Summer has finally settled in, now that it's half over, and everything that should be opulent finally is.
Few of us in towns have space to grow corn, though a friend at Chevy Chase Circle usually manages a nice crop in the narrow space beside her driveway, and some enterprising souls get a couple of ears from miniature varieties grown in tubs on apartment balconies.
Sunflowers, thanks to the national passion for birds, spring up everywhere and often the gardener is too lazy to pull them up and is now rewarded with great flowers.
I feel much better about the world when the pink crinum 'Cecil Houdyshel' blooms. I had it for years in Tennessee and now up here. I am not sure how hardy crinums are, but many are supposed to be hardy to zero.
Few accomplishments produce the glow known to gardeners who have raised tropical waterlilies from seed, then stored hazelnut-size tubers in damp sand indoors over winter, and gotten them sprouted in a bucket indoors in the spring and outdoors the end of May. They are blooming now. It was a great surprise to me that the ones from seed -- I have only two -- are as good as the garden varieties sold by dealers. Just as it was an even greater surprise a few years ago to discover the wild Nymphaea gigantea from Australia is more beautiful than any garden variety.
Often in the garden we take things for granted. One year, for example, I picked 19 flowers of that giant Australian and took them in a crock to a friend in an apartment. We were both pleased and, even at the time, impressed. But now I see that was for me a once-in-a-lifetime triumph. I no longer have that great plant.
There is something else you learn after a bit. Once you have got your big bunch of N. gigantea picked, you can live without it without suffering. The suffering comes from never having tried it.
Despite my somewhat vicious comment last week that my tomatoes apparently will ripen about October, I should say a couple of 'Brandywine' have ripened. Delicious. We have several others sitting on window sills, because two of them fell off when about the size of oranges, and a couple more were delicately gnawed in one little place by squirrels.
I bought a net last week and spoke to the garden center salesman about squirrels. I said I had little hope the net would keep a squirrel off the tomatoes if he really wanted one, and the man said, well, he was glad I didn't expect much, and sold me the nets.
Squirrels are sometimes selective, sometimes utterly promiscuous, in garden raids. I had hoped they would settle for the grapes (which they do not like, leaving them to catbirds and mockingbirds) but this year they are much interested in tomatoes. Last year they never looked at them. There is no cure for squirrel raids on tomatoes.
One of the great and beautiful weeds of America has failed me. The Texas primrose, as I grew up calling it, or Oenothera speciosa, is found not only along highways in Texas but also occasionally in great spreads in alleys. Its two-inch cups of soft rose are borne freely and it sows itself about with enormous success. I finally bought a plant, at outrageous price for a weed, last fall and it had the bad grace to die over winter. Such a thing has probably never happened before. Surely I can find some seed somewhere and start again.
Another splendid weed is the toadflax, though I doubt toads weave anything with it. This enchanting flower bears stems maybe up to a foot high with snapdragon-like blooms in white and yellow. Sometimes people call it (and other flowers too) butter and eggs. It sows itself widely and once you have it you have it always, I believe. But several times I have planted seed without success. It is particularly fetching when it covers a clay bank. Naturally you would not plant it among alpine treasures in a rock garden, though I don't see why it wouldn't be fine in a rose bed.
Another year has gone by without acquiring a certain canna called 'Omega.' The flowers are sort of orange and not particularly handsome, I think, but it grows 14 to 16 feet high. It is one of those plants I would not know where to put, yet I think of it from time to time and in summer wish I had one.
The same is true of crocosmias and watsonias, which have vaguely gladiolus-like spikes of bloom. Crocosmias are pretty hardy, down to about zero, and watsonias, which are more wandlike and taller, are not supposed to be hardy north of Zone 8. Which of course is the signal for every gardener in Zones 7, 6, and 5 to want them.
I had thought of discarding a clump of an orange day lily I once raised from seed. Its flowers are very large and the color is clear and pure. Still, why grow a day lily that's not as beautiful as many in commerce? So out with it.
And that, of course, was the signal for this clump to outdo itself this year. The flowers, perhaps seven or eight inches wide, have come in such profusion that they touch and the many stems make a great show. So it's safe for another year.
While admiring the gifts of summer it is well not to forget to save seed from poppies, red campion, irises or any of those other flowers you mean to raise from seed. Seeds ripen in July and if you're off dreaming somewhere the pods will open and all the seeds will be lost. Poppies are the worst for ripening suddenly. One day the capsule is green and clearly nowhere near ripe, then the next day it's brown and all the little windows of the capsule have opened. Soon after the stem decays and falls over and all the seeds drop out. They will come up everywhere next spring (or late winter) unless you particularly want them, in which case only three or four will sprout, usually on top of some weak plant you are sworn to protect.