Summer’s onslaught against gardeners looming
Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2023
By Felder Rushing
Funny how nobody judges Minnesotans for not gardening in midwinter, but we Mississippians know it’s nearly impossible to toil like normal under the summer sun in our suffocating humidity.
I mean, I garden part of the summer in northern England, where daytime summer highs are lower than July nighttime temperatures drop down to in the Magnolia State.
Anyway, Summer’s onslaught against gardeners is looming, so I am trying to set up my garden to be basically on its own, doing what I can to ensure everything survives, even thrives, with little direct input.
My most important approaches were gleaned from my horticulturist great grandmother Pearl, who carved out and built her tour-worthy Delta garden long before our little town even had running water, much less garden hoses. This woman, born in the 1880s, had a keen eye for beauty and a deep appreciation of durability, and gardened accordingly.
And I was a borderline unwilling partner, as she had me help with the planting, tending, and harvesting of vegetables, flowers, and fruits before I knew how to hide from her. I do suppose that something must have resonated with me, as I found out decades later when I came across a note in her handwritten garden journals where she referred to me as Little Professor. I was ten at the time.
Somewhere along the way during those early gardening days I internalized strong feelings that guide me today. Educator and author Luke Burgis calls it “inarticulate knowledge” – tacit understandings we have but can’t explain adequately. These gut feelings are usually based on a lot of things rather than a particular fact or event.
Anyway, Pearl’s astonishing assemblage of flowers, shrubs, herbs, wildflowers, vegetables, and fruits were the talk of her garden club, despite not having a motorized lawn mower, garden hose, weed killers, or most of the other tools of modern-day gardening.
I still have one of her long-handled “dipper” gourds with the funny knot in the handle, with which she parceled precious rain barrel water onto seedlings and other needy plants. Before you think this was terribly limiting, think back to floriferous Victorian days of overstuffed shrub borders and flower beds, and how their most durable plants are still kicking in small town and country gardens without regular watering.
Truth is, there are dozens of high-performance beauties that don’t need much input at all. My fav summer-performing stalwarts from Pearl’s garden include althaea (rose of Sharon), abelia (great butterfly shrub), daylily, canna, lantana, Little Gem magnolia, gardenia, crape myrtle, disease-resistant roses, succulents, and vitex with its blue spires. Email me for a free copy of the little brochure I prepared on this.
It’s one thing to create a tasty combination of these, but to get the most through all seasons, accent with an urn, garden bench, birdbath, or other personalized ornament, then admire the flower show-worthy scene from indoors while they duke it out with the weather.
To ready my garden for a summer of near neglect, I use some of Pearl’s standard summer chore-saving techniques. Main thing to begin with is stick mostly with tried-and-true heat-hardy plants, especially thirsty annuals, and cluster potted plants away from hot midday sun. I completely cover all exposed dirt, including in containers, with bark to reduce weeds and watering.
That’s it. Almost ready to hunker indoors during the Dog Days. One more good weeding and mulching, and I’ll wish my plants luck and expect to see them when I venture back out.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.