The dog days of summer

Published 4:25 am Wednesday, July 18, 2018

As clouds gather on the horizon, I feel a brief hint of things to come. It takes a true southerner to recognize the almost undetectable change, but I know it’s coming. That blessed rain sent intermittently to rejuvenate our spirits and the parched earth is about the only thing that makes the hot, heavy air bearable.

These dog days of summer test the stamina and determination of the most avid gardener. What seemed such a delight in cooler temperatures now becomes a chore to be endured. The early morning and late evening grant a window of opportunity to maintain what was planted earlier.

This morning, my coffee was just right. I’m not a measurer so occasionally it’s a little weak, but not this morning. With the taste of strong coffee on my tongue and the smell of rain in my nostrils, I decided to take care of a few garden tasks I had been putting off.

Earlier in the year, I purchased two oak leaf hydrangeas and planted them in what I thought was the perfect spot. The most beautiful one came from a reputable garden center while the other somewhat forlorn specimen was purchased at the Crosby Arboretum’s native plant sale.

Both of these plants have been given the same degree of care, but one is looking hardy and strong while the other is barely hanging on. The plant from the garden center needs a lot of pampering. In fact, it looked so sad this morning that I have the sprinkler on it right now.

This leads me to one of the most effective gardening tips I know:

Choose plants that are native to our area.

We have gorgeous prolific plants that thrive in our weather conditions, so why choose anything else? Hopefully, by next year my hydrangea from the garden center will be more accustomed to the demands of summer in the south, but I will shop at the native plant sale again for sure.

In the days of my grandparents, many plants were shared. My Mama gladly shared a cutting of this plant, or dug up a little root from another one to bless a neighbor. It takes a little planning and knowledge to know which plants grow well from cuttings and which ones can be dug up and divided. But this information is readily available both in books and on the Internet.

There is something constant and lovely in the garden. It’s a place where I clear the cobwebs and hear from the Master Gardener.

My distressed hydrangea has come back to life with the extra water; it looks so much better with a little pampering. Today, I’m reminded that some people in our lives my need a little more attention than others.

Some days I need a few strokes myself so why hold back what I can give? The gift of a kind word, a visit, or a phone call may be just what someone in my life needs to help him or her perk up and maybe even bloom a little.

My mornings in the garden give me fresh perspective and a clear vision of what a little love can do.

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at