August is one of the hot months where I live — hotter now than it used to be. Nonetheless, according to the old agricultural calendar, August 1 — variously called Harvest Home, Lammas, or Lughnasa — marks the beginning of Autumn. This was the time — in the old days — when grain was harvested, and the village celebrations of the harvest — the bringing in of the grain — were called Harvest Home.
To me, one of the symbols of this hot time of year is the tiger lily, which used to have the scientific name Lilium tigrinum, but now that is often replaced by Lilium lancifolium. It is blooming here and there in my garden.
One of the most pleasant things about the tiger lily — aside from its attractiveness — is that one can easily multiply it by collecting and planting the little black bulbils — miniature bulbs — that grow in the leaf axils. It takes a couple of years for them to mature into blooming-size plants, but if one does this, more and more flowering tiger lilies will be seen blooming in the garden at this season.
Tiger lilies were said to have been brought to Britain from Canton — in the south of China — in 1804, and was noted in America some twenty years later. So it has been here a long time, and is considered one of the “old-fashioned” garden flowers. There were native lilies some call tiger lilies growing in the United States before the Asian kind was introduced — like the Lilium columbianum I knew as a boy, but they are not quite the same, and do not produce the bulbils.
Hot as it may be compared to the rest of the year, August nonetheless gives one a feeling of something waning — of impermanence — and that is logical, because the days are growing ever shorter. Morning comes later, and night earlier, and that will only increase as the season progresses. I always like — as Harvest Home comes — to repeat that in her bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes:
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.”
That well expresses the feeling of the beginning of August.
For those who live in the temperate Northern Hemisphere and write hokku, now is the time to begin changing from the “summer” classification to the “autumn” classification.