The gardener will be busy this month, and find that the available hours to work bear no relation to the amount of work that needs to be done. That is the hallmark of the June garden.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we officially transition in June from the spring garden to the summer garden with the longest night of the year — the Summer Solstice– falling on Saturday, June 20th.
Fireflies began to appear at Oldmeadow at the end of last month, and by the Solstice, it will appear as if the trees are decked with flickering Christmas lights to the tips of their eighty foot frames. The return of these miraculous insects each year signals summer for so many in warm, humid regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Here in this moist stream valley, the evening show is breathtaking.
This spring will forever remain in memory due to the sadness, unrest and uncertainty of world events, but it will also remain with many of us as the longest spring season we have ever experienced on the East Coast. Though we weathered two periods of hard, late freeze, blossoms have lingered, encouraged by cool nights and gentle days — and sweet morning breezes now encourage me to linger a little longer over morning chores.
Friends in the Midwest and South report a similar spring, while to our east and across the ocean, friends in the UK find themselves in the middle of drought after a devastatingly wet winter with much flooding – mimicking our winters and springs of the last two years. The only constant seems to be unpredictability. Yet, such is the gardener’s life.
Such is life in general. There is no ‘perfect season’ … no ‘perfect place’ … no ‘perfect time’ and we must adapt to the elements we are given with positivity and hope. Over 65 years ago, the author and scholar J.R.R. Tolkien touched upon this truth through the words of two of his most famous characters…
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– from The Fellowship of the Ring
Perhaps a gardening blog and fantasy literature are not obvious companions, but there is deep wisdom in these words, and I have reflected upon them often in the last few weeks. J.R.R. Tolkien was a man who witnessed the destruction of two world wars and great civil unrest in his lifetime. I am choosing to look confidently ahead, and I know that the healing power of the garden and the joyfulness of natural world is at play there.
As the seasons shift this month, look for those little glimpses of joy and commit them to memory. They are real.
“I should have planted that!” for the June garden
Carefully observing neighboring gardens month-to-month and putting in some of the wonderful things you see during the next planting season allows you to successfully increase your garden’s display season without having to experiment too much with timing. For the transitional month of June, how about….
Rosa rugosa– (Rugosa rose) A rose for those who don’t like to fiddle with roses and want more seasonal depth than a modern shrub rose can provide, rugosa roses are tough, reliable, attractive, and on the whole, extremely fragrant. They also bear deep red hips that are a rich source of Vitamin C.
The species name rugosa refers to the Latin root ruga meaning wrinkle or fold, and it’s an easy one to remember, as the leaves of rugosa roses are attractively crinkled in shades of deep green. The shrub begins to flower in my June garden and flowers for weeks, but can start a bit earlier or later, depending on climate.
In my experience, rugosa roses are virtually disease-free in the garden, and can handle a partial sun situation of at least 5-6 hours and still bloom well. They adore sandy soils and will sucker profusely. Heavier soils can cause a little chlorosis in the leaves, but it is important to NEVER spray a foliar fertilizer on rugosas, as it will almost immediately wilt and kill the leaves. Amending the soil below with compost and well-rotted manure is a better option.
The habit of a rugosa rose is strongly shrubby and upright, and they are often used on three-foot centers as a superb hedge. If not cut back in the late winter to a strong framework, a large shrub can grow to seven feet or more, holding unattainable blossoms near the tips and sending a layer of fragrance back to head level.
For some cultivars, such as the purple double ‘Hansa’ – the fragrance is overwhelming. A strong, deep scent filled with clove and musk and what I imagine perfumes the stalls of Anatolian rose oil merchants. Some other favorites are ‘Alba’ a single white I have grown for years, and ‘Roseraie de l’Haÿ’- a velvety crimson purple.
Large red hips are formed as the delicate, crepe-like blossoms fade, but if you wish to keep your rose flowering, clip them back as they form, allowing the rose to go to hips later in the season for a fall display. In autumn, the hips will stand out in scarlet against foliage that has turned bright yellow – absolutely stunning, and a great compliment to other fall foliage superstars.
If you suffer from Japanese beetles, you will suffer here — picking beetles off roses in the early hours of the morning before they are actively getting away from you. A quick sniff of the pheromone lure on Japanese beetle traps is a bit like sniffing an open rugosa rose. That should clue you in to their allure.
Still, I would not be without them. For someone who has trouble growing sun-loving roses in a sun-dappled stream valley, I have found them to be a good fit for my sandy alluvial soils. My first came from Rose Fire in Ohio, a nursery that specializes in Antique Roses; but I have had several from local nurseries — including one for which I paid a horrifying price based solely on the incredible fragrance that filled the summer air and virtually pulled the wallet out of my purse.
Now, back to the sweet, changing month of June and a list of tasks to think about….
Stop and enjoy your June garden. There is no point in doing this for the sake of some unattainable perfection…some five minute accolade from your garden club or an honorable mention on your HOA Facebook page. Garden for yourself, for the people you love, for the love of your plants – and then sit down and immerse yourself in your creation. Sooner than you think, all will be elves and snowmen and the wraiths of winter. Don’t miss the good times in your quest to create potential good times.
Well, weeding. Obviously. Summer weeds are well underway and some, like clover, Japanese stilt grass, pig weed, jewel weed and lady’s thumb are very scrape-able. Others, like dandelion and burdock will require a trowel if you don’t wish to see them again in a month.
WAIT UNTIL JULY to issue final death certificates for plants you think died over the winter.
Shrubs that have bloomed such as lilac, kerria or forsythia can be cut back now. If you wait a few months you will cut off all of the potential flowers for next year. That would be tragic, and quite frankly criminal.
Planting summer vegetables continues well into this month for late August harvests. If you forgot to plant peas and spinach, you can stop feeling guilty now. It’s over.
Keep your containers watered every day. If you got crazy at the nurseries and now have too many containers, group them together and near the water source. For maximum effect, containers look better in groups of three or five anyway.
You may be covering vegetables with fleece or netting to discourage bugs. If you have flowering vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers or zucchini you will need to remove it as soon as they flower to encourage pollinators. As for the bad bugs – time for hand picking, stem coverage (squash borer), and a large glass of wine (for you).
Fertilizer can still be added to shrubs, vegetables and flowers. However, make sure they are well watered before you give them anything.
Do not forget to overturn saucers, non-draining pots or anything that can hold a tablespoon or two of water. Day-biting tiger mosquitoes love it when you’re too busy to notice mosquito resorts created all over your patio. Food and shelter all in one place.
Some parts of your garden will look better than others at any given time in the garden. THIS IS OKAY, not to mention perfectly natural. Stop reading the magazines. Or at least read them with a strongly developed sense of cynicism. Pencil-thin models aren’t the only things well-posed, well-lit and well-airbrushed…
June’s garden means warmth and more humid conditions outside. House plants can go outside now for a revitalizing stint in the sunshine. You’d be amazed how good a housebound shefflera or asparagus fern looks when it actually gets water every day from the hose or sky. Bring them outside gradually, finding a shady spot at first. Full sun can burn very quickly and most will need to adjust to the new surroundings.
Houseplants soften edges of rooms and usually help with a room that is struggling in terms of decoration. If you’ve used them this way only to lose them to the annual deck migration, you are now liable to realize how dirty the floor is, how tired your sofa looks or how much your walls need color. Spring cleaning is usually on the menu right about now.
Don’t forget about your orchids, cuttings and faithful inside soldiers. Houseplants left indoors still need water and feed throughout the season.
“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
– Gertrude Jekyll