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DUCHESS OF DIRT: Lessons learned in Junuary

Leslie Cox
The Coxes’ ‘Sarah Bernhard’ peonies are hearty enough to wiithstand the cool Junuary evenings. Photo by Leslie Cox

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

It appears there is an annual trend happening in the month of June weather-wise and it is not strictly towards the warm lead up to summer solstices of the past. So much so, I have not completely swapped out my winterwear for summer cool attire. And let’s not talk about the arthritic flare-ups in the fingers and hands.

Old age, you say? Hmmm. Maybe not. Checking back in my weather records, I see single night temperature lows from 2.5 to 4.5 C. Date range is June 6 to 11 in the years 2017 to 2021. Of note was 2019 where there was a string of overnight lows from 3.5 to 4.5 C on June 5, 6, and 7. Looking back further, I recorded 3 C on June 16 in 2016 and then had to go back to 2012 to find another low of 4 C on June 5 and 9.

Now weather stats may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I like to track numbers. For one thing, it gives me a weathered eye (sorry about that!) on the first and last frost dates in our garden. This is why I challenged the last frost date a bit and we transplanted the tomato seedlings into the greenhouse on April 26 this year. But I had my hand slapped for my audacious optimism because we had a string of overnight lows in May dangerous enough to test the productivity of any tomato plant.

Thankfully, all of the plants weathered through and are now thriving. Many are over five feet tall with stalks as thick as my thumb. And fruits are developing. I had thought John might harvest his first tomato near his birthday but then Junuary arrived. I now see June’s weather in the first two weeks deserves some respectful consideration in planning the garden planting and chore calendar.

For instance, I should not have delayed so long in deadheading the deciduous azaleas – ‘Mandarin Lights’ and ‘Irene Koster’. Between cool temperatures, rainfall, and then sun, I have discovered many of the drooping spent flowers have caused ugly brown patches on leaves underneath and the sun has baked those spots to a crisp.

Nuts. I was so diligent in squishing the admittedly reduced number of azalea sawfly larvae to minimize the number of leaves eaten through to their midribs only to have brown spotted leaves this year. Oh, the challenges. Azalea deadheading has now moved up the priority scale on the June chore list for 2022.

Another weather factor this Junuary has been the high winds. (I need to add an anemometer to my weather recording arsenal.) It could be our imaginations, but John and I feel there are some days when the wind velocity is considerably higher than normal.

The new growth on my ‘Madame Alfred’ climbing rose must be secured better in the future and we also have to provide better support for the many clumps of herbaceous peonies. So sad to see the gorgeous flowers facing downward after the rain and wind have done their damage.

However, there is one bonus. Bent peony stems can be cut and flowers rescued for indoor floral arrangements. Placed in a tall, clear vase with coloured glass in the bottom and an immersible string of mini lights is a great uplift on a miserable Junuary day. Especially if the rescued peonies are scented.

So, if the peony arrangement and rigorous tomato plants are to be believed, there are silver linings in those dark ominous clouds skuttling across the June sky. We just have to learn to expect the unexpected in Junuary.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at