Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Gardening in August

It’s hot—really hot—and the hardest thing this time of year seems to be keeping ahead of the weeding. The weeds seem to grow even without water or care, while the other flowers suffer as the weather reaches the highest temperatures. Last year, we had a drought, but this year, it's been raining every afternoon. That's terrific for my roses, but not so great on the weeding front as we're literally taken over by weeds. We are particularly plagued by pink purslane (Portulaca pilosa L.). It’s related to that wonderful and very colorful annual Portulaca (moss rose) and some folks have decided to stop trying to weed out purslane as it does have a lovely, bright hot pink flower about ½” across that opens during the day.

You can see from this picture that it has reddish stems and less clearly, rather “succulent” leaves. This specimen is getting ready to bloom, but isn’t quite there yet.

Some have been known to use purslane in salads as it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. In antiquity, it was one of several pot herbs that “should be sown in April” according to Theophrastus (4th century BC). Pliny advised wearing it as an amulet to expel all evil due to its healing properties. It is known as Ma Chi Xian in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for dysentery and topically to relieve skin abrasions or insect bites.  However, it also contains oxalate, a compound implicated in the formation of kidney stones, so I personally do not include purslane in our diet, particularly since our variety of purslane is not the yellow-flowered variety one commonly uses in Europe in salads.

So you see, what is one man’s weed is another man’s sought-after herb.

And it’s hot enough now that I’ve decided not to make any real attempt to eradicate purslane from our garden. I’m very fond of it growing over the edges of our brick walkway, so I think I won’t worry too much about pulling it out.

This is, of course, the time of year when marigolds really come into their own. I’ve always loved marigolds and adore all the new varieties available. There is even an off-white one that is absolutely terrific as a “bridging” plant between the hot colors of late summer marigolds and the mums of fall, which often include rich rose and burgundy. And don’t forget the plants with colorful foliage like coleus that come in everything from lime green and white to deep burgundy. They can also be used effectively in planters and gardens. They are beautiful all summer, even when other plants have stopped blooming, since they are grown for their foliage. They do need to be pinched back, though, to keep them busy.

Late July and August is also prime time for verbenas, as shown in this photo. The plans are blooming powerhouses and will attract hundreds of butterflies and hummingbirds. They come in a variety of colors, including delicate pinks as well as hot orange and pink combinations. If planted in good soil with the occasional watering, they will grow as high as your waist in one season. Folks in USDA gardening zones 7-10 will find verbenas will grow as perennials as long as you remember not to cut them back too far in the winter. The hollow stems will fill with water and freeze, thereby killing the plant, if you forget.  Nonetheless, this is an extremely easy to grow plant that requires virtually no care and will survive if you forget to water for a few weeks.

If you grow roses, don’t forget to water them and feed them to prepare for another glorious season of bloom in late August-September. Remove any hips (dead flowers) to encourage bloom production. Old wisdom said to clip off spent flower sprays down to the first 5-leafed leaflet. I simply pinch off the hip, leaving all leaves on the stem. Leaves are good—they are the energy factory for the plant—so the more leaves you can leave a plant, the better.

Hope you are enjoying your summer garden!

Stay cool in the dog days of summer and don’t worry if you let a few weeds intrude. Just tell anyone who comments that they are an herb you meant to grow there.

Finally, although the nearby cotton field has another month to go before the cotton "balls" form, this time of year always reminds me of my second Archer family Regency romance, I Bid One American. The heroine is a "fish out of water" as an American heiress living in London. If you want a light, funny read with a touch of mystery, you might check it out. And yes, those white things on the cover are cotton...

No comments: