Flowers relish the summer, as do humans

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Once the first daisies open, summer is here. They know by the change in night length that spring has passed into summer and the long light-filled days will be shorter each time. They relish this time, the months of flowering and fruiting, as do we humans. We have waited for these warm, bright, fish- and fun-filled weeks throughout the winter and spring, and now is the payoff.

Like gold into our vaults, the wealth of the year is poured out around us. The big red hawthorns are blooming; lilacs and rhododendrons fill our yards with color and aroma, and the march of the big garden perennials is well underway. Peonies, summer primroses and the giant bleeding hearts create swells and undulations, frilly coral bells and sprightly catmint surround the edges with thousands of tiny blossoms, and the scent of the culinary herbs that sweep through the yard reminds us that we do not live by bread alone.

Our lives are enriched by every moment we spend in our gardens, by all the weeds we pull, and by the new growth that softly slips through our fingers as we feel the leaves and branches of our shrubbery. The trees we plant respond by showing us their latest leaves, the inches of new branches they grow and the fullness and muscular shape they display as they pass from infancy into adolescence. They are accompanying our children into the future.

We feel the presence of the garden flowers as we come home, and after sharing the events of the day and rushing through the final ball games and maybe even sitting for a few moments and companionably nattering about nothing much, we go visit them. Summer seems so fast, the days are so long and so much is packed into each one that when we can finally look at the garden we notice major changes have gone on. Summer flowers are out, spring blooms have faded, the next big wave of population has arrived, and it's not just perennials that we see.

The beds and borders have filled with the bursting-out foliage of the new shrubbery. Ash-leafed sorbaria and snowmound spiraea, cover themselves with new leaves. Each cluster of green contains a small embryonic bloom, and the careful observer can tell how the flowering will be arranged in each species of shrub or bush. The roses are sending up their buds and some tough old plants, many hard-hit by the late spring frosts - are blooming on new growth that sprang up from the roots.

Pruning out the deadwood of these shrubs will greatly improve their appearance, and by removing the frost-killed limbs we allow the new growth to fill those gaps. The huge redstemmed rose at the Community Methodist Church in Douglas shows how this power of the resurgent root system will make up for the loss of major branches. Feeding these rapidly growing beauties will help, too. A layer of composted manure, a handful of fertilizer and a slowly trickling hose will work wonders.

Summer also brings home the fact that our landscape plants do need to be watered if we want them to do well, particularly the newly planted ones.

Rain is enough for maintaining well-established shrubs and trees, but not enough to establish them. They are dependent on us for that. Newly planted trees will need to be watered every day, and shrubs at least every other day for the first few weeks until they can grow their roots out into the surrounding soil. Look at the army of young people watering at Landscape Alaska. There are a dozen hoses and somebody on each one.

So many landscape plants were killed by that March freeze that people have been planting new shrubs and trees like never before. New homes and older gardens alike are adding outdoor foliage, replacing those lost and embellishing what they have. Summer seems like the time for expanding our living spaces, and there's no better way to do that than by capturing some of the perimeter of the property and converting it into usable areas.

These newly planted zones are first bounded by a tree or a few bushes. Gradually the beds and colorful perennials come along, and soon it is an integrated part of the yard. Trees and shrubs make the outlines, but the fullness and everchanging beauty of the perennial layer are what we really look for in these beckoning places. Summer encourages us to enjoy ourselves in the garden, and the garden always pays us back.



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