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Late-August reflections on the sweet side of summer

By Helen Mourre


The smell of the first beets from the garden simmering on the stove for supper tells me that summer is in full swing. We’ve already had a feed of yellow beans and soon there will be new potatoes and cucumbers and tomatoes. The psalm this past Sunday contained this beautiful line. You open your hand to feed us, Lord, you satisfy all our needs (Ps145).

Despite a challenging spring that included drought, hail, poor germination and frost, my garden is spectacular. While dry conditions have taken their toll on crops in the surrounding area, with a little perseverance, some extra watering and help from above, we are enjoying the fruits of our labours.

As I relax in an Adirondack chair and wait for the barbecue to heat up, I bask in the gift of summer, a glass of chilled pinot grigio enhancing my experience. I survey the backyard.

An expanse of lush green lawn borders the garden where a row of nasturtiums is so luxurious it actually forms a hedge, the yellow and orange blossoms hidden amongst the dense foliage. Fuchsia and white petunias, superbells and ivy cascade like waterfalls over the sides of huge pots that mark the corners of the garden. The rows of lettuce, carrots, beans and potatoes are planted so close together they create a tangle of green, broken only by tall sunflowers, their happy faces declaring: It’s summer!

Here, where I sit under the shade of the ornamental cherry tree, I am soothed by the hum of insects and the trickle of water from the rustic fountain that is surrounded by hostas with leaves the size of dinner plates. Still, I realize there is work to be done in the shade bed. My daughter keeps telling me, “It needs more colour, Mom.”

In the bed by the north fence, the pale pink rose blooms endlessly, while a new rose specimen called “campfire” ( named after a painting by Tom Thomson) makes a delightful contrast with its coral, deep pink, and gold colour combination. It really does resemble the final burning coals of a campfire.

I am really excited this year about my coleus container gardens (don’t tell the begonias). Coleus foliage used to be grown only in shade, but the newer cultivars can actually withstand partial sun or even full sun. Plant breeders realized the latent ability of coleus plants to produce new and exciting cultivars with improved versatility and speeded up the process, the result being an endless variety of coleus — over 1,400 specimens and counting. I have several pots this year filled exclusively with these exotic plants — electric lime, henna, inky fingers, to name a few.

Of course, each gardening year has its disappointments. I lost many begonias this year and I don’t understand why — usually they thrive on my shady patio. I water them too much? Were the pots too big? Was it too cold? The apple harvest will be scant. Will I have enough for a pie or two, a few jars of sauce? The short but fierce hail storm in the spring just as the trees were blooming had a disastrous effect. The nicotiana in the north bed seem stunted even after multiple applications of fertilizer, regular watering and weeding. I remind myself that every plant has its own unique needs of sunlight, water and soil.

In spite of this, the garden this year has been a place of rest and comfort as I reflect on the coming weeks — my husband will soon have heart surgery to repair a valve and two artery blockages. This will be a stressful time for our family, but I am blessed to have this place of beauty and quiet in which to retreat. I sip my pinot, feel the heat caressing my bare arms, while being entertained by the resident robin who flits playfully in and out of the apple trees. A garden teaches you to enjoy the moment!

Soon, the season will begin to log off even as I desperately click on save. I create a new folder called Summer 2015. There will be memories like the sweet view of Waskesiu Lake from our waterfront cabin we rented for a week, the late-night campfire at Outlook Park with the grandchildren on Canada Day, the water fight at Pike Lake where Grandma got severely doused. And the scent of evening stolks, the whisper of the weeping birch in my neighbour’s yard, the crunch of a new carrot recently dug from the earth, the smell of a vine-ripened tomato.

Ah . . . the sweet side of summer!

Mourre is a freelance writer from Rosetown, Sask.