JULY 1st…mostly sunny, no humidity, 75 and gorgeous…the forecast for the next few days is more of the same. This can’t be Virginia!
Come into the garden…
It’s so easy to lose yourself amid the fragrance, colors and ever-changing beauty of summer flowers in all their glory. I indulge my passion, or obsession, for a whole day: in the early morning hours taking time to stroll through the garden, admiring the flowers and foliage.
Clippers in hand, I often fill a basket, or better yet a bucket of water, with blooms while they’re still cool and fresh. Just a few flowers or foliage will add colorful touches anywhere in the house…I’ll put stems of daylilies, yarrow, oriental lilies, roses, daisies or herbs in an old bottle, teapot, pitcher, glass jar and any other interesting containers in the cupboard.
It’s so simple to find something in the garden to snip…it might just be a bunch of fragrant fresh lemon thyme or rosemary grouped in a little pitcher on the kitchen window sill or spikes of luscious lavender for the tiny vase on my bedside table or lamb’s ears and artemisia in an old enamel coffee pot…it’s fun to be creative!
Later in the afternoon, it’s on to gathering petals from the heirloom roses for drying, for baking Rose Petal Scones, or to make potpourri…Always wait until the sun has dried the petals before trying to pick.
While collecting seeds or seed pods from early flowering plants such as love-in-a-mist, columbine, poppies, larkspur, hollyhocks, sweet peas and so on I also wait ‘til early afternoon on a dry sunny day. Then I place them in a paper bag or envelope [no plastic] marked with the name of seed and date collected… and store in a cool, dry place…where I’ll remember them for next season!
All my plants grown from seed are heirloom varieties…which is why I can collect and use seeds season after season.
Note: always store seeds in paper bags, envelopes or glass jars…never in plastic bags as they will turn moldy.
A FLOURISH OF BLOOMS…
Everywhere I look the garden is splashed with color…along the front border, densely packed plants smother the earth in an undisciplined fashion…frothy Lady’s Mantle, Georgia blue veronica, alyssum and red salvia by the front steps…filly pink hollyhocks [seeds a friend brought me from England], vibrant purple lavender stems, fresh white Shasta daisies and re-blooming daylilies create a happy jumble of cottage garden radiance…all against a background of hundreds of rose blooms.
HOLIDAY…This July morning means sunshine, early coffee on the porch, more blossoms, a little work, 4th of July food and usually some fireworks along the river.
Independence Day, almost my birthday…I remember 4th of July as a child of the 50’s…family reunions, gathered in the shade of magnificent old pecan and hickory trees…with endless wooden tables sagging under the weight of platters of fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, pickles, sugary ice tea, fresh lemonade, homemade rolls with freshly churned butter, frosted chocolate layer cakes, lemon meringue and berry pies…and huge watermelons
from our patch chilling in washtubs filled with chunks of ice. Oh, and swimming in the pond, 3-legged footraces, a softball game in the wilting afternoon heat…all a prelude to the real excitement of the holiday… endlessly turning the crank on the ice cream maker, catching lightening bugs and running around in the dark with sparklers…perfect moments, one after another…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME…A few days later, WOW! What a SURPRISE!
My birthday gift was just delivered, 6 tons of flagstone…By 9:00AM several friends, all early risers, had also arrived to surprise me with their HELP in setting the path and small patio. I had been working on a design for a moon garden…as I am a Moonchild…for the side yard.The centerpiece of the moon garden is a small flagstone patio with a path leading around to the front yard.
We had so much fun lugging the stones around and fitting them together…just like a big puzzle party. Lots of good food had been prepared by my friends, too! Much later, under the full moon, we sipped a nice chilled white wine as we relaxed, laughed and talked of our day. We had actually created and finished all the stone path, patio and outline of the moon garden design that day!
With every full moon since then, I look at my patio and path and thank the stars for my wonderfully generous friends…and their strong, much younger backs.
One of the dishes we enjoyed that day, that Jeanine prepared…A Magical Midsummer Feast…This is such a lovely, refreshing way to serve shrimp…
Shrimp Salad with Mango…or papaya
For 2 servings use a pound of LARGE fresh shrimp, cooked with some lime and mango peels. Cool shrimp on ice, not in refrigerator as this will cause shrimp to dry out and get tough.
