The last time I visited these pages we were at the solstice, the apex the growing year, and now a mere two weeks later lawns have browned off and seedheads begun to form.
Are we on the wane so soon? It certainly feels like it: I’m tired of gardening after four months of slathering attention on annuals, weeding, planting, watering, propping up perennials, clipping shrubs…
So in an effort to perk us both up, I thought it best to articulate what IS wonderful about the dog days of summer. And because list-making makes me feel accomplished, we’ll follow that form; an easy-to-follow, do-as-I-say-type column which I hope will serve as a happy reminder to us both.
1. Celebrate colour. I once poo-pooed dahlias, now I have too many to name. Robust reds, gawdy pinks, scorching oranges, burnished burgundies; I bought in big and come July I’m glad I did. Once the roses fade, dahlias offer serious focal power. (Please don’t quote me on this, but they’re practically deer proof too.)
2. Grow grasses. I’ve mused about savannahs here before, but the sway of seeds strikes some agri-note in me and conjures visions of ripe fields. Some of the most successful summer gardens use grasses—as screens, as texture—so disregard everything I had to say about dahlias above and go in for movement. The flow of grasses mesmerizes on a warm night. Easy to find selections include Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Molina ‘Skyracer’ (to 7ft.) and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’, the latter being the perfect naturalistic blur for summer-saturated eyes.
3. Plan for scent next year. Burying your nose in sweet peas, sniffing a mignonette, or lingering under the sweetness of a Nicotiana somehow makes all the work of gardening worth it. Plus, many scented flowers release their perfume at night (the better to snare insects) so when the heat of the day dissipates and you’re relaxing on the deck at dusk you’ll love your flowers all the more. (FYI: Mignonette is not solely a pretty shallot sauce for raw oysters, it’s also the name bequeathed to a flower that struck the favour of Josephine Bonaparte. She became infatuated with the scent after Napoleon brought her some from Egypt. I’ve grown it from seed this year—Reseda odorata—and while unassuming, it’s quirky cute, the bees adore it, and truly has a most unique scent somewhere between vanilla and grape soda. Still grown for the perfume industry, mignonette was immensely popular in Edwardian and Victorian times. Yes, that cloying.)
4. Hoard, lay it by, stash: ’Tis the season to bring the bounty indoors. I harvested garlic this week and I’ve been stocking the freezer with a black currant (what an easy shrub to grow!) compote perfect for duck. I’ve cut my poppy pods, bunny tail grass and Phlomis stems for drying. What I’ll actually do with these bits I’m not sure, but Thanksgiving and wreath season will come and I’m hoping to feel like a domestic goddess.
5. Take a holiday. The great English garden designer Dan Pearson has a new book out, Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden. You can read it on a beach. Gain inspiration from outside.