Guest post by Jane Eaton Hamilton
“Winter is the malady, while flowers, blessed flowers, are the antidote.”
I am suffering from late-season gardening. It’s a disease that I’m sure must be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) next to bipolar illness. It starts every year in mid-July and builds until by September I would really rather visit someone else’s garden than look at my own. Heck, I’d rather move.
Joy and I garden extensively for colour. That’s what we long for after a craven, grey winter—give us hue, give us saturation, give us a field of crocus exploding yellow and purple heads through tufts of winter debris. And keep it coming. I want daffodils yellow as egg yolks and tulips red as rubies and irises purple as Easter. I want red roses and cream foxgloves and poppies the colour of dawn. I want clematis thrown over arbors like blankets. I want an extravaganza. I want to use up all the synonyms for all the colours in the thesaurus. I want to look out my windows and see pink—rose-pink and flesh-pink and salmon-pink. I want to look out and see purple—lilac, orchid, lavender, mauve, plum, violet. I want to see yellow—gold, citron, honey, butter, quince, saffron, topaz, banana, tawny, amber, ecru. It’s been cold, it’s been colourless, it’s been dark, it’s been hard to get up in the morning. Winter is the malady, while flowers, blessed flowers, are the antidote. Never mind the emergency ward and our ailing medical system; for the best cure, gardeners just have to step outside.
I have friends who garden with foliage more than flower—moss and fern and hosta retreats that make me imagine a forest—and other friends who garden for low maintenance with junipers, cedars and cotoneasters. None of them seem to suffer from late-season gardening disease, or if they do, they’re not fessing up.
Me, by halfway through the summer, I’m pooped. All used up. I’ve composted and fertilized and deadheaded and staked and watered and sprayed till I feel, well… A year older. I’ve got colour-fatigue. I’m all done in. Let me just slide into a Muskoka chair, put up my feet, sip from a tall perspiring glass of lemonade, close my eyes and drift away to the sound of lawnmowers and buzzing bees.
Let the fall begin! What’s August anyhow? August is just the long windup to September, and it’s full of my least favourite flowers like mums and asters and dahlias. Fall, in a family with kids, is inevitably a hard month of adjustments to new schedules and grades and teachers. Or, in my family with older children, tuition time, the joy of even more bills is upon us. The promise of spring—all its claims that we can be reborn—are proved falsehoods. The kids need textbooks; the kids need computers; the kids need bus passes.
Even the garden is worn out. You can zsush the damned thing one day, carefully removing all the eyesores and yellow leaves, and the next day it looks like you never touched it. There’s the raspy, rattling sound of seedpods maturing. Ever notice how much better the garden looks under cloud? The relentless sun makes the garden look washed out. Like me, it’s growing tired and tattered. There are jobs on the job list’water for 2 hours a day, handholding as per city restrictions; identify empty spots left by dying or dead spring flowers and fill them with current-bloomers; weed so the pesky little things don’t grow into gigantic problems; design for next spring; control the burgeoning population of insects.
Or sit on your keester while your mate tries to tip you free of the chair.
Jane Eaton Hamilton is the award-winning author of four books. She grew up in Ontario, lived in St. Louis, Phoenix, NYC, Alberta, the Kootenays and on Salt Spring Island before settling in Vancouver. You can find out more about her at www.janeeatonhamilton.com.