By Margaret S. Hamilton
Daily temperatures are above ninety in Cincinnati, the riverfront air heavy with humidity, my yard filled with insidious biting chigger mites. It’s tempting to spend all day pushing the dogs off a major air-conditioning vent so I can stay cool, but I live with the constant threat of the yard police reporting me to the village authorities. Early every morning, I venture outside garbed for the equatorial jungle, shielded by two coatings of bug spray, wearing long sleeves, pants, and high socks, for an hour of intensive weeding.
Some of my neighbors have beautifully designed and maintained perennial gardens. Iris blooms in May, followed by June daisies and daylilies, and during the summer doldrums in July and August, brown-eyed Susans and coneflowers. The beds are mulched and edged, with nary a weed in sight. Perfection, with no soul, like a book of pretty prose, lacking excitement and emotion. Boring.
I, however, subscribe to the “fill the beds with plants to crowd out the weeds” philosophy. Unfortunately, thistles, vines, and sucker growth co-exist nicely with my perennial salvia and short, reblooming daylilies. Meanwhile, in what used to be an organized shade garden, the giant hostas have engulfed the dainty astilbe and silver ferns, evoking memories of an epic sixties sci-fi movie, The Day of the Triffids. And the prickly pear cactus the previous owner planted next to the curb, probably to deter dogs, is expanding with great enthusiasm.
While hacking back the worst of the sucker growth and vines, I savor moments of joy: a crepe myrtle I nursed after two back-to-back winters of crippling below-zero temperatures will bloom this year; a precious Japanese iris flowers for one day every summer; helianthus from a deceased friend’s garden; each fragile hydrangea blossom emerging from bushes reduced to dead stems after what is now our annual late-spring hard freeze. Harmonious blooms of purple salvia, peach daylilies, and dwarf blue spruce next to the walkway, and the late May show of Caesar’s Brother blue iris and red knock-out roses around the front door. A combination of rosy returns daylilies and raspberry monarda bloom for the Fourth of July.
Emotion, conflict and resolution. Subplots with robins teetering on thin limbs as they devour service berries, nesting song sparrows, and visits by a red-tailed hawk. The sweetness of the goldfinch’s song as it flits across the yard with its distinctive zig-zag flight. The occasional black snake and resident rabbit eating her way through the flower beds. More worrisome, daily coyote sightings when neighbors walk their dogs at daybreak.
All is not well in our area. In addition to late spring freezes, we have too much rain in the spring, followed by summer droughts. The reliably healthy spruce trees have succumbed to Cytospora canker fungus. Expensive injections didn’t save the ash trees from Emerald Ash borers. We have fewer birds, bees, and butterflies. Caterpillars should be crawling all over my parsley plants. The monarda, normally a-buzz with bees and hummingbirds, is quiet.
Readers and writers, what do you think about while tending your garden?