Hot Town, Summer in the City
We’re in the peak of summertime, heading towards Labor Day fun and maybe thinking about getting the kids back to school, planning the last summer trip, or just relaxing on the porch with a cool ocean breeze and a good book. Usually, our time in the garden has dwindled because of the heat (and humidity—gross), and we only venture out when we have to, i.e. weeding, dead heading, watering, etc.
Well I’m here to tell you that, yes, you can plant some things at this time of year, specifically vegetables that will be ready to harvest in the fall. I would steer clear of planting large shrubs and trees, as the stress of transplanting in the heat of summer will surely cause damage.
Instead, wait for fall for these larger specimens. Perennials may be more successful and you may find them on sale at nurseries so they can make room for their autumn stock delivery. Care should still be given to make sure they receive enough water, especially during times of drought.
Some species, such as coreopsis, warm-season grasses, and sedum thrive during the heat of summer as their biology has adapted to tolerate these conditions.
Coreopsis and grasses have slender fine leaves that limit the amount of moisture that exits the plant through transpiration. Sedums, however, are able to store water in their waxy leaves which can carry them through long periods without rain. (These plants make excellent choices for roof gardens as well since they can tolerate extreme conditions.)
But let’s talk about a vegetable garden. In my last article, I opined about my childhood and the bounty we grew in our small side yard. I’m sure many of you have backyard vegetable gardens or even a patio garden with some tomatoes or peppers in containers. We are now approaching the time for planting autumn-harvested vegetables. So find some space or replace some fading plants with some of the following: beets, Chinese cabbage, carrots, chard, endive, kale, leafy lettuce, potatoes, spinach, and turnips. Start these from seeds placed directly in the ground.
Start the following by planting seedlings outside: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and head lettuce.
For starting a vegetable garden, I suggest a raised bed—it will help to keep a few animals out plus you will not need to bend over as far. These are easy to build with leftover lumber; they even have kits available now at local home improvement stores.
One secret ingredient to gardens is the addition of compost. I can’t stress enough the importance of nutrients and drainage. To install a raised bed, I recommend a blend of 50% soil, 25% sand, and 25% compost, tilling these together to form an even mix. The sand will help with drainage and the compost will provide nutrients.
In addition, compost is composed of decayed organic matter and actually holds onto water for an extended period. There is also something called “compost tea,” and it’s amazing. Look it up. It’s like spraying magic throughout the garden. I wouldn’t be surprised if a gnome popped his head out and asked for seconds.
For shady areas, think hostas, astilbe, hellebores, and natives like some ferns, foamflower, bugbane, white wood aster, Solomon’s seal, spiderwort, and even a couple goldenrods that can tolerate part-shade.
Frank Lloyd Wright was an iconic architect who always married his buildings with the surrounding land. I love his work, especially Falling Water. Visit it in the autumn for a stunning display of nature. Here’s a quote from him that I especially love: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Here are a few tips and tricks for working in the garden at this time of year (or anytime really.)
1) Try to limit your time outside to morning or evening hours. The sun is hottest from 10 to 4, and heat exhaustion can come on faster than me chasing an ice cream truck.
2) The morning and evening hours are best times to water plants, too. Watering during the hottest hours under full sun, the moisture will most likely evaporate off the plants and soil.
3) Use kneeling pads or pillows if you need to get to ground level; it will really save your knees. A garden bench-on-wheels that holds tools, is even better. I recently saw one that had an umbrella attached that cast shade on the person below—brilliant!
4) If you have a tendency to lose your small tools in the garden, wrap the handles with brightly colored electrical tape—you’ll spot them easily.▼
Eric W. Wahl, RLA is a landscape architect at Element Design Group and president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.