The Spiritual Gardener: Put Out More Flags!
This is the time of year when the burgeoning garden becomes just a bit overwhelming. Also a bit overwhelming are the weeds that come right along with it, of course. Probably you have noticed this? You feel you need a machete and scythe in your rounds of the garden, more than a simple trowel and garden shears. And too, there is the problem of those very-difficult-to-get-out weeds in awkward places like pavers in the patio and cracks in sidewalks and driveways.
Most homeowners cheerfully resort to those herbicide sprays for this annoying job. We are firmly opposed to using any chemicals in the garden, for the damage they do to the holistic ecosystem, but also for the very sensible reason that most of them do not work and you would be much better advised to spend your money on a good bottle of wine instead.We have Canadians and Americans in our family, so we celebrate both national days in the first week of July. It means twice the flags, twice the holidays and twice the barbecues! Tell the kids to put out more flags!
But you cannot say that about these herbicides; they work all too well, you have to give them that. Unfortunately, however, they are connected to greatly increased rates of lymphoma and other serious and deadly health disorders, and why you would want to subject your family members and pets – and of course yourself, as the principal applicator – to this appalling health risk is not immediately apparent to someone as simple-minded as myself.
It is lost in the mists of time why the celebration of Canada Day and Independence Day have evolved into an inexplicable North American love affair with the barbecue grill, but there you are. We certainly like all the good things that come with barbecued food: potato chips, gallons of cold beverages, and fresh cold salads especially. Often this last item is overlooked in a holiday meal where the cooked meat is the center of attention. But why not try something that will supplement all that grilled food with something a little different? We call it Firecracker Salad, but you can call it easy, fresh, and delicious.
6 ears of corn, fresh and local if possible
8 pieces bacon
½ medium purple onion
½ cup water
1 medium jalapeño pepper, about 3 inches long
3 bell peppers, one each of red, yellow, and orange
2 ripe, but still slightly firm, mangoes
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 oz. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 oz. rice vinegar (but any good vinegar will do in a pinch)
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. ancho chili pepper
In the west of India every May, there ripen the sublimest of all mangoes, the fabled Alphonso mangoes, and to taste this mango fresh and ripe in May is truly an amazing thing. I do not say that you should go all the way to India in May just to taste the Alphonso mangoes, but there are worse ways to spend your money. So please try to find some decent mangoes for this recipe. Go for ones that are as ripe as possible while still having a little bit of firmness, so they stand up in this salad. Ideally, try one first and make sure it has the qualities you want. It is the mango that makes this salad work, after all; its citrus sugars are the perfect foil for the acid of the vinegar and the heat of the peppers, and it is worth the extra effort.
But coming down from mango heaven to the garden in the heat of midsummer, I find that everything was wilted and panting when we returned from the beach this week, after ten days of hot sun and only one brief rain shower. Saturday, I weeded the herbaceous border and tore out all the dead mauve volunteers, taking care to sprinkle their seed everywhere for next year’s soft purple haze, and dead-headed everything else. The pink phlox have started and they look well with the blue hydrangeas. The lysimachia is going well in the back yard, in the oval bed, and in the serpentine bed. The grass itself is badly sunburned and is basically estivating for the most part, in self-defense. There are just enough red and white impatiens and blue petunias to complete the patriotic look I intended for the middle of the patio for Independence Day. And I watered everything again, as it is blazing hot. Well, it’s July after all, what do you expect, an early frost?
More record July heat is on the way, and we have settled into some very serious warm weather. Our large old white dogwood on the patio has finally expired and been taken out and replaced with a small pink one, and we carefully re-wove the fragile clematis into the replacement tree so it can resume its climbing with its new mate. The redtwig dogwoods have made a thick curtain by the patio. Also, cannas are popping up in the porch bed and the crescent bed, adding their big, fat, tropical leaves to the lush and lavish summer landscape.Canna lilies are one tropical that is definitely worth the extra work to grow in areas with cold winters. Their broad, lush leaves and intense natural drama add a bold tropical flair to any garden, even as a single large plant, as shown here.
I have never cared much for lots of tropicals in the summer garden, but know there are gardeners who are mad for them. They do require so much work and fussy care to get them through the winter that I do not think it is worth it, in general, but I must confess that I am a sucker for these lush cannas and happily dig them up every fall and replant them every spring, with never a complaint. They repay the extra effort handsomely. I only wish I had some yellow ones too, in my greed.