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The Dog Days of Summer

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These are the dog days of summer. That phrase doesn’t necessarily refer to the family dog, who sleeps away the day in a heap on the cool tile floor, tongue lolling, moving only as far as the water dish. The dog days refer to the hottest, most sultry days of summer, and in the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. The term was used by ancient Greeks and Romans to name the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens besides the sun. Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, written in 1813, stated that the dog days were believed to be an evil time “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies.”

So stay indoors already. It’s way too hot to garden. We suggest that you spend some languid hours reading about your favorite outdoor activity. After munching on a heavenly peach, with the juice running down your chin, read “Epitaph for a Peach,” by David Mas Masumoto. Farming in our Central Valley, he maintains the family farm and cherishes the Sun Crest peach which his father and grandfather grew before him. It’s too fragile for commercial shipping so it is a labor of love and a nod to a time long past as he continues the family tradition. If you enjoy this book, he has written others and each one is an inspiration to all gardeners.

Another garden-focused author is Amy Stewart who penned “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and other Botanical Atrocities.” She speaks vehemently about the many plants that are poisonous and cautions us to be careful what we sow.  There is now a coloring book based on Wicked Plants. Another of her publications “From the Ground Up” is the story of her first garden in Santa Cruz when her newbie efforts were only gradually rewarded. All gardeners will recognize those early days of uneven results and joy at eventual success. She now lives and gardens in Eureka.

Michael Pollan writes about creating his first garden, in Connecticut, in his book “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education.” His eventual capitulation to the lure of the rose, his treatise on weeds, and frequent references to his grandfather who inspired him create a fine read to for a summer’s day. Another of his books “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World” promises to reveal the relationship between human desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control to the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato. Pollan teaches at Harvard University and U.C. Berkeley and has written many more plant-center books including “Your Mind on Plants.”

If it’s the gardens of Italy you pine for, read “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Not a new publication, it still resonates with the story of restoring an old villa and older garden and remains a favorite. The movie fashioned after this story was ridiculous; read the real thing and enjoy.

As we wait for cooler weather and a return to the garden, put the dog days to good use by reading about the passion we all share.

Joan Bergsund is a former University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.