JUNE IS…EASY SUMMER LIVING…the days are longer, the light stronger, and warmer weather makes me feel somehow lighter…I love when it’s time to open all the windows, take the comforter off the bed and roll up the rugs leaving cool wood floors. Along with a summer breeze, the fragrance of roses thru the window at night will always assure sweet dreams for me.
Coming home in the early evening…all feels right with the world to be met along the driveway by a gaggle of guineas… chickens scratching and clucking…DUKE, the turkey, strutting for attention…my beloved Border collies running up the path…and on the porch, I see where Carl used to sit in the old rocker, sipping a glass of wine…Watching the lightning bugs after dinner, we would often sit rocking quietly as the long summer’s evening drew to a close; white blooms and silvery foliage awaiting the kiss of a full moon…
The garden in early JUNE is a paradise…after weeks of pruning, planting, potting, and patience I am rewarded with a flourish of color, scent and breath-taking beauty.
A tranquil morning…the air is still and the sky, oh so blue…the early morning rays of the sun streaming in low create a wonderful backlight effect, emphasizing the differences in depth, height and textures of flowers and foliage. This is the best time of the day for me to look at my garden as a complete picture…to indulge myself in all its glory…if I do say so myself!
Everywhere the garden is splashed with color. Along the front of the border, densely packed plants smother the earth in an undisciplined fashion…spikes of Provence lavender line the path to the front porch, crisp white candytuft still in bloom spills over onto ’Blue Princess” verbena winding its way under and through the roses, rosemary and daylilies.
Lemon thyme and sweet alyssum provide a soft, frothy edge along the rock path. Frilly pink hollyhocks, Shasta daisies and a few late-blooming peonies create a happy jumble of cottage garden radiance.
All those April showers brought me those May flowers…bazillions of blooms, butterflies, bees and ladybugs. Now in early JUNE the swallowtails are all over the white dill, verbena, yarrow, phlox and lavender. There are so many flitting and floating about the garden I see the hummingbirds are starting to gear up for a battle of the blooms. These densely planted beds are always buzzing with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other beneficial that remain on pest patrol from May to October…
SAVOR THE MOMENT…A comfortable, warm Sunday morning, my bowl of café au lait in hand, finds me outside on the patio for a few moments of solitude…the perennial sweet pea vine [breakfast diner] is open for the bumble bees, the hummingbirds have started on their fresh nectar bowl and the squirrels have invaded the squirrel-proof bird feeder…as usual. The soothing sound of water falling over the stones into the pond, chimes stir with each gentle breeze, Debussy on the stereo, ah…h…such a lovely moment.
MEANDERING…Growing up, I was fortunate to be able to spend summers living on my grandparent’s farm in North Carolina. When chores were done, I loved to wander through the yard…smelling the flowers, hiding behind the hydrangeas and hoping that the hummingbird would be still just long enough for me to put salt on its tail…Grandmother always said that was how to catch one.
Watching dainty butterflies flit from verbena to lantana and then on to the cosmos, hyssop and zinnias…I lost track of time and soon fell asleep on the quilt rolled out on the front porch.
Now, as I meander through my own yard, reminiscing…it takes my breath away…and the lump begins to form in my throat as I watch the hummingbirds flit about the blooms.
FRUITS OF OUR LABOR…
JUNE …is somewhat like one big payday in the garden…the heirloom tomatoes are ripening on the vine…the sweet basil is fresh, green and smelling delicious…garlic is almost ready to harvest…there are so many shades of green vegetables, melons, colorful peppers and cucumbers… as I walk through each area of the garden it is as though MOTHER NATURE has opened up yet another jewel box to display her many precious colors of fruit and blooms. Having just completed my morning wake-up stroll through the garden, I sip my coffee and reflect on her [MN] miracles and marvelous colors…gardening is a lot of work, but wonderful work…an ‘exercise in optimism.’
