By Maureen O’Connell
Many years ago, an old gardening friend said to me that he didn’t want to die in June, since that was the best month in his garden. As we approach July, I also feel that touch of nostalgia for the glories of a June garden in full bloom. It might not be Camelot perfect, but, all things considered, it puts on the best show of the season. In my Shady Lane garden, the pristine white blooms of Bleeding Heart ‘Alba’ float above the fragrant, small, white flowers dangling beneath the leaves of the elegant Solomon’s Seal plants, and for about four to five weeks (before the dreaded heat of July settles over all) the hostas and ferns grow to unbelievable heights, each trying to smother the other. The thick, soft, gray wooly foliage of the Lamb’s Ear plants are upright and strong; they have not yet been dwarfed by their tall, pink-purple flowers spikes. The myriad daylilies scattered all over the gardens are bursting with great emerald-green flopping waves of long, plain leaves, which hide the slowly growing thin flower stalks preparing to explode with all colors of the rainbow. The dianthus, the quintessential cottage flower, had its first (and best) flowering—and I must not forget my lavender. He had a very bad winter, but, true to his strong Provence stock, he is making a valiant comeback. So I salute June. I mentioned in another article that this past winter was very damaging to my garden. Fortunately, my phoenix-like garden is coming back strong and, in some plants, better than ever.
I have a confession to make. In my article about winter garden damage, I said that I would no longer grow any David Austin English roses, grandifloras, or hybrid tea roses; they do not handle very well our climatic conditions. Well, I caved in; I had to have at least one proper rose. I bought six hybrid teas at a local garden center. I don’t even remember their names. Roses are not big sellers anymore, so selections are slim unless you buy from a garden catalog. I suppose I can take care of six, as opposed to sixty-six. I will consider them annuals, so if they don’t make it through the winter, I shall not be overly upset.
July is coming, with its heat and torrid conditions, its humidity, its pesky insects, and plant diseases. How does one handle one’s garden? You can ignore it and accept its deteriorating condition, or you can try to deal with its challenges the best you can. No matter what route you decide to follow, a few simple chores can improve your garden’s appearance. Tidy it up. Deadhead all flowering plants. Contrary to what Knock-Out Roses proclaim, they look very messy if you don’t continually deadhead them. Cut back early-summer blooming plants and hope they revive with a second wind. Remove and discard any dead or diseased leaves and limbs. If you are still watering, make sure you water the soil and not the leaves.
If you want to try to correct your plants’ problems, decide if you want to resort to chemical pesticides warfare or to go organic. This has been a hot topic for quite awhile in the media and horticultural circles. Depending upon your persuasion, you can find pros and cons to support your beliefs. Go into Lowe’s, Home Depot, or garden centers, and you’ll see aisle after aisle of products guaranteed to stop plant diseases, kill all bad (and good) bugs, double or triple the size of your flower blooms, and keep slugs and all other creepy crawly bugs from your garden door. It promises to keep your garden Living in Camelot. It is only in the small print in the attached leaflet that one reads: “Hazards to humans and domestic animals” and “Environmental hazards.” Now, I will confess that for years I sprayed for bugs and diseases with systemic chemicals. I believed that I was careful and environmentally responsible. I was using products that were well advertised and supported by many horticulturists. What turned me off this practice was the number of bees and butterflies and beneficial insects that I saw dead days after I had sprayed with my “safe” chemicals.
People ask me if organic garden products are safe for the environment. The answer is yes and no; it depends upon how you use them. The seeming contradiction between organic labeling and potentially harmful pesticide practices may lie in the relative leniency of USDA organic guidelines. The bottom line is that it is important for consumers to know what is going on. Just because a pesticide is labeled organic does not mean that it cannot potentially harm the environment. Under the umbrella of organic you have insecticidal soap, Bacillus thuringiensis, Pyola, copper fungicide, neem oil, and many others. Here, again, if you read the fine print, it might warn that under certain circumstances, that is, direct contact or residual effects, the product can be harmful to soil and water, aquatic invertebrates, bees, good and bad insects, humans, and domestic animals. There are no free rides. Horticultural chemistry has not yet solved the issue of selectiveness.
If you choose to address the problems in your gardens, I advise that you be careful; read all the fine print on all garden products. To protect the environment, do the least you can to interfere with nature; more is not better. We do not or never will live in Camelot; June might be our closest time to it. Enjoy your gardens as they are and when they are.