Courtesy photo/Rachel Lovejoy

As much as I enjoy the cooler days of late summer, I am always sad to see it end, particularly from a gardening viewpoint. My excitement at the sight of the first green shoots and early flowers matures in tandem with them as the days lengthen and the sun reigns. Then, some time in August, everything shifts ever so slightly, and I find that enthusiasm morphing into a sort of melancholy from the realization that it is, once again, almost over. I sometimes wonder if the plants and flowers themselves might not feel the same way as some of them look downright sad as I approach them with my pruners.

Even before spring officially arrives each year, I can feel my own internal eagerness ready to burst much as do the first green shoots from the soil. As each new thing grows, so does my zeal as I get back outside to help the process along by tucking something new into a bare space and tending to something old in hopes that it decided to reward me for one more year. Then, before I know it, the uncomfortably hot and humid days of July and August are over and I find myself facing the end of another gardening year. The reward for anticipating cooler days is that they also usher in that time when the soil is spent and the trees begin to display their true colors.

Since I moved here five years ago, I’ve been working at adding more perennials to the flower beds that run across the front of the building. One area was nothing but weeds, so I’ve slowly been incorporating low-maintenance plants such as Evening Primrose (Oenothera), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum), and daylilies (Hemerocallis) into that space. Two days ago, a box containing four coneflower seedlings arrived with instructions to “plant as soon as possible.” So I spent yesterday making space for them by removing annuals that had grown leggy and had flopped over. Finally, I dug the holes, planted the coneflowers (Echinacea), watered them, and called it a day.

To me, there is no such thing as a bad plant, most weeds included. They all have roles in the environment, thus have my respect for that reason alone. But while a few do produce interesting plants and blossoms, they can get quickly out of hand and take over even the largest space, if allowed to. Filling a spot with perennials eventually deprives the weeds and grasses of the conditions they need to spread, which makes for less work over time. Of course, some perennials do spread through self-seeding or naturalizing. But more often than not, weeds pop up where you don’t want them. Once they’ve been crowded out by cultivated plants, they are easier to spot and remove, if only because there are fewer of them.

As I turned the first shovel-full of soil over, I could not help but notice how dry it was. As much as a foot down, the soil was dust and even the roots of nearby plants appeared unenthusiastic and lethargic. I pulled on them and they came out easily, and what soil they took along with them fell off in a small cloud instead of clinging stubbornly as it might in a year with normal rainfalls. Even in this clandestine space hidden from the world, the drought exerts its influence, and it’s easy to see how much plants suffer when water isn’t readily available. So I gave each of my new seedlings a good long drink before consigning them to Nature’s care.

I’ll be spending a few more hours at some point trimming, cutting and raking debris. But for now, I will allow myself to get used to the stark view of a garden almost completely devoid of flowers but with hope in my heart that the new residents will take hold and flourish. Like the gardens, my soul will achieve a sort of dormancy during which I will bide my time as they enjoy their season of rest.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop thinking about them. At a time when not much else is making sense, when discord seems to be the new norm, what better way of crowding out the weeds of unpleasantness than by planting something beautiful in their place?

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