Sunday, August 25, 2013

Color Of Late Summer A Pre-Autumn Brown Now

From today's Times and News-Star

Somebody named August stopped by and beat my back yard flowers like a drunk farmer would beat a rented mule.

Hurts me.

But experienced gardeners – I am not one – will tell you that this is the time of year when the most valiant of efforts falls short against the late-summer sun and all-around effects of a north Louisiana summer. This year’s was mild by our standards but still hot enough to take a toll and make the bravest plants wilt.

Eventually, they all holler “Uncle!” Am I right?

I was a first-grade flower planter about 15 years ago, got out of the game for a while, and jumped back in this year with wild abandon. But I knew my time was limited, that coleus would fade, that begonias were not eternal. I have eyes and a memory of yards that looked like Oz in July and like a backwoods waste dump in August.

Pick any parish. Mr. Sunshine is undefeated against them all.

But what a ride it has been! If you wish to get into the flora and fauna game, you can do it. I did. All it takes is coaching yourself up, asking your friendly nursery worker a question or two (or a thousand), being willing to spend a little money and accept a few failures, and gallons upon gallons of water from a hose that will feel by the Fourth of July as if it’s surgically connected to your hand.

Watered 45 minutes a day.

I started with a patio hibiscus, a gardenia, and a bougainvillea. Humble. I had only the faintest idea of what each was.

Because our back yard dirt is clay, I had to employ pots, knowing that during the summer I could learn the literal lay of the land. And I learned this: my dirt is hard as a teenager’s head. Also clumpy. Mr. Clump. So I borrowed from my brother-in-law a tiller that is big as Skylab and, at takeoff, as loud. Our wrestling match is ongoing. Meanwhile, I have wheelbarrowed landscape mix hither and yon. What a joy!

As that battle continues – autumn soil prep, as they call it in the gardening racket – the pots flourish. Ours flourished, past tense, though we do have current minimal flourishing; some is blooming because it wasn’t supposed to until late summer, a pleasant surprise to me. Like most of the stuff I’ve planted, I have no real idea what it is. So what I’m trying to say is that God created so much stuff that, if you’re willing to sweat, you can have color and texture and hummingbirds and butterflies all the livelong day, even with minimal knowhow on your first at-bat.

Take, for instance, your Bat Faced Cuphea. (“What?” That’s what I said.) The flowers are little bat faces (not the baseball kind) and surprisingly free flowering. Coleus, in many colors, is perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve planted, as some goes in shade and some in sun and one of them grew so much I thought it was going to eat the house.

Salvia has been disappointing, except for the black and blue: gorgeous. The tricked-up begonias have been hit-and-miss too, but the hits are homers. Daisies are late-summer heroes, like the wild berry coneflowers and calibrachoa and some kind of periwinkle thing that’s stealing the show now. Angel “something or other” is fading but has been a great complement. And the sweet potato vine? Sweet.

The lights are growing dim. Brown is making a move. But … the cavalry – what we call pansies -- are on the way.