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The July Garden

July 10, 2005|by Dorry Baird Norris

We were delighted that so many of you attended our open house last weekend. Gardens are best when they are shared. It's always a treat to have new eyes look at the garden.

As we toured around the property, we were constantly confronted with unexpected pleasures.

  • The Russian sage by the front walk, cut to the ground in April, is now a fountain of gently moving purple wands.

  • Brightly blooming echinacea rears up out of a mass of steel blue sea holly, safe from the predatation of the local rabbit population.

  • At the corner of the dye bed, twisting green stems rise Medea-like from an underplanting of bright blue alkanet.

  • A thriving stand of bright yellow yarrow is the perfect frame for orange day lilies and a blue butterfly bush.


Perfect vignettes. But like gardening itself, they are fleeting.

Joy of joys, one sharp-eyed visitor caught sight of the first monarch butterfly caterpillar of the season. It was contentedly munching on the tall feathery fennel plants that have sprung up among the tree mallows.

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For two years I've been moaning about the peculiar shape of my Kousa dogwood. Fresh eyes enjoyed it for what it really looks like rather than how it is supposed to appear. Our visitors declared firmly that it looks like a bird - a peacock or a turkey. Just imagine, a topiary with no tedious clipping.

Fresh eyes not only discerned the birds I hadn't recognized but also noticed a Virginia creeper, clambering up the chimney. For weeks, my eyes have been on the ground - all I could think about was weeds, weeds, weeds - and had missed this potential disaster. Yesterday when I went out to tear it down found it was growing not only up the chimney but was also insinuating its tendrils into the back of the air conditioner. A disaster waiting to happen.

Among the roses we discovered other invaders - Japanese beetles. Will tip them into a jar of soapy water rather than spraying. Years ago, I earned my way to summer camp by picking Japanese beetles off my father and grandfather's grapevines. The going rate was a penny a dozen.

Giving tours of the garden also serves as a reminder of the annual summer jobs that need doing - like dead-heading. Of all the places I've lived, Washington County has the best conditions for plants to reseed. To prevent hordes of volunteers, the lemon balm needs to be cut back to the ground the minute after it thinks about blooming. A haircut is also in order for the nepetas. Cut back now, they will soon bloom again.

Our various bee-balms are just beginning to flower and they are glorious. But too soon - especially in this hot, dry weather - they will fade and need to be cut back, really cut back. Check the base of the plant and you'll discover a tuft of new growth, the old stems need to be removed to this level. The happy result - another crop of flowers before the summer is over.

As soon as the seeds on the coriander turn brown, pull up the plants and shake a few of the dried seeds over the ground for a second crop. Turn the remaining stems upside down in a paper bag and hang to dry in a warm place. Collect the seeds for kitchen use.

The first crop of nigella (love-in-a-mist or, if you prefer, devil-in-a-bush) is spent. Now's the time to pull up the plants, shake them over the ground, then stand back and await your new crop of lovelies.

Sydney Eddison wrote: "Gardens are a form of autobiography." Each week, you read my word garden autobiography. So it was a delight to welcome you to my real garden world. Thank you for coming.

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