Cut up mango into small cubes a few minutes before serving the dish, add shrimp and rosemary* vinaigrette and mix lightly.
One could serve as an appetizer or on a bed of salad greens as a main course. Decorate plates with fresh rosemary and a curled orange slice. You’ll need a good baguette to slice and mop up the juices…and a crisp Rose´ de Provence.
The amounts are approximate as I rarely measure…
½ to ¾ cup good olive oil 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3TB. Dijon mustard 2 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup fresh orange juice Salt and pepper and a handful of chopped rosemary…
Mix/whisk together all ingredients except the oil in a deep bowl…slowly add the oil while mixing. Store in a jar in refrigerator…you’ll love this with other salads as well.
Mid-July…A nice sunny morning…it’s time to cut back roses and many of the perennials that are finishing their first bloom flush.
After a good trim, I’ll use a Bar-B-Q skewer to aerate around the root zone and top dress with some good compost and water deeply or wait for the expected rain storm tonight. Time to make sure there is a nice thick layer of shredded hardwood mulch around all the planted areas. The mulch will keep the soil moist and cool and keep any weeds from sprouting. Doing all this now should allow me to be able to relax and enjoy my garden…wel-l-l, there’s always some deadheading and watering, of course, but that’s part of the fun/enjoyment of relaxing in the garden.
Speaking of deadheading…
Yaghhh, scary for some gardeners, but it’s nothing more than trimming off spent blooms. Armed with sharp pruners and some basic tips about keeping plants neat and blooming all season long, it’s time to advance confidently into the garden. When blooms start to fade, brown, curl or otherwise look bad…that’s the time to trim them off, encouraging more blooms to form.
How to deadhead shrubby plants with many small flowers such as coreopsis, mums, feverfew, alyssum, asters, and daisies? Well, trimming one flower at a time would be rather time consuming! So, with a pair of old-fashioned grass shears, I just grab as much of the flower stalks as possible, avoiding any buds, and CLIP. Don’t worry if you get some of the foliage, it’ll grow back. Actually I trim indigo spires, salvia greggii, mealy blue sage and verbena this way, too.
Shrubby plants with large flowers such as phlox, coneflowers, zinnias, yarrow, rudbeckias and hydrangeas…use hand pruners, cut off each spent bloom at a leaf node, down on the stem where new growth has started…do not snip off flowers like MORTICIA!
Long stem flowers on tall stalks or grassy foliage such as daylilies, larkspur, foxgloves, hostas, irises, daffodils, and agapanthus: simply cut back each flower stem with hand pruners as close to the spot where the flower meets the foliage/leaves…at ground level.
Deadhead or ‘dress’ reblooming lilies by removing spent bloom stems at the ground, don’t allow them to set seed pods.
To ‘dress’ daylilies, society garlic or chives, gather their green leaves together into a ponytail and pull the yellow foliage off from around the bottom of the plants…sort of like running your fingers through your hair.
As for lavender…when you want to collect stems, inspect bloom spikes and cut them when they are just coming into bloom and before they over bloom. Cut on a dry, late morning when the oil has risen and the plant’s moisture content is high.
ROSES…not to be confused with pruning…deadheading roses means taking off spent blooms. With sharp, clean pruners make the cut at a 45° angle sloping downward toward the center of the bush. The cut should be made at a spot on a stem after the first set of 5 leaves, directly above an outward facing bud or leaf node…a node that points away from the center of the shrub.
WHEW! Got it? REMEMBER, where you cut back is where new growth happens.
Um-m-m, lavender, just caught a whiff from the big pot of the herb by the back door. Sublimely fragrant, soothing, invigorating and rich with healing properties, lavender has been cultivated from the beginning of recorded civilization.
High up on the sun-drenched plateaus and hills around the mountain of Mont Ventoux in Provence, lavender grows in abundance, both cultivated and wild, where few other plants will grow. I don’t have to live in the south of France to enjoy the sweet smell and subtle beauty of lavender…much as I would love to though…I just plant it everywhere I can find a sunny spot.
Lavender thrives in my garden filling the air with the scent I adore. I’ve planted several varieties: Munstead, Hidcote, Spanish, French and my favorite, Provence which is now almost 4’ high and gloriously blooming…for the second time this summer.
