Let's proclaim 2008 as the summer of a Baltimore garden

thank you, rain

July 05, 2008|By Jacques Kelly

It was on an early morning walk this week that I observed the evidence of the cooperating weather we've enjoyed this spring and summer. I was just off Charles Street, in the Homeland neighborhood. Lawns remain emerald green, without any early-July brown patches. I thought it was May in July.

There were wild rabbits everywhere. They've obviously had a choice of expensive garden perennials for breakfast.

It was not hard to spot the super-healthy oak-leaf hydrangeas and their cascades of white blossoms. The day lilies were blooming like a multialarm fire. I wondered if they were in a gardening competition.

In a normal year, Baltimore's heat and minidroughts could have me making apologies for my garden. In a really wretched weather year, when the rain quits in mid-April - think of 1986 - I'd be cursing furiously and praying for rain clouds.

Not this one. Thanks to a near 3-inch rain surplus, my garden is tall, green and full of color. The blooms are fuller and arrived early. Throw the books about how to make an English garden out the window. Let's proclaim 2008 as the summer of a Baltimore garden.

The evidence of the flower explosion is even more impressive on my walks along alleys in fairly sketchy parts of Baltimore. Roses, phlox and day lilies are putting on a first-class show under difficult growing conditions that do not involve fastidious gardeners and fertilizers. There is something extra dazzling about a chunk of black-eyed Susans flourishing in a woebegone industrial brownfield.

And how about those perennial gardens downtown, in the traffic triangle at St. Paul Street and Lexington? Not bad.

One of my favorite city gardens sits alongside an obnoxious parking lot. It is unfenced, unprotected and gorgeous. Sometimes I think asphalt and auto fumes actually help.

In my backyard, I did very little to get some unexpected results. I did not fret over or micro-manage the flowerbeds. I did minimal buying and only minimal tending. (The grass needed to be trimmed more often. The weeds grow tall fast.) The rain did the rest.

In late October, I bought some larkspur seeds reduced for end-of-season clearance sale. I thought they wouldn't stand a chance. While taking the trash out one cool morning, I scattered them. Come the first week of June, the violet-blue larkspur were tall, vigorous and far nicer than the illustration on the seed package. Thank you, rain.

For years, I've coveted other gardeners' hollyhocks. I've sown seed. I've had my sister Mimi drive me to distant, little-known garden centers and growers in search of ideal plant stock. I've planted and waited for the results, which, in a normal year, could still be fairly unspectacular. Then, this April, when the stuff began to come up, it started overachieving. Wow. My 2008 hollyhocks are like garden skyscrapers.

There were other surprises. I had lilies bloom I didn't remember planting. I don't remember doing anything special, because I didn't. The rain did it all.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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