The very top of summer

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless . . . ~Natalie Babbitt

It is a cool quiet morning as Angel and I go out into the garden. Last night’s raucous frog chorus has faded with the light and the cicadas won’t begin their drowsy drone until the air warms. It feels as if time has stopped, with only the occasional bird song to remind me that I am awake in this beautiful world, the essence of late summer.

The garden has suddenly become voluptuous with the buxom blooms of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and tall summer phlox (Phlox paniculata).

August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied. ~Joseph Wood Crutch 

The composite flowers of Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and shasta daisies (Leucanthemumsuperbum) are running riot through the garden.

late summer steps

I resist the urge to pluck their petals to the chant of “he loves me, he loves me not” and instead admire their cheerful faces so beloved by bees and butterflies.

I saw a monarch butterfly the other day, the first I’ve seen in two years, although it proved to be camera shy. Winged pollinators of all sorts have been busy in the garden.

A few weeks ago, I spied this huge creature on a daylily stem, with a wing span larger than my hand, the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus).  A denizen of deciduous forests, it only lives a few days as an adult, just long enough to lay eggs and complete its life cycle. When I shared the photo with my friend Edwin, he exclaimed “In 4-H etymology projects this was the grand prize!” Polyphemus moth

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. ~Keats

While creatures were flying, trees were falling. A high wind twisted and ripped a tall red oak tree from the base of its trunk in our front woods, splaying it across the road. A friendly neighbor driving by helped us cut the top branches and clear the road until the tree company could remove the rest. Fortunately, only a few fence rails were damaged.

A few days later, I heard a terrible cracking sound through my window at 4 A.M., followed by a series of snaps. I’ve heard a tree fall before and I braced myself for the crash into our house but fortunately, I heard only a solid thud in the distance. At first light, I found our neighbor’s huge oak had cracked near the base and fallen into the woods, taking two smaller oaks with it. I’m hoping the mulberry tree won’t suffer permanent damage, as it now has an oak leaning into it until the tree surgeons do their work later this week.



Last night, I walked through the garden at dusk to the sound of evening birdsong and the thrum of tree frogs courting.  The hilltop that looked so cheerful in daylight hilltop

became dreamy and mysterious in the evening light. eveninggarden

There is nothing I like better at the end of a hot summer’s day than taking a short walk around the garden. You can smell the heat coming up from the earth to meet the cooler night air. ~Peter Mayle 

May you enjoy every moment of the very top of summer before the Ferris wheel resumes its downward plunge into fall.

22 thoughts on “The very top of summer

  1. I think the later summer is when gardens are at their most inviting and beautiful. Maybe not the most colourful time, but certainly, as you say, the most voluptuous periode. I still hope for a few more summer days before the wheel turns. 🙂

  2. It’s funny, we were both sensing the feeling of this time, and came out with different takes on it, influenced by our surroundings – I think if I had this back yard, I would emerge from strolls with a view much like yours – the sense of things being so full. Those trees must have given you pause, but that’s the way it goes – thankfully, on the downhill slope! I heard one come down in the woods by our apartment a year or so ago, a smaller tree, but no less a startling a sound, and then, a change in the view. The tree is hung up on others, its leaves dead and dangling. It will nourish the forest.
    Was the moth beginning to pupate? I can’t quite read what I’m seeing in the photo. Do you ever see Luna moths? Ah, so much spectacle in nature!
    Looks like a great year for the H. paniculata, and I love the Rudbeckias, Cherry Brandy and Rainbow Marcella. :-)!

    • Lynn, your post was so powerful; I understand what you mean. Tree falls are always significant events, especially when the house is surrounded by them!

      The moth was very nervous in my presence; I only saw it from the side. They live only 5-6 days as adults and don’t eat, just mate and lay eggs. Most of their lives are as caterpillars in the woods and in pupating. Here’s a link to more about it; apparently they are very common here but seldom seen because of their short life span.

  3. I hope the tree surgeons have done a good job for you. To cheer you, I do like the late summer colours in your garden. I’ve been trying to add more Aug-Oct interest in mine with Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’, Aster ‘Little Carlow’, Coreopsis ‘Moonshine’ and more Echinaceas (sadly the slugs love these here!).

    • Richard, I have some of the same late summer plants as you’ve mentioned. I’ve admired R. ‘Cherry Brandy’ for a while – this is the first year I’ve put it in the garden. It is an annual here, perhaps a perennial for you in your milder climate. I made a promise to myself last year to buy mostly native pollinator plants when adding to my garden, so Echinaceas became a top choice. Sorry to hear that they are slug bait for you – the bees and butterflies love them.

    • Great question, Elisa! Yes, there is more light in the garden where my neighbor’s tree fell. In fact, I had to water it daily for several hot days until it could adjust to the increased heat and sunlight. I’m guessing I will get even better growth and bloom there next year from the sun loving plants.

    • Tootle pedal, the first tree fall was from violent winds; we have been subject to them for the past few years. Our local park has dozens of fallen mature trees from violent windstorms.

      The neighbor’s tree had some issues – it was already leaning downhill and I’m not surprised that it finally cracked and fell with all of our recent rains. I only regret that this large tree took a few younger oaks with it on its downward path. One of them is entangled in our mulberry tree, but hopefully will be removed soon. My experience with trees here is that excessive rain or snow can weaken large trees, softening the ground and weakening them at the base. Unfortunately, this has been a common phenomenon for the past few years 😦

  4. Enjoyed your high summer quotes, Lynn.
    My goodness, your trees are certainly making news! So glad that big one fell in the woods and not on your house or garden.
    Loved the contrasting day/evening photo of your garden – the white Shasta at night really stands out.

    • Eliza, love your new ID photo! Yes, we are very lucky to have escaped the destruction of falling trees. It is something we have to deal with from time to time; fortunately, this time we did not have a direct hit. The downside of our forest setting.

      I hesitated posting that evening shot of the garden but it was such a powerful image for me – the shasta daisies were the winners of garden beauty that night!

  5. Beautiful, Lynn, but sorry to hear of the fallen trees. We lost several in storms this summer, too; I mourn their loss. Old friends. Trying to replant mindfully.

    I had several Imperial Moths visiting my gardens this summer, which was interesting. Swallowtails galore are visiting now, but not many Monarchs. I do miss them.

    Your gardens are so very lovely: Happy walks and dreams in your lovely refuge as summer winds down. I so welcome and appreciate your glorious words and photos.

    • Kitty, isn’t it wonderful to “host” such amazing creatures? Trees, I love, but they have been a target of change lately. As long as they don’t fall on the house, I can celebrate the changes that come in their falling and moving into a new role in the ecosystem.

  6. Despite the reference in the opening quote to the top of summer being a week long in duration, part of me senses that it’s more of a momentary thing, akin to the solstices and equinoxes.

    Regardless, I can certainly identify with the notion, alluded to in your opening paragraph, of time stopping. It’s a very special experience when that happens. (Please forgive the link; I can’t help myself: )

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