Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

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Recently harvested garlic is hanging in a garden shed for curing.

STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! No, that’s not a message for pedestrians trying to cross Main Street in Great Barrington. Rather, it is a suggestion for folks who spend endless amounts of time tending to their home landscape and gardens. Sometimes we get so involved in the work that we fail to stop and look at the results.

That thought popped into my mind early last week when, after an arduous day, my wife and I decided to sit on the front porch, something we hadn’t done in a long time. It was early evening and in those moments of relaxation, our attention was soon drawn to the mix of flowers and shrubs bordering the front lawn. The beds were primarily the work of our daughter, Jennifer, a professional horticulturist. The only break in this wall of plants was the walkway from house to driveway.

At first, our vision and minds became totally focused on the diversity of color and shape of the flowers of the many plant species and varieties in the border. But, as we looked, we became aware not only of the flowers but also of the different textures and colors of the plant foliage. There are the silver-green leaves of catmint (Nepeta), the fern-like silvery-gray leaves of Artemisia ‘Silver Mound’, the speckled leaves of lungwort (Pulmonaria), the broad and variegated leaves of hosta, and the burgundy foliage of bugbane (Actaea racemosa 'Brunette'). While our eyes were locked in on those plants, a slight breeze suddenly swept in and our attention was immediately drawn to a motion. It was the swaying of the tall and very slender flower spikes of feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'). Watching its graceful motion could almost put one to sleep.

Plants were not the only life we witnessed — pollinating insects abounded. Of particular interest were the butterflies that fluttered about from flower to flower. (I could never understand why these insects are called butterflies. Shouldn’t they be called flutterflies or flutterbys? After all, I’ve never seen butter fly.) Besides insects, birds also were drawn to the gardens. It was so enjoyable watching a hummingbird zoom in and then hover while poking its needle-like beak into the bright red, tubular flowers of bee balm (Monarda). Hummingbirds favor brightly colored flowers, especially red flowers, with tubular shapes since they, supposedly, produce the most nectar, the primary food for hummingbirds.

As the breeze subsided a bit, our senses then detected sounds. We listened attentively to the sounds of bees buzzing about while feeding on the nectar and sap of our lavender plants. Intermingled were the chirping sounds of birds and cicadas.

I could easily add another item to the missive of Stop, Look, Listen, and that would be Smell. Though our senses were already nearly saturated with the visual and audible wealth abounding in the garden, we could detect the scent of lavender, as well as that of sweet peas and roses.

All in all it was a wise decision to STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!

Now stop and look at this list of tasks for the week ahead:

  • Harvest garlic once the lowest 3 leaves have turned brown and dried. The first step is to dig up the bulbs as opposed to yanking the plants from the soil. I usually lay the plants on the ground for a few hours to allow the soil surrounding the bulbs to dry enough to be easily shaken from the roots. The plants are tied in bundles of 10 or 12 shoots. These are then hung in a shaded, dry and airy location, such as a garden shed or beneath a canopy, where they are cured. The plants may also be placed on a screen but must still be placed in a non-sunny, airy place. Curing takes about 3-4 weeks, but a bulb may be taken at any time one is needed in cooking. In a few weeks, I’ll explain what to do with the bulbs after curing.
  • Pull up onion and shallot bulbs once the tops have flopped and dried. The tops may be cut off, leaving a stem one to two inches in length. Onions also must be cured in the same manner as for garlic before placing in storage.
  • Keep an eye or two on summer squash, cucumbers and bush beans as they are ripening fast and harvesting may need to be done almost daily. Keep in mind that larger specimens of these veggies are neither as tasty nor nutritious as younger ones.
  • Leave a few sweet green peppers on the plants and allow these to ripen fully, that is, turn red. Red peppers have a milder flavor than those harvested at the green stage.
  • Make daily tours, preferably in the early morning hours, through vegetable and ornamental gardens and landscape. Midsummer is a peak time for pest insects. If pesticide applications are needed, use organic or natural pesticides and make the applications as early in the day as possible in order to avoid harming pollinators. Even organic pesticides can be harmful to pollinating insects. No matter what product is used, be sure to read and follow the label instructions. Pesticide labels are legal documents and are legally enforceable: the label is the law!
  • Prop up the branches of heavily loaded fruit trees. Limbs of dwarf trees are especially susceptible to breakage as the fruit enlarge.

Okay, STOP reading this column; LOOK for your garden tools and LISTEN to the hum of bumble bees.