Many clients tell me how much they want lavender…would love to grow it but can’t. Usually they over water or plant the herb in soil that is too heavy and poorly drained. While ‘researching’ lavender fields in Provence a few years ago, I discovered a way to plant and grow lavender that is very easy…
PLANT IT RIGHT…dig a hole to fit the size of the container, but wider. Make a mound in the hole with 50/50 soil and pea gravel. Soak the plant inseaweed water while preparing the hole. Remove some of the peat moss and compacted roots from the root ball. Sit the plant on top of the mound and spread the roots…and whatever root ball is left…out and over the mound. The plant should be sitting up high…back fill hole with soil and gravel mix and water well with seaweed water.
Mulch at base of plant with rocks or pot shards or broken tiles…this keeps moisture and humidity from turning the plant gray at the base where it can rot. HANDWATER every other day the 1st week, every 3 days the 2nd week, and twice a week just until the plant starts to put on new growth. PLEASE NOTE: obviously you do not need to water if it rains during this time…monitor amounts of water carefully.
This method of planting also works well with rosemary…another herb from the Mediterranean that appreciates being planted in a loose, well-drained soil situation.
PRESERVING THE TASTES OF SUMMER…
Turn a bumper harvest of fruit into jams and jellies to enjoy the flavors of summer throughout winter…celebrate the bounty. Making jams and jellies might seem a bit old-fashioned, but it is such a delight to pick a jar from the shelf on a cold winter morning and spread the sweet taste of summer on freshly baked biscuits.
Aside from typical fruit jams…I love making something special for my Rose Petal Scones…
To make LAVENDER JELLY…
…Place about 4-5 lbs. of washed and chopped organic apples in a large preserving pot with 2 tablespoons of lavender buds, freshly picked or recently dried, and add a few handfuls of blackberries……Add 6 cups of water and simmer until the apples are very soft……Spoon the contents of the pan into a jelly bag muslin, set over a bowl, and allow to drip overnight.
…Measure the liquid and allow 1 pound of organic sugar for every 2 cups of liquid……Place the apple liquid, sugar and another tablespoon of lavender buds in a preserving pan and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. …Turn up the heat and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Cook until setting point is reached, then pot in small jars.
I usually finish off the top of the jar with a wax seal before adding a lid…or fabric cover.
MIDSUMMER TASKS…any newly planted trees and shrubs that have not yet had time to develop a deep root system should be watched carefully for signs of stress. Water deeply, about an inch, once a week and keep well mulched.
For ROSES, continue to provide extra water during prolonged periods of hot, dry, windy weather; always give them enough to saturate the entireroot zone…a minimum of 1” per week.
For PERENNIALS, cut back to encourage more blooms, top dress with compost and water deeply…1” per week, typically. Watering is especially important at this time of year if you’re pulling weeds or spent annuals from around existing plants…this simple task can be deadly for plants and is responsible for allowing hot dry air into the soil and root zone of plants…this can eventually kill a plant. So remember to water well after weeding or pull weeds only after a rainfall.
NOTE: Find saffron crocus bulbs to plant by late this month.Check with Kristin at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs
GRASS ROOTS…With an older mower…if it’s hot and dry, remove the bag from the mower and allow the cut grass to act as a moisture-retaining mulch…OR, if you have a new style lawnmower with a mulching blade, you’re already doing this.
Staying Cool…A hot dry wind is blowing and moving in the tops of the trees while I’m trying to water my potager…as I move the hose to the back yard I find the guineas and little keats, too, frolicking under the sprinkler by the watermelon vines. Who said they were stupid?
The summer garden, or my potager, is bountifully productive in July…it is utopia for natural predators and beneficial insects…windfalls are left for the birds while flowers attract bees. I dug in goodly amounts of my homemade compost to increase fertility, a process made easier by my large three-bay compost bin at the end of the garden. Kitchen waste, weeds, grass clippings, wood ash and debris from the potager and perennial garden beds are composted along with surplus leaves from the comfrey that I grow to make liquid plant feed…
There is no more succulent vision for me than vine-ripening tomatoes…from huge juicy heirlooms to cherry sweet 100 globes to yellow pear. No garden is too small to grow tomatoes, and there is no such thing as too much. Not only are they decorative, they can be trained to grow in a vertical space or a container of choice. Even large hanging baskets can be used: certain tomatoes will produce a crop happily in a big iron basket…they just need consistent watering and feeding.
