My specialty is the half-dead, but alive enough to sow the seeds of encouragement without promising the blossoming of fulfillment.

I’m talking about the garden, the lawn, the trees and bushes that, since it turned hot, are trending toward dead.

A friend called and said, “This is the time of year that I’m just trying to keep things alive.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. If you live here, have traveled here or read about here, you do, too.

Spring was a gimme. A sucker’s game. Everything looks good in the spring. Parts of town that make you want to move out of town the rest of the year look like Versailles in the spring.

Not now. Not a month from now. Not in September when the green war has been lost and white flags fly in the sky like doves.

This is a strange time of year in that it moves both fast and slow. Slow because when the temperature rises, the days seem to last forever. You hear things like “I can’t believe it’s only June 28. It’s barely summer yet.”

Heat puts a governor on the ferocious pace of life and if we’re looking for the good in summer, slow is it.

The flip side is that things dry quick. In an hour, eight hours, and God forbid you go away for the weekend, your greenery can turn to brownery.

“Didn’t I just water yesterday?” You hear that a lot. We say that a lot because it’s true a lot.

“Herb, did you know that your Japanese maple is dying,” said Lauren, my daughter in law, not wanting to hurt my feelings but not unwilling to impart potentially useful information either.

She was right but only half right. Half the tree had small purple leaves and the other had no leaves and the branches looked brittle and dead.

I performed the ‘are you really dead test.’ I snapped some tiny twigs, hoping that the larger ones were still alive and in order to do so, had to sacrifice its tiny brethren.

Tiny was dead. Big was dead, too.

The Japanese maple has been with us for 22 years, ever since we bought the house. We might have planted that tree. The tree is wound with twinkly lights.

What do you do? There is no reason to abandon the tree as long as it stood, almost petrified, because a petrified tree will show off twinkly lights as well as one in the blush of youth. Had it been taller, I could have leased it out as a cell tower.

A month ago, I planted six new rosemary bushes. Rosemary bushes thrive in the driest places on earth, but there is dry and then there is Bakersfield dry. When I looked at them recently, half of them had turned brown, the brittle brown of no return brown.

The lawn, after a glorious spring, is now marching toward its true destiny. The only grass that is not dead or dying is the artificial turf in the backyard. The turf is doing fine but if it were possible for artificial turf to die anywhere, it could die in Bakersfield.

This is a war and it’s only June. By July, it will be a rout. By August, a slaughter. By September, things will be hanging on by a root.

Half dead, half alive. Maybe half alive is the best way to look at it. We make it through this and the rest of the year can be a garden party.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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