With apologies to those in zones where these words would not apply



I would never say that the gardens in my neck of North America are at their peak now—far from it. It’s better than that. Almost everything is green, and only a small percentage of it is actually flowering. (With apologies to the geraniums, early columbines, dicentra, and other late spring beauties.) The spring bulbs are over, and the summer flowers are still in their prepubescent stage. The hosta leaves have just unfurled and are months away from looking dusty or motheaten. Ferns are standing tall (some of mine as high as five feet), the clematis are all gray-green shoots, and tight rose buds are barely showing slivers of red or pink. Even the annuals are somewhat discreet, standing out in small colorful clumps as they begin to grow into their containers.

The time when all is possibility and anticipation lasts for about two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June here. This is the time when you can still cherish the idea of a garden, and the hope that this summer your garden will fail to disappoint in the major ways gardens so often disappoint. Sure, you can already see the seeds of disappointment and frustration beginning to mature, but they’re easy to ignore. Now.

For me, this is the only time I can truly enjoy the roses. “Oh my god, I’ve never seen so many buds,” I think to myself. The time when the resulting flowers will be too heavy for their canes, get clobbered by rain, or otherwise decimated (the dreaded beetle has made great inroads here) is far in the future. The time when the emerging shoots of a second flush will be annihilated by midge is even farther away. Even writing this and knowing this does not hinder my present delight in the upstanding array of pristine buds, weeks away from maturity.

Although there’s little to like about an adolescent lily (one friend asked me why I was growing so much corn), at least now they’re all standing tall, and the stakes are still in storage. Now I can imagine that the tall mid-late-summer perennials (still pretty short at present) planted to hide their awkward stature will do the job. This is one of many, many garden strategies that has yet to be proven under the sterner conditions of high summer.

And I suppose there are plenty of ways the pond will cause heartache and bewilderment in the weeks to come, but I don’t see them yet. At this moment, the pond seems the smartest addition to the garden that could have been made. When almost nothing is in flower in the ever-warmer days of early October, the pond will be there, gurgling away, unaffected by bloom cycles and insect damage. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself now.

Excuse this short post. I have to go out enjoy my (almost) flowerless garden.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Elizabeth, I am always amazed that such different things are happening in our two upstate gardens at any given moment, when I’d have assumed we’d be experiencing the same thing. My garden is a riot of flowers–Queen of the Night tulips hanging on, masses of bearded irises almost justifying their tacky selves, an absurd purple rhododendron flouncing around in front, along with Purple Sensation aliums, a lavender clematis, and a magenta tree peony not quite finished.

    It’s really a wow moment–and the roses and my spectacular climbing honeysuckle are hurrying along down the road, too.

  2. What an exquisite piece of writing, Elizabeth. I understand perfectly what you’re feeling. Things here are pulsing with life and while there are some flowers, everything is fresh and clean and gently exuberant. I wish sometimes we could freezeframe the next two or three weeks and have a whole summer just like that–but then of course we wouldn’t savour these days quite so much, would we?

  3. Well, bearded irises. Sure, those are out, but I don’t grow them. Not right for my space. I do have some very showy rhodies, which I know are scorned by many here.

    Rose midge. Microscopic. Impossible to kill, except with the most deadly of deadlies, which I will not use.

  4. Oh…just the thought of those Japanese Beetles makes me mad. They are such a problem. I’m starting to get rid of plants they like and I’m trying to find plants they don’t like. Last year they decimated my “new” zinnia growth in one short afternoon. When we got home from my daughters, I got the plastic bag out and started smashing!

  5. I have been trying to find a way to ask Paul who sells the wire fencing that is so great for making tomatoe cages. I live in Tulsa and watch the show every week. Sorry about the big shade tree.

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