Around here, it feels as if it’s our patriotic duty to be “done” with the garden by the Fourth of July. All new plants should be in the ground or displayed in festive containers on the front porch. Every last weed should be evicted and piles whisked to the compost. The garden should be trim and tidy, well watered, in the best of health, and in full, blazing, glorious bloom. Even though my garden is far enough from the parade route to permit a little messiness, I’m all for an early July, or even late June, planting deadline. It’s a good idea to get plants in before the weather gets too sticky to think clearly about proper placement, and too stupidly hot for them to thrive without inordinate amounts of TLC.
I’m nearly there. Almost done. Last weekend I pulled just enough weeds, and edited enough overgrowth to make room for all of the plants left in “the waiting room.” That’s what I call the back porch stoop, where I drop off my loot after trips to nurseries and friends’ gardens. It’s relatively shady there, out of the wind, and close to the hose. Truth be told, whenever there are plants in the waiting room, I leave the hose uncoiled within arm’s reach and turned off at the nozzle rather than spigot. I’d hate for anything to die of thirst so close to its release from captivity.
I always intend to get everything in the ground—or potted into porch containers—right away, and I managed to do just that with most of the perennials and shrubs I brought home to fill particular vacancies. But impulse purchases and plants I couldn’t refuse when offered—plants that required further thought—began to pile up as they always do, in the waiting room. Let that be a lesson to me to stick to the list. (As if. A “plantiful” garden is my raison d’être.)
Every frost-tender perennial and dahlia tuber I wintered over and purchased new also landed in the waiting room. I had to find slots in the garden for plants like Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’, Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’, and Cuphea ‘David Verity’ because they’re essential hummingbird magnets. African blue basil went in for the bees and the long light of fall, and spur flower (Plectranthus ciliatus) for flowers that arrive just as summer’s party winds down.
And wouldn’t you know, the minute the waiting room cleared out, I filled it again with four-packs of seed annuals like Nicotiana ‘Tinkerbell’, and a few more late-blooming tender perennials. The tiny starts will be so easy to fit in here and there I’ll wish I had bought more. But now that it’s officially summer, according to both the calendar and the high, blazing sun, I definitely shouldn’t make them wait another second to get in the ground.
A layer of mulch on any remaining bare earth (hold on—I must not be done planting yet!) provides the “finishing touch.” Shredded leaves would be my first choice if I had a stash. Instead I think I’ll finally splurge on a couple of bags of oh-so-elegant buckwheat hull mulch. Both choices help hold moisture in the soil (the best reason for topdressing now); they add organic matter to the soil as they break down, and are light enough to allow self-sowers to do their thing.
As ready as I am now to kick back in the shade and relax, I can’t imagine feeling “done” after planting, after mulching, or in time for the parade. There’s still so much to enjoy doing in any garden that grows and changes by the day. Some plants will want staking, others deadheading, others editing. I might even feel compelled to plant a few more things and can only hope that one day I’ll be caught up with the weeding. When pigs fly. The Fourth of July will come and go like it does every year, the summer season will stretch into fall and my garden won’t ever be done. Yours doesn’t have to be either.
Kristin Green is the interpretive horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum and author of “Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter” (Timber Press). Follow Blithewold’s garden blog at blog.blithewold.org.