Hummingbird ‘Feeders’ Everywhere…Long before honeybees were brought to North America as pollinators, the hummingbirds were already on the job. In order to survive, these tiny birds need to consume more than half their weight in food every day. From sunup to sundown, they visit hundreds of flowers feasting on nectar and insects. So not only are they efficient pollinators but they are also pest predators. Hummingbirds are attracted to flower colors rather than fragrance…usually red, yellow and orange. They might love your garden so much they become reliant on it for food, and since there may be periods when there are no blossoms [e-e-ghads] for nectar you’ll need to hang out feeders for those times and to just provide a bit more food for them. I choose bright red feeders that will attract the hummingbirds from a distance. Most likely the hummingbirds you fed last year will return to your yard this year.
ONLY FILL THE FEEDERS WITH SUGAR WATER…one part sugar to four parts water…AND NO COLORING OR HONEY!
SOAP BOX TIME…AND, How Safe Are the Fruits and Vegetables We Eat?
Recent studies have reassessed the dangers of certain pesticides and food preservatives. Be a smart shopper…ask your market to carry organic produce or buy mostly from local growers…or markets willing to provide organic products.
According to CONSUMER REPORTS, apples, grapes, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach and winter squash have toxicity scores hundreds of times higher than other produce due to synthetic spraying. AND, imported produce contains just as much, if not more, than domestic…[we send them our banned products to use].
Shop farmer’s markets for locally grown produce whenever possible…it’s less likely to have been treated with post-harvest pesticides and preservatives used for shipping foods long distance. Wash and rinse produce well with water and phosphate free soap or a specialty food wash…more on the stand later…
CRAPE MYRTLES...will bloom better and longer if the first few blooms of the season are removed or trimmed to just the next leaf node. This will only delay the next bloom for about two weeks, but the renewed color show will make it worth the wait. Aerating around the tree trunk and top dressing with an inch of compost will also make a big difference in blooming. And, to prevent powdery mildew, keep the inside part of the tree trimmed out and open to the air. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS…BUT, DO NOT chop off branches to level the top of the CM trees…trim just the old blooms if you feel the need to do something…you’ll end up with knots on the branches, weak growth, and powdery mildew!
Actually, you could just leave the tree alone and it will be happy and bloom beautifully year after year…
Speaking of…my lovely lilacs have finally faded so it’s time to prune the spent blooms before seed pods form. I only trim off the old blossoms and cut back or trim to control crowding. Every 3-4 years I will rejuvenate the shrub by removing 1/3 of the oldest, thickest stems at the base of the shrub. This will encourage new growth, bigger blooms and will allow better air flow, thus preventing powdery mildew conditions.
Battle of the Bugs…Japanese beetles find pale pink, yellow and white roses nearly irresistible…so every morning I go out and hand pick the yucky, pesky critters and drop them in a bucket of soapy water…to which I have added a tablespoon of canola oil! This is the easiest way for me to control them…I’ll also toss some onto the bird feeder and into the chicken pen.
Female beetles feed only for about 2 days before laying their eggs in the soil. Many of the eggs dry out and cannot mature, SO, I suggest you let your lawns and gardens dry out well between any watering this month…if you do water that is! The adult female may seek other, damper places to lay their eggs, which means they may leave your yard to feed and start a new generation elsewhere.
Of course, one of the easiest and safest ways to rid lawns of this pest is to put out beneficial nematodes.
Sting Operation…the bugs, mostly mosquitoes, always find me…and give me such a bother! As a result, I am religiously vigilant about places where they can breed and take every step and precaution to repel and eradicate the pests.
TO BE SKEETER-FREE:
*do not allow any standing water anywhere on the property…check containers, rain gutters, saucers, buckets…and clean up anything that can hold water
*add mosquito dunks to water barrels and sprinkle mosquito bits in shady moist areas
*plant large amounts of fragrant herbs that repel mosquitoes such as lavender, rosemary and any lemon scented herbs
*encourage natural predators such as bats, swifts, hummingbirds and others by providing a safe, poison-free habitat
*every 2 weeks I spray the yard around the house with SKEETER DEFEETER, a natural citronella spray that virtually eliminates the Mosquito PESTS…spray carefully and concentrate in areas that are shady and possibly remain more moist that others.
