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Summer Is Here!

June 21, 2012

A hot summer solstice  in Maine (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) In the northern hemisphere, yesterday was the summer solstice – the longest day of the year (15 hours 30 minutes at my latitude) and the official first day of summer. In many places, regarding the solstice as the first day of summer seems silly, since summer weather arrives weeks earlier. But in Maine, despite the fact that the state tourist bureau defines the Memorial Day holiday in late May as the beginning of the summer tourist season and despite the fact that gardeners also traditionally use Memorial Day as the date on which it is safe to put out tender plants, summer weather doesn’t usually arrive until the second half of June. This year, for example, the beginning of June featured a long string of rainy days and temperatures that never got up to 60F (15C) – hardly summery.

Peony bloom blown in the heat (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Some years, summer glides  into Maine so gently that you barely notice its arrival as it drifts in on soft sea breezes and brings crystal clear air and high temperatures in the 70s. But this year, summer officially arrived by slamming into Maine with a loud crash. After several days of unseasonably cool weather, temperatures soared into the mid-nineties (about 35C), with high humidity. In the garden, plants gasped in the sudden heat. Leaves curled up protectively in the afternoon sun, the tradescantia flowers that had remained open throughout the cool days at the beginning of the week closed up by late morning, and the last flower of peony ‘M. Jules Elie’ went from a newly opened bud on Tuesday to fully blown by Thursday. Other plants, however, seemed energized by the sudden surge of summer heat. This morning, I found new daylily buds showing all over the garden, and the chartreuse foliage of Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ was suddenly decorated with deep pink flowers.

New blooms on Spirea 'Magic Carpet' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

In most parts of the United States, 90 degree temperatures in June wouldn’t be considered news-worthy; but temperatures this high are relatively rare in Maine, occurring about 5 days per year on average (and those days more typically in July). So, while many Americans would deal with the hot weather by cranking up the air conditioning, many Mainers (myself included) don’t have air conditioning. We deal with the heat using old-fashioned methods. On Tuesday night, even though the temperatures outside were only in the mid-fifties, I opened all the windows before I went to bed. Yes, it was a bit nippy in the house by morning; but that was the goal. By 7 a.m., as the temperatures began to rise outside, I had closed all the windows to trap the cold air inside the house. It’s amazing how effective this can be; by evening, the temperature in the house had only risen to the mid-seventies, still 10 degrees cooler than the outside air.  When I went to bed, I once again opened all the windows to let the cooler night air into the house. (Most of the time, even during a heat wave, the overnight low will get down into the sixties here.) If I need to, I can turn on the ceiling fan in my bedroom to help draw in and circulate that cool night air. When I got up this morning, I closed all the windows to start the whole process all over again. Each day that the heat persists, the house will get a little warmer. Happily, though, it’s expected to be over by tomorrow. Most likely, the local television meteorologist will begin his forecast of cooler weather with the words, “Open up all the windows tonight and cool the house down!”

Our weather is expected to return to more normal temperatures in the seventies and low eighties by the weekend, but everyone has noticed that summer is here!

27 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2012 2:07 pm

    Jean, the Sacramento forecast for the next 5 days calls for temperatures in the low 80s . . . and we’re getting media coverage on that much like you guys do when it reaches the 90s there. I enjoy the temperature fluctuations because it’s a good reminder that things in life and gardening are fluid and I need to stay nimble.

    Stay cool!

    • June 24, 2012 9:03 pm

      Chad, I didn’t realize that Sacramento is so cool; it sounds kind of like San Francisco weather. (I never bring warm enough clothes when I go there for summer professional meetings.) The heat didn’t last long here — although you wouldn’t know that to hear how much people have been complaining about it :-).

  2. June 21, 2012 2:33 pm

    All gardeners like to dwell on the weather, but it seems like climate change is really giving us something to talk about. I like your naturalistic way of dealing with the heat.

    • June 24, 2012 9:07 pm

      Ricki, I’m a bit worried that climate change will make my naturalistic way of dealing with the heat obsolete. The key to what I think of as “Maine air conditioning” is having temperatures that get down into the sixties overnight. I fear we may be in one of those feedback loops where, as the climate warms and nights stay warmer here, more and more people will feel a need to use air conditioners — which, of course, creates carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

  3. June 21, 2012 3:00 pm

    We have also had unseasonably hot weather in June. At the same time, I was just reading how the record warm temps in March followed by the record cold of April has ruined the apple and cherry crops here and in neighboring states. It makes me uneasy to think that these fluctuations will become more extreme in the future.

    • June 24, 2012 9:21 pm

      Jason, Maine has similar conditions (I worked in my garden here in shirtsleeves in mid-March!), but I haven’t heard anything about effects on the apple crops here. Adams County, Pennsylvania (where I teach and live part-time) is a big fruit-growing region, and there was a great deal of concern about the same weather conditions there. The apple trees bloomed about a month before the date of the area’s big annual “Apple Blossom Festival,” and I’ve heard that the entire peach crop was lost. It is disturbing to think about how these kinds of climate changes will affect agricultural production.

  4. June 21, 2012 4:13 pm

    We too deal with summer, and winter as naturally as we can. Wood fire blazing now.

    • June 24, 2012 9:22 pm

      Diana, I love the sight of a big pile of firewood and the feel of a wood fire in winter. I hope you are enjoying yours,

  5. June 21, 2012 6:34 pm

    It’s funny, our first day of summer feels more like spring! I think it is news worthy when the weather in Maine is 20 plus degrees warmer than California. I do the same as you, as we don’t have air conditioning. On those nights when the coastal fog helps to lower the evening temperatures, I leave the windows open. It does make a remarkable difference one the house is closed back up early the next morning.