Tumbling tomatoes droop and sprawl…for color, pest control and better flavor…I mix French marigolds and spicy globe basil into the basket…and, the hanging basket can be moved anywhere there is sun. But the best part…biting into a sun-warmed, fresh picked tomato wrapped in basil leaves.
KNOW IT, GROW IT…Figs…give in to their temptation…voluptuous and sweet with velvety soft skin… and within, pink to scarlet fruit. Fresh from the tree, a perfectly ripe warm fig is a sumptuous treat.They flourish in the Mediterranean where they often grow wild.
While in Provence, I actually saw fig trees growing out of cracks in old stone walls. Ancient tradition permitted travelers to refresh themselves with a fig or two from any tree they passed.
Sun is essential for ripening figs. They also need well drained, organic, ‘not too rich’ soil, and tight growing conditions. In fact, if the roots are not constricted or confined in some way, leaf and branch will flourish at the expense of fruit, so treat them harshly when planting.
I planted a fig tree in my front yard in a spot that gets sun till about 3:00 pm and is then shaded by a big pine. I added just a bit of compost and then surrounded the roots with medium sized rough rocks before backfilling the hole. It got watered somewhat consistently the first year when rain was sporadic and then seldom the following year and now gets by on what nature provides. Figs are also suitable for planting in containers to grow around the porch or patio. Remember not to use too big a container…their roots prefer to be constricted.
Perfect fresh figs are such a divine treat and so beautiful, it seems a pity to cook or dry them…I use the blemished or very ripe fruits for those recipes. I love figs fresh from the tree, or served on a blue glass plate with a delicate creamy mound of goat cheese mixed with chopped walnuts, a drizzle of honey and orange zest!
Anyone blessed with a crop of homegrown figs might choose to make fig and lavender jam, a fig tart, or fig focaccia with bacon, mozzarella and mint…all deliciously seductive.
The only trouble with figs is the pesky habit of their little seeds that get stuck between the teeth.
TRUMPETS OF SUMMER…Lilies, with their elegantly flared and scented blooms, play a lovely part in the summer garden. Spring has bulb stars, but when other plants are wilting in the heat, flamboyant lilies step onto the garden stage performing with great talent. They offer a delightful fragrance, strong color and a bountiful harvest of blooms for cutting.
Lilies are among the oldest garden plants having been cultivated for over 3500 years. They were grown and used by ancient civilizations for food, medicine, cosmetics and religious ceremonies. Lilies are classified according to their geographical and horticultural origins and their flower forms…There are hybrids and Asiatics and Orientals and Species and more than I can keep up with.
Most people are familiar with the ‘lily white’ Easter lily grown and sold by the thousands each spring…and then sadly left neglected on the porch or at the cemetery to dry up and die in its plastic foil wrapped pot.
Distinct Personalities…Some blooms may be shaped like trumpets or like tiny turbans with petals curled back on themselves. Flowers may flare out horizontally, open upright, appear to flutter, or hang inverted in tiers from candelabra-like stems. Their colors span the spectrum in every hue but blue…from palest celadon and fiery copper to all shades of pink and yellow and burgundy. The faces of many of the lilies feature freckles and some have throats streaked with sulphur yellow…AND, their names…regal, mysterious and quite enticing…Casa Blanca, Black Dragon, Standing Ovation, and Stargazer.
One of my favorite combinations is frothy bronze fennel with orange tiger lilies.
Variety Show…Lilies offer a diversity that makes them at home in many different sites; perennial borders, woodland gardens, rock gardens, containers, cutting and cottage gardens. They look best planted in clusters of three or more; average height is somewhere between 3-6 feet.
Growing Lilies…Lilies are fairly easy to grow and will often naturalize given the right cultural conditions. Plant the fleshy bulbs in spring in absolutely well drained soil, where there is good air circulation with a partly sunny exposure. Lilies like moist, loose or loamy soil that has been amended with good compost…I usually toss in a handful of rock phosphate as I plant. For a random look, most bulbs should be planted twice as deep as a bulb is tall, in groups of 3-5 spaced about 12-18 inches apart…circles & ovals…no lines! Mulch well and water deeply around the roots when Mother Nature doesn’t. Lilies do well when under planted with low-growing companions as their roots prefer some shade.