In that moment after an insect bite or sting, I reach for almost instant relief from a dab of essential oil of lavender…neat. I always carry a bottle with me and use it for bites, cuts, scratches and so on…even a headache!
Mid-June… got all the garlic harvested and cleaned. I’ll use a few of each variety for cooking but the majority of this season’s harvest I’ll save to break apart and replant this fall. Eventually I hope to have a really large area for growing garlic varieties that prove to be winners.
Back to fun work…the Provence lavender really needs trimming so I think I’ll cut the bloom spikes first and later make bundles of stems to dry. Rubber bands are the easiest way to tie the bundles because the stems shrink as they dry and the bands will maintain tension around them. Some of the bundles I’ll hang in a dark, dry place with good air circulation [paper bags are great for this] and some I’ll lay out in flat baskets. Hopefully there will be plenty of buds to shake out for my special herb concoctions and mixtures. Leftover stems, foliage pieces and buds I use to fill little muslin bags…these are great to throw in the dryer, and after using a few times I burn them in the fireplace or chimenea…
Lavender blues…the secret of keeping lavender looking good is to give it a good trim after flowering…only cutting into the soft stems which will send out masses of new growth. This needs to be done from the first year or the plants will become leggy…and if you prune into the woody center stems too heavily, the plant will usually die.
FRAGRANT FAVORITES CREATE A PERFUMED PARADISE…
The SUMMER patio continues… At this time of year it’s easy to fill the patio, porch or deck with new blooms. I’ve pulled the table and chairs away from the corner and am using them almost daily now as the large market umbrella provides some nice protection from the late afternoon sun. Colors are based around lots of cool white and green which is refreshing alongside some of the softer colored blooms from late spring. The lemon tree is in full and fruit…I’ve added tumbling clusters of white jasmine to wall baskets for fresh fragrance all summer…along with some potted patchouli and lemon-rose scented geraniums.
On an old wood stand, several pots of pastel, sweet-smelling antique petunias never fail to make a lump in my throat, grandmother always had them by the kitchen door…I collect their seeds every year to add to what volunteers naturally… and juicy lemon verbena, ready for lemonade, pound cakes or a glass of white wine later in the day…umm.
GROWING AND USING HERBS…
No garden should be without CHIVES! They are so easy to grow…anywhere from the herb garden to a pot on a sunny windowsill. Chives are fairly easy to start from seed but I never hesitate to buy small pots of them I find when visiting local garden centers. Onion chives are not fussy about soil and will grow in full sun or partial shade. I harvest them constantly for cooking…and work some compost into the soil every six weeks to keep a continuous crop growing. Once the chive bulbs have become overcrowded, in 3-4 years, I usually divide and replant.
Also, chives can be cropped well into the winter with the use of a cloche. Simply compost and water well…cover the clump with a cloche on very cold nights…nothing tastier than fresh chives on hearty potato soup.
Harvesting: Chives are best used when young and tender. To keep up with a succession of growth it is important to harvest them at ground level instead of snipping off just the tips. I snip foliage pieces from several plants rather than using up one plant at a time.
Allow a portion of the chives to bloom in spring…they will reseed easily and the blooms are great for salads.
With an abundance of chives, I will often snip and freeze them in containers with some of the blooms…these spring bundles make a nice winter ‘thank you’ or hostess gift.
COOKING with chives…they give a nice instant onion flavor without cooking and while chopping they don’t make my eyes water! Good for a cheesy omelet, bowl of potato salad or the more obvious baked potato…fun to be creative.
Another Option: Garlic Chives can be grown in the same way as onion chives. The flavor of the leaves is of mild garlic and the white flowers, which bloom in late summer, are sweetly fragrant and edible.
HOWEVER, I must harvest blooms before they go to seed or there will be garlic chives where ever the wind blows!
