Garden & Sky

September Arrives

The calendar says September but the backyard says August. It’s mid-afternoon on the third day of sun, 90s, and humidity, but I still need to venture out and spend some time on the back patio. The neighbor’s lawn mower drones ever on, but I can soon ignore that and focus on the soft breeze swishing through the yellowing cottonwood leaves and the cicadas buzzing away high up in a nearby tree. In the dark cool of the back woods, the crickets chirp softly. It is still summer.

But it’s not the lazy kind of summer afternoon like you might experience in late July or early August. In September, there is a sense of busyness and focused energy. The gardens are alive with movement as bees, butterflies, and birds flutter and swoop from bloom to bloom. Each flower nods its head in welcome as the pollinators land. Sunlight catches the quivering wings, and I can see flashes of light and color constantly weaving in and out of the green leaves. It’s a mesmerizing display.

I’ve also been busy in the gardens. The drooping sunflowers are heavy with seeds, and I’m impatient to see how much they’ll produce and whether or not the seeds will be viable. This is our first “crop” of sunflowers, and it’s really hard to wait until the heads have completely turned brown before gathering them in. Plus, the birds and squirrels have already begun to gnaw on a few. So, I cut a few yesterday to see how things are developing.Even though these heads are probably not quite brown enough yet, there are seeds! Lots and lots of seeds… 

I’m not sure if these seeds are mature enough, but we’ll save them and plant them next year. Who knows? It’s all an adventure, a kind of fun experiment. It’s an amazing thing to think that each of these huge tree-like flowers came from a small seed that we planted. And now, each plant has produced at least five to eight flowers with each flower loaded with hundreds of seeds… wild! If I can be patient, we should have a whole field of sunflowers next year!

Along with collecting seeds, I’ve spent a little time this weekend harvesting herbs. One goal here is to make it through the winter without having to buy any. We haven’t quite succeeded with that, but this year, we may come close. Another goal, of course, is to experience the great satisfaction from using something that we’ve grown and produced ourselves, stocking our shelves with home-made goodness. I think we’ve succeeded with that one.

We’ve got lots of herbs growing, but for this weekend’s harvest, I focused on thyme (my favorite), French tarragon, and flat-leaf parsley. We always run out of dried thyme over the winter. During the summer, we use it fresh on salmon–wonderful!–and never run out. In the winter, we sprinkle the dried version over fish and in soups and there never seems to be enough. So now, I’m cutting and drying as much as possible.

Our French tarragon plant is on its second year and struggling a bit, so we don’t have as much as we’d like. I love to use it (fresh and dried) in scrambled eggs. There’s not much to harvest, unfortunately, but every delicious little bit helps; I need to remember to buy more plants for the spring.

Our flat-leaf parsley goes through some rough times during the intense heat, but we generally have enough fresh to use over the summer with our two small plants. There’s never enough to make it through the winter, though. We use it in all kinds of pasta dishes. However, there’s one thing to be careful about…

The black swallowtail butterflies love the parsley as much as we do! Before we take any, we examine the leaves front and back, looking for eggs and caterpillars. It makes harvesting a challenge, and really reduces the amount of the plant that we can use, but it’s worth it!After the herbs are dried, they go into glass jars and into the cabinet… ready for the next time Joe is whipping up some scrambled eggs, baked salmon, or linguini Alfredo.

All this late summer/early fall busyness will pay off in the months to come. Nature is making her preparations, and so are we. And I love thinking that on some cold weekend in January we’ll be enjoying something from the garden that was harvested on this hot weekend in September. ☀️

Sunflowers & Jewelweed

Yesterday, it rained. With the rain came cool, soft air with a strong hint of fall. Joe and I thought it was a bit like Vancouver weather–grey, misty, mysterious. It was the perfect weather for soup, and the restaurant where we were dining served up an amazing bowl of ramen noodle soup. Joe is going to make it at home–his own version, of course, which is never the same twice but always wonderful.

Today, the sun, heat, and humidity have returned, and soup of any kind no longer sounds good. A cool beer on the back patio is what is required today.

Now, at the tail-end of August, our willow-leaved sunflower is beginning to bloom.

This tall, gangly, narrow-leaved prairie plant spends the entire summer growing taller and taller, outdoing the common milkweed and the other sunflowers. It really looks like some alien life form, reaching out to catch something… anything…Most likely, it’s simply reaching for sunlight. Over the years, our trees have grown, and more and more of the flower beds are shady for a good part of the day. Every year, the garden is a little bit different.

For instance, we have jewelweed in the back corner garden for the first time this year. It arrived and grew on its own, as many interesting plants do, and now, in late summer, it is full of small dark-orange flowers that the hummingbirds love. Today, there have been three or four of these helicopter-like birds buzzing up and down, left and right, forward and back, throughout the patch, stopping briefly in front of each flower to gather some refreshment. Often, a bit of a fight breaks out as the pressure is on to bulk up before the long flight south.

We’ve also had the stunning goldfinch stop by the sunflowers and the zinnias. When he sits on the willow-leaved sunflower, he seems to be just another yellow and black bloom, swaying gently in the breeze. You have to look twice to notice him.

There’s a lot of eating going on out in the garden these days, and I hope there will be some seeds left for us to gather… but I think we have enough to share.

By this point in the summer, our cardinals are raising their last set of young. I can hear them chittering and cheeping each morning in the neighbor’s arbor vitae, which seems to be their favorite nesting place. The parents make good use of our nearby vegetable garden, scouring the tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants for caterpillars to take back to the nest.

We won’t see the young cardinals for another few weeks; cardinal parents are very cautious. But, their energetic squeaking and the quick rustle and shaking of leaves lets us follow them as they venture away from the nest. Soon, they will appear alongside their parents on the garden fence, making their first attempts at finding their own caterpillars. 🐛

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