What’s Up? Magazine, July 2022
What a glorious time of year in our gardens. Last year’s plantings and pruning, and our early spring feeding and watering, are repaying us with flourishing plants and voluptuous blooms. The hammock and the chaise are calling us; Relax, put your feet up. (Maybe you’re doing so as you read this). Of course, we understand summer also brings heat and humidity, even in our gardens, and on our decks and patios. But let me offer, at least, a partial remedy for summer’s sticky heat. I suggest you apply a bit of magic, a few tricks that may enable you and your family to laze about in the garden even in the heat of July and August. We can take a tip from successful magicians. They distract their audiences, redirecting attention from what is not to be seen—or in our case, felt.
Here are a few magical distractions
is an important part of feeling cooler. It may be a little late to plant a shade tree in your garden this summer, but there are other options. Consider how the sun reaches your deck or patio. When do these areas get the most use by you and your guests—morning, midday, sunset? How can you divert attention from the sun’s heat? Perhaps install a pergola or an arbor, depending on how much space you have. A pergola is customarily an arched frame on which vines are trained or plants are hung. You could have one installed right now and for this first summer, rely on hanging plants to create the illusion of vining, while ivy or wisteria or clematis vines are planted and trained for a shady show next summer. The idea is to distract from the heat of the day with visions of green and an impression of a shady glade. If you’d like a more modern, pared-down source of shade, install a shade sail. It can be rectangular or square, and usually white or cream color to reflect the sun. Be sure the sail is securely anchored against the winds of summer storms. One advantage to the shade sail—it can be relocated to provide the best shade. While it won’t evoke a shady glade, it may offer thoughts of sails on the Bay slipping gracefully across the waves. See how quickly our thoughts float away from the heat and humidity?
magically distracts us from the weight of Maryland’s humid air. Just think about a gentle breeze across your face and you begin to feel cooler. A few quiet floor and pedestal fans can create that same feeling, working their magic. If you place a low fan among or behind a few potted plants, you’ll hardly notice the artifice. Since you’ll need electricity, think about adding an outdoor outlet or two, if you don’t have one available. Be sure the fans you choose are quiet; it’s difficult to chat or read if there’s a roaring or rumbling motor nearby. Pedestal fans can usually be set to oscillate and setting one or two of these fans to turn slowly along the edge of your seating area works wonders. Not only will the fans provide moving, cooling air, but they will also discourage flies, mosquitoes, and gnats from joining you in your shady retreat. Another little trick: set the fans on simple timers to come on when you’re likely to be on the patio and turn off without your having to think about them. One caution: If you haven’t bought outdoor, waterproof fans, have a few plastic waste bags available to cover the fans if rain is expected. The motors won’t take kindly to being soaked.
to redirect our body’s thermostats work wonders too. Consider investing in a few pet cooling-mats. You’ll find them on-line and in some pet stores. They’re available in a variety of sizes. The mats are filled with water, air, or gel and absorb body heat while creating a cool feeling. Place them on loungers and chairs and find yourself impervious to summer’s humid heat. Watch out, however, not to sit down on your cat or dog, who might have preempted your use of a cooling mat. Another “cool thing” is a mister or mister-fan. One or several misters can be installed on your deck or patio, camouflaged behind plants or trees, or attached to awnings or roof beams. Misters work by spraying water molecules that change from liquid to gas or mist. I know, you’re probably thinking, Isn’t there already too much humidity? Why add more? The difference with a mister is that the process of turning water drops into mist, a gas, takes energy/heat, which is pulled out of the air, thereby lowering the ambient temperature. There are do-it-yourself kits, but I recommend you get a reliable plumber to install your misters, including the pump to run them. Once properly installed, there’s very little maintenance, and if properly winterized, the misters will continue to work for years. If you’re wondering about the ecological cost, the power to run a mister is far less than what is needed to keep an air conditioner humming. Oh, almost forgot: you can have your misters set up to spray a mixture of water and natural-botanical mosquito repellants, essence of marigold, for example. There’ll be no mosquitos bothering you all summer long—or at least when you use the mister fairly regularly—about 2–3 times per day.
are a tried-and-true means of distracting us from hot, humid temperatures. We all long for a quiet beach and the sound of waves lapping at our toes. Add a little fountain to your patio; set it up in a shady corner, if possible, and you’ll have songbirds and butterflies as regular guests. You’ll also enjoy the sound of the water as it tumbles down. Small fountains are electric and usually plug in at an ordinary household outlet. Out caution though, you may have to add water daily. If it goes dry, the pump motor can burn out.
These are just a few simple ways to make your summer garden as delightful as possible. Work your own magic.