Defeat the dog days with a shade garden

Defeat the dog days with a shade garden

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Hot enough for you? Even in our beloved and oh-so-temperate Pacific Northwest, we usually have a least one heat spell that brings us all to a simmering, sweaty, whining mess. A sudden spike in temperature and the resulting overheated days and sticky nights turn us all cranky — quickly.

Now picture yourself covered in fur and barefoot on a hot sidewalk. No wonder they call the most miserable days of summer the "dog days." That phrase is actually a celestial reference, but you only have to look at your tongue-lolling, four-footed best friend on a hot August day to get a vivid picture of suffering in the summer heat.

Normal body temperature for a dog ranges from 100.5 to around 102.5 degrees. Only able to expend heat via panting and through the pads of their paws, hot weather and physical activity can quickly turn dangerous for our canine buddies.

If a dog's temperature reaches 105 degrees, heat exhaustion is a concern; at 107 degrees, heat stroke is a very real possibility with possibly fatal consequences.

Relief for both you and your dog is as close as your own backyard. Cool shade, soft surfaces, and dabbling your feet (whether you have two or four) in a dribbling sprinkler will quickly refresh and restore everyone's good humor.

If your garden is already home to a mature tree, count your blessings in its shade. If not, remember, autumn is right around the corner.

In the Northwest, fall is the best time of the year to plant trees and shrubs. Those seemingly distant, but fast approaching rains amount to free water and help to get new plantings quickly established.

If you don't have the space to plant a few trees, arbors, covered decks and even an umbrella will offer respite from the worst of the midday sun. Lounging on a small cushy lawn or swath of ground cover is considerably more comfortable than a heat-storing paved surface.

Surround yourself with lush plantings to take advantage of their evaporative cooling effects.

So enjoy these last warm days. Plant your lounge chair in a shade garden and pour yourself an icy beverage — don't forget to put out a water bowl for Fido. These lazy dog days of summer may turn out to be your most relaxing yet. We'll think about planting next month.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, is a Seattle-based freelance writer, food enthusiast and garden designer who revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's the author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables" and "Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest."

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