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Joan Shaw
Annabelle Hydrangeas by Barn
'Annabelle' Hydrangea border North of DragonGoose Farm Barn

Midsummer and MidSummer

I've always considered the beginning of July as midsummer. Here at DragonGoose Farm on the Utah-Idaho border, it's generally hot and dry by then and not a little discouraging. The 'Annabelle' hydrangeas are in full bloom (see above), the hollyhocks, too, are beginning to bloom, and the lilies (Lilum spp.) and Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are starting their two- to three-month show, but the joys of spring and summer, the excitement of a new beginning, the balmy days and nights, the early rains, are nevertheless over  –  the crocus, winter aconite, and other early spring bulbs, the thousands of daffodils, the tulips, and then the peonies, followed by the iris, and then the wonderful culmination in June of the rose show.

Dulling everything down by July is looming on the near horizon – the beginning of fall classes at the end of August for Alan, the Master of DragonGoose Farm, and the never-ending
revision job of  of the computer eningineering text he first compiled and started using some years ago, Logic Circuit Design. The worry about getting the text in tune with the latest technologies occurs with depressing regularity some time after the Fourth of July. Right now there's a  Sword of Damocles hanging somewhere near the ceiling of our study, directly above Professor Shaw's computer.

How far away all this anxiety seemed in the bright and gentle burgeoning of the roses' first bloom!


Now, MidSummer is something altogether different.  Centered upon the Summer Solstice and celebrated on or closely after June 21, it's traditional in many parts of the world as the culmination of the increasingly lengthening of days
June 21st is the longest day of the year and the beginning of the days' waning until the shortest day of the year on December 22. MidSummer has long been believed to be a magical time, particularly MidSummer Eve, when herbs picked at midnight were deemed to be particularly potent. In fact, tarragon, chamomile, sweet woodruff, hyssop, lovage, mint, chives, and other herbs are exceptionally fresh and delightful at this time   if not picked at midnight, picked early in the morning before the heat of the day.
Rose Bonica
Countries throughout Europe and Asia have sometimes week-long celebrations at MidSummer, many of them named after St. John the Baptist whose birth, after the widespread adoption of Christianity, is celebrated at that time. The attempt of displacing pagan rites of untold centuries with Christianity was not entirely successful, however, with the pagan rites simply incorporated into the Christian. In Russia and the Ukraine, the celebration was especially unrestrained, inspiring Modest Mussorgsky to write his tumultuous Night on Bald Mountain. Igor Stravinsky's ballet, Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), incorporates similar themes of fertility, the blessings and mysteries of water and fire, and the miraculous rebirth of the earth.

Flowers through the Season

Here at DragonGoose Farm's gardens, the same type of rebirth gives rise to the gentle pinks and reds of the roses, for this is the high point of their bloom. And although many of the roses here bloom off and on all during summer  – for instance, the rose, 'Bonica' (shown above right) the sweetest and most luxiriant blooms are by far around the summer solstice.

The lighter rose bloom of July and August is augmented by other displays such as this Clematis against the orchard fence (below left). This plant is fifteen years old and up until the spring of 2005 had two sister plants at each of the fence posts going east of it. The gardeners, unfortunately, tore them out by the roots thinking, in all innocence, that they were the dreaded field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) or worse, bittersweet nightshade (
Solanum dulcamara), both of which we have here in abundance.This was in early spring, when only the dry stems were twined along the fence posts. It was a year before I could think of their loss without weeping a bit because it was unlikely that I would live long enough to see another such wild growth, but ... time heals. Other Clematis are now planted in their place. I wish them Godspeed, with an emphasis on speed.

Clematis on Orchard FenceIncidentally, here are three types of Clematis: 1) those that flower from old stems, in which case pruning should not be done until the plant finishes flowering, and then only on dead and weakened stems; 2) those that flower on the previous season's ripened stems, in which pruning of dead wood should be done carefully after leaf buds begin to swell and can be seen; and 3) those that flower from new growth, in which case the old stems not showing new growth should be pruned down. In our area, Zones 4 and 5, this usually means that new growth would generally appear mostly (many weasel words here!) as new shoots out of the ground. The Clematis shown to the left is a member of the first group, this particular plant reaching to over ten feet and blooming heavily on a mass of old stems. Granted, before its leaves begin to show it does look like a weedy blight on the landscape. Notice it's scrambling into the juniper next to it and has fallen from its post I suspect from being a bit yanked two springs ago that's propped it up for the past decade and a half.

