There’s a rule among gardeners that no matter when someone visits your garden, it always looked better the week before. The week before, the roses were in full bloom. The week before, the mustard greens weren’t riddled with flea beetle buckshot. The week before, the weeds hadn’t yet surpassed the growth of your plants.
Maybe that’s why we tend to think of things in terms of peaks and valleys. As in, “You should have been here when the raspberries were at their peak.” But, of course, a garden isn’t linear. Watching as the seasons transform a garden is surely the greatest lesson on the cyclical nature of things.
If winter is a garden’s valley, summer is most definitely its peak. The garden offers up treasures in every season. Even winter has its stark, sculptural branches; frost-edged blades of grass; and those few perennials that have the audacity to flower during the hard months. But let’s face it, the joys come more easily and are much more numerous in summer.
Which is why I love June. In June, the summer opens out in front of you, full of possibility. In June, there’s still plenty of time to plan barbecues and picnics, weekend getaways, and trips to the beach. June is warm enough to transplant out tomatoes and sow the beans, but still cool enough for heat-shy lettuce and radish. By June, even the most delinquent deciduous shrubs have leafed out, and the garden feels lush and full of promise. April and May reward our early-spring labours with fresh greens and snap peas, but that sense of true bounty doesn’t arrive until June. June has new potatoes and rhubarb and asparagus. June has strawberries.
If the June garden is that perfectly-put-together outfit, July is the one with too many contrasting patterns and accessories that still—inexplicably—works. At some point in July—overnight, it seems—the garden tilts into riotous chaos. The beds, so neatly defined just weeks before, become blurred and indistinguishable, foliage flopping into the walkways. Cool-season edibles, those stalwart pillars of the spring garden, stretch skyward in a desperate attempt to reproduce. July points out your missteps: the rows you should have thinned, the plants you should have staked. But none of it matters because it finally feels like summer: abundant, glorious, ripe.
The July garden should be a little out of control. Give in. Let yourself be seduced by its excess. In fact, you should host a garden party and let it get a little out of hand. You should serve cocktails spiked with garden-fresh herbs and fine local spirits. You should encourage your guests to snack from your vegetable beds and try out the tire swing. You should stay up past your bedtime and watch for meteors. You should not apologize for the state of your garden, or mention the peonies that just finished flowering. You should, as the motivational calendars say, embrace the moment.
Because it is just a moment. A wonderful blip. August is still, of course, summer. But the fact is, it’s on the way out. That’s the problem with peaks: just as peak means high, it inherently signals decline.
As summer yields to autumn, and autumn inevitably succumbs to winter, hold fast. Know that spring—and, hallelujah—summer, will come again. But right now, relish the fact that summer is still ahead of us. And make plans to enjoy it.
A garden checklist for summer
- Sow corn, in blocks, throughout June (pre-sprouting the seeds will give them a head start).
- Sow bush and pole beans, beets, carrots, kale, and parsnips (through mid-July).
- Transplant eggplant and pepper starts into the warmest place in your garden.
- In mid-July, sow arugula, chard, endive, kale, lettuce, scallions, mustard greens, spinach, parsnips, and turnips for fall through next spring harvesting.
- Find a way to celebrate summer; hang a hammock, host an outdoor movie night; have a canning party.