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Unexpected August joys

August 15, 2004|by Dorry Baird Norris

"What is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days"

- James Russell Lowell




It's obvious that Lowell never gardened in Maryland. If had he, would have rejoiced instead over those rare, perfect days in August when the thermometer stays below 80 and the humidity is bearable. I celebrated two of those rare days last week and toiled cheerfully in the garden.

Lopped off the seed heads from the fennel and was ruthless in uprooting many of its seedlings.

The rosy tree mallow (labeled Lavatera thuringiaca) from the historic plant collection at Monticello, seemed like such a polite plant when I first got it. It produced delicate pink flowers on five-foot stems, over a long season. But now it is a monster. It launches thousands of seeds over every part of the garden. The subsequent seedlings send their roots down deep into the ground. Digging them out is a trial. This fall, I will make a 36-inch-tall cage around two of them and eradicate any that come beyond the boundary.

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In the spring, I planted three concentric rings of lawn chamomile (Chamomile nobile 'Treneague'). The tiny offshoots (that came from two small plants I bought a year ago) are filling in faster than I believed possible. By the end of next summer we should have a solid circle of this fragrant, low growing perennial. Several reference books suggest that the plant doesn't flower, but at the moment there are a few tiny yellow flowers springing up from the delicate mat of stems.

In the back of the lot, I was reminded yet again of my mother's warning - "Be careful what you wish for; you may get it." For our first two autumns here, when the struggling sweet autumn clematis on my neighbor's fence produced a delicate cloud of flowers and feathery silver seedheads, I was envious. This year, perhaps encouraged by last year's rain or just reaching maturity, my clematis is growing up, through and over everything. In the future, it will bear watching.

This year I didn't quite get around to planting a Red Hat Garden, but I did put together a large and very satisfactory pot. I used two Supertunia 'Mini Blue' petunias. The Supertunia petunias flower non-stop and don't need to be dead-headed. They love the sun but will also flower in partial shade. Ours trails attractively over the edge of the pot. Petunias are native to South America, where it was called petun, from the Brazilian word for tobacco. The petunia is kin to the nicotiana, or flowing tobacco, an old-fashioned garden flower.

'Mini Blue' is the most purple-blue I have ever seen and is smashing combined with a bright red penta . The penta is also called 'Egyptian starflower' because of the small star-shaped flowers that appear in clusters on sturdy stems. The name pentas comes from the Greek word for five (think pentagon), as each flower has five petals. It thrives in hot, humid weather and seems to produce endless blooms.

And the penta isn't just a pretty face. I had no sooner gotten into the house when Roy pointed out to me that its nectar was being assiduously harvested by the tiniest of hummingbirds. As that one disappeared, another, slightly larger one came to take its place. They both ignored the red salvia that is also in the pot and that is supposed to be a hummingbird magnet. For the last four days, to my delight, they have appeared like clockwork at 11:10 a.m.

Nearby, the few cosmos seeds I tossed into the garden weeks ago are beginning to flower. These are the low-growing variety. They have taken the place of the cheerful yellow calendulas that usually re-seed. This year, they are missing. Where, I wonder, did they get to?

This year, the butterflies seemed to have given the yard a miss at least until this week. When I cut back the butterfly bushes, I left a few blooms, and suddenly the butterflies are vying for the remnants. Then there are the goldfinches. They swoop down in droves to collect the seeds from the fading anise hyssop.

So it seems that even as I despair over the condition of the garden and moan about the work I haven't accomplished, other living things find joy in my neglect. Never underestimate the possibilities of good things coming from failure. Or perhaps it's serendipity - finding agreeable things not sought for.

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