• T.M. O’Shaughnessy

The great divide


Cinnamon-scented perennial pinks (a.k.a. dianthus) are still flowering though many other flowers are spent after the continuous heat of this July.

For me, the great dividing line of summer has always been the first day of August. In my inner gardener’s clock, June and July go together building the garden but then there’s the big pivot towards the back half of the calendar and the inexorable movement towards harvest and winter.

I was brought up in a part of the city where air conditioning was an exotic luxury, so this moment when July transforms to August was always a significant one, hefty with the relief of cooler nights and clearer days. There was also the optimism of a fresh school year to come, I suppose, and the new shoes that went with that. Yet even in the city during August – the time when strawberry shortcake turns to blueberry pie – there was an awareness of plenty, of gardens blooming to extraordinary blowsy lengths, and the movement of the season.

As I’ve done for years with my gardens at this time, I did my first cleanup of those blowsy exhausted flowers and straggling herbs this week – that hallmark activity of the end of July. While I always hate to see the pansies go, they were beyond help and out they went. All the lavender was spent, and the browning buds clipped. My balcony rose which was wild with blooms a month ago is now in its quiet, sparely elegant second flush of a bud or two – but I know it needs to head to my sister’s ground garden to get re-established soon. She and I have already harvested all our basil and made pesto, though we left it a bit late and had to discard some of our bounty which had already yellowed and gone bitter.


The second flush of a balcony rose is a sure sign that it will need transplanting into a ground garden soon to get established before the coming winter.

On the other hand, my balcony tomato plant is just coming into its first glory – and the moonflower vines are still building up to their big summer finish. I have a pot of cinnamon and clove-scented dianthus (a.k.a. pinks) that just won’t quit. I planted a fresh pot of good earth with nigella seeds and they seem to be poking their heads out nicely, so I think I’ll be able to coax a new crop of love-in-a-mist flowers over the next month or two. And my postage-stamp sized chili pepper patch is also comfortably far from its harvest moment. So thankfully there are still things to tend.

But the turn in the air is coming soon.

Pots of purple and tawny chrysanthemums will be out before we know it, and perhaps sooner than we like, we’ll be making squash soup and apple pies.

I know – we’re not there yet! But as we turn the calendar to August this weekend, we are crossing the invisible line of summer.