Why do they call these way-too-hot days the Dog Days? I’ve learned that it’s not because you want to lie around like a tired dog. According to Wikipedia, the moniker “Dog Days” (Latin: dies caniculares) comes from an ancient belief that Sirius, the Dog Star, is responsible for hot, sultry weather.
Morning news: The heat wave continues today as highs reach the mid and upper 90s, just a degree or two shy of the 98-degree, record-high temperature for July 21. Just like it’s been for the past two weeks. Heat, interrupted by short, torrential rains that do nothing to cool the air. Over the weekend, I spent eight hours a day weeding, deadheading, watering pots, spraying. Nevertheless, fern edges are toasted, impatiens curl up and rebel, the echinaceas have been eaten by a groundhog, the red maples have started to drop their leaves, and acorns have fallen all over the place. It’s out of my control. The Dog Star rules. “Dog Days can also refer to a time period that is stagnant or marked by a dull lack of progress,” they say. That’s how the garden feels now.
And yet there are bright spots.
The container grouping on the deck still looks happy and fresh. It was inspired by a photo spread of dwarf evergreens in A Garden for All Seasons (Reader’s Digest, 1991) a book for the English gardener with many adaptable ideas for seasonal plant combinations. “Rather than let one small tree stand on its own as a solitary punctuation mark, take advantage of the shapes, colours and textures of different cultivars,” the editors advise. “Try incorporating several in a composition of year-round character and interest.” I followed their advice, and the grouping is especially appreciated in the winter when the evergreens are frosted with snow. In spring I mix in annuals and tropicals. This year I added a Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’ (going for that Italian look, and cypress trees don’t grow here) and a Berberis thungberii ‘Maria’ gold pillar barberry. The pots are a collection of all-weather containers — picked up at places ranging from Home Depot and Stew Leonard’s to Bunny Williams’ store Treillage (an extravagant birthday present from my husband). A good online source is Simply Planters.
The real star of the show right now is Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ (pineapple lily), which I picked up at a garden club sale, and which in the Dog Days has decided to display its gorgeous, pineapple-like flower.
Above the potting shed, the Campsis radicans (trumpet creeper or trumpet vine) is providing cool shade and hot color. Below it, in the gravel, an Osmunda regalis (royal fern) is starting to make a home for itself. Looking this up, I found the following useful database: Hardy Ferns. You can join the Hardy Fern Foundation for $25. I might do that. Anyway, “volunteers” can often be the best little surprises in the garden.
And in the border by the pond edge, the butterfly bushes, especially vareigated Buddleja davidii ‘Harlequin,’ are adding much-needed, spiky dashes of purple and are doing their job of attracting winged friends. Woven between them are Verbena bonariensis — see-through verbenas — which became my favorite border annual after seeing it in action at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA. And there is nothing like Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ — Japanese painted fern — to always look fresh and cool, no matter the weather.