LATE JUNE…masses of flowers fill the garden cutting buckets with color and fragrance this morning. I’m going to fill the porch and house with blooms… Stephanie, Louise, Nancy, and Kristin are coming for lunch! [Oh how I wish Jeanine could be here, too!]I picked fresh lemon yellow daylily blooms to stuff with chicken salad, dug the last of the new potatoes, gathered some mixed greens and pear tomatoes, a few calendula and nasturtium blossoms for color and spice, and a bit of lemon thyme for zest in the dressing and basil for the salad. I set out my antique plates, cloth napkins and such on the old marble top table…the scented geraniums on the table await and invite everyone to rub their leaves to release fragrance. These make excellent pot plants, thriving in the sun, growing well with minimal water and care until first frost. Then, I cut back, root cuttings and winter them over in a warmer spot in the garage.
We had a lovely lunch, great dessert…a luscious fruit tart topped with fresh lemon thyme and lavender buds…and talked and laughed ‘til almost dark…good food, good friends, good wine!
APRICOT & STRAWBERRY TART…
puff pastry sheet or pie crust if preferred 3Tblsp. butter, melted
12-15 apricots 5-6 Tblsp. vanilla sugar
½ lb. strawberries few spoonfuls of apricot preserves
Peel, cut in half, and remove seeds from apricots…arrange halves on puff pastry, or piecrust, in tart pan. Add strawberry halves in odd spaces to make a nice tart. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar.
Bake in 425 oven for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a bit more sugar and glaze with heated/melted apricot preserves. Put under broiler for a minute or two…WATCH CAREFULLY that the fruit doesn’t burn. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream…luscious!
TALES FROM THE POTTING SHED...Garden finds…While living in Texas a several years ago I walked our five acre property with Bear, my female Border Collie who passed away 3 years ago, and Dougal almost everyday and usually found something…a fossil, rock, broken tool or old bottle to add to my garden.
My best find came from the area nearly to the top end of our pasture where I rarely walked. I was so excited when I found this wonderful, but very heavy, piece of partially buried limestone rock…I just had to have it for my garden. So I went back to the barn and returned with my wheelbarrow, sharpshooter and 6’ pry bar…
Confronted with the reality of how huge the rock was once I started digging, I decided that the only way I was going to get the rock out was by using my 6′ iron pry bar. With all the strength I, a 50 something could gather, I pushed and leaned on the bar and was finally able to lever the rock up and out of the ground.
Somehow I heaved it onto the edge of the tipped barrow and set off downhill only to have the barrow fall over when I hit a mole hole as I rolled towards the barn.
Determined to get that rock, I went back to the barn, fired up the small tractor and rumbled back up the hill with a tow rope and the dogs following.
By rolling and dragging the rock behind the tractor…with Dougal nipping at and ‘herding’ the rock, I eventually got my treasure home. It sits under the arch as the entry stone to my herb and rose garden. I was able to enjoy the texture of rock and fossils and chuckle as I remembered the struggle and joy of getting it there.
FRESH THINKING…Drinking water is so good for us and is the best liquid to quench thirst, keep us regular and hydrate while working outside. But, sometimes I need to add just a little flavor to perk up the taste…the best way is with fresh herbs. Slices of lemon, limes, apples, peaches, and strawberries can also add nice flavor but herbs can transform plain water into a surprising treat. Try mint sprigs, lemon verbena leaves, and a combination of lemon thyme and lavender buds…ahhh, heaven. Be creative and flavor a frosty pitcher of water for guests the same way.
HYDRANGEAS…KNOW IT…GROW IT
Hydrangeas…mean old-fashioned loveliness. The first time I noticed hydrangeas I was twelve years old and remember seeing them as I rode my bike in the neighborhood where I lived.
There they were…a big bunch of vibrant beautiful blue blooms in front of a white house…
Years later when I married and moved into my first home with a new baby girl…surprise, there were two huge blue hydrangea bushes on each side of the front porch steps. The vivid blue blooms were even more vibrant against the weathered white siding of the old cape style cottage. When those plants were in bloom, passersby would often stop and stare at their breathtaking beauty…and usually ask for a cutting.
