I am struggling in the garden right now. It would be untruthful to say that I am not, and I find that pretending otherwise only serves to perpetuate magazine myths that make the home gardener feel inadequate and overwhelmed. There is joy to be had out there, surely; but three conditions exist that dampen my idealism and have me scuttling inside more often than not. The heat, the humidity, and the mosquitoes.
I live squarely in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic United States. A curious region where spring promises drenching rains, cool evenings and lush abundance – and then reneges on the deal with searing triple-digit temperatures and humidity levels that make it tricky to draw breath.
Growing up on the West coast, I dealt with similar temperatures every summer, but the air stayed dry, fungal disease remained at bay and no-one was under spring-induced hallucinations that the summer might bring thunderstorms every week to gently water the garden with an obligatory inch. After twelve years on this coast, I have certainly become more used to the moisture in the air, but I do not relish the feel of tacky sheets and tackier attempts to hide my de-humidifier from view.
Air-conditioned stores, cars, workplaces, and homes make it even more challenging to step outside – environments calibrated, as they are, by the American motto “Some is good, more is better.” The irony of wishing for a cardigan while shopping for swim suits is not lost upon me. Conditioning our inside spaces to a few degrees short of Arctic is not only environmentally un-sound, it makes the idea of getting outside and playing in the dirt a fleeting dream at best. It’s hard enough to get out there, why make it even more arduous on yourself?
So I keep my house on the warmer side. I keep my hair clipped up and wear skirts outside – which as the Scots will tell you, keeps a steady breeze conditioning all the right places. I drink copious amounts of ice water and stiffen my upper lip. If the hea-midity cannot be cured, it must be endured.
But no amount of stiff-upper-lippedness can mask the itch of a thousand blood suckers infesting the garden in deepest summer. The mosquitoes are so fierce that the mere thought of going down into the vegetable garden to grab a handful of parsley makes my ankles itch.
Several years ago I was chatting to my mother in California while I weeded out a bed of zinnia. Very little weeding was actually occurring however, as my hands were far too busy slapping at ankles, forearms and ears. I remarked upon my predicament to my mother who replied with, “Hang on – it’s the middle of the day over there, why are the mosquitoes out?” Up until that moment, I had forgotten the First Law of Outside Play from my childhood days: mosquitoes are a dawn and dusk phenomenon.