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Weeding Out Summer's Leftovers


My garden was quick to note my absence and inattention this summer. "Party!" I could hear it say as I pulled out of the driveway.

Plants grew and spread and flopped. Vines sped across the window screens and seeds sprouted unnoticed by this gardener on vacation.

Although I like my gardens on the wild side, there are limits, and it's taken several weekends to restore order. It's that time of year anyway--time to curb the exuberance of a summer garden and get ready for the fall planting season. Most plants have peaked and it's time to tidy up.

I pulled 126,203 tomato seedlings out of the garden beds, plus assorted weeds. I hacked back yarrows that were trying to make a lawn. I dead-headed roses, then fertilized, so they can bloom again in fall. I staked floppy delphiniums blooming for a second time.

I dug out a few plants that had grown too large, working early in the day, almost before the paper hit the driveway, to avoid the late-summer heat. I also didn't want the neighbors knowing I had made a mistake. I have been trying to shoehorn a matilija poppy into my frontyard, but it finally got too big and spread too far.

A lovely ghost-gray perennial with lavender thistle-shaped flowers named Centaurea gymnocarpa is supposed to grow to about 3 feet across, according to Western Garden Book (Sunset Magazine & Book Editors), but was well on its way to 10. Under the floppy branches were the skeletonized remains of several less ambitious plants.

This centaurea, by the way, is one of those plants commonly called dusty miller, but it is quite unlike the more common dusty miller, a plant that would have to slip a few dollars to the maitre d' to get seated in my garden.

For one thing, its flowers actually go handsomely with the foliage, unlike the garish clash of yellow and gray found on its more common cousin. Then there's the matter of size. Someday I hope to have the room to grow this dusty miller again.

Those who don't see the necessity of Latin botanical names should take note that there are at least six plants that have the handle of dusty miller.

I found strong new canes spouting from the base of my climbing roses, so I cut out some of the old, woody canes to make room for the new. This is not one of my favorite jobs.

Untangling the old canes while trying to wrestle the new ones into position makes me feel like some B-movie Hercules battling a giant serpent. I always come out scarred and bloodied by thorns designed to pierce and hold, not merely to protect.

I once planted an aggressive climbing rose named 'Belle of Portugal' that could easily cover a city block and was making short work of my house. While trying to cut it back, I became trapped underneath. There I was, up on the roof, snared by fishhook thorns that wouldn't let me back out, my cries muffled by fat, fleshy-pink blooms. I had to wait until my kids came home so they could climb up and unhook me.


If you do this work early in the morning or late in the day, you'll notice that the light is beginning to change. It's taking on a sultry orange glow, a sign that the days are again growing shorter and shadows longer.

At this time of the year, even early in the day, I work with a bandanna wrapped around my head to keep the stinging sweat out of my eyes but I like getting a head start on fall and winter. Later on, there doesn't seem to be enough day to do all the gardening that's possible in the fall. It is our best planting season, and I want to be sure I have plenty of time to prepare for a glorious spring.

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