From mid-July to the end of August, I’m impatient to turn the calendar page to September. Summer lacks the drama of autumn, the gray and white moodiness of winter and the budding promise of springtime. By summer solstice, the petaled skirts of my flowers start to unravel and fade in the withering sun.
If I were a hiker or a backpacker, I know I would find joy in summer’s high blue skies, the woodsy fragrance of pine needles on a forest trail and the glory of a meadow’s wildflowers. But I’m a woman who walks through the neighborhoods of my town, pausing at rose gardens and Victorian houses. Mosquitoes stalk me in summer, and I am always on guard against sunstroke.
When the days grow cooler, I’ll be ready to pour out the last of my special hydration potion — a blend of cranberry juice and water — and come inside for a mug of hot tea. September will bring wisps of wood smoke, a sudden tartness in the air, dark blue twilights, and the first fallen leaves, lying red and gold on the sidewalk.
I look back on this summer, though, and flap my garden hat to celebrate a few surprise victories. Trying to grow vegetables is always a dice game for me. My plants plump up like winners in July, but fold before Labor Day. In June, a total of three of the zillion lettuce seeds I planted had germinated. By July, only a few more seedlings poked their little green heads through the soil. Another epic failure, I thought — until I realized that my husband and I are not rabbits. I can pull one ruffled head of May Queen or Butter King lettuce from the raised bed, and we’re set for three days of homegrown salads. We don’t need a zillion plants.
Our tomatoes continue to delight us, and I’m making notes about which of the six varieties we grew will remain in my keeper file. Every year I forget which ones we liked best, so I’m using a simple chart system and grading each variety on taste, texture and longevity. The winners are Red Racer, a medium-size champ with top marks in each category; Japanese Black Trifele, with its purple and green flesh and intriguing name; and flavorful Bloody Butcher, whose image I try to forget every time I reach for my slicing knife.
Our carrots aren’t yet ready for prime time, but I’ve set up a ratings chart for them, too: Red Cored Chantenay, Organic Napoli and Organic Yaya. I wonder if there will be a discernible difference in taste among the three varieties — or if maybe a carrot is simply a carrot.
Our pumpkins have already grown so big that I can stand a few yards away, squint hard, and spot a few small (very small), orange-ish globes among the vines. Setting the success bar so low is key to an impetuous gardener’s annual squash-related delusions.
Last week, however, a friend offered a perspective that changed my thinking. “We moved our pumpkin patch to a bed with good soil, fertilizer and compost,” she said. I nodded in agreement.
Then my friend sighed. “Ours grew a lot better in clay and gravel.” So next year it’ll be tough love for my mutinous divas.
Sydney Craft Rozen has promised her neglected chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, that her next column will give him the massive ink space he believes he deserves. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org