Clematis jackmani climbs against a backdrop of Colorado skies on a warm June evening. It's a fine time of day when breezes chase the afternoon heat and young plants in the garden recover and set to the work of prodigious growth under cover of darkness.
It's transition time in the garden. Here on the Front Range of Colorado we've ascended from an extended early summer, characterized by overcast or partly cloudy skies, cool days in the 60-70 degree range, and nights dipping down into the low 40s. I love that phase because it's great weather for working in the garden and it also provides refreshing sleep for a tired, sunburnt man. With each passing day, the sun grows insistent earlier in the morning. These days I try to finish my garden work each day between dawn and 9:00 a.m. , which is about when the thermometer tips past 80.
Though I may lament the end of cooler days and nights, I'm counting on this very transition. The plants I've just put in—sun-thirsty eggplants, chile peppers, and tomatoes—all crave the fierce heat that's coming. We are transitioning to high summer, and that means there's change in the air, the soil, and the list of things to do.
This is a 6-month supply of garlic at its peak of growth, and I've made the call to stop watering this bed. The plants will respond by "ripening" their root systems, resulting in large, well-formed heads of garlic ready for harvest in a few weeks. I'll wait until the bottom leaves brown and then will gently dig these out, hang them in my basement (65 degrees, cool and dark), and when they have cured for a short time, I'll braid the long stems and set them aside for eating from late summer through early spring. And let me say, these varieties are insane with flavor.
Gardeners vividly experience the ever-rounding aspect of the growing seasons, a continuum of myriad signals from the small ecosystem of their particular garden. My earliest March plantings germinated and survived three snowstorms that completely covered the seedlings. Since then, they have gone on to be extremely productive, in their fourth week of providing us daily fresh greens. But in just the past few days I've watched the first signs of transition, from subtle to obvious, that they are going to seed, a phase precisely captured in the image below of Ruby Red Mustard Greens: the last of the piquant, delicious purple leaves that have spiced our salads are joined by a sturdy seed-head ready to break into rich, yellow blooms. This is the mother from which I'll collect seeds later, for another planting in August.
Meanwhile, Rossa De Trento lettuce peaks, buttery and mild, courtesy of cool spring weather perfect for its cultivation. Lengthening, hot days will trigger the plants, bitter the leaves slightly, and rapidly raise their thick center stalks. It's time to harvest this patch more aggressively and leave only one plant to go fully to seed. In the open space, I'll succession plant some very special Santa Domingo Pueblo Chile Peppers I've been saving back in the greenhouse. Their time is now; succession planting is a hallmark of transition times in my garden
Cilantro is a simple joy. Really, the flavor is so fresh and lends a spark to everything from salsas to scrambled eggs to stir fry dishes. This patch went into the ground April 27, the day before one of the aforementioned snowstorms, so we'll call it ready at 35 days. Pick this young, just as it comes into perfection as you see it above. Best of all, I've used succession planting and have plots seeded at 2-week intervals, so we'll have cilantro this delicious all through the summer.
Behind flute-playing Kokopelli, clockwise from the left, you can spot the Petit Gris Melon plotting to climb the trellis, a blaze of peppery French Tarragon (delicious in pesto!) and spicy baby sorrel leaves at the upper right.
transition to high summer is welcome, bringing dynamism and remarkable
growth to the garden. Container plants flower brightly, a dozen kinds of
bees return, and when the larkspur breaks out in coming days, I can
hope for the first sighting of a Western Swallowtail butterfly, a big
denizen cruising in for a meal, dipping its proboscis deep in the dark blue blooms, scattering its color in the sun.
I cross my fingers and hope that
night temps stay above the crucial 50 degree mark. I need this transition to take. Here where the high
plains meet the Rocky Mountains, anything can happen. A gardener here plays a game with the changes—and in fact, all gardeners do in their own climate zones. It's a fascinating game with a great upside. And the transitions keep coming, as shadows lengthen, rolling out toward their dissipation in twilight.