Gardening in the West, at the height of summer, it has an authentic quality to it. June comes too easily. It’s full and blouncey. July must be fought for. July tests the mettle of the gardener. If you don’t have a game plan after the solstice, you’re done. There is no rain to do your job for you. You have to be out there making sure you’re getting water to what needs water, or have already put something in that can go for more than a day without it. Native things survive by being grey and rangy-looking. It’s a hard aesthetic for a hard country, and most people have a difficult time finding beauty in its toughness. It’s like passing over the beauty queen’s flawless visage for a creased and weather-beaten face. Personally, I seek for a creamy middle; something that grows in the dryness but has a generous feeling to it. Maybe even some trumpet shaped annuals in there for the hummingbirds.
It’s my 1,000 piece puzzle. Some people just want a nice picture to look at so they opt for the 50 piece Petunia puzzle, where wham-bam!, it’s done. It’s colorful. They’re happy. That’s not for me. I want the epic challenge, the long-haul. At times, there will be flashes of serendipity and inspiration and pieces fall into place one after another. Then there are times when you are left staring at a void of dirt and gravel, stuck with hundreds of little options before you with none of them fitting. Sometimes you just smash a piece in there because you’re so sick of staring at that empty hole, like when I put the white fir in the front side garden. I wanted something evergreen there, and I wanted a fir tree. So—smash!—in went the fir, between my neighbor’s driveway and mine. It did well last year, so I forgot about it. It wasn’t until I got back from my vacation at the beginning of July and it had turned brown in the 100F+ degree weather that I realized, when we put in the new fence it blocked off the sprinkler that had been spraying it. I felt sorry for the waste, but I was also partly grateful. Long before it died, I realized that a fir would eventually block the view of the mountains, and that what I really needed there was a Bristlecone Pine. “Oh well” I thought. “I’m stuck.” But with that fir’s death, I can do it right now.
Of course the garden is still not perfect. I’m still puzzling things out. I’m even considering bringing in someone for a consultation on some areas. And, with the new baby, I’m left to filling in a piece or two of the empty garden only occasionally as I pass by on my way to other things. But, by mid-August or September, the days get cooler, plants are ready to give it a second go after recovering from late June’s cutting back, and I’ll channel my inner grand puzzle-master again.