“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”

— Russell Baker, “Growing Up,” 1982

Gardening in the Rogue Valley during the intense heat of July is challenging. I get lazy when I’m hot, and I’ve been very hot lately, as temperatures have soared past 100 degrees and the air has turned dusty dry. And we’re still only a few weeks into summer!

What I need as a gardener during the dog days of summer (around July 3 to Aug. 11) is motivation, which hopefully will morph into energy to keep gardening, even when I’m sure the weeds and bugs have joined forces to oust me from the beds and borders, and I’m thinking a garden exile doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.

Here are five ideas for staying gung-ho about gardening during our hot summer “daze.” I’d love to hear how you stay garden-inspired at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

Get out early. The coolest time of the day is right after sunrise (around 5:45 a.m. right now) before the sun has had time to build intensity. I enjoy bringing out my cup of coffee and working in the garden accompanied by morning birdsong. It’s pleasant to wake up with the garden and to listen as the neighborhood comes to life. I also feel satisfied knowing I’ve made time for my garden before other daily tasks take over. I tend to blow off gardening if I wait until evening, because the heat of the day still hangs heavy in the air and saps my energy.

Plan small tasks, and make a list. A garden to-do list reminds me of the things I want to accomplish. It’s also another visual way I see progress as I mark off each task. During the dog days of summer, I scale down my expectations; rather than planning to “weed the garden,” I plan something less intimidating like “weed one vegetable bed.” I’m also more realistic about the amount of time I spend in the garden — one energetic hour instead of drudging through three hours.

Conduct a research project. I stay interested in gardening when I’m studying something in particular. For example, this year I’m growing three different heirloom tomatoes in pots, and I’m keeping track of their growth process. My eagerness to continue observing the tomato plants lures me into the garden; once I’m out there, everything else in the garden makes me glad I came.

Redefine “perfection.” America’s obsession with perfection has spurred industrialized monoculture crops that that look and taste exactly the same. Growing my own food has made me realize that a tomato doesn’t have to look perfect to taste delicious. Likewise, my garden can be somewhat chaotic and still be a wonderful, peaceful place to be.

Schedule time to rest and admire. My garden can only be a relaxing place if I spend time relaxing in it. That’s why as I’m scheduling my garden tasks, it’s important to include time to wander the garden paths or just sit and appreciate what is there, now. I have a glider rocker underneath an umbrella in my garden so I don’t forget that summertime should not only be spent kneeling in the garden beds, but also looking up at the clouds. For, as Emily Dickinson wrote in 1879:

To see the Summer Sky

Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie —

True Poems flee —

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.