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. ☀️

As Time Goes By

Calendars and dates are wonderful things. They mark the significant events in our lives for better and for worse–the birthdays, the holidays, the vacations; the doctor visits, the tax bill coming due, and the last day to clean the house before guests arrive–helping us to look forward and backward in time as we anticipate the future and revisit the past. In between events, of course, time passes, and the challenge is to have the right balance of events and quiet time on one’s calendar. Pack in too many events and the stress levels rise to dangerous levels. But, too much “down” time leaves one adrift in a sea of generic days and weeks, rapidly losing purpose and direction.

For me, though, I like to have my calendar a little on the empty side. I need lots of time to think, reflect, wind down from work and gaze at the gardens. I want time to watch birds, plant flowers, walk in the woods, and stare at the sky. And write… not the kind of writing I do for work and will not be mentioned here again, but the more personal journal writing that helps me to more deeply enjoy and appreciate my life and is a pleasure to share with others. Like this blog…

Looking at the calendar date of my last post, I see that too much “down” time has definitely gone by where my writing is concerned. Almost a year! What has been happening since last September? I feel pretty stressed, so I must have been busy doing something.

It’s tempting at this point to write a “year in review” post, but I feel that, although there were many wonderful things about last year, I prefer to look ahead or at least stay in the “here and now.”

So here and now, as August settles in and gets serious, the flowers are the highlight of the gardens. The sunflowers are bright and bold, nodding in the breeze and growing thick and heavy with seed. We planted a mixed variety this year, and it has been such fun watching them grow and wondering how tall they will get and what color they will be. I never knew there were so many varieties! Tall and chocolate red:

Classic sun-yellow:

Stylish yellow and tan: And the windswept golden comet: I have no idea what the real names of these are, since the original seed package is long gone. I could do a bit of research, but that might ruin the fun. These playful flowers are well-loved by pollinators, too. Bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds visit frequently to pay them homage and get a quick snack.

I hope to collect lots of seeds and repeat the process next year.

Moving from the very big to the very small, I’ve noticed that herbs produce some of the loveliest (and tiniest) flowers. I’m not very good at cutting herb plants back regularly, so often a large part of the plant ends up bolting and going to seed. But before the seeds… the flowers:These tiny gems are oregano flowers. I could just stare at them for hours, taking in all the tiny details. And just a hint of soft pink for color. Next, the blue and beautiful borage:These blue stars always make me think of the cornflower blue crayon that was one of my very favorites (along with carnation pink and forest green)in my younger coloring book days. Then finally, cilantro:Dainty and white, they are the perfect complement to the lacy green leaves. We always have lots of these flowers because around here, cilantro bolts before you know it. One day you’re dreaming about fresh cilantro in salsa and tacos; the next day the plant is sending up tall stems with fern-like leaves, ready to flower. The good news, apart from the flowers, is that we get hundreds of seeds–the aromatic coriander that not only smells amazing but is the hope of next year’s crop. Gardening is all about making the most of the present while looking ahead to the next season.

So, as time goes by and we look ahead to the fall season (cool, dry air!), I hope to keep a good amount of emptiness in my calendar for gardening, skywatching, and writing… maybe even some drawing and painting. Doesn’t sound too empty at all.