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The Dog Days of Summer

The cicadas call from the trees, the gardens have slowed down their growth, and the air has become thick and still: we have entered into the dog days of summer. I recall gazing at the winter landscapes with anticipation for the spring, dreaming of colors and flowers as if winter would never end. Now I am standing in the shade of a tree as the summer sun wraps itself around everything in a fiery attempt to forget its daily diminishing, as if to say, “I am not ready for fall.”

This past season has flown by, and although there are still a couple more months left to the growing year I can’t help but to begin to reflect on this past season. The most wonderful part of being an estate gardener is being able to witness the ever changing landscape while being a part of the process for that change to occur. At the beginning of my season, I cleaned the gardens, preparing them for a new year by cutting last year’s plants to the ground to make room for this year’s growth, and adding compost to garden beds. I started vegetable seedlings and dahlia tubers inside for spring planting and began to plan for the upcoming season. Slowly as the winter turned to spring, I watched as buds emerged on trees, and perennials pushed their way up through the cold soil. The vegetable seedlings I started finally became large enough to move into bigger pots, and dahlias began to send out their first growth from their tubers. The first signs of the returning of spring evoke such joy, and although the winter holds its own beauty, spring whispers for the world to wake up.

Finally, once forecasts for over-night frosts disappeared from the monthly weather report, it became time to plant the gardens. Planting is very much like painting- each plant being its own color of paint, and the gardener arranging the plants as if choosing from paints on a palette. Planting a garden takes quite a bit of foresight. Knowing how plants perform next to each other (companion planting), what colors the plant’s foliage, flowers, and fall appearance may be, the height and width of the plants at full growth… all of these factors come into play while planning a garden. This year we took these factors into account while redesigning and replanting the East Garden, the Dahlia Beds, and the Kitchen Garden. Plants were chosen and placed where they would hold value next to another plant, whether that be through color contrast, size differences, or beneficial plant growth/health aspects.

The kitchen garden is a wonderful example of how gardens can evolve throughout the season. From the beginning of the year to the end of the season it goes through many appearance changes that take into account the factors that were mentioned above. In the late spring the garden is lush with low growing, cold weather plants: cabbage, lettuce, radish, kale, onion, and chard. Planted amidst these food crops are flowers such as marigolds, alyssum, and perennial flowers just beginning to push their foliage up from underground. As the weather begins to warm up the cabbages, lettuce and radishes are harvested from the gardens and replaced with beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil. These summer vegetables are planted thoughtfully, the cucumbers and pole beans are grown on trellises to save space, the tomatoes are caged and staked upwards to give height to the garden and then under planted with zinnias, verbena bonariensis, basil, and bush beans to fill in the middle ground, and the zucchini and summer squash crawl across the ground.

As the summer wears on and the gardens slow down, I will begin to pull out zucchini and cucumber vines, slowly the tomatoes will stop producing fruit, the beans will stop producing beans. But as these summer vegetables come to the end of their season I am planting seeds for the fall: beets, turnips, lettuces, parsley. Even after the height of the season passes there is still another transition in the garden to look forward to before the gardens lay barren again in the winter.


As the summer flowers in the perennial gardens begin to fade the dahlias are growing and putting on buds for a beautiful fall display. Some flowers that bloomed in the middle of the summer are waiting to bloom once more once the weather gets cooler. The Caryopteris in the Tropical garden will bloom, sending out beautiful blue flowers, and ornamental grasses will show off with their seed heads nodding in the cool fall breeze.

The dog days of summer are often thought about in an almost wistful way. It is a time of change and nostalgia. It is a time where we are all remembering the feeling of sadness we had as children realizing it was nearing time to go back to school, realizing that the careless fun of summer is coming to an end. But the dog days of summer are not an end. The dog days of summer are a reminder that at the plateau of summer when things seem to sleep an exhausted sleep in the hot sun, that it is only a time for stillness in order to recharge and jump into fall with renewed energy. We will see this all around us in the fall leaves and the regrowth and changes in the plants in our landscapes.

Once again, the winter will come and the land will hibernate until spring. Until then, let’s take advantage of the beauty that surrounds us, in public gardens such as ours at Rough Point, in our own yards, and even in the trees and plants that line the sides of the streets in our travels.

By Tessa Young, Estate Gardener at Newport Restoration Foundation

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