Now it is green – green with a depth of luxury that most people associate only with tropical places. Here in Winnipeg, at the joining of the mighty Red and Assiniboine rivers, there is an unexpected lushness in June.
The massive elms and cottonwoods that line city streets and haunt the riverbanks, the towering cedars and spruces and tidy ashes and lindens that guard our homes, all contribute to the affectionate blanket of green that wraps us in summer comfort, offering shade from the blazing sun and shelter from the temperamental winds that spring up spontaneously, gently at times, but on occasion with a frightening ferocity. Sometimes the wind is a great relief, especially when the air is heavy with humidity off the lakes. Then its cool fingers help dry drenched skin and caress fevered faces, lingering just long enough to provide a promise of the coming nighttime chill.
If June could last forever, no one would ever leave here. To be wrenched from so much beauty would leave too large a wound. The memory of our Junes keeps us happy through scorching July and golden August to the blaze that is September and October and then through the dark months until the glittering beauty of January and the final promise of spring.
It rains in June. This year it storms. Lightning and thunder and even hail have fallen, punishing us but nourishing the earth, releasing nitrogen for the plants and perhaps even rehydrating the parched soil if it rains long enough. When the sun comes out, it shines persuasively on this prairie opulence, calling on the spruces to lift their branches, the flowers to raise their heads, the small animals to come out and bask in its beneficence.
I do love June. I love the long, long days. I love the sound of the birds chorusing with the sunrise at four in the morning. I love the chattering of the squirrels and the whisper of the wind in the trees. I love the occasional rain coming down in harsh splatters, even when it tears the long awaited blossoms of my tree peony into silken, scarlet tatters only a day after blooming. There were no blossoms last year and only two this year. The rest were victimized by a fickle spring and late killing frosts. Such is the fate of the gardener.
It has been a strange year and I get strange reports from my fellow gardeners. I hear of trees that have green branches but no leaves, of apples that will not blossom and of lilacs that are weeks late into flower. The brilliant red Oriental poppies that usually bloom in May, this year have only just emerged (falling to the same fate as the tree peony) and hundreds of tulips thought it not worth the trouble to send up leaves. I have found some of them, lying inert and mushy under the soil, frozen and thawed repeatedly until there was no heart left in them for living.
Other plants, though, are fully pleased with themselves, looking well dressed and prosperous. The delphiniums are about to blossom and are upright and proud. Not so, the poor double pink peonies, which are prostrate on the ground – I was out of town and left them to their own devices when the sun coaxed them into opening too soon. If the rain stops, I will try to rescue what is left for my vase.
But peonies last longest when cut in the hard bud stage – you can even keep them, either wrapped or in a vase of cold water, for as long as six months so that y
ou can please your daughter’s heart at her fall or winter wedding. Prevent mould by adding a few drops of household bleach to the water.
The Double Pink herbaceous peony is one of those bomb type peonies that were bred for the vase and always need staking. Peonies that can stand on their own two feet include the magenta ‘Big Ben’ and the lovely ‘Bowl of Beauty’, an anemone type peony. The Itoh intersectional hybrids are all upright without help.
This morning, the sun appeared. What heaven. It is heartbreakingly lovely.