It may be late August, but there's still plenty of gardening to do and time left to do it. Unfortunately, while we were motivated in May, we're now deep in the dog day doldrums. We still want beautiful, well-tended gardens, but our early enthusiasm is as spent as the spring bulbs.
Flogging ourselves to get out of the hammock isn't the answer. Gardening is meant to be fun. The trick is to recharge your botanical batteries. Here's how.
* Read up. You don't even have to get out of the hammock to explore new horticultural possibilities. Lushly illustrated garden magazines, garden books, and even cookbooks serve up plenty of tantalizing new ideas that get creative juices flowing again. Rosemary Verey's Good Planting Plans (Little, Brown, 1993, $40) is packed with garden designs, including an Elizabethan garden, a small town garden, and an outdoor dining room, each with three-season bloom.
Cookbooks that offer fabulous new flavors for the same old squash are a great prod to tend the vegetables. James McNair's Favorites (Chronicle Books, 1999, $29.95) is a compendium of recipes using fresh produce and herbs that jump-started my sputtering motor.
* Visit gardens and garden centers. Seeing the new season's annuals and perennials at garden centers, or old favorites used new ways in other gardens, can fire up ambition to freshen tired beds.
"There are some great public gardens in and near Baltimore," says Peter Bieneman, manager at Green Fields Nursery in Baltimore. "Cylburn Arboretum, Ladew Topiary Garden, Longwood Gardens, and The National Arboretum are all beautiful this time of year. And there are some great little museum gardens, like the sculpture garden at the Baltimore Museum of Art."
Winterthur's Enchanted Garden, near Wilmington, Del., complete with kid-sized stone fairy house, tree stump hideaway, and stone story circle, is a fun, inspiring day-trip for the whole family. In addition to the gardens themselves, many public gardens hold events to enhance the visit. For example, Ladew Topiary Gardens in Baltimore offers outdoor concerts.
* Attend a garden lecture. Want to know how to draw butterflies, stave off plant fungal diseases, or plan a rain garden to manage storm-water runoff? Public gardens, garden centers, and nurseries offer lectures. Some, like the plant clinic held at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton (Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m.-4 p.m. through October), can offer solutions to troublesome problems. Others can send us off into new gardening paths. Brookside's live butterfly show, "Wings of Fancy" (daily through September 21) offers planting ideas for drawing butterflies. Bluemount Nurseries in Monkton will begin its fall lecture series (Saturdays at 1 p.m. starting September 20) with container gardening.
* Refurbish a container garden. Refresh a tired-looking container with the latest crop of fall-blooming annuals and perennials. Or plant a new one to enhance a new spot. Or add color and a new focal point to the perennial bed.
"You could have a fresh new herb garden starting with young herb plants and edible flowers like nasturtiums, pansies, and violas," says Sally Foster, owner of An Eastridge Garden in Centreville. "Add a couple of perennial herbs like tri-color sage or golden sage and maybe finish with a grass like purple pennisetum which looks great all fall."
"You can have gorgeous containers until Thanksgiving," agrees Martha Pindale of Blue-mount Nurseries. "Especially with some of the big, showy tropicals like cannas, banana plants, and elephant ears."
The flamboyant foliage and bloom of tropical plants adds a big splash to a small area. Some can even become long-lived houseplants.
* Whack back. Cutting back tired perennials and annuals can immediately freshen up a disheveled bed and lift the gardener's spirits. It can also encourage new bloom in the old plants.
"If you cut plants back about halfway then give them a shot of liquid fertilizer, in ten days' time, they'll be reblooming again," says Pindale. "Additionally, cutting back things that are completely finished will make your eye then go to the other plants that look great."
* Fill holes. "Tuck in new annuals and perennials here and there in the garden where there is a blank spot," suggests Mitch Baker, vice president of American Plant Food, a garden center in Bethesda.
Baker suggests adding annual petunias and snapdragons for height and color. Ornamental cabbage and kale can brighten borders. Chrysanthemums, a fall tradition, perk up both containers and perennial beds.
Fall-blooming perennials like anemones, asters, and boltonia, a feathery white aster-like perennial that's also great for bouquets, can enhance beds for years to come.
* Order bulbs. Planning next year's gardens makes us look at the current garden with new eyes -- the key to renewing enthusiasm for this year's beds. It's not too early to start thinking about ordering spring bulbs and imagining where you'd like to plant them.
American Plant Food
5258 River Road
Bethesda, MD 20816
7405 River Road
Bethesda, MD 20817
2103 Blue Mount Road
Monkton, MD 21111
Green Fields Nursery
5424 Falls Road
Baltimore, MD 21210-1907
Ladew Topiary Gardens
3535 Jarrettsville Pike
Monkton, MD 21111
An Eastridge Garden
533 Dulin Clark Road
Centreville, MD 21617
Rte 52 (Kennett Pike)
Winterthur, DE 19735
1800 Glenallan Ave.
Wheaton, MD 20902
U.S. National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave. NE
Washington DC 20002-1958