How can it be the beginning of August already? Maybe the weather hasn’t been quite hot enough yet (how nice to be spared a horrendous heatwave, knock on wood) or maybe I haven’t been to the beach the requisite number of times to render winter the distant memory it should be by now, because the last arctic vortex is still etched on my brain as if I had to dress head to toe in wool yesterday. It goes right along with wondering why January, February and March always feel interminable, while May through November go by in a flash. I suspect it’s because all winter long I’m overly mindful of numb fingers and counting the hours to the season ahead and my August vacation. And then, from spring to now-ish I get distracted by to-do lists and physical exhaustion and can barely keep up with all of the changes.
Even though I can’t ever wait a minute longer for vacation I always worry that summer might pass too quickly into winter again. Every year I’m alarmed when black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) start blooming at the end of July. I associate them with new shoes, pencil cases, and Trapper Keepers. They are schoolbus yellow but it’s been ages since my mom took me shopping for school supplies. Time just flies in the summer.
Most early summer flowers are long gone by now and I miss them. I’m sure I noticed and appreciated every columbine and corydalis spur, didn’t I? I pulled out all but one sweet pea vine that is taking advantage of our mild summer to keep pushing out fragrant flowers. Johnny jump-ups are still looking perky here and there in the cool shade of taller neighbors. I know gardeners who are bothered by spring flowers blooming in high summer, and I usually count myself among them, but this year I don’t seem to mind. They remind me that the whole season has been glorious so far and that it’s not over yet by a long shot. In fact, it only gets better from here on in.
I saw my first Monarch butterfly the other day. Fingers crossed that we all see them in much greater numbers than we did last year. Check your milkweed and butterfly weed plants (Asclepias spp.) for eggs and caterpillars. And check your dill, fennel, and parsley plants for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Those are pretty as creepy-crawlies go, bright green with black and yellow markings, but the adult butterflies are beyond beautiful. They’re huge, stained-glass yellow with splashes of blue and rust at the tail, and have been especially attracted lately to plants like purple coneflower, Agastache ‘Black Adder’, and culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum).
Butterflies of all stripes also go for the nectar of one of my favorite native shrubs just coming into its flowers now. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) with its elegant and subtly fragrant white racemes, thrives in partial shade and moist, acidic soil so I planted mine, a compact cultivar called ‘Sixteen Candles’, at the end of a soaker hose attached to one of my rain barrels and left dripping after every passing deluge.
The neighborhood hummingbirds have been making do with nicotiana, fuchsia, and trumpet honeysuckle while waiting for their favorite dish to come out of summer’s oven: the cobalt blue tubes of Salvia guaranitica that will bloom all the way until a hard frost. My plants took their time recovering from winter but it won’t be long now before budded spikes open. I’ll probably be away — on vacation finally! (already?) — when the hummers take their first sips.
I almost hate to leave for fear of missing any of the excitement in my garden. But I’m also ready for the fresh perspective that comes after an absence. No doubt, after even just a week away, I’ll notice every tiny change and feel totally relaxed knowing that this gorgeous summer isn’t even close to over.
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.