The first truly hot day of summer often happens in July and that is today. In New England we get heat sometimes in May or June but never with the oppressing humidity that defines an uncomfortable and sticky day. Most of us notice little as the air conditioned dwellings and cars make us immune to the actual world.
Today is the first humid summer day, strange to us as we have been living in an arid land. For the last two months, by many reckonings we have had a drought with perhaps only a third of the rain we typically receive. At the same time the temperatures have been in the high 70s and low 80s with little humidity. My perpetually moist north-facing hillside is dusty with little of the typical moisture that defines its clay-infused composition. We discovered the extent of the drought when we attempted to do laundry while filling up my granddaughter’s kiddie pool. After 30 minutes, the water started to appear a reddish brown, a good indication that we were beginning to drain from the bottom of the well. It took a day to recover, but since then we are more cautious about quenching the thirst of our plants.
Our gardens know and so do we once we venture outside of the weather. Our cotton shirts stick in places and then all over as we attempt the most simple and easy of chores. And during the heat, watering is paramount. Recent plantings shrivel unless we are vigilant enough to drench them. We wait on this task as there is always the threat of afternoon thunderstorms making our efforts unnecessary. Sometimes our gambles pay off but more often we curse ourselves when we dig up the roots of our inattention.
Half of our plants are watered from the well and the other half from a rain barrel I installed a few years back. Watering from a barrel takes longer than a hose but it gives one a view as to how much water you have. Last week before successive storms dumped 1.5 inches of rain, the 50-gallon barrel could express only slow trickles of water, ready to go dry. Now I’m back to a full barrel who’s partial contents I lug to the far portions of my garden. The recent addition of New Jersey teas, shrub roses, zinnias, lupine, clematis, and cosmos require daily attention as do all the window boxes and planters.
As always, well established, healthy plants shrug off the heat while enjoying the humidity. But the ones under stress are different. An old rhododendron that blooms with the most vivid blood red blossoms and a decades old honeysuckle are withering with the heat. Watering seems to do little and I suspect that an attack by bug or blight combined with the weather was too much. The heat and humidity acts to slow us all down seeking shade and a drink to make it through the day to embrace a cooler night.