Summer Highs and LowsPosted on : July 31, 2015
I had a feeling it was going to play out like this. Back during the spring when it wouldn’t stop raining, I told more than one person who actually listens to my prattle that I would not be surprised at all if it stopped raining and didn’t rain again until fall. I’d seen it before. Saturated plants with shallow roots are gasping for oxygen only to be baked in a dry summer furnace and show worse drought damage than if we had experienced a normal spring. It’s almost unbelievable how quickly we went from too much water to too little. My cypress swamp has dried up, much of my un-irrigated lawn has turned brown, and my small one and two year old trees are dying. I carry six one-gallon bleach bottles full of water in the back of the truck to dole out to my gasping children. Some will make it and some won’t. There’s one thing I’m certain about in this life though: nature will run out of disasters before I run out of plants to plant! That’s what we gardeners do. We replant. We make things better. We create beauty where it doesn’t exist.
Before the typical summer drought set in, I took the opportunity to cut back all the perennials in my little front border. Most everything there peaks in June and was over-growing my little brick sidewalk and my double loop wire fence. So despite the bad neck and back (plus a new elbow malady) I got out the gas powered shears and gave everybody a haircut. Cutting back makes all the plants look tidier plus stimulates bushier growth and repeat bloom. I also removed two recently planted pass-a-long “Pete Monzingo” roses and replaced them with two new dwarf ‘Purple Magic’ crapemyrtles that I will grow as perennials in the back corners of the small rectangular border. The roses will go to the backyard where I’m planning a “makeover.”
Once I start cutting, I can’t stop. After watching my oakleaf hydrangeas start their annual brown tipped wilt I got out the chain saw and cut them off at the ground! I will replace them with three ‘Martha Turnbull’ hip gardenias. Last fall I removed the drip irrigation there and vowed once again not to grow any plants that refuse to live without extra water. I don’t mind helping things out when they are getting started, but I’m not going to have an IV hookup to my landscaping keeping it alive. I have a few faucets and hoses, one cistern, and six bleach bottles. No more. Suck it up. You have two choices here, just like the rest of us, live or die.
Not all was gloom and doom in Arcadia during July however. Despite a bout of spider mites on the ‘Pop Art Red and White’ plants, my zinnia trial provided plenty of bouquets for friends and family. I will refine my selection next year and stick to large flowered dahlia-types in pinks, lavenders, and purples. Most of them came from Renee’s Seeds (reneesgarden.com), an excellent mail-order source for flower and vegetable seed. Thank you Renee!
My Granny’s old ‘Celeste’ fig produced a bumper crop this year providing Cousin Pam with two kinds of fig preserves and friend Larry two batches of dried figs. There was plenty left over for me, the chickens, possums, raccoons, summer tanagers, red bellied woodpeckers, and mockingbirds as well. The sultry evenings were even scented with fermented figs, a most pleasant perfume in my opinion.
Several years ago Larry shared a small paper bag full of American basket flower seeds he collected near his home in Nacogdoches County. I kept them in the ice box at work until this past fall when I scattered them on a small triangular plot of land across the street from my pine savanna. I’ve tried to get sandy land bluebonnets growing there to no avail, but have had good luck with tickseed coreopsis. When the coreopsis seed dried I took the tractor over to mow it and to my surprise found a good number of basket flowers in bud. I mowed around them and will allow them to re-seed too. Hopefully I will eventually have a full stand of them and have a second showing after the coreopsis. They are quite beautiful. Then I would just have to mow in the fall.
Another reseeded surprise during the hot July was my Formosan or “Philippine” lilies. I got them in the 1980s from little Miss Christine Langston in the Arlam Community on the other side of Garrison and vowed to one day have as many as she did. She lived in a small white frame home with a little fenced-in front yard. The entire yard and surrounding woods were covered with them. I had to bend some over just to open her front gate. I told her it was the prettiest scene I’d ever witnessed. She was very sweet to share a bread sack full of seed with me. I tried for years to have them in my front yard like she did, but the two places they have found most hospitable are in the bed of ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ crinums in front of the Masonic Lodge out front and along the edge of my pine savanna out back. My annual control burn each spring break apparently doesn’t faze them at all. Though I try to have only native plants back there, I don’t have the heart to remove a single lily. The papery windblown seeds look like they are made of spun gold. There’s one across the street now and even a showy clump in my ditch along the driveway. Perhaps when I’m an old man some interested kid will stop by and tell me it’s the prettiest scene they’ve ever witnessed.
My friend Missy said she didn’t want to read about this in my blog but I’m sorry. If you are a friend of mine, my joys are your joys and my sorrows are your sorrows. My special dog Ilex that was in the picture with the tomatoes last month died in a tragic accident in July. When I first found out she was deaf I cried because I knew something like this was coming. Luckily Cousin Pam convinced me not to dwell on it. I was in Nacogdoches when it happened and rushed home to bawl and bury her beneath the weeping baldcypress next to my Rosie. I’m prone to poetry when loved ones die so I penned this short little one for her.
Goodbye sweet girl. You were one of a kind. -Greg
Written by Greg Grant
Greg Grant is an award-winning horticulturist, conservationist, photographer, and writer from Arcadia, Texas. Each month he writes an article for The Arbor Gate Blog where he is given free range to write about any topic that interests him. During the week, he is the Smith County horticulturist in Tyler for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and on the weekends, he and his wife tend Greg’s grandparents’ old farmhouse, his Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, a flock of laying hens, four terriers, one German shepherd, and three cats.