“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
Henry James must have been a gardener, because summer is the time of year that those of us with green thumbs cherish. June, in particular. Buds are bursting into flowers everywhere you look, the smell of “green-ness” fills the air, and the leaves on the trees are still fresh and haven’t achieved that mid-summer leathery look yet. It is a time of promise and beauty, yet it is also a time when gardeners eyes cross with the sheer amount of work that is to be done. Whether you are growing vegetables, maintaining a flower bed, or “simply” mowing the lawn, the list of things to be done can be mind boggling. What follows are a few things that, although perhaps not time saving right now, will translate into a little more leisure time later in the summer and for summers to come.
Stake. Some plants, like tomatoes and Peonies, will need help to stay upright because of the weight of their fruit or flowers. Now is a good time to add these supports, especially for Peonies, as they will need the support almost immediately as they will soon begin to flower. There are all sorts of hoops and stakes available on the market, and you can also use branches and twigs, which usually blend in really nicely, and are free!
Cut back. Some perennials that bloom in the fall, like Montauk Daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) and the tall asters will benefit from being cut back by a third this month. This will make them grow back a little thicker and sturdier, and be less likely to flop when they flower.
Mulch. With the heat of summer upon us, mulch is very important to keep plants’ roots cool and to conserve water.The window of opportunity to spread it is closing quickly, however, as the plants grow bigger, making it harder and harder to get between them. But a little work now will save time watering and weeding later.
Plant a quick screen. Have you just discovered that your neighbor’s favorite spot to dump his weeds is visible from your living room? Have you just found the perfect spot to sit and read all those gardening magazines, only to find that every person that walks by your house can see you and wants to stop for a chat? Then pick up an Elderberry plant (Sambucus spp) or two and create yourself a fast growing screen. These plants can get quite tall and wide if you let them, and they grow very quickly. They are easy to keep under control by cutting them to the ground every once in awhile. And, if you are so inclined, you can make cordials, wines, and jelly from the flowers and fruit.
Reduce the time spent on caring for your lawn by replacing some of it with groundcovers or flowerbeds. While more labor intensive at first, both of these alternatives to mowing will save you time in the long run.
Edge your flowerbed with horizontal pavers. By doing this, you can run the outside wheels of your lawnmower over them and you will cut the grass right to the edge, thus eliminating the need to use the weed-whacker later.
If you are thinking that all these things sound like more work, not less, then you would probably be right. But a little work now, in the fresh, early days of summer, will save you time later, during the hot, sultry days of August. Try a “Power Hour”. Turn off your phone, choose one task or area in the garden that you want to tackle, and tell yourself that you are only going to work on it for one hour. Make it a power half-hour if that’s all the time you have. After that, you are going to go back to work, or doing chores, or taking the kids somewhere, or whatever you need to do to keep your life running smoothly. But for that hour, you are going to work on that one thing only. You will be surprised at what you will accomplish. To paraphrase Leonard Bernstein, “There are two ingredients to success. A plan, and just not quite enough time.”
June is also the time to check out farmers’ markets, buy the veggies that you didn’t have room or time to grow, and to see what interesting new vegetables and fruit are out there. Lettuce and spinach is ready now, and peas are right around the corner…
Happy June, everyone!
“The perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” -James Dent