Hydrangea's hot blooms mark the beginning of another city summer

June 24, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

It was the sighting of heirloom hydrangeas that knocked me into the realization that an old-fashioned Baltimore summer has arrived. Their hot blueberry and purple blossoms, which resemble the shades of snowball flavorings, remind me of canvas awnings and summer hotels.

These hydrangeas are tough city survivors. They are tucked into the areaway of some old apartment houses near my home. They seem to thrive on utter inattention and soil conditions only a little removed from a clay pit. I can never recall their not being there; there is something comforting about the annual return of these June veterans. It's like looking for a certain reassuring tree, crape myrtle or roadside stand on the way to the Eastern Shore, summer after summer.

I used to dread and resent Baltimore's summers. Then I wised up, bought a few cheap window air conditioners for the worst nights and started enjoying the city a lot more during this stretch of maximum daylight. Baltimore looks mighty nice observed at the first light of the day or in the twilight during the lightning bug season.

As a child, I thought the summer would never end, but now I know better. Enjoy the city's show of little gardens and flowers now; August is not a month to savor nature's delicacies. If only my house came with a screened sleeping porch and maybe an outdoor shower.

OK. I was remiss this year and didn't get all my housecleaning done until this month. The minute those old wool rugs disappeared and I had my living room looking like Key West, I became a new person and ardent convert to the summer.

It took the better part of a morning to match the right screens with the odd-size windows. The effort was worth it. What's better than sleeping with a June night's summer breeze, then being awaked by the earliest of the early birds? I found an old bottle of Rose's lime juice and started throwing it into my grandmother's recipe for ice tea. It worked wonders.

I'll always thank summers for showing me the pleasures of reading. In school, I had trouble enjoying assigned texts and books, despite teachers' best intentions. Often, summers became so quiet and unscheduled that reading was about the only thing to do to pass the time. I began reading to outsmart boredom and became addicted. I think of a rainy weekend last year when I became caught up with a new author. By Saturday afternoon (no garden demands because of wet weather), I was so enthusiastic that I headed to the downtown Pratt to get some additional titles.

These mornings, still cool despite weather warnings, I hit the city pavements for a morning walk. One day this week, my resolve to get out before 6 a.m. was rewarded by the sight of a rat that darted from my side porch and took cover in a hosta bed.

Last rat season, the Baltimore summer of 2005, I bagged eight rodents in old-fashioned traps in my garden, which a friend of mine referred to as my own personal "rat Vietnam." Yes, I do provide major vegetative cover on my property. But as you enjoy your summer pleasures, you have to put up with the consequences.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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