Common Ground – Summer’s Lease…


“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date…”

Shakespeare Sonnet 18

The summer of 2017 has certainly been a season of rampant growth in the garden. To get to my tomatoes to stake them recently, I had to clear away several groupings of annual poppies.

These had grown to the size of small shrubs.

Poppies make a wonderful splash of colour in the vegetable garden. They’re prolific self- seeded annuals that come up reliably every spring. I weed out most of the seedlings and just leave a few.

I have Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas), old fashioned Victorian opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) and California poppies (not really poppies at all but Eschscholzia). Shirley poppies and opium poppies come in many shades of white, pink, purple and red. They can be single or double or the very full peony flowered form. California poppies are mostly orange singles but can also be yellow or white, single or double.

The Harrowsmith Annual Garden refers to annual poppies as “the perfect symbol for the ephemeral northern summer”. Each flower lasts only a day or so. It’s worthwhile deadheading poppies as the plants will flower longer if you take the trouble to do this.

California poppies will take a lot of frost and go on flowering into November. I have seen them survive a mild winter.

I have never understood why anyone would want to separate flowers and vegetables. To me growing things is growing things. There’s no reason that the hollyhocks (singles only please; the doubles look like toilet paper flowers) shouldn’t be next to the potatoes. Which are next to the sunflowers. Put it all in there together and call it a cottage garden. Pole beans look a lot more interesting with some morning glories mixed in.

Other self seeded annuals that add colour among the vegetables include love-in-a-mist, cosmos and portulaca. Also popping up reliably every year along the sandy paths in the vegetable garden are night scented stock and white nicotines. Both of these smell wonderful at night. I was fortunate enough recently to hear a whippoorwill at dusk when I was out in the garden enjoying the fragrance of the night scented stock.

There is a story that Arthur McMahon (who built the house here before 1900) used to play his fiddle on the porch and the whippoorwills would answer. I have no idea if that’s actually true but I want it to be true.

After many attempts I have finally managed to grow a respectable showing of sweet peas. I planted Incense Mix and Old Spice and they’re doing well with the huge amount of rain we’ve had this season. They’re not as lush and full as the ones my grandfather grew. But they smell wonderful and they are the best cut flowers bar none.

I’ve noticed that the milkweed in the field beside the garden smells particularly sweet this year. I’m guessing that this has to do with all the rain we’ve had. I don’t remember it ever smelling as strong as it does this year. And I have also seen a lot of monarchs and monarch caterpillars this year. It’s great to see all the monarchs after not seeing very many last year.

Finally, has anyone else noticed that tea bags seem to be made of Kevlar now? I planted some tomatoes where one of my composters used to be and noticed white fibrous bits in the soil. These were the obviously not broken down outsides of tea bags. When I started looking around the garden, I found the fibrous bits in other places, too. So as fussy as it might seem, I now just put the tea in the compost and not the bag.

Happy short northern summer. Soon enough it will be time to think about daffodils and fall.

By Jill Williams

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