July in the Garden

It's high summer in the garden, and enough time has passed since spring planting for things to go really right -- or really wrong. If your okra is tender and your pickling cucumbers are perfectly petite, congratulations. For some of you, gardening probably hasn't been that rewarding, though. The catnip wilted, the dill bolted and that vision you had of a charming landscape buckled under the unrelenting heat. It's enough to make you want to cry into your sun tea.

I'm here to tell you that hardly anyone has complete success in the garden. Well, there may have been a little old lady somewhere in Tuscany once, or maybe it was Sacramento . . . .

One year its lousy weather; the next it's near annihilation by the invasive pest du jour. It's always something. You lose the lettuce to an early heat wave, but the watermelon does just fine. Success in gardening is about taking your triumphs where you can and coming up with revised strategies for next time. Maybe you plant the zucchini as far away from those yellow daylilies as you can get (to discourage squash beetles), or you might decide squash isn't worth the hassle and plant kale instead.

The good news is that it's up to you. The grand experiment of gardening -- and it is an experiment, even if you've been doing it for 30 years or more -- always yields interesting lessons you'd be hard pressed to experience any other way. It's also good exercise, fun -- and sometimes you do get tomatoes -- and herbs, potatoes, eggplant, onions, melons and a basket of berries for your trouble.

If you've lost your will to run out and weed those flowerbeds because of some premature losses, I'm here to share with you what Peace Corp English teachers used to say back in the 1970s: "The first year, you teach English. The second year, you teach remedial English." Things rarely go as smoothly as planned in English lessons or in gardening, but you learn as you go.

Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Make yourself some useful notes. You might think you'll remember that those pesky Japanese Beetles started showing up the second week in June, but chances are you'll forget. You'll appreciate having a journal after a few years, too. It will be your scrapbook of gardening long after your aching back and knees have made crouching among the seedlings less appealing.

Keep watering. Sometimes plants recover when you think they've given up. Have faith and hold the good thought. Nature can surprise you sometimes -- for the better.

Pinch back blossoms on herbs if you're after good leaf growth for harvesting. You'll have bigger leaves from, say, basil, and more of them. It's the easiest way to forestall bolting in summer weather for dill and cilantro as well.

Harvest your seeds. Seeds are amazing. If the plant varieties you cultivated this year flourished and set seed, they're good candidates for next year, too. The bonus is that each successive generation of seed will be uniquely selected to survive in the microclimate you're providing season to season. It's natural selection working for you instead of against you. It's kinda like buying custom kitchen cabinets, but without the high price tag. You get exactly what you need. Seeds are like cash, too. Save them up. You won't be sorry.


  1. Nice post - as I say, It's always a good year for something!

    1. Truer words were never spoken!

      Thanks for visiting.


  2. A gardening journal is a brilliant idea. Thanks!

  3. Great beans, lousy lettuce, tomatoes going WILD. Loved the post.

    1. Thanks, Marlena. My tomatoes are impressive and the catnip seems to be taking over.


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