    • June 24, 2012 9:23 pm

      Clare, It didn’t make the news here that Maine was 20 degrees warmer than California on the solstice, but it did make the local news that we were 10 degrees warmer than Florida!

  6. June 21, 2012 6:38 pm

    Jean your weather usually mirrors ours but the nights stay warmer here begging the use of sir conditioning. My veg garden loves the heat as do many flowers that are beginning to flower…ah summer is definitely here…my nights are spent watching fireflies which are so numerous and delightful. Happy summer!

    • June 24, 2012 9:29 pm

      Donna, There’s a reason that Maine has long been considered a place to go to get away from summer heat, and those cool night temperatures are part of it. If prevailing winds are from the east or south, we get sea breezes that cool things down in much of the state (except for far inland locations). If winds are from the northwest, they usually bring cool, dry Canadian are; and if they’re from the west, weather systems are usually moving fast. It’s only when winds are from the southwest that we get hot air and humidity that keeps temps high overnight. And, of course, Maine’s gazillion islands always have cooling air from the ocean (where the water temperature seldom gets above 60), no matter what direction the weather is coming from.

  7. June 21, 2012 6:58 pm

    Jean, i love the way you write so carefully and conscientiously, I get such a clear picture of where you’re going and what you’re saying. Useful tip about cooling the house down. We have normal temperatures for the UK in June here at the moment, but in Northern Italy, where we have acquired a new garden, I see they’re way up in the 90s at the moment. So I’ll be taking your suggestion on board for when we go there at the end of this month.


    • June 24, 2012 9:34 pm

      Jane, Your new Northern Italy garden sounds intriguing; I hope you’ll share more about it on your blog. How well my system works may depend on how cool the temperatures get overnight and on what kind of house you’ll be living in. My house is wood frame and it’s all one one floor. Since heat rises, those with upstairs bedrooms can find that they are heat traps.

  8. June 22, 2012 12:45 am

    Very clever! What a great way to deal with the unexpected high heat. I’m very lucky that I live in an old wooden Queenslander style of house that was specifically built to deal with north Queensland heat and I only really turn on the air-con in the living area for about three weeks of our summertime. Your Spirea certainly doesn’t seem to mind the blunt arrival of the fierce summer conditions.

    • June 24, 2012 9:38 pm

      Bernie, How nice to have a house that was designed to deal naturally with the local weather conditions. My house is wood-frame, too, and I wonder if these work better for dissipating heat. My Spirea did not mind the heat at all; it is currently covered with pink blooms and looking gorgeous.

  9. June 22, 2012 3:47 pm

    I referenced your incredible blog on my blog in a new column called Garden Love. :o) Hot hot hot here!

    • June 24, 2012 9:40 pm

      Tammy, That was so nice of you; thank you.
      I can only imagine how hot it is there. When I am complaining about the heat in Maine, I always remind myself that this is what it will cool down to in Gettysburg once the hear waves end. Having to go back to southern PA during the heat of August always makes me grumpy.

  10. June 23, 2012 4:46 pm

    Very hot for the last few days here in PA too but cooler and beautiful today.

    • June 24, 2012 9:43 pm

      Carolyn, I live for those cool, dry, blue-sky days. Maine often gets lots of them in late June (at least on the mainland), and indeed we had about a week of that weather before the heat wave hit. Now we definitely seem to be in a more mid-summer weather pattern. (But I imagine you don’t have to worry about heat much on the island.)

  11. June 23, 2012 10:02 pm

    Hi, Jean! It seems we sent some of our Alabama summer weather to you, so now can you arrange for Maine to return the favor? I would like some of those moderate days and cool nights! Your June blooms featured in your last post are beautiful!

    • June 24, 2012 9:46 pm

      Deb, I don’t know if I can send Maine’s cool nights to Alabama — but maybe you should consider a Maine vacation when the summer heat gets to you (kind of like the way I’m planning to go south in late winter every year after I retire).
      I’m glad you enjoyed the June blooms; the astilbe and goatsbeard in the deck border are about to start their big display (which I will probably share next week).

  12. June 24, 2012 9:27 am

    My husband said to me during the worst of the latest ‘heat wave’….and you think you could retire to Savannah! Hmmm, good question!

    • June 24, 2012 9:48 pm

      Jayne, Good question, indeed. I couldn’t do it; I’m definitely better at dealing with cold than with heat. Maybe you could spend winters in Savannah? My parents had about twenty years of going south to Florida in late fall each year and then heading back north to New England in May when the Florida heat kicked in. It worked well for them.

  13. June 25, 2012 9:20 am

    Hi Jean,
    I follow the old fashion way of cooling the house too (only I did have to buy an air conditioner for my downstairs apt. two years ago) . . . I never close the windows at night for the air is too delicious after being closed up for all the long months of winter. Closing windows and curtains during the day is unfortunately the way to keep the heat waves outside. Like you our temps are more normal now too and I am so thankful for it. I hope you are enjoying your summer! Carol

  14. June 25, 2012 11:49 pm

    Hi Jean! I see the yellow and blue – lovely – Our weather is nuts – tomorrow we expect 105! the good thing is that it does cool down at night. I open windows at night…but we do have whole house air. There have been years we barely use it. Alas, this is not one of them. Hugs,

  15. June 27, 2012 4:48 pm

    I know people here who never used to hook up their swamp coolers (aka evaporative coolers: fans blow air over water-soaked pads, and the evaporation cools the air) until July 4 (if at all), and now Memorial Day is the standard. I open the house at night, too, since our desert air cools down once the sun sets, but daytime is another matter. Speaking as one of the culprits, I do think that the more accustomed we become to air conditioning, the less able we are to cope even with normal summer weather. Hope your heat wave was a fluke for this year and that you enjoy beautiful Maine weather the rest of the summer!

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