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Things looking up as dog days wane

Things looking up as dog days wane

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Dog days, as we in 2010 reckon them, will fade into history a week from today. I don’t want to wish my life away, but … good riddance.
Dog days coincide with the average hottest temperatures of the year in the northern hemisphere. With August, we (sometimes) start a slow turning of the corner into autumn, which astronomically kicks in Sept. 23. There is an almost imperceptible softening of light as the sun sinks toward the south and its eventual seeming apogee just before Christmas.
The moniker “dog days” is not directly related to the laziness of dogs as they search for a cooler spot under the porch or in one of your flower beds. Instead, the period is tied to the rising of the dog star, Sirius, at just about the time the sun does also. Sirius is the second brightest star in the heavens next to the sun.
The phenomenon has been observed from ancient times, though the dates have varied due to the precession of the equinoxes over the centuries. For instance, ancient Romans had the dates set at July 24-Aug. 24, and now The Old Farmers Almanac has them July 3-Aug. 11. The Book of Common Prayer of 1552 listed  “Dog Daies” July 6-Aug. 17. In the event, we’re nearing their end for this year.
All that to say this: It is one of the times of the growing season (the other being May and early June) when your flower garden might have an excess of green and a relative dearth of other color. It is the nature of the beast, unless you are extremely heavy on annuals.
Some summer perennials are on the wane, or have already fallen by the wayside, while fall flowers are just budding up to start a month or so from now. Shrub bloom, for the most part, is in similar limbo.
Now is the time to make an intricate study of your borders. I am constantly doing that and my oldest border, the so-called rock wall border, has been under intense surveillance for more than 25 years. It has seen changes occur on an almost yearly basis, as shade has continued to encroach, necessitating gradual changeover of some plants from sun lovers to shade things.
Then too, stuff dies, believe it or not. Not just a few things. They sometimes die wholesale, big patches at a time. It is good to use large masses of certain plants if your space allows it, and I have learned over the years to try to stay away from spottiness. The down side is, if some gremlin or another invades a large group of plants, there’s a big gap, not a little hole a couple of marigolds will fix temporarily.
I once had a good stand of the excellent Fireworks goldenrod, one of few non-invasive varieties of the genus. It was a joy in August and September, particularly as it was juxtaposed with Purple Dome aster and Autumn Joy sedum. A cliché, to be sure, but a pleasing one.
Some years ago, the goldenrod, considered a kindergarten plant for sure, suddenly gave up the ghost and simply disappeared. A huge hole was left, and I have never gotten the spot back as good as it was. In fact, I am not at all sure that whole border is as good as it once was.
It is easy, as a stinking summer wanes, to be discouraged. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Hit it early in the morning before the stink sets in. It is just about the only way to get through dog days gardening in our part of the world.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 8.10.10

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