Sunday, June 22, 2014

I can see my breath tonight

It’s chilly out tonight, so it doesn’t really feel like the Summer Solstice is upon us, but it’s come and gone. It’s sweater wearing weather, which feels so strange in June after the last couple of sweltering summers we’ve all been through, but for me it’s a sweet reminder of my childhood. I grew up in Sagaponack, not year round, but every weekend and every summer and I remember summer evenings just like this one. We’ve see a few fireflies already, but for me they were a July sensation, captured in a jar when my skin was already the deep brown that comes from wearing a bathing suit all day long.  We never needed air-conditioning when I was a child, just screens in the windows and perhaps a fan or two on a few August nights.

As I sit writing this on the kitchen porch I can hear the sound of the ocean and the petals of my ballerina rose drop slowly as if dancing with or curtseying to the evening cool breeze. I am not minding what everyone else is calling an unseasonably cool June -- I like it. The roses are loving it, no heat and thus no black spot, the fungus needing the combination of humidity and heat to start its relentless attack. There’s talk that using a combination of milk and water to spray the roses will slow the creep of the fungus, but I am now just reveling in a June with roses billowing like overstuffed pillows and kousa dogwoods dripping pink and white.

There are no June bugs tonight, but that’s okay, it feels like the earth is slowly stretching into summer, and the June bugs will be bouncing off the screens again soon. I too, like those awkward brown beetles, am nestling into a quieter sleep on these cool evenings, and life is good.

I picked snow peas from my garden this evening and after steaming them for just seconds, had a plateful for dinner. No butter, no salt, just sweet bright green deliciousness. I even shared a few with the dachshunds. Perfect summer meal. Three days ago I cut enough garlic scapes to dress both my forearms with bangles of green up to my elbows. The pesto will last all summer long.  The hydrangeas are recovering, my tomatoes are starting to expand, the dahlias are about 8 inches high and it all feels right to me.

The weeds are a little relentless, but the cool evenings mean I’m not too tired and exhausted from the heat of the day to pull out the armfuls I must remove each evening after work. I am making a dent. Not a big dent, but it is progress. This summer is teaching me to be patient. To wait and them appreciate each bud as it opens. Yes the peonies came and went too fast, the rain did mine in, but the mock orange is an intoxicating perfume that more than makes up for it.

I am learning, after decades of gardening that each year is different. There is no certainty in my garden anymore. The winter was hard on my skimmia, eighteen years of beauty, and now it’s still looking bad, but my yellow magnolia that we thought for sure was a goner, has reveled in it’s hard chop that left thigh thick trunks exposed, trunks that are now pushing handfuls of luscious new growth. I lost a number of crape myrtles, but the spirea is bountiful. I am learning to appreciate the stalwart garden standards more.

Viburnums had a magnificent spring, and my apples and pears are laden with small fruits. My hive survived the cold and threw off a new colony into one of the abandoned hives that remains from last year’s deaths. Those bees persevered through the cold with a strength that gave me all the fruit that’s slowly forming, and even my fig is pushing out new growth from its roots. Sure the hydrangeas are smaller this year, but that’s just an opportunity to tuck dark pink nicotianas into the spaces and give my resident hummingbirds more floral dining options.

The smell of privet is something we don’t get much anymore. Too many hedges are tamed; few are left to roll wild and free like the waves on the beach. There are buds on my privet and I am loath to prune it. My childhood home had a hedge that ran perpendicular to the road that was as tall as the house itself. The only thing taller was the ancient beech that stood solitary to the west. I loved that hedge and it’s wild unruly scent. There was no pruning of it, who would have even known where to start. It billowed waves of summer into our bedrooms when the cool air danced into our rooms each night. That was the beginning of summer for me each year, not the ending of school, although that too was lovely.

There were no gardeners in my family, so I didn’t know that having butterfly bushes that topped out above the garage was unusual. There was milkweed growing wild in the fields that were not plowed, milkweed that feed butterflies and gave us magic, silken pods that released dancing ladies each fall. And that flower’s scent I mess as well.

Back when there were only handful of houses on Hedges Lane, the night sky still smelled the same as it does now, the air still tasted the same and listening to the rhythmic pounding of the sea was a quiet, easy way to drift off to sleep. To still have those same joys now is a gift that I am happy to receive.

Paige Patterson came home with three new hydrangeas tonight, who even knew there were still hydrangeas out there she didn’t already own.

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