For those people who don’t think we have seasons down here, look at the photo. The golden brown grass, the dusty, dull green of the live oak, the rich blue of the sky, and fluffy white clouds–all colors that evoke August in Austin. It might not be as flashy as some seasons elsewhere but this is us.
August is a pregnant month, heavy and expectant. After an unusually wet and cool early summer, August 2014 seems very evocative of my first August in Austin forty years ago and emblematic of all those in between. This week the dry and dusty days of early August have turned humid, the air almost too heavy and oppressive to breathe. And yet, I can’t keep out of the garden. Even in the continued 100 degree heat, I sense a turn in the season, or perhaps I only expect one. I prune and turn the mulch pile and grind up leaf litter and straighten and order. Anticipation.
After four years of neglect, I begin dividing and replanting oxblood lilies, too. I think I’m dismantling the garden but once I begin digging up bulbs my own interests revive and I find that I’m as curious as I am acquisitive. This means I must sort through my systems and try to figure out the lineages and histories of each clump.
Very little is blooming: a stray flower on the clammy weed, prairie verbena, rose of Sharon, and Mexican petunia. A few wild sunflowers that look pitiful but that I leave because the small birds attack the seedheads each day. I no longer have a front lawn nor much of a back one. I don’t water at all, except the potted plants. Metaphorically my Austin garden is on the cusp of winter, waiting for spring.
One of my neighbors, walking by, stopped to chat as I was working and said she liked that about my garden: that she could see the seasons change in it and that it rested in the heat of August and the cold of January before it burst forth again. A garden that emphasizes change and time. That’s what I like about it, too. I planned it so purposefully.
Now I dream of other future gardens.
Wednesday (8/16) was the hottest day of 2006 in Austin, 104 degrees. That’s not a record breaking high. What’s unusual is not the quality of the heat; it’s the quantity. In August so far 16 out of 20 days have been 100 degrees or hotter.
For those of you new to Austin, no, this is not normal August weather. Non-gardening residents, as they race from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car, shrug their shoulders and think, “It’s August. It’s hot. Whaddya expect?” Well, I expect summer to be winding down.
We gardeners are out in the world and we’re taking notes. Although it’s not impossible for us to have 100+ degree days even in September (Austin’s all time record high was 114 degrees in September 2000–the most miserable summer in my memory), Austin’s average number of triple-digit days is ten. Ten! That means some years it’s less than ten. I’m just thankful I didn’t live through the summer of 1923. In that record-setting year, the thermometer topped 100 on 71 days.
Can you imagine that on August 14, 2003 the high was only in the low 80s after a front bringing heavy rain pushed through? Did I get out my sweater that day? This week in 1998, I was enjoying temperatures in the 80s and days of drizzling rain.
I’m usually dividing bearded irises and cleaning up and getting revved up for fall gardening. This year I’m lucky if I can stay outside long enough to get the potted plants watered.
Kathy Craig, at Cold Climate Gardening, mentioned that in upstate New York, the Color of August is Yellow. In Austin, the color of August is brown.
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