While designing landscapes, I love when I can incorporate hydrangeas into the plan and I have the joyful satisfaction of having made not only a potentially beautiful memory but also a nostalgic addition to someone’s garden.
The huge blowzy blooms of the mop head varieties of hydrangeas seemed to have been created for a cottage garden. Plants in this group offer colors of rich blue to creamy white and perfect pink. Of course, ‘Nikko Blue’ is my favorite followed closely by ‘Annabelle’, a wild hydrangea with a rich creamy, fragrant white bloom. There are several more with blushing soft colors that are supposed to bloom all summer on new wood…I think they need a few more years to prove themselves worthy!
GROWING…hydrangeas prefer a consistently moist site that has been amended with organic matter such as compost. Their foliage and blooms look their best if they get some strong morning sun and a few hours of late afternoon in the shade.
I rarely do much more than top dress with compost in spring and sprinkle some rabbit manure around the roots once a year in the fall. Too much fertilizer can create lots of foliage and few blooms!
COLOR…acid soil will tend to produce bluer flowers, while alkaline soil is more likely to create blooms in pink tones…
TO CUT OR NOT…Most big leaf, mop head hydrangeas bloom on old wood…meaning the bush will produce buds on branches and stems that grew in the previous growing season. Therefore, I only do a little maintenance by removing deadwood from the shrub in early spring and deadhead the few, if any, remaining dried blooms from last season.
Any pruning of healthy growth in the spring, fall or winter will likely result in fewer if any blooms.
The only time to cut back or prune…if you must to control size…is in summer immediately after the shrub has finished flowering…be careful!
So, why does a hydrangea sometimes fail to bloom? People ask me all the time…
Usually it is as simple as…incorrect pruning, too much high nitrogen fertilizer, late in the season cold temperatures that kill off buds, too much water or too dry and sometimes not enough sunlight.
OR a combination of the above…
[I had a client that swore it couldn’t be any of the above reasons until I pointed out that her husband over-fertilized their yard and during rainfall it ran off right into the bed with the hydrangeas.]
Remember…the right mix of light, soil nutrients and water along with proper planting placement and correct pruning will ensure abundant hydrangea blooms.
Natural Plantings…while hydrangeas have long been used in country flower gardens, do not overlook the possibility of using them in wild settings or woodland gardens…on the dappled edge of a clearing, mixed with ferns, anemones, hellebores, columbine and other woodland plants, hydrangeas are perfectly at home.
Good Neighbors…hydrangeas play nice with others, especially roses…just imagine vivid blue hydrangea blooms poking through bright pink roses draped on a fence and clumps of golden yellow daylilies playing peek-a-boo through the white fence rails…
To propagate…layering would be the easiest way. This simply involves choosing a low-growing shoot that can be bent down to lie on the soil. Make a cut on the shoot where it touches the soil, and then cover this part with compost and a brick or large rock. This will hold the shoot firmly in place leaving a spot for roots to sprout and grow. Keep the shoot and new roots moist. By autumn, the layered shoot should have rooted, once it has good roots you can sever the connection to the parent plant.
A SHRUB OF A DIFFERENT COLOR…H. paniculata, this is another variety of hydrangea I love…the “PeeGee”…one of the quintessential “grandmother’ shrubs, charming and lovely with exquisite white blooms. The flowers begin creamy white in mid to late summer, becoming pinkish as they age and coloring to the shade of tea stained lined when they dry in autumn.
They have a tendency to become overgrown in maturity…careful pruning, however, can help the PeeGee retain a graceful shape, as a large vase shrubby and wide, or as a small scale tree form.
PLAY SAFE IN THE SUN…the first few weeks of warm sunshine have an uplifting effect on our spirits. Our first reaction is to rush outside and make the most of it, whether it’s heading off to the first picnic of the season or putting in a few extra hours in the garden.
