One of the well-documented ironies of being an avid (read: obsessed) gardener is that many of the things we love about gardens – their peacefulness and beauty, are the very things that elude us as gardeners in OUR OWN GARDENS. Jokes are easy to make about the gardener who can’t see her own garden for its weeds, can’t sit down and enjoy her own garden because there is just the one more thing to do – right over there – right now. I’ll sit down and relax right after I get that one thing done. HA! As we all know, one thing leads to you noticing one more and one more and so on. It can be difficult to sit down, relax and enjoy your own garden and the rejuvenating therapy you designed it to provide. Photo: Hyssop or Agastache, a fragrant and reliable summer bloomer that does not want a lot of summer water.
Gardeners are generally a happy lot, however – even if we can’t sit still. Chico allergy specialist Anton Dotson, MD, of Allergy Associates tipped me off to one possible source of this happiness: according to a study done at the University of Bristol in England, a beneficial bacteria known as mycobacterium vaccae, which is naturally present in the soil, increases a person’s seratonin and norepinephrin levels – much like antidepressant medication. Dr. Chris Lowry, lead author on the paper from Bristol University, said: “These studies leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.” Yes, Dr. Lowry. Yes, we should.
But perhaps those of us who already play in the dirt a lot should try to relax a bit as well. If your summer vacation is a staycation at home – by all means play in the dirt, but consider taking an hour or two to pretend that you’re visiting someone else’s garden. Sit back and let the dragonflies and hummingbirds mesmerize you, drink in the sound of the songbirds, consider the sway of the grasses around you and the rustle of leaves in the tree branches above you. Let the heat slow you down. Read a book, take a nap. Curling up and pulling back is what even the best heat-loving plants do in the heat of the day – why don’t we?
If you need some good summer garden book recommendations – here’s a brief list of ones I like, old and new. They should all be available by calling an independent bookstore near you, for instance Lyon Books in Chico (530-891-3338), or by visiting your local library.
The Steamy, Adventurous and Generally Entertaining: Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire, by Margot Berwin; 2009, Pantheon Books.
The Lovely and Sweet: Mrs Whaley and Her Charleston Garden, by Emily Whaley and William Baldwin; 1997, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
The Well-Written, Observant and Humorous: Second Nature: a gardener’s education, by Michael Pollan; 1991, Delta Books.
The Thoughtful and Sublime: In the Eye of the Garden, by Mirabel Osler; 1993, J M Dent, Ltd.
The Fascinating: Flower Confidential, by Amy Stewart; 2008, Algonquin Books. (Stewart has a new book out entitled Wicked Plants, which I have heard very good things about, but I have not yet read. I will let you know when I do.)
The Bite-Sized and Fascinating: The Curious Gardener’s Almanac, by Niall Edworthy; 2006, Perigree Books.
Summer heat lovers are now lighting up the garden with extravagant and sometimes outrageous blooms. The heat-tender have retreated to the background – some more gracefully than others. Watering, deadheading, weeding are our primary tasks – along with enjoying the fruits and vegetables starting to come in by the basketful. Some of your heavy bloomers or crop producers would benefit from a mid-summer shot of organic fertilizer, a new mulch of compost or worm castings. This is a good time to prune spring-blooming or early summer-blooming shrubs and to cut back the foliage on spent bulbs.
Many garden clubs and groups lie low in the summer, but the native plant societies, nurseries and public gardens have a lot on offer this month: on July 11 in Redding, The McConnell Arboretum and Gardens hosts a workshop on Garden Photography; on July 18 the UC Davis Arboretum hosts a guided tour of water-smart plants; on July 25 in Chico you could go to a Worm Composting Workshop hosted by the Gateway Science Museum in the morning and still have time to get to the Plant Barn’s annual Summer Soiree with flower floozy food and fun all day. July 3 – Aug. 11 are considered the Dog Days of Summer, and the full moon falls on the 7th. More information on these events and many others can be found in the Monthly Calendar of Gardening Events. Have an event you would like listed? Send me an email with all relevant information: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.
In a North State Garden is a radio- and web-based outreach program of the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State, based in Chico, CA. In a North State Garden celebrates the art, craft and science of home gardening in California’s North State region, and is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved. jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio KCHO/KFPR radio, Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.