We have several other Clematis growing in the garden. I started adding them to the climbing roses after reading a book on Clematis and Rose pairings (The Rose and the Clematis, John Howells) but it's been an ongoing battle keeping them from being pulled out as weeds. Rose stems are pretty obvious (thorns for instance). But Clematis stems are fragile and, again, look very much like bindweed. Hope springs eternal though and I keep replacing them. A plant I tucked into a long narrow bed of Rockspray Cotoneaster (Contoneaster horizontalis) three springs ago managed to survive to this spring, but a search for it around rose bloom time was unsuccessful. Another plant paired with a 'Leontine Gervaise' climbing rose several years ago is growing vigorously only because I begged the weeders not to go anywhere near it. There are others in more obvious spots
– against a post on the shady south end of the carport, for instance, surrounded by a heavy tree trunk protector, and another against another post in the brick herb garden surrounded by the same type of protector. These have survived, but they're young and neither are flowering yet. Another that bloomed nicely last year I'm pretty sure bit the dust last fall because I couldn't find a trace of it this spring. I'd better get off this subject; I'm beginning to get depressed.

And besides, the Clematis are finished now, replaced by some other favorites, not the least of which are the many clumps of hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) around this place
all singles and all busy with both bees and hummingbirds. In fact, a couple of years ago while trying to do some close up photographs of hollyhock blossoms, I kept getting buzzed by hummingbirds, no doubt aggravated about their feeding area being invaded by a human. A beautiful sight, these tiny birds hovering around these tall plants, but with a sound resembling a convention of large moths.
Hollyhock Mallow
Another plant that shares a similar type of common name with the common hollyhock, is the hollyhock mallow (Malva alcea fastigiata). It's one of my favorite July and August plants. From just a few pots  bought from White Flower Farm several years ago, they've proliferated throughout the garden and do a much needed job of filling in when the earlier bloomers are finished. Here they've colonized a side bed under a couple of kiwi plants on the north end of the brick herb garden.

Now, during the very hottest part of the summer, it's more than pleasant to contemplate the copse that we planted years ago after reading Sarah Stein's Noah's Garden, Stein's plea for restoring the ecology of our backyards and increasing wildlife habitat. This copse, now duplicated by two other small "woodlands," has had something like twelve years of growth. The Dwarf Alberta Spruce trees (Picea glauca 'Conica') lining the walk were the smallest possible potted Albertas available, and the growth they now show are gratifying indeed. These trees a dense and grow to about eight feet at maturity. They don't need shearing to keep their conical shape and make wonderful accents at corners and in the middle of a small bed of evergreens or low perennials. We have one as an accent on the east end of our long bed of roses on the northwest. It stands as a beacon of sorts somewhere to the we
North Copse from Westst and behind a semi-circle of white 'Julia Renaissance' roses. Moreover, the deer seem not to like them, if you're a gardener driven crazy by these hungry beasts. Here at DragonGoose Farm, Spencer and his crew constructed an electric fence around the entire blessed place – the only thing that could guarantee the absence of deer damage. (If you're at all interested in this perennial problem, you might want to read Garden Deer.

At the point of writing that piece we'd decided a very tall fence was the only thing that would save our sanity. Spencer did an excellent job of slipping the electric fence inbetween shrubbery so that it turned out to be as unobtrusive as possible along the roadside part of our hill, so it was less painful than I'd expected.

Keep cool, if at all possible,

Joan Katherine Shaw
July 2006

Photos by Joan Katherine Shaw

Some on-line sources for roses, perennials, shrubs, and vines:
Arena Rose Company
David Austin Roses Limited
High Country Roses
Jackson and Perkins
Roses of Yesterday and Today
Vintage Gardens (a source of more than 3,000 different varieties of roses)
Wayside Gardens, South Carolina
White Flower Farm
Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery

More on roses:
A Miniature Rose Garden in Utah
Cascading Roses
Old White Roses
Prolific Climbing Roses for the North
Roses of the Middle East
Some Tough but Elegant Roses
Three Favorite Roses
Dreaming of Roses
Cottage Gardens with Roses

The Charm of Single Roses
Cottage Gardens: Not as easy as they look
Moss Roses

On to: Lilies in July
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