Monday, July 15, 2013

Peak Season: Look Out for Those Valleys

The only problem with peak season in your garden, that brief period when it's looking absolutely its best, is you know the valley is coming right up behind.
Its been haunting me, this dynamic; this inevitable sequence in the nature of things. Two weeks ago I said to myself, "OK, this is the peak. Garden life this year will never be better than this." Sure enough, today I can say without hesitaton we are past the peak.
I measure this decline from the near complete exhaustion of our supply of blooms on the "common daylily" (as I have learned to call it), that gives our perennial garden the strongest color field of any of our species. The orange common daylily grow everywhere, they grow on the edges of fields and along country roads -- earning the nickname "ditch lilies -- so there is no special claim of virtue in growing a thick batch of these summer bloomers. But I have always enjoyed seeing them popping up in the traffic triangles and roadsides of the Berkshires and everywhere else in western Massachusetts, and so was delighted to find them growing here in Quincy. I divided them, expanded their territory, watched them thrive.
The "early" summer peak in New England gardens, from the Summer Solstice through the first weeks of July , doesn't rely on daylilies alone of course. For me it's also a time when my roses are fresh, my lavender smells of purple, the white Shasta raise their yellow seed-core centers to the color mix, and countless other species also lend a voice to the chorus. And other gardens naturally have other peaks, possibly at quite different points in the growing season.
But for me daylilies stick close to the path of the sun, which has considerably more influence on the garden than I do. Coming into bloom right around the longest day, the summer solstice, lilies stand up and salute the sun. They answer the call.
By mid-July the sun is coming back down from its highest point in the sky, the slight decline in the length of the day noticed by those who stay outdoors in the evening, going to the ballpark, walking the dog, playing with their kids, sitting on a stoop, or a porch or in a park somewhere. July feels like the beginning of the summer to many of us because of the traditional school schedule. July and August are the two months kids learn they can count on for freedom. July is generally the warmest month of the year, the month with the longest heat wave. August is generally the next warmest because of the steady build-up of heat in the atmosphere, and in the earth; there's a steady "seasonal lag" behind the progress of the sun.
Water warms up even more slowly, and cools more slowly, so July and August (and even September) are the best swimming months, the beach months.
All of these factors make us think summer's still peaking. But it's not. We're past it.
Lots of us are past our peak too. Personally speaking, I'm so far past mine I've stopped doing the arithmetic -- choosing, instead, to live now, and now, and now; or even, as a correspondent recently put it: "looking forward... always looking forward!"
The trick is to look ahead while you are living now, without cheating either direction. You bring the shape of the future, and the shaping of it -- the way you wish to shape it -- up close against the way you are -- the way you think, live. And so your vision is part of your living now.
And the past, that peak you achieve just moments before you begin your descent, is what you grow out of. It feeds you, fertilizes you.
So I bid farewell to another peak growing season (bye, bye daylilies, see you next year) and go about the business of contemplating the garden of the present day. And business of keeping it growing.
So let me see, what can I do now to make things interesting in August and September?
Valleys are just a dip on the way to the next mountain.