By Phyllis Galowitz

At exactly 4:44 every morning in mid-July, the birds begin their symphony as the night sky begins to lighten and the dark silhouettes of the trees emerge. Sometimes I haven’t gone to sleep yet, but if I am asleep, their beautiful song awakens me to the start of a new day. You may not like the idea of being aroused at 4:44. I can lie in bed, knowing that if I want to, I might still go back to sleep, or, just lazily listen and watch and see, first the trees, then the hills beyond with the pink sky above and finally the whole landscape, with the sky turning blue and the white of the cotton-fluff clouds.

It’s been a very frustrating growing season this year. If it wasn’t the overabundance of rain, it was the woodchucks, rabbits, chipmunks and raccoons eating whatever is growing. I don’t know who is to blame for my beautiful lettuce that I enjoyed picking every night for dinner, being cut off right to the ground, as well as the leaves of the newly planted tomatoes, violets and the bright flowers of the zinnias and lantana! Those creatures may be fun to watch scampering around the garden, but it was heartbreaking to see the garden demolished overnight. I wonder which of them knocked the bird feeders over, spilling their contents and breaking the containers? I’ve stopped feeding the birds but do miss the entertainment; even the hummingbird feeders were attacked and broken, sugar water spilled over the grass. Could it have been a black bear?

Hydrangeas and hollyhocks are the newest additions to my garden. There are so many varieties of each. I planted Endless Summer Hydrangeas. They seem to do well in our cool climate and my lack of full sun. They have large blooms that are a beautiful blue if the soil is acid, which mine is, and pink if your soil is alkali. They flower on both the new and the old wood; therefore they should not be pruned as other types of hydrangeas are. They also need protection from sudden frosts in the first few years. A slow release fertilizer applied in spring or early summer (at a ratio of 10-30-10) should be sufficient. Too much fertilizer will give you lush, dark green leaves but fewer flower buds, as will over-watering. Water them well but not frequently. It’s normal for them to wilt for a short time in the heat of the day.

A hollyhock blossom

I planted hollyhocks from the seeds of the beautiful ones that had finished blooming in front of Citihope. One has flowers of the most delicate, pale pink and another is a darker, salmon color. The third one hasn’t opened yet. I wonder what color it will be! The texture of each bloom is like crepe paper and each flower is perfect. Plant them two feet apart for good air circulation, and water from below. The lower leaves are typically attacked by rust and those leaves should be removed and discarded. It’s a good idea to treat the plants with a fungicide. After they bloom and the seed-pods have turned brown and split open, crush the pods to separate the seeds and scatter them for next year’s flowers.

Gardening is a constant learning process and certainly has its frustrations and its rewards. It was sad to lose the lettuce and the flowers, but hollyhocks have made me appreciate what I have and I suppose the animals do have to eat. I’ve planted some more lettuce. Hopefully there will be some for me! ~

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