Now is the time to take stock. Look out over the landscape and note this summer’s casualties.

The climbing rose is gone. The cute little aloe vera has crossed over to the other side. A fast-spreading weed has found a home in our tiny patch of grass. A half-dozen other plants have succumbed to the summer heat. The dearly departed.

I’ll start with the rose. I think I bought it at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. We usually bring home a few potted plants for our own little garden. I put this one in the front next to a bench. I pictured it climbing up the trellis and creating a green curtain, tall and wide. With little yellow roses.

Just like an arboretum.

I planned for bad things. We have gophers. I plant something and they add it to their menu. Only this time, I placed a mesh of chicken wire beneath the climbing rose. And, by gosh, it worked.

And, above ground, I encircled it with rabbit fencing. I could see outside my study window. The rabbits would hop by. They would raise themselves on their little hoppy legs, sniff around and give up.

I’m thinking: “Climbing rose 1, bunnies nada.”

I hadn’t counted on the javelina. A month or two back I was headed to the car. I paused at seeing the fencing tipped over. And nearby, a stick. The climbing rose, stripped bare. Javelina have sharp teeth.

So I bought a replacement. It’s still in the planter pot. I’ll put it in the same spot as the old climbing rose, only this time I’ll secure the fencing with twine and stakes. And possibly a mirror. The javelina will take one look and run away scared.

The javelina did not bother the aloe vera. They didn’t get a chance. Gophers got to it first, finding a back door through the buried chicken wire. For a time, the plant had looked healthy. All green and shiny. Then it started to yellow and wilt. Needed more water, I thought. So I gave it more water. It didn’t help. The poor thing grew more and more sickly.

I bent down. “What’s the matter, little fella?” Then it fell sideways. Rootless. Not in a wandering carefree kind of way. Just dead.

The grass in the back is still green, thanks to a water bill near triple figures. Still, I worried about gophers. They can leave a lawn looking like it had been carpet bombed.

Wife Cindy suggested a layer of chicken wire. And so I laid a sheet of chicken wire beneath the new sod.

It worked! Ha, ha, ha, eat wire, gophers!

But nature had a way of muscling in on my turf. I noticed a new weed, with small leaves on tendrils. I shrugged. It was a little thing. Next time I checked, it had spread. I started pulling. It only spread faster.

I looked it up online. It was the scourge of spurge. Fast growing, I was told. Well, I knew that.

I consider myself a friend of the environment. But this called for chemistry.

I bought weed killer. I read the label. It killed everything but grass and bad hair. I checked the directions, to see if I should use the spray nozzle or just dump the whole thing from a bucket. Then I came across the fine print. “Do not use if daytime temperature exceeds 90 degrees.”

Great. Now I’d have to wait till Thanksgiving. By then I’ll need a bigger bucket.

A lot of my plants are in pots. Or were. Now I walk by pots holding little but dead sticks, sobering reminders that frequent watering is recommended when it’s 115 degrees out. And a testament to the fact that it’s too hot to go out there and do anything about it.

I did water, though I might have fallen short in the application.

Deep watering is recommended, as I understand it. That suited me. I could set the spigot on low-flow and go back inside. Drink coffee. Read the newspaper. Nap. Eat lunch. Do a crossword puzzle. Drink a beer. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Remember the hose.

I’d go outside to find water spilling out of the pot and onto the sidewalk, as it had for the past seven hours.

The other plants might look a bit stressed. On the plus side, I’d have a clean sidewalk.


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at