The Village Gardener: The Dog Days of Summer
Take the heat as your cue to slow down, relax and enjoy.
We've all heard the term "Dog Days of Summer," and this past month has certainly lived up to its name. According to Cornell University's "Curious About Astronomy?" site, the term dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome when Sirius, the Dog Star, was in conjunction with the Sun in the summer and was thought to be responsible for the summer heat by adding its heat to the heat from the Sun. The actual dates vary from region to region, depending on latitude and climate, but the Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11 – the days of the year that are considered the hottest, most stifling days of summer and when rainfall is at its lowest level, as the recent Village water restrictions can attest to.
Dog days, regardless of precise dates, can also refer to a hot or stagnant time marked by a lack of progress or movement, which has certainly been the case these days in my garden. As the weather has been steaming up, I've been losing steam; it's just too hot to do much of anything that requires even minimal effort. These days my "gardening" has consisted mainly of winding down the day with an early-evening cocktail on my front steps, checking out what's in bloom, observing the bees hard at work, and watching the goldfinches flit around the feeder. I may pull the occasional weed or lop off a spent blossom here or there, but mainly I'm just taking it all in.
Besides just trying to keep things watered, there are a few things you can do if, unlike me, you feel the need to be productive during these sluggish, steamy days:
- A lot of annuals have gone to seed by this time, so if you're in love with a particular flower you might consider saving seeds for next year. Morning glories, zinnias, cosmos and cleome all produce seeds worth saving. Just be careful with hybrids – the seeds will not be true to the parent plant, so be sure to note the variety and supplier of any favorites. I collect my seeds in freezer bags or envelopes, label them, and file them away for next year
- You should be receiving fall catalogs about now, so you can start ordering your bulbs for fall planting, as well as peonies and some perennials
- Cold weather crops can be planted at the end of August, including leafy green vegetables, broccoli, carrots, peas, kale, spinach and Brussel sprouts
As for me, I'm fully embracing these dog days and allowing myself to be the idle gardener. Spring is the season to prepare the beds, do the planting, keep up with insane amounts of weeding, and get things fertilized. Autumn is the time to clean everything up and put the garden to bed for the winter. But between those two seasons of industry lies summer; lovely, lazy summer – the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor, literally and figuratively. I admire the things I've done well, take note of things I want to change for next year and just enjoy the beauty of it all. After all, that's why we garden in the first place, right? To make our world a more beautiful place. For that half-hour in the evening when I'm out there, I'm not thinking about the bad news everywhere and all the tragedy and pain in the world. I'm thinking about how amazing it is that the honeybee is working so diligently on the seemingly endless blossoms on the Russian sage, or that a dragonfly feels safe perching on a purple coneflower about a foot away from me. I forget the world for a few minutes and hang out in theirs, and I'm better for it everyday.
Two books that I have found to be invaluable resources, for this article and all my gardening in general, are:
The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch
Month-by-Month Gardening in New Jersey by Pegi Ballister-Howells