Remember Backwards Day at camp? Clothes were turned around, dessert served before the main meal and the flag was lowered in the morning, raised at the end of the day. I loved those special days and embraced the challenge of reversal.
I think my garden had Backwards Day this summer and it has carried over into my personal life as well. As a camper, this was an eagerly anticipated fun day, in the garden it’s a curious anomaly and in my personal life, it’s a significant milestone (and adjustment). A day, a season and a period of time in life, Backwards Day is all about perspective. Literally and metaphorically.
My twins, now finished (or close to finishing) college, left home in 2008 and I slowly adjusted to an empty nest and all it entails. I let my Costco membership lapse, the dishwasher was full by the end of the week rather than at days’ end, the never-ending homework was no longer on our kitchen table and my internal carpool clock didn’t dictate my schedule.
Now they have returned and it is Backwards Day in my house. No more empty nest – it’s stuffed to the gills with two young adults and their aging parents previously accustomed to being alone.
As my twins transition to independence and stay with us until they’re financially prepared, it feels, at times, like high school days all over again. The refrigerator has more food, dishes pile up in the sink and our dishwasher runs nightly. The grocery list is longer, furniture occupied and the front door opens and closes at odd hours.
It used to be easy to take out the trash – containers were rarely full or heavy. Now, taking out the over-flowing trash bins takes effort every week. The quiet years have been replaced with streaming movies, binge watching, noisy smart phones, and unpredictability. During grade school years our house was always filled with the twins friends and sleepovers were a constant. During college years we would only see their friends periodically and now, many have reappeared. Frequently.
I’m feeling uncertain and think they share that feeling but are reticent to articulate those thoughts. I might be the mom around here but I would like for them to tell me when dinner’s ready and fill their cars with staples from Costco. How about if they ask me if I have some laundry to complete a load? Slowly things will be “righted” and adjustments made but for now, everything is topsy-turvy and backwards.
Inside and out, it’s a different landscape.
The garden celebrated Backwards Day this summer. Early blooming, predictable plants arrived late or not at all. Late spring/early summer plants became mid to late summer blooms and although we had a few hot spells, it wasn’t a particularly oppressive summer. Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial end of summer, could be the hottest string of days so far and predictions for the first week of September includes temperatures well over 90 degrees. As children return to school after summer vacation, the dog days of summer have appeared.
By summer’s end, my garden usually loses its vibrancy. Summer’s diverse, strong colors disappear, the lush feeling is lost and plants are withered. Dogwood leaves are typically tipped with red, there’s a hint of autumn in the garden and commercial spaces have replaced summer annuals with mums. Not true so far: my garden is full of color and summer blooming plants are either still blooming or have buds close to opening. Not yet for those shopping malls and professional office buildings, either. Not yet – remember, it is Backwards Day?
The tulips, daffodils, camass, allium and woodland plantings (among others) were at least a full month “later” than in previous years and their memory is still fresh in my mind at a time when I’m usually scouring catalogues for bulbs to plant in fall and dreaming of changes to the landscape.
It startled me to see White Flower Farm previewing their amaryllis selection. As much as I look forward to coaxing bulbs during winter, I’m just not in that mindset yet.
Many of the reliable early summer blossoms didn’t appear until mid to late summer (if at all). True, we had an usually cold, snowy winter with occasional, brief warm spells but all the same, it feels like my garden shares my feeling that things are a little out of synch.
This summer I added a few things to the Green Bed:
I wanted more color and textures:
Callirhoe involucrate (“Wine Cups”) was added for a strong color, working well against the varying shades of green. It met all the criteria: likes full sun, prefers dry soil, tolerates droughts, attracts butterflies and is a long blooming plant whose blooms look like a cup of wine.
Wine Cups bloom in June and July. This week, I glanced into the Green Bed and was thrilled to see those lovely deep red cups appear. As anticipated, they disappeared mid July and I thought this is one plant that actually behaves as described. Until Backwards Day was announced – it’s blooming and loaded with buds for a fall treat of summer color. No complaints on this plant’s behavior.
Even the Oenothera (“Fireworks”) is embracing Backwards Day (again, no complaints – I’ll take colorful blossoms any time of the year from any plant). Many gardens are loaded with this ferocious spreading, brilliant yellow blossoming plant. In this area, they’re less dominant as summer comes to a close and I enjoyed seeing their cheerful blossoms in spring to early summer.
Need I state the obvious? I looked out the window, thought the yellow blooms were the St. John’s Wort and wandered through the perennial bed. Although the St. John’s Wort had a particularly long and colorful blooming season, the yellow display I’m enjoying is courtesy of the Oenothera even though it’s late summer, early fall.
After the first few ripe, delicious red tomatoes the plants produced plenty of flowers and eventually, the tomatoes formed but none of them are ripe now, when red, garden fresh tomatoes are in every garden and available at all the roadside stands. The tomato plants look as we would expect in early summer: full of flowers and forming fruit.
It was a good season for honeysuckle, day lilies, speedwell, pentas, liatris, Maltese cross and many others, some of which have been in the garden for a long time but never bloomed before. And it was a terrific season for the annuals used to fill in spaces here and there – especially the coleus.
It was a fabulous year for Mourning Doves and visiting birds, but a lousy summer for butterflies. Rabbits, chipmunks and incredibly destructive squirrels definitely enjoyed the garden this summer – the sudden disappearance of new, tender plants was their calling card.
But it was not a good summer for the formerly predictable workhorses so plentiful I had bouquets to give away. What happened to my coreopsis, salvia, monarda, coneflowers, astilbe, lisianthus lavender and butterfly bush?
The grocery store’s seasonal aisle may have school supplies and Halloween candy but in my garden, it is still Backwards Day with many summer blooms. This weekend I noticed the blooms are sharing space with some fall plants ready to take over. I’m not ready to think about ordering bulbs for the garden or looking through this year’s amaryllis selection – I’m still feeling topsy-turvy in my nest but I admire my garden’s ability to simply go with the flow.