I have discovered by experience that some of these lilies do better growing amongst some mostly evergreen shelter such as southernwood or my favorite, bronze fennel. The foliage protects the long lily stems from the wind and their blooms are majestic emerging above these fluffy fragrant herbs.
Pot up some lilies in a container for the patio, given their beguiling beauty and fragrance; you’ll soon succumb to these irresistible blooms of summer.
‘SHOW ME YOUR GARDEN… and I shall tell you what or who you are…’I’m sure my garden reveals much about me…each plant, structure, stone and whimsy in my garden says something about my life…whether it was chosen because it evokes a special memory, reminds me of someone, celebrates a friendship or simply adds shape, color and texture…something from my design background.
For instance, there are the roses, phlox, lilacs, spirea, four-o’clocks, tomatoes and much more that remind me of my grandmother’s garden where I spent so much time growing up…the rusty red and coppery plants for my red-headed friend, Beverly, in Oregon…the lavender, rosemary, thyme, fig tree, and poppies for my French sister, Jeanine, and our trip to France…Oh, the gorgeous purple blooms of the catmint that Karen helped me plant…as well as the iris and larkspur from Suzanne…all the wonderful stones and fossils that Bear and Dougal helped me collect from the pastures and roadsides…the glorious field of wildflowers for my dear friend, Lucy…the towering sunflowers that light up the garden for my grandchildren…and most of all, the absolute joy the garden brings me for my daughters… for gardening is a love, an expression that comes from the heart.
Such personal choices and sharing are what makes a garden so special…from riotous cottage gardens to serene and orderly spaces…it’s the ‘gathered flowers in a Mason jar’ versus the ‘perfect arrangement in a crystal vase…’
THE DOG DAYS of SUMMER…that time from late July through early August. A period marked by lethargy and inactivity…the sultry part of summer occurring during the period that SIRIUS, the Dog Star or brightest star in the sky, rises at the same time as the sun…
Growing with the seasons…I’m awake, listening to the rain tattoo on the roof, thinking that my plans for working today with the potatoes should be put off to another day when the soil has dried. Oh, but I know there are lots of sweet and tender peas ready for picking…quite tasty raw, in salads or lightly steamed with butter! There is, however, something very special about hot, buttered peas with newly dug potatoes. So, I laid out a few “stepping boards” in the garden and forked up some stunning baby red potatoes that I will add to my peas!
Some Alpine strawberries are also already red and juicy…waiting to be picked!
Remember to top off the birdbaths with fresh water daily, especially during really hot days.
Dance by the Light of the Moon…Tonight, the full moon is so bright I don’t need a lantern to wander through the new white garden. My Moon Garden, full of white blooms and silvery gray foliage, is intriguing every day…but enchanting by moonlight. In the evening, flower shapes seem to standout and throughout the garden silver foliage twinkles, glimmers and reflects the glow of the full moon. Strolling through the fragrant shimmering garden I find fireflies and lacewings fluttering about. The sweet scent of white lilies, jasmine and roses float on the warm July night air…
So many friends asked for the recipe…
ROSE PETAL DROP SCONES
SIFT…2 ¼ C. Unbleached flour
¾ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
ADD…4-5TBLSP. Butter and blend until it resembles coarse corn meal
STIR IN…1/2 cup ground pecans into butter mixture
Combine in small bowl…1 cup of heavy cream, 1 tsp. rose water and ¼ cup of chopped rose petals [organic only]
Preheat oven to 425…add liquid ingredients to the dry and stir to form a soft dough. Arrange dough in heaping tablespoons on lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer scones to rack set over wax paper.
Make icing…1 cup conf. sugar
1Tblsp. Rose jelly mixed with ½ tsp rose water
Whisk together till smooth, add a little cream if icing is too thick. Drizzle icing on warm scones. Should make about 2 dozen. THESE ARE SO-O-O-O GOOD!
Please enjoy reading about July in my garden and then share with friends on facebook!