It is with much admiration that I invited Amy Cox to contribute to the blog this week. Her writing inspires me and every time I read her stories I want to share them with everyone I know. I thought it fitting that her words be the last chapter on Summer 2013.
So, pour some tea and sit in your coziest chair. Let Amy’s words of her Texas summer wash over you and prepare you for the new season ahead of us.
The Summer Garden
Texas is a wild and vast place filled with varying climates and immense landscapes. A unique and staggering beauty covers the state, in the Pineywoods, the rolling hill country, the West Texas desert, the Edwards Plateau, the mountainous regions, the rugged nature of Big Bend, the painted beauty of Palo Duro Canyon, the Panhandle, and the immense Prairieland, a small area of which I call home. Within this landscape the soil varies drastically and even within the confine of twenty miles, it could be sandy and clay-filled.
Many souls may find it impossible to believe that we are capable of growing plants and gardens in the intense heat of summer. Of course, there have been summers of tremendously devastating drought when tall stands of trees have been lost; the loss is still evident by the dead limbs, mingling with the green, as it blooms out. We are green to a point in early spring and summer, when a brilliant emerald carpet covers this portion of the earth and there are wildflowers blooming in the field. On the whole, things grow even now, as we are in the thick of late summer, when the temperatures reach over one hundred degrees for weeks on end and the indoor temperatures may be eighty degrees. Upon these days, you may go outside and immediately feel that your skin is being cooked by the sun, even if the sunlight is merely peeking through the leaf covered limbs of the trees. In a Texas summer, to simply breathe feels as if you have swallowed the sweltering air, which hits your face as you open an oven door and are surrounded by a heavy thick clinging heat. We know we are in the wild hot days, when we observe that even the hardy weeds are wilting, shriveling and bending in the heat. The lizards may be found hiding under the plants in the flowerbed, sheltered even more by the eaves of the house. The anoles may be seen slipping through the mailbox on the plant porch to find cooler air. You may witness the birds literally panting, as they search for water in the birdbaths, during the heavy heat of day. In the summer months of severe drought, we follow strict water rations as lake and river levels fall. However, we continue on in our endeavor to keep each plant and tree alive, toting watering cans and turning on sun-baked hoses to give them a merciful drink of water. Storms are scarce here in the summertime and the scent of rain sends the heart into wild hope, which rarely, but sometimes, comes to satisfy this thirsty yearning world in late summer. When the rain does arrive, it comes down hard, pouring off the gutters, with the crack of thunder mingling ahead of the storm, in cadence with lightening and the constant “suuush” of cicadas and tree frogs’ summer melody.
For generations, hearts in my family have planted land in Texas during the burning heat of summer, sharecropping the earth, picking cotton burls under the scorching sun. In later years, they put in large gardens to feed their families, even in the backyard of this ranch style home, where my mother and siblings grew up. I have witnessed wonders grown by God and tended to by the hands of this family. I have learned much from the men and women~ grandparents, aunts, uncles and my own dear parents, simply by watching them; I cherish the earliest memories of life with them all, out in the green world. My grandparents’ garden in Palestine, nestled in the Pineywoods was one of great bounty, as well as beauty. Monet or Van Gogh might have found inspiration in it’s sheltering expanse, with it’s cool and vibrant colors. Towering cannas, brilliant blue hydrangeas, petunias, red roses, dogwoods, clusters of grapes upon the vines, fig trees, pear trees, peach trees, watermelon, strawberry, blackberries, corn and tomatoes were a few of the stars in their garden. My favorite spot in their garden was near the front gate. I could often be found kneeling by a raised bed, surrounded by miniature pastel roses and sitting with my dolls upon the sandstone rock, as they were dressed in their party dresses and holding tea parties for their friends. They were quite content to gather for hours, in the fairyland where they lived, amidst all that beauty. The fragrance of sweet rose perfume could not help but meld with the scent of the pine and the trees were always whisper-singing melodies above us. One could not help but dream in all that loveliness. I also remember vividly their garden here in the prairieland and happily wandering amidst beans and dahlias, wisteria and irises, planted by their hard working hands in the years before they moved to the lake. My summer memories in Texas are woven of these strong threads of growing things, standing still, in all the warmth.
There comes a point in all this heat, when you bring the potted plants onto the sun porch, leaving just enough beauty outside for others to enjoy. It seems kinder still to cut the blooms, even if they are so delicate that they last only a day or more. There have been summers when anything which has an open end, becomes a vase. Vintage bottles, milk glass, antique pitchers, old salt shakers and mason jars frequently become containers for the plethora of summer perennials, and the rare hearty annuals, which flourish in this land. Bountiful bachelor buttons, sturdy heirloom roses, ethereal pincushion plants, hearty pink coneflowers, purple mealy sage and other growing joys have filled containers in an array of purple and pink, which have been cheerfully scattered through the house, spreading about their gentle perfume. The flavorful herbs of oregano, sweet basil, rosemary, thyme and dill, growing by the kitchen door or in the garden, have also been picked and placed upon the jadeite green-topped sewing table, in the center of the kitchen. At times, the herbs have been rooted in the kitchen window, to aid in savory meals and to be kept cool by the cold, indoor air.
One may often be surprised by the things which thrive under the never ending sun, plants which are much hardier than they look, like the pale pink rock rose, old homestead roses, the gentle Blackfoot daisy, the scrumptiously scented phlox, the tiny blooms of lantana, the pinwheel petals of the pinks and the proud pentas, which cover the earth in a vast array of colors. These gentle gems grant beauty still, even as the grass fades from brilliant green, to the color of dried straw and turns to powder under your feet. It is not futile to have one’s fingers in the earth, even when these days of endless heat come, but when you lose a plant, even when its tiny leaves are barely catching a hint of sun, you often feel as if you’ve lost a friend. I apologized profusely to two sweet plants this week, in the flowerbed underneath my bedroom window, as I had neglected them for just a handful of days, thinking that they would be safe and sound, under the grand green shelter and shade of the beautyberry bush. They are called “proven winners,” but I should have known that wasn’t a promise and I had not nursed these plants through the summer before. They may catch their second wind and rise up to greet the summer sun, once again; so, I treat them gently, with little bits of hope.
In this summer landscape, I am ever reminded that much of gardening is trial and error, it involves seeing something beautiful, envisioning it in your own sweet spot of earth, digging a tiny hole, letting the gentle dirt sift through your fingers, pouring in little beads of nourishment and then, asking a wee green thing to share its loveliness with the world, against all odds. It seems that each time I step into the out of doors, my soul is revived and any crinkles from the busyness or trials of life, are smoothed gently away, as I breathe the air about me and gaze at the beauty of the growing things~ for I believe gardens are the perfume of joy and each plant is a miracle mingling with God’s Hands over the earth. They add beauty to this wondrous life and keep the heart singing when the warm days come and threaten to scorch our own petals, as we live and face our own challenging times, in which to bloom. And so, even in the days of summer, when the weeds wilt, the grass dries up, and the sun beats down, may we stop a moment and witness the wonder, the miracle of plants growing in the cracks along the sidewalks, along the roadside hills, upon the mountainsides, across the farmland and in our own backyards. May we, in all our busyness, pause and give thanks in the heat, for the tender, miraculous blossoming drops of beauty which surround us still.
~ Amy Elizabeth Cox
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Flower design and photography by Marcella Ryan.