Don’t you just love Oregon summers? Living in this beautiful part of the world is a privilege we should never take for granted.
For the most part we can count on reliably warm days with low humidity and cool, pleasant nights. Also, unlike other months of the year, if we plan outdoor activities in August we can pretty much be assured they won’t be rained-out.
In fact, by now it’s usually been quite a while since we’ve seen any measurable rain.
The downside to our dry summers is that much of our landscape veers toward tawny-brown. This truth makes the principle of planting climate-adaptive, native plants very appealing — plants that can take the dog days of summer and still look terrific.
I have no trouble admitting that my early years of gardening were pretty pathetic. The garden wasn’t terrible in spring and early summer with lots of pretty flowers. But come August, I’d walk out into a backyard that rivaled the Sahara with a brown lawn and wilted flowers on crisp stems, protruding from cracked, toasted clay.
Watering was a lesson in futility, dragging a heavy, leaky hose around to give the weeds a drink while a faint “cha-ching” rippled through my consciousness when I thought about the ensuing water bill. I was usually soaked but the soil was still bone dry or it would be again in a few hours.
Discouragement, frustration and muddy feet fueled my obsessive search for improvement. Forget spring, it’s easy to design a garden that looks good in May. I needed a garden that looked good in August.
The sunny areas were a design challenge in and of themselves but what became a priority was creating a respite from the heat. That respite would require three things: shade, water and the color green. I studied garden books and magazines, (this was pre-internet), visited other gardens and nurseries and spent numerous hours standing outside with a pencil and paper, conceptualizing my August dream garden.
By the patio, I planted a Japanese maple seedling that I had earlier dug up from under its parent tree in the front yard. (I was gardening on a shoestring.) It took a few years for that little thing to grow tall enough to provide the shade I was craving but it thrived and now it’s a towering tree that spans 20 feet. Under its canopy, the air is a good five to 10 degrees cooler.
Not far from that tree, I dug a wide hole and installed a pond with a submersible pump. The sound of water trickling over the rocks in that shady spot makes for a definite cooling effect. For plants, I incorporated ferns, ground covers and moss to give the illusion of a woodland setting. Taller, leafy perennials such as Podophyllum, hosta and ornamental grasses create an interesting and diverse planting scheme.
Yes, I still have to drag my hose around but now I utilize the lightweight, super easy to use Pocket Hose. My mantra is to work smarter, not harder.
If you don’t have a shady oasis to escape to when the mercury rises, this fall will be a good time to get started. Nurseries usually mark down their remaining trees so you can get a good deal on a nice specimen. Planting in fall will give your tree time to get established before next summer’s heat. Additionally, an internet search will supply you with lots of inspiration for creating your shady oasis. If you can’t plant a tree, at least get an umbrella and a comfy chair. Grab something cool to drink and enjoy our Oregon.