Dog days in the garden

Gleaning the lessons of the year


High summer is over, and our gardens are no longer as fresh as they once were. Flowers droop and wither, and sometimes we do too. One friend confessed to being tired of gardening – tired of weeding, and tired of picking dead flowers off her petunias. “And the flowers seem tired too,” she said.

Many of us are also very tired of zucchini.

This late season malaise comes sooner for some, later for others. For one friend it started in late July; for others it hasn’t hit yet. I expect there are some so dedicated and so well organized they don’t feel it at all, ever, but I don’t know anyone like that.

After all, the noticeably shorter days signal the slowdown of this growing season, and it’s natural for us to feel it too.

This is also the time of year when all our gardening mistakes, bad habits, and sins of omission catch up with us. Plants that should have been pruned rebuke us. The ones we didn’t water enough are visibly suffering. And powdery mildew, aphids, and leaf miners are having their day.

Still, there is a harvest season to celebrate. The lettuce may have gone to seed and the pea vines may be dying back, but we have ripening tomatoes, and if we had room for them, fresh corn, eggplant, and peppers of every kind. These can help make us forget what we were complaining about – at least for a while.

A good meal featuring any or all of these vegetable rock stars can help us recover our wits and either do what needs to be done, or just relax into the slowing season and begin to glean the lessons of this year.

Here are a few sample questions to help remember those lessons:


  • What should have been planted sooner, or later?
  • What needed more space than we gave it?
  • What needed more shade or more sun?
  • What crop in our vegetable garden actually saved us the most? Were those that saved less so good they’re worth growing again anyway?

What did we actually eat, and what went to waste or to the chickens?


  • In the flower garden, which flowers charmed our socks off?
  • Did we discover any beguiling color combinations?
  • Did flowers we thought would short grow tall, or vice versa? Do we need to move them around?
  • What should we evict? (There’s never a moratorium on garden evictions, and we are under no obligation to grow what we do not like.)

The soil

  • How is our garden soil? Does it need more enrichment?
  • And what about compost? Is what we’re doing working, or should we try something different next year?

Even if we are too garden-weary to do much, asking these questions and thinking about the answers will benefit us and everything we grow in years to come. In fact, strolling around our yards and thinking about what worked and what could be better might be the most productive time we spend in our gardens during these dog days of summer.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here