By Cynthia Brian
“Summer afternoon -- summer afternoon; the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James
The blackberry bushes flanked the horse stables on my grandparents’ ranch. My grandmother was a genuine horse whisperer. She lovingly cared for a herd of adopted steeds and rode in parades in her fancy Western wear. She even trained the horse for the television show, My Friend Flicka. Together, after an early morning gallop through the fields and vineyards, she would give my cousin and me an empty pail and challenge us to a blackberry picking contest. Our reward was a big bowl of berries with fresh cream dusted with cereal. I adored my horse-loving grandmother and those luscious summer blackberries.
Although I’ve always treasured horses, I stopped liking blackberries when I started growing my own. The thorns are menacing, and the bushes sprout everywhere with their underground runners. In the heat of summer, my days are filled with pulling out blackberry vines from flower beds instead of picking fruit. But this year I have a bumper crop of big juicy berries in an area where I’ve allowed them to flourish. I decided to risk the scratches to re-live the free-flowing glory days spent with my grandmother riding horses and gobbling blackberries in rich purple cream. It’s a short season for blackberries and they like it hot.
Meteorologists have predicted that 2020 has a 75% chance of being the hottest ever recorded. The good news is that we grow many specimens in our gardens that thrive in the heat. The bad news is that the Artic is rapidly warming and climate change is sinister. We must strive to reduce our carbon footprint while we indulge in the summer flavors of favorite fruits and vegetables and the beauty of heat-tolerant blossoms.
Unless you can water deeply and daily, August is not an optimal month to plant anything. But it is a month to enjoy the high-temperature lovers. Tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, peppers, eggplant, beets, zucchini, basil, and corn are a few of the vegetables that demand six to eight hours of sunshine to flourish. Summer fruits that require heat to ripen include peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, blueberries, figs, and, of course, blackberries. Limes are the only citrus that require a blistering summer to be at their best. By growing your choices in containers, specifically tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, substantial sunlight can be guaranteed by moving the pots to different areas and watering when necessary.
I have a pistache planted in a large ceramic cask that has already turned a vibrant red while other in-ground pistache trees are still a brilliant green. Crape myrtle trees, hollyhocks, and agapanthus pop into magnificent blooms when the thermometer rises. Lavender, salvia, sage, and roses grow vigorously in summer. Ubiquitous oleander and the common geranium beat the heat with a profuse of petals lasting until the cold weather begins.
As a child, the Four O’clocks lining our country road opened daily exactly at the prescribed hour. The ones that perennially sprout in my Lamorinda garden germinated from those ranch heirloom seeds do not live up to their namesake. My errant sun-worshippers open at 8 a.m. and close by 4 p.m. Blissfully, right on cue, just as my hillside is looking drab, dry, and dismal, my Naked Ladies poke their long necks out from their mounds. Every year I delight in their ability to shimmer when most everything else is withering.
The big question in the cauldron of August is when and how-to water. Just because a plant is drought resistant or heat-tolerant doesn’t mean it doesn’t get thirsty. To keep our garden healthy, we can’t under-water or over-water. What’s the secret? The optimum time to water is very early morning to prepare your garden for the day. The roots will retain the moisture and the plant will stay hydrated. Watering in the afternoon wastes water as it evaporates before it can saturate the soil. The evening is also a good time to water as long as the leaves have enough time to dry out. Watering at night encourages fungus, insects, and rot. Deep-root watering is always better than sprinkling. Adding three inches of mulch around all plants and trees will aid in keeping the moisture level correct while keeping the roots cooler.
If you have a swimming pool, pond, or fountain, you may discover that honeybees appear to be suicide bombers this month. Rescue them. When it is scorching, bees search for water then return to the hive to let other bees know the location of the source. A group of fifteen or more may tap the pool surface bringing back the droplets to receiver bees. According to entomologists, the water is then deposited along the edge of the wax comb while bees inside the comb fan their wings to circulate the air conditioning. Bees prefer hive temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so they like it hot, too!
August will be a sizzling month. Make sure you and your garden stay hydrated. Enjoy the fruits, vegetables, and flowers that relish the swelter. Pick a basket of blackberries, with or without horse-back riding.
Stay cool and enjoy a summer afternoon of hot, hot, hot!
Cynthia Brian’s Garden Product Tips
It’s important to frequent and support your local nurseries, garden centers, and stores, however, during the pandemic, many people are safely sheltering-in-place as much as possible. If you prefer armchair shopping with delivery to your home, these are affiliate suppliers that offer quality and satisfaction for almost everything outdoor and garden related. Some have current sales and others offer free shipping with minimum orders.
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For photos and descriptions list https://www.cynthiabrian.com/home-garden-products
Happy gardening. Happy growing.
Photos and more: https://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1412/Digging-Deep-with-Goddess-Gardener-Cynthia-Brian-Some-like-it-hot.html
Cynthia Brian, The Goddess Gardener, is available for hire to help you prepare for your spring garden. Raised in the vineyards of Napa County, Cynthia is a New York Times best-selling author, actor, radio personality, speaker, media and writing coach, as well as the Founder and Executive Director of Be the Star You Are!® 501 c3. Tune into Cynthia’s StarStyle® Radio Broadcast at www.StarStyleRadio.com.
Buy copies of her best-selling books, including, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, Growing with the Goddess Gardener, and Be the Star You Are! Millennials to Boomers at www.cynthiabrian.com/online-store.
Cynthia is available for virtual writing projects, garden consults, and inspirational lectures.