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Months without an “R”: No Oysters, Great Gardens

The other day, while searching for seafood to make a celebratory dinner, the saying pertaining to oysters came to mind– are you familiar with it?  Basically, it says we shouldn’t expect fresh oysters during months that do not contain the letter R. Did this saying affect our menu? Of course not – there are plenty of ways to enjoy the flavors of the summer season. Yet it shouldn’t surprise you that as I was thinking about the “r-less months” – May through August – my thoughts wandered to how the saying might, or might not, apply to the landscape.

Let me say at the outset – I don’t happen to think the oyster saying really has any direct application to the world of gardening. The four “r-less” months of summer are delicious and that’s pretty much where the analogy stops and starts.  But it certainly does make a gardener look at those precious months as a unique, changing color palette that is sure to appeal to anyone’s gastronomic palate. Maybe for a gardener, May – August is like a four course/monthly meal.

For starters, the first month without an “r”, May, is summer’s prelude – an appetizer. The beauty of May is found in the lovely flowers unique to the month. After the delightful, and somewhat “typical” spring landscape of crocuses, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and flowering trees, May brings us special views of new, fresh starts. After all, what would May be without peonies?

Peony in May

The exciting thing about May, however, is that peonies are not the only standouts – during this stage of the gardening season, the peonies, along with bluebells, allium, wisteria, camass, unfurling ferns, flowering shrubs, geum, amsonia and beautiful, developing greens, set the stage for the months to follow.

On my Facebook page, I try and post a Bouquet of the Day (no – they are NOT daily but somehow, the name stuck so I kept with it). In the r-less month of May, I transition from posting this kind of spring bouquet:

Daffodil Bouquet

To this – more descriptive of May’s blooms and colors:

May Bouquet

As the r-less months progress, gardens seem to change before our eyes and with that, come so many extraordinary sights and smells. Whether it’s your own garden, a landscape you pass while walking somewhere and/or a public garden you visit, the four r-less months serve up a mouthwatering, sometimes unexpected and usually refreshing, beautiful sight.

Garden Collage

As summer leisurely moves forward, blooms continue, lawns are tended to, treasured perennials are welcomed and songbirds are a common sound. This is the time when we also appreciate the benefits of shade. The trees, now fully in leaf, form a canopy of shade as welcomed as an ice cream truck and/or shaved ice.

The cooling, calm relief of sitting beneath a densely shaded area is unique to these r-less months and it’s a feeling that for many, typifies summer and brings back memories.  It reminds me of going to sleep-away camp and staying in bunks cooled only by the occasional cross breeze through the opened, screened windows, playing sports in the relentless heat and looking forward to “letter writing time” in the afternoon, often under the shade of a large, old, protective tree.

Protective Trees

Now it’s officially summer and time to, in addition to the ongoing chores, enjoy our gardens.  The palette of spring is changing as summer’s brilliant blooms begin to dominate the landscape. Lawns are still green, leaves are bright and it’s hard not to appreciate the spectrum of colors. Perennials appear and, if well planned, provide a display of colors over the remaining r-less months. Annuals help fill in pots and areas in the garden beds where a little oomph is needed and bright, cheerful bouquets –whether freshly picked and filled with wildflowers, herbs, perennials, greenery and/or any combination thereof – are available everywhere.

Cheerful Summer Bouquet

Summer means blooms on the butterfly bush (I saw my first swallowtail this morning while writing this post). The yellow in a garden is no longer coming from crocuses and daffodils because you might have sundrops, St. John’s Wort, lilies and other vibrant flowers. Brilliant yellow might also appear as buds in your vegetable garden and/or the center of so many lovely multi-colored flowers.

Who needs oysters when we can sit on the patio and enjoy a perennial garden filled with color and plants whose blooms are a month or so away?  I’m just fine with this view:

Emily's Garden

Sitting outside and enjoying a beautiful view is just about as delicious as the freshest oyster in my opinion.

The Balloon Flower’s bouquet helps celebrate summer’s colors and I really enjoy watching the process of this plant forming the balloon, seeing it “inflate,” deepen in color and then . . . POP! Beautiful balloons.

Balloon Flower

This summer, as the four r-less months progress and nature has done a lot of the watering for us (so far), my garden is full of returning perennials and beautiful blossoms are plentiful. As a result, this summer I don’t feel like I’m robbing my garden of its purpose and beauty by cutting some colorful blooms to bring indoors – for some reason, the garden’s almost begging me to gather a brilliant bouquet and the diversity of colors, textures and scents is hard to resist.

The Bouquets of the Day, in my opinion, represent the vibrancy and diversity of summer. Picking the flowers is doing my garden a favor (so I tell myself) – I’m encouraging future growth!  My most recent Bouquet of the Day represents early summer colors and diversity. I think they reflect what’s going on in nature.

July Bouquet

As summer continues, I enjoy watching the mandevillea vines climb the trellises and can’t wait to see my new “White Chiffon” Rose of Sharon’s buds open.

The Monarda’s blooming and it’s only a matter of time before the hummingbirds drop by for a taste. The deep purple speedwell’s spires next to the orange agastache is a distinct summer palette I love. Cleome, butterfly weed, phlox, zinnias, lavender, ornamental oregano, coral bells, penstemon and coleus weave together, reminding me of my Aunt Cora’s beautiful crazy quilts I adore – no neat, perfectly lined and planned rows for me. I love the result of a seemingly unplanned pattern becoming a work of art – planned to be soft, irregular, interesting and artfully worked to blend together.

Summer Gardens

My garden’s planned with heights, blooms times, textures and colors but the goal has always been a garden of interest, relying less on mulch to highlight plants and using plants growing together to form the carpet of my landscape.

Summer Gardens 2

When the four r-less months wind down, we will all notice changes: a later sunset, fading summer flowers, emerging fall hues and the hint of a crispness to the air. The dense foliage providing shade from the summer’s heat will be appreciated for other reasons as we enjoy watching the colorful changing leaves. When September arrives, we’ll embrace the “r” and who knows? Perhaps we’ll toast to the new season with champagne and oysters.

Fall Bouquet


Posted By: Emily Stashower, Behnkes Guest Blogger


Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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