And the plants are too. For the last few days we’ve been hit by summer like a sucker punch to the gut with no chance to acclimate – one day it was chilly sweater weather; the next sent us gasping to our storage closets to find a pair of shorts that still fit. Even though we had a good soaking rain at the end of last week, plants are wilted. New growth on things like daphnes (this is Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ on the right) hasn’t had time to “harden off” and is too wimpy to stand up to early onset hot washcloth summer weather. And the beach roses (Rosa rugosa) are in a floppy full bloom – their scent mingled in the heavy salty air makes breathing deeply seem like a really good idea.
There are weather advisories to stay indoors but at Blithewold the work is outside no matter what the weather – because it’s planting time! We gave the volunteers the day off though to seek A/C and Gail, Joel, Cathy, Lilah and I finished (almost) planting the newest Display Garden bed and then we spread a cool shady layer of shredded leaves. And I pondered on all the ways we give our annuals a fighting chance (even when we plant during a heat wave). Spreading mulch on newly planted beds really gives new plants a leg up by cooling the soil (you might think a thick blanket would warm it, but no…) and slowing evaporation.
And then there’s care-full planting: Have you ever popped an annual out of the ground at the end of the season and noticed that, like canned cranberry sauce, its root ball is still in the shape of a pot? Teasing root bound roots seems like abuse but most of the time it’s a good idea (there are a few things that resent root disturbance – when in doubt, best to look it up). I start by loosening roots from the top down to encourage the spiraling feeders to go south and depending on just how bound the plant was, I scuff the sides and bottom until there’s little evidence the plant was ever in container jail.
I’ve also noticed that some plants fail to thrive when they haven’t been planted deeply enough. If you can feel the edge of the root zone above the level of the soil, it’s been planted too high. Dig again! No cheaters either – if you just pile soil on top and hope for the best, what you’ll probably get is a wash out and an dried husk of a snapdragon. As a matter of fact, if you plant deeply enough to create a pocket all around the plant for catching water you’ll save yourself the disappointment of runoff when you water. My last tip of the day (I’m full of them today, aren’t I?) is to cut back your annuals when you plant them especially if they’re in full forced bloom. I know it’s tough but I’m pretty sure you’ll appreciate the gusto of branching and new blooms later.
Phew. If I hadn’t already retreated to the (dis)comfort of home, I might be inclined to stretch out on the guys’ latest creation. (It’s another Fred Perry original.) You’ve heard of stepables? What about sitables?! The herbs they planted in their hypertufa bench will be an overstuffed cushion in no thyme.