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Scoop: The August garden

Story and photos by Susan Jonas

Garden Club of Danville

The Garden Club of Danville hasn’t been meeting since the shutdown began, but members continue working to keep Danville beautiful. 

The Mary Akin Memorial Kitchen Herb Garden at Constitution Square and the Apothecary Garden at the McDowell House are looking fine this summer, thanks to regular care by individual club members. Member James Ross is in charge of mowing and edging at McDowell House and at Constitution Square, so he gets the credit for neat green lawns.

James is also the official gardener at Constitution Square Park. You can thank him for the spectacular floral display around the Governors Circle there. 

He has been pulling weeds and watering the flowers three times a week all summer and the results are glorious. The Boyle County High School’s FFA program contracted with the county to cultivate, plant and care for the flower beds. 

Students began growing 750 vinca plants early last spring but had to abandon the project to teachers when the pandemic shut down the school. Under the supervision of James Ross, Garden Club members and other volunteers planted the seedlings in May. Now they are at their peak.

The colorful brick-walled beds are crowded with large and small flowered vinca plants in white, shades of pink, and lavender, interspersed with bright yellow marigolds. Ross amended the tired soil in the beds with manure and compost and he fertilizes regularly. He says recent rains have really benefited the plants. 

As any gardener knows, hoses and sprinklers are a poor substitute for real rainfall.

Hurricanes and tropical storms in late July and early August almost always bring welcome rain to Kentucky. The accompanying cool spells give gardeners a second wind just in time to revive the hot, tired garden.

Back in 2014, my first Scoop column dealt with the sorry state of daylilies in August. It’s a subject that comes up every summer, so the information is worth repeating.

Daylilies and many other flowering plants benefit from being cut back in late summer. After a hard trim just 10 days ago, these new daylily leaves in the foreground have alrea

Even the most devoted daylily fan will have to admit that the plants look pretty unsightly by the time they finish blooming. The bare brown stems stand up in the flower bed like dead sticks and the leaves turn yellow and die back one at a time, which means constant grooming to keep them presentable.

Now is the time to give those daylilies a rejuvenating trim. If you have a large patch or long row of daylilies you can even run over them with a lawn mower set on high. 

Others you can trim back almost to the ground by hand. Don’t be afraid of such drastic action; daylilies are tough as nails. You may want to remove and save some of the dried scapes, or stems, with seed pods attached. They make attractive additions to arrangements of flowers or holiday greenery.

The plants will appreciate a dose of fertilizer after their trim but will quickly recover even without it. However, don’t expect more flowers unless they are repeat blooming daylilies like Stella D’Oro. 

Keep them watered and in just a week or so you will begin to see new growth. In no time you’ll have pretty new green leaves to last through the fall.

Bearded iris can be divided, transplanted, and cleaned up in August. Even if you’re not dividing them, you can improve their looks by cutting off brown tips and dead leaves and removing any remaining flower stalks. The leaves can be cut into a short fan shape. Fresh growth will begin soon with a new center leaf.

Late summer every two or three years is also a good time to divide bearded iris, so they will have time to recover and bloom again next spring. Even if you’re not dividing them, you can improve their looks by cutting off brown tips and dead leaves and removing any flower stalks that remain. 

You can leave the healthy green leaves, or they can be cut into a short fan shape. Fresh growth will begin soon with a new center leaf.

Plenty of other flowers and herbs can use a haircut this month. Many plants that have gotten leggy will benefit from being sheared back. 

It takes courage to cut the flowers off sprawling petunias or Million Bells (calibrachoa), or to chop a basil plant in half (Make pesto!) but the resulting compact shape and fresh blooms will soon be your reward.

Usually, by August in Kentucky both gardens and gardeners are looking worn out and feeling a trifle tired of the whole process. Recent rains and cooler temperatures should encourage you to get out there and tidy up. 

You might be tempted to tuck in a few half-price annuals to see you though the next two or three months. Soon fall will bring crisp temperatures with mums, asters and dahlias. Just water when needed and keep your flowers deadheaded for continued blooming. 

Keep thwarting their urge to set seeds and they’ll keep trying by making new flowers. If you need some inspiration, visit Constitution Square Park and be dazzled by the flowers around the Governors Circle.