick producers. I also planted some extra zinnias just for fun, but I think Leon the rooster scratched up and ate those. It’s fine. Soon I will add more lettuces, kale, radishes, carrots, beets, and more. I am amazed by how quickly they germinate right now in this warm, welcoming soil. It’s a different experience than springtime. And what a comfort to have these things to nurture in place of the things we lose at summer’s end.
#4 New Color: Before we know it, the nurseries and hardware stores will be overflowing with a flush of new color. I am excited to add lots and lots of it to our containers and beds, and I am wide open to inspiration based on what I see and what I feel will last the longest. I sometimes begin this season with a color scheme in mind but often abandon that completely when a certain flat makes my mouth water. The only plan I will absolutely keep is helping Jessica and Alex plant their first perennial border. That is exciting! Boxwoods, hydrangeas, and spring bulbs, here we come!
#5 Reflect: Again mindful of how “this year’s” garden is simultaneously part of both last year and next year, and realizing that my memory has better things to do than memorize verities and dates with much specificity, I am resolved to journal a little more intentionally. I want to capture my satisfaction with what has gone well and capture the regrets I have or the lessons I am learning.
This is where I am in the gardens for now. The days pass too quickly because they are brimming with goodness. I am so happy having the flock free range. Grateful for a ribbon of affectionate cuddling with the horses. Really fascinated with the compost process. Overall, just blissing out here. Thank you for listening!
One more thing, friends: I am slowly reading a new book called The Well Gardened Mind, researched and beautifully written by psychiatrist Sue Stewart-Smith. I am gleaning just so much from its pages, I cannot wait to tell you everything. If you believe intrinsically in the value of gardening to restore and maintain our health both physical and emotional, this book will resonate with you. Here is one luscious quote for you now:
“As children, and let us not forget it, as adults too,
we need to dream, we need to do,
and we need to have an impact on our environment.
These things give rise to a sense of optimism
about our capacity to shape our own lives.”
The Well Gardened Mind