Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Doldrums of July and Witchy Fingered Plants

Every year about this same time, I become completely annoyed by my garden.

All of the flowers of early summer, which looked so lovely a couple of weeks back, have now lost color and are starting to set seed. The late summer bloomers aren’t started quite yet. Meanwhile, the heat starts cooking here in DC and the cool season lawns all go dormant and turn brown.

This is the doldrums of native plant summer for me. Things that are tall and not blooming just looking like gigantic weeds. Things that are short look a bit forlorn with out blooms.

These frustrations were heavy on my mind when my friend M. from Peru came by to chat this afternoon. Tall, she said. Very, very tall. We stared at the particular plant in question, my Night Blooming primroses. They are tall -- but not by any stretch stately. And now, as we are about to embark upon July, they really do look like weeds.

Each night at dusk they become beautiful, as their fruit scented flowers unfurl like fairy umbrellas being popped open. In the early morning, the flowers linger a while and the bumble bees are insane and drunk out there, drinking up the yellow nectar.

In the first week of June those plants are still short and blend in with the rest of the plants during the day. But here in the midday heat of July they look like used tissues, limp and shriveled and awful. The tall, branching plants are covered in seed heads which remind me of witch fingers.

Within a week, I’ll cut them down and reclaim the garden. One or two I’ll leave; because the plant is biennial it will need to seed itself in for next year. But for now, we suffer through the witchy-fingered stage and wait for a refreshing rain storm.

What is this, M. asks delicately, going around the corner to the spot where the blueberries are still producing lovely purple orbs. She is delighted to see our vegetable garden, too, below the primroses, where squash and tomatoes are taking off in glorious, gluttonous abundance and our herbs are happier than ever. I cut basil, oregano, thyme for her.

She asks me how to say the name for chamomile in English, and wonders if it is the plant that helps you nap. We talk about making tea. The heat simmers with cicada sound all around us.

Iced tea is good too, I insist with a laugh. Let’s put in some mint.

Suddenly, above us, there’s a twittering of birds in the witchy fingers. A male and female goldfinch have arrived, pretty as could be. They land and eat seeds from the primroses before flying quickly off to another part of the garden. And I am left with M. to think of all the different meanings of the word “bewitched.”

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