Carla Albright

Carla Albright

Although my gardens are at their peak in May with rhododendron and azaleas in full bloom, early July can be one of the best times in the garden because there is so little to do except enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Admittedly, I don’t have a vegetable garden. Not for lack of trying, but for lack of heat units and full sun that most vegetables require. These gardens certainly are more labor-intensive than flower gardens and need to be weeded, fed and watered on regular schedules.

My flower beds, on the other hand, have been diligently worked on for the last three months and are now to the point I can relax a bit. Not that there still isn’t weeding to do, but the most work that gets done in July and August is deadheading, watering, and slug patrol.  

The euphorbia that have bloomed since January are now starting to turn brown, so I cut the inflorescences back to where the leaves begin and that tidies them up to show off the foliage. Hostas and heuchera have put out their flower stalks and as soon as their flowers start to fade, they get cut off, too. Again, to show the foliage to its best. This also gives me the opportunity to trim back slug-eaten hosta leaves and hunt for the slimy culprits we all love to hate.

The clematis are done blooming, for now anyway, and they can also be deadheaded, cutting the flower stems back to foliage once again. My abundantly blooming clematis at the front arbor I just leave to go to seed. Not that I ever find new baby clematis spread around, but that vine is just too prolifically flowered that I don’t have the time - nor energy - to deal with the hundreds of spent blooms. That’s okay. They dropped their petals and, for a couple of weeks, my entry looked as it was covered in pink snowflakes.

My beds are densely planted in such a way that the weeds have little space to grow. The exceptions are the white morning glory-like bindweed that I yank each time I find it, and the yellow-flowered buttercups that are so clever that their leaves mock those of the hardy geranium they grow amongst. So I have to wait until they bloom and trace the flower stalk back to the leaves so I can get my pronged weeder out to pull them, roots and all. This is most satisfying after a light rain when the ground easily gives up my nemesis.

Once July arrives, generally so does the warmer, drier summer weather. (Although, we certainly can’t complain about the lack of sun this year.) But I have to be diligent about watering the garden. This is especially true of the perennials I installed this past spring. They generally do well after the first year in the ground, but often need a little help when the ground remains dry. And almost as drying as the hot sun is the wind we get in the summer.

I like to hand-water my garden, but that is a personal preference. As regular readers may remember, I have tried installing drip irrigation but with little success. The lines get so easily clogged with soil and debris that it seemed I spent as much time fiddling with the system as I had done watering by hand. Thus, I returned to the good old hose. That way I can focus on the plants that need water, giving more where and when needed.

Hand-watering also gives me the opportunity to really pay attention to each and every plant so I can monitor its success. So often times we put a plant in the ground, enjoy it for a few days or weeks and then move on to other things and other plants. When I take the time to water and see that things aren’t thriving as I know they should be, I can look for the reasons why. Perhaps the plant isn’t getting the proper amount of sun – too much? Or too little? Or it could be it is being crowded out by more aggressive plants in which case something has to give: I can move the new plant, I can move the old plant, or I can prune the old plant to give the new one more space. Regardless, I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not been watering.

These light summer chores take only about 20 minutes each day, with watering taking about an hour once or twice a week, depending on the rain. I find that by keeping ahead of the garden chores on a daily basis, they take less energy than taking one day a week and trying to do it all. After the big clean-up in the spring, I don’t have to take a whole day. That gives me time to pour an iced tea or glass of wine and sit on the patio to read, paint, or just relax and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me. It’s a good life.

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