As Summer Ebbs, August Casts a Shadow

Crops and lawns  --  not to mention initiative  --  wither in the heat of late August.
Crops and lawns -- not to mention initiative -- wither in the heat of late August. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2007

Late August is the time of sweet surrender.

One learns the fate of the dreams and schemes of late May. Which of the high hopes for summer came to pass, and which fell short? The books successfully read, the miles actually run, the dashed vision of the beach house, the failed experiments in the garden. Now it is time to relish the victories and give up on the rest.

Iris, the 2-year-old, steps onto the lawn without her orange Crocs, as she used to do in June and July. She has forgotten it is late August. "It hurts my feet!" she cries.

In June the grass was rich and green and felt soft and cool under bare feet. Now it looks like someone set fire to it. The wind kicks up dust and chaff. It is the color of rope and feels like walking on an old hairbrush. This is her first experience of the disillusionment of late August.

The irises of May are long gone, and so are the lilies of June. The black-eyed Susans of July are drooping, fading, about to give up. Only the relentless assault of the vines proceeds unfazed.

Half the tomato plants didn't make it. They keel and flop at bizarre angles like emaciated scarecrows. Most of the fruit of the ones that did survive has been pecked in half by birds -- or maybe chewed by rats? One would like to imagine robins and cardinals, but given the spirit of late August, think the worst and call him Ratatouille. Iris laughs, she gets the joke.

Surrender comes only after a valiant struggle. There was the annual spring journey to Behnke's, the trunk full of plants and plant food, the truckload of mulch, the huge credit card bill. The scrupulous study of care-and-feeding instructions. Dig, dig, dig. Water, mulch, fertilize. Water, mulch, compost. Water, water, water.

But sometimes one is too busy to water. One goes away for a week and neglects to activate the hired contingency of the teenage neighbor. One gets tired.

Now it is too late. The die is cast. Less weeding, less fussing. Let the garden go. Let it go. Not even water can change destiny now.

One is not alone.

"The things working right you take pleasure in; the things that aren't working right, it's not frustration but 'Gee whiz,' " says John Peter Thompson, chairman of Behnke Nurseries. "And there's not a large amount of enthusiasm to get out there and figure out the things that aren't working right."


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