Most of us think sensibly about protecting our skin from the sun while on a holiday, but tend to forget all about it while working at home.
The good news…there is a whole range of natural –based products. Flowers and herbs that have the ability to protect themselves from the sun have been studied by scientists. New products have been developed from sunflowers, scented geraniums, roses, chamomile, calendula, lavender, rosemary and…even prickly pear!
So find a product you like …lavish on your face, lips and elsewhere…and always WEAR A HAT while out in the SUN!
WHILE WE TALK ABOUT PROTECTING OUR SKIN FROM THE SUN…we need to think about the food we put into our bodies, too. Everyone needs to know what is in their food. Many of us have already decided to buy organic, especially if some of the foods we eat are the ones that tend to be the most heavily treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Ok, so I just can’t help it!!
APPLES…a lot of pesticides are being using on apples…more than any other fruit or vegetable!
No organic? Peel the apples, and look for apples from New Zealand, which are treated with half as many pesticides as those grown in the USA.
CANTALOUPE…often contain five of the longest-lasting and exceedingly toxic chemicals used in growing. These residues persist in soils and are taken up through the cantaloupe’s roots and absorbed into the edible portion. No Organic? Wash the outside of the melon and stay away from the rind.
CUCUMBERS…are ranked second in cancer risk and 12th in ‘most contaminated food’. No Organic? Peel them, the waxes used to make the skin shiny also tend to hold chemicals.
GRAPES…because they ripen quickly, tend to mold, and attract insects, growers spray them with multiple applications of various chemicals. The worst are from Chile…and 90% of the grapes available in the USA from January to April are Chilean. No Organic? Buy grapes grown domestically; they are treated with fewer chemicals.
GREEN BEANS…the EPA has more than 60 pesticides registered to use on green beans. No Organic? Choose fresh over any canned or frozen and wash them very well.
STRAWBERRIES…are one of the single most contaminated produce items in the USA. No Organic? Choose local berries from Farmer’s Markets…there’s less spraying over those shipped long distance.
ALL PRODUCE SHOULD BE WASHED WELL TO REMOVE DIRT AND ANY BACTERIA.
BEST OF ALL…BUY ORGANIC OR MAINLY LOCAL!
GOURMET GARLIC…end of June to early July, depending on the weather…time to dig garlic when leaves/foliage begin to yellow. Clean off dirt and snip roots at base of garlic. Tie the tops together in small bunches and hang in a shady spot inside. After about a month, check the neck and trim tops off about an inch above the bulb. Store garlic in a basket or mesh bag in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. DO NOT STORE IN REFRIGERATOR!
THYME LAWN…A few years ago I had a bright idea, it turned out so nice I had to pass it along.
While designing a landscape for a client I needed to solve a problem with a steep bank that sloped down towards a creek near their house. My bright idea was to plant a mix of common and French thymes all along the slope. I did add a few boulders near which I planted some small groups of spring bulbs mixed with a few re-blooming daylies.
Now the thyme has formed a sort of lawn which is so densely flowering with pink, red and white tiny blooms it looks like a Persian carpet laid out on the creek bank. And, the bees think I did it all for them!
But the benefit to the client was the best…no mowing on the awkward slope and the thyme reveled in a sunny exposure with great drainage.
What an exciting day in the garden…picked peas, dug some tiny new potatoes and now I‘ll pull some garlic bulbs, fat with their papery skins.the
With my fresh garlic, I’ll make something special for dinner…along with the potatoes and sweet peas…some pasta with mascarpone cream sauce and focaccia with roasted garlic, fresh rosemary and crumbled goat cheese.
LIFE IS SWEET…Summer is the time to enjoy the delights of outdoor living. Flowers are blooming, the evenings are long and the air is filled with the scent of warm herbs, roses and gardenias…I love to relax outside, sitting on the porch with a tall glass of lavender lemonade…or sometimes a nice French rose’
To readers…I have tried to add some wonderful photos and drawings but after hours attempting to download I am frustrated beyond belief so boring text is all you get…maybe one day I will crack the code!