It is mid September and the garden is looking more tattered and aged than usual. The above picture shows the dried and burned grass in the sunny portion of the garden. The foreground freedom grass still looks quite green but it is really best seen from a distance. September is the month of natural decline as plants complete their life cycles. Days are getting noticeably shorter but this September has been very hot. Not hot if you live in Austin, TX but hot for New England where air conditioning is still not in every home. Until today, we have had no significant rainfall since mid-August. This garden and the gardener are dependent on well water. A well ties one a bit more closely to nature. Choices must be made regarding water usage. Shower the body or the garden? Drink a cool glass of water or quench the thirst of a garden full of plants? With hundreds of feet of borders, a vegetable garden and a week of vacation, Mother Nature has chosen to remind me of the necessity of water. Those thin, large leaved plants with shallow roots are the first to show the signs of water stress. Hydrangeas and astilbe are limp and crispy. I cringe when I look at the withered foliage in the garden but here and there in the garden there are a few pristine perennials. One small and rather insignificant perennial herb shows no sign of stress. You might think it is the wooly leaved lamb's ear or the gray foliaged yarrows but even those plants have turned limp or browned. The Queen of the Garden this September is the herb rue, Ruta graveolens. I have only one plant and it has gotten no attention during the dry spell. Its foliage is blue and smooth and just looking at this plant brings down the heat. It is cool to the eye. It is an interesting herb which is native to the Balkans where the climate is hot and dry. Rue has been used medicinally for centuries and was said to have been ingested by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to improve their eyesight. It can also cause violent vomiting and gastric distress and the oils from this plant can blister the skin. It is also quite bitter. I will stick to using it in the garden. I have read that soft tip cuttings taken in the fall and stuck in moist sand will root during the winter. I may just have to increase my stock of this plant and give this a try. It would make a lovely border plant as it grows in an upright, rounded form. Rue has long been a symbol of bitterness and regret but I have no regrets in planting this cool beauty in the garden. In fact, I know I need a few more of them.
Has a gardening season ever flown by as fast as this one? No, that's not a pumpkin, yet. It is a tomato and the tomatoes tell the tale. They ripen during the hot days of August here in my garden and August is the beginning of the end. The tomato vines look a bit dismal with the yellowing and spotting of leaves (no, I am not going to show you) but they are laden with fruit and the fruit is perfect. For some reason I planted these 30 vines much too close together this year. I don't know what happened and can only offer the explanation that the snow did not leave the garden until mid-April which condensed the season's spring cleanup and rattled the brain of the head gardener. I plant mostly heirloom tomatoes starting them from seed in April. The vines are about six feet tall. Well they would be if the cages made by the Equipment Manager were six feet tall. As it is, they are tumbling and spilling down the sides of the cages. It is a jungle out there. A divine smelling jungle. I try to plant a variety of different tomatoes each year although there are favorites.
'Mortgage Lifter' is one which I won't do without. It is delightfully acidic and huge. One slice for each BLT sandwich. I have come to adore 'Pink Berkeley' for its dark green and red striped skin and great taste.
This year I have grown 'Copia' for the first time and it is also quite large and golden orange. It has a surprising 'punch' of flavor and very large fruit. The early tomatoes, 'Early Wonder' and 'Sioux' throw out a few small tomatoes in July but the bulk always ripens right along with the late tomatoes.
One other stand out favorite is 'Indigo Blue Beauty' which has a mantle of shading on its shoulders. It is a medium sized tomato with excellent flavor.
Paler than pale, 'White Queen', looks a bit insipid and drab. It has very soft skin, almost mushy but I decided I must at least taste it and was pleasantly surprised with the sharp, pungency of its flesh. There is consolation to hot days, dry weather and withering foliage when you have a table full of tomatoes. I believe that tomato flavor results from the 'terroir' of the soil in which the tomatoes are grown, much like wine. I have tried 'Brandywine' and they have had little flavor although it is the heirloom with the best press agent. That said, the worst tasting home grown tomato is always better than the best tasting grocery store tomato. The dark and cold days of January will come all too soon but here, for now it is tomato soup, tomato salad, tomato heaven.
August has brought with it high heat and lethargy. I have a new appreciation for those who garden in warm and down right hot areas of this country and the world. There is nothing that saps the strength like heat and humidity. It is time for porch swings, adirondack chairs and tall, sweaty glasses of cool drinks. Or, one could do piece work. The walkway to the front door runs right through a patch of ledge. A jackhammer was required to level the area for the brick walk. On either side of this area there is the still existing ledge and pockets which are too shallow for planting resulting in a design dilemma. For years I have had decorative rock in these spots. Beach stones are pretty and smooth and solved the problem of planting in these spots but they also got dirty and weeds were a problem. They grow pretty much anywhere they can grab hold. Another solution was necessary. A friend of mine is building a new patio and she mentioned that she wants some mosaic laid in the hardscaping. She is artistic and will probably do it herself. She told me this some time ago. That thought steeped and settled and finally percolated to the top. I would do a mosaic of the beach pebbles on the right side of the walkway. It is a small area and a manageable project. So, I picked up some polymeric sand at the local stone supply company. You can read about polymeric sand here. It hardens once water is applied to it making joints stronger. It is fairly impermeable which means there is little option for weed seeds to germinate. I then cleaned out the existing rocks, washed them and settled down on a very warm summer afternoon to create. I laid a two inch base of poly sand in which to set the stones. Once the stones formed the pattern, I added more sand to the top and swept it between the joints. Then, water was applied. Two hours later, the job was done. Not perfect but very pleasing to my eye.
Now the question is 'should I attempt the other side'? It is a larger area and a bigger project. I am undecided. I would love your input.