“… The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
And the nights smell warm and piney,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
Are yellow-green and tiny ….”
— from “Summer in the South” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Summer, the glorious months of summer, passes quickly, a riot of seeing vaccinated friends and relatives again while relishing our landscape at its lushest. Some mornings ease in with blue, blue skies, gentle breezes and intriguing aromas. Others, as the sun struggles awake, are foggy, steaming and positively cloying. And then yet others are awash in rain, rain and more rain. Time to treasure every moment of these mid-summer days of plenty.
Today the temperature is already above 70 degrees at five in the morning, but the barely risen sun is gleaming so I head out along the puddle-filled road listening to song sparrows compete with nearby cardinals and leaf-hidden red-eyed vireos. So leafy are the sugar maples, ash and oak trees, I am for the most part in a tunnel of shade, a little cooler than under that heat lamp of a sun.
In the first field, newly-hayed, are four tawny deer, two adults and two spotted fawns. The largest one lifts its head, stares intently at me with soft dark eyes, twitches its ears and then continues munching. I amble along. The same deer lifts its head, peers at me again, snuffles and then the four bound away.
Deer are more than plentiful this year. I see maybe eight every morning I am out and about early. Is this spotted fawn the same one born in our bed of Japanese irises a couple of weeks ago? A beautiful wee creature so startled by Danny and I staring at it that it hop-wobbled onto all fours and by the time it was 20 yards away from us gamboled into the woods. Are these the adults that meander onto our side lawn to the apple tree and stand on their hind legs to check to see if the apples are ripe? Or maybe, even though they look so innocent, are they the ones that strip the turtle heads and trumpet vine of leaves? Grrr.
At the large pond, barn and tree swallows are gathering on the wires, a sure sign that summer is moving along. So far there are only 10. This could be just family gatherings, rather than a mass movement for the mid to late August migration. Seven cedar waxwings are in the leafless tree as they have been every morning for the last few weeks.
Fun with fungi
In Hand Hollow Conservation Area — as well as along the roadsides and on my hillside — many mushrooms, loving the wonderful combination of rain and heat, magically appear, pushing up through sodden leaves and pine needles, grasping dead tree trunks and rotting stumps. Using the SEEK app, I identify many different kinds — red, white, yellow, gray, brown, bluish — with quite descriptive names: brown American star-footed amanita, yellow unicorn entoloma, ugly milkcap, collared parachute. Downed tree trunks are rife with shelf-like polypores, the most common: crowded parchment, violet-toothed polypore, artist’s bracket and the green mossy maze polypore.
Profusions of blossoming wildflowers pointilliate the fields and roadsides, adding dots of color to the green, green landscape: orange jewelweed, yellow birdsfoot trefoil, pink crown vetch, white and red clover, blue chicory. The first spike of purple loosestrife is a sure sign of mid summer. A few yellow whorled loosestrife, shorter and leafier than its cousin, appear on the hillside.
The seasonal bounty
By the time I return, the temperature is scorching. The vegetable and flower gardens need to be tended, but I decide to wait until later in the day when it is cooler. A midsummer vegetable garden can be intimidating as it matures. Delicious snap peas are gone now, plants pulled and that area readied for another crop — maybe lettuce when it turns cooler. The massive mini forest of volunteer cilantro has gone to seed; the next crop is barely an inch high
We have a bounty of beets, a plethora of potatoes, a cornucopia of carrots, all crops that may remain in the ground until cooking. The march of the other veggies has begun, though, starting with zucchini that you have to check daily to prevent getting baseball bat-sized fruit. The torrent of tomatoes is always welcome — for sauce, to freeze or for bowls of gazpacho. Cucumbers are still miniature, but cukes too can be eaten daily with the tomatoes and lettuce. Shallots, my new favorite vegetable, are nearly ready to be pulled and hung, as soon will be the garlic.
Peppers are slowly ripening as are the Japanese eggplant. Like tomato sauce, ratatouille, that wonderful combination of eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion and peppers, freezes well. There’s nothing better than the taste of summer on a cold winter’s night.
The yellow, orange and amber lilies are in full bloom with the late pink and white phlox just beginning to open. My small coneflower garden has finally filled in quite nicely, with so many blossoms that attract audible bees and beautiful butterflies: tiger swallowtails, black swallowtails, grand spangled fritillaries, American coppers, dun skippers, and the occasional monarch. Sneaky weeds have insinuated themselves into these beds. Where did those grape vines come from? I swear that sometimes they seem to appear overnight.
This midsummer abundance would not be possible without those liberal lashings of rain. Our son, Dylan, visiting from San Francisco, watched the rain pelt down and commented how wonderful it would be if we could transfer even half of this rain to the west. The unprecedented July rains created rushing rivers and streams, their roiled brown waters washing over rocks and eroding the shore.
After each heavy rainstorm, the rivulet on the side of our property could be heard running down the hillside into the culvert under the road from our patio. No matter the weather, midsummer is a magnificent time of year. Enjoy!