The calendar officially marked the first day of summer as June 21. It seems summer’s heat arrived much earlier than its official beginning. Spring seemed practically non-existent this year.

On occasion, some gardeners may disagree with the song lyric “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” If sweating and swatting were Olympic sports, Alabama gardeners would all win a medal.

We are busy chasing the rain and protecting our flowers from marauding insects and insidious diseases. As a whole, however, we love summer and its bountiful blessings.

Local markets are full of fresh tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other delectable offerings that make summer such a pleasure.

Weekly trips to the farmers markets allow us to know personally the hard-working folks who grow our food. Fresh blueberries and peaches have been for sale at the Jacksonville market the last few weeks.

 I have been buying my peaches from the same peach vendor for more years than I can remember. Saturday morning around the truck is like old home week, as longtime customers greet each other and our “peach man.” Peach cobbler is on the menu every week at my house.

In the delightful first days of spring, gardeners splurged on beautiful summertime annuals and perennials guaranteed to brighten our yards and our spirits. Those young flowers have picked up steam, relishing the sun, heat and rain and filling out containers and color beds. They do need our attention.

If nature does not provide ample rain, we are spending a lot of time holding onto the end of the hose and removing spent flowers to keep them healthy and thriving. All those minutes, however, are well worth the wow factor.

Two or three times a day I find myself wandering among the flowers, admiring their beauty and inhaling their delicious fragrances. Every moment of effort seems to disappear into an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction at the enormous variety of summer’s gifts.

There are so many flowers that define summer for me. As I look out the window, I admire the hydrangeas, the gardenias and the daylilies. These flowers, among others, are the hallmarks of summer.

Oriental lilies are in full bloom. Orange tiger lilies have spread, making a brilliant display. The bright yellow faces of the ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia grab the viewer’s eye and don’t let go.

Salvias in every height and color are magnets for the butterflies and the bees. The bees are dancing also around the petite flowers of the gaura. Hostas in every shade of green offer a calm in the midst of the chaos of colors.

Still, not every part of summer is a good one. We all have things that drive us a little crazy.

Summer brings my nemesis: the black lubber grasshopper.

At first, there are hundreds of little ones gathered in one area. I have tried many remedies to kill them off before they become large eating machines and spread throughout the garden. I have seen them take down a 5-foot elephant ear in a single day.

 I have heard some gardeners have never had these destructive creatures, but I have enough for an entire neighborhood.

The ugly creatures have no predators, as they taste terrible. I spend lots of time either stepping on them or smashing them with a shovel. A fellow master gardener told me the benefits of simply cutting off their heads. That does provide a sense of victory.

Mosquitoes really like me. Some people have a smell that attracts mosquitoes, according to researchers. As soon as I walk outside, the mosquitoes surround me in a cloud. I spray dutifully, but dislike covering myself with chemicals, so I end up often going outside in long sleeves and pants, which is not especially comfortable in the heat.

It is important to cut back on the mosquito population by emptying all standing water and changing the water in bird baths frequently.

Summertime is high season for ticks. Like many others who spend time outside, gardeners share war stories about how many tick bites we get during this season. If the itching is not enough, then there are the internet tales of diseases spread by ticks. I even bought anti-tick socks. Here again I resort to lots of clothes, but the little nuisances still seem to find a place to cling.

The deer smarten up in the summer. One warm day I watched a deer decimate my neighbor’s Knock Out roses, systematically eating every flower. The deer have designated my yard as a salad bar. My garden usually has a funny smell from one of the unpleasant sprays I have used to make my plants less attractive to the deer. There are supposed to be deer-resistant plants, but if deer are hungry, every growing thing tastes good to them.

Japanese beetles, which make their appearance about the time summer begins, can also do a lot of damage to foliage and flowers. They are nonstop eaters; often leaves look like lace after the beetles pay a visit. Many folks use Japanese beetle traps to try to reduce the beetle population. It is vital, however, not to place the traps in your own garden.

It seems poison ivy is becoming more prevalent; summer’s abundant foliage allows so many more good hiding places for its leaves of three. Poison ivy can be more than an inconvenience; it can be downright dangerous for people who are highly allergic. I try to garden in closed shoes and socks and those ever-present long pants; I always wear gloves as protection. I still end up with at least one bout of poison ivy every summer.

My favorite removal method for poison ivy is to get a plastic grocery bag, turn it inside out and then grab the vine carefully. Turn the bag right side out with the plant safely inside. Bag and vine then go into the trash, not the compost pile.

I am not a fan of heat and humidity. I remember my mother, who loved working in her garden, remarking that during the summer she “hid from the heat.”

I do not remember disliking the heat in my younger days. Maybe we get less heat-tolerant as the years pass. Thus, gardening in the early morning has become my norm. (Gardening at dusk would also provide protection from the hot sun, but it can put the gardener in close contact with the mosquitoes.)

My favorite method of handling an Alabama summer is the world-honored siesta. There is nothing like a cool bath and an afternoon nap to start our engines again.

Regardless of summer’s nuisances, the beauty and the wonderful food that accompany the heat more than make up for its inconveniences. I have learned to rejoice with the good and (try to) ignore the bad.

Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at sblanton@annistonstar.com.

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