Week 13th September

Sunday 13th September – The weather is warming up again. We are in for a short burst of late summer before September is out. Some might refer to this as an ‘Indian’ summer, but this is a phrase from the USA and although widely used here, it’s not really appropriate. In the UK, these periods of late, fine weather would be linked to the church calendar. In mid-October it would have been called ‘St Luke’s Little Summer’ – St Luke’s feast day is on the 18th – and in mid-November it would be a ‘St Martin’s Summer’ as his feast day is on the 11th. Shakespeare also had a name for these summer days in autumn, he called it ‘All Halloween Summer’ for warm sunshine when October fades into November.

Monday 14th September – Ridiculously hot for mid-September. We recorded 27C in the garden today. Too hot to do anything – lost days. Speaking of lost days, here’s something interesting about September: in 1752 Britain decided to move from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar to bring itself into line with most of Europe. As a result, 3rd September instantly became 14th September and eleven days disappeared. It’s fair to say that nothing whatsoever happened in British history between 3rd and 13 September 1752. There is an urban myth, discounted by historians, that some people were so outraged at this theft of days that there were riots. However, there is more truth in stories that some people thought their lives had been shortened and were very angry indeed.

Tuesday 15th September – overcast and still hot. No breeze and quite oppressive – to me anyway, it’s head-achey and stifling.

Wednesday 16th September – A little cooler so a trip out to Bicton Gardens to wander in the shade of the arboretum. I’ve written about these gardens before in here and the trees really are spectacular. Not just the British natives, but the many mature conifers too. Redwood, Monterey Pine, Atlas cedar, the tallest recorded Grecian fir (41 metres) and an avenue of Monkey Puzzle trees amongst many others. If you’re ever in east Devon, pay a visit. We watched nuthatches in a stand of oak trees, flitting back and forth, their grey-blue backs and long pointed bill make them such an elegant little bird. As we stood quietly they were joined by coal, blue and, I think, marsh tits, but maybe willow tits. They are fiendishly difficult to distinguish between. Two grey squirrel pottered under the trees, quite oblivious to us. At our feet shaggy inkcap toadstools were just beginning to frill out their blackening skirts. It is autumn, in spite of the warmth.

Thursday 17th September – Still unseasonably hot and still. I can see a cloud of wasps around a neighbour’s apple tree, coming and going amongst the branches. I can’t see where they are going to though, but definitely not into our garden, so the nest is elsewhere. Phew.

Friday 18th September – The berries on the cotoneaster hedge are finally a ripe and vivid red. The wood pigeons are taking advantage of them, although they are clumsy on the filigree of branches. Later in the evening a cock blackbird comes down to investigate but doesn’t stay long. I’m sure he’ll be back. And a little flotilla of long-tailed tits swing by to bathe in the water fountain, splashing and twittering and shoving each other out of the way – like children at an outdoor pool.

Week 6th September

Sunday 6th September – Now that part of the veg bed has been cleared, the sparrows are loving the bare earth. Swooping in to forage for insects and to dirt-bathe, making shallow cups in the soil where they have wriggled and flapped. There is a mini-flock of about a dozen birds – I wonder if they’re a family group? – male and female house sparrows, Passer domesticus. Although they’re seen widely in urban and rural areas, their numbers have dropped dramatically; by as much as 70% in England. It’s hard to imagine these common little birds being on the UK conservation red list. Here’s an interesting little snippet: in 2005 a house sparrow got into the Frisian Expo Centre in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands during the preparations for Domino Day (where those huge patterns of standing dominoes are built and then filmed as they fall consecutively). Yes, this little bird knocked over more than 32,000 dominoes and earned itself a new latin title, all to itself – Passer dominomous. The Domino Sparrow. Although I bet they called it something completely different at the time…

Monday 7th September – The abelia at the front of the house is having its second flowering and the front pathway is heady with sweet scent. It is full of bumblebees drowsily fumbling their way from one bloom to another. There are white-tail and buff-tail, common carder and garden bumblebees all happily feasting together. The garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorus, has the longest tongue of all the common bumbles, up to 2cm in length, which means it can feed on longer tubular flowers. If you get close enough, you’ll also see that it has a longer face than others too. I’ve been trying to see this while there are so many around, but they don’t really keep still for long enough, or their faces are buried in the flowers!

Tuesday 8th September – A balmy day today, it could be early summer. Real warmth in the sun, no breeze and the light is soft.

Wednesday 9th September – The house martins are still flying over the cliff, about a dozen today, calling and darting after insects. They will soon be gathering and flying south for the winter. At the same time, arriving from the north are the turnstones, seen on the esplanade this morning for the first time since before summer. About six of them, so more to come, but it’s lovely to see these little birds come back year after year. Some may stay over the summer months, but we don’t see them on the beach. They run back and forth in a little group, red legs moving so quickly, then take flight onto the rocky breakwater to look for insects around the stones.

Thursday 10th September – I’ve noticed that the herring gulls are no longer spending time on the local rooftops. Any youngsters have obviously flown by now and the birds are spending their time down on the shore which is about a thirty second flight from here, or on the arable fields which are about a ten second flight. They still circle and call overhead late in the day, probably on their way to roost, but they are no longer a constant noisy presence – until next spring.

Friday 11th September – here is the season evocative beginning of Helen Hunt Jackson’s poem ‘September’:

The golden rod is yellow, the corn is turning brown, the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down.

Hmm. I wasn’t too impressed either.

The garden in August

I contemplated not doing a post for August as we have done so little work in the garden there is nothing new to show you. Unpredictable weather through the month – first half dry and very hot, second half stormy, windy and lots of heavy rain. I guess weather-wise, abnormal is the new normal.

We have been here one complete year now, so at least we have a good idea of what is already in the garden, what is worth keeping and what needs to go. It seems that what we currently have is a good spring and early summer garden with plenty of bulbs, flowers and interesting shrubs, but then very little colour for high and late summer. The shrub and tree structure is good for autumn and winter and gives us a good background to consider purchases and planting for the future. A full year has also shown us that what we thought were damper parts of the garden actually aren’t and that we have a really free draining soil, quite sandy in places. We have a clear idea of where the sun reaches and which way the prevailing winds come, all very useful for planning new planting schemes. I’ve been impatient at times to fill gaps or to take things out, but waiting a full year before doing anything very much has been a really good decision, and I think has avoided some mistakes that I know I would have made. I recommend patience if you move into a new garden.

We also know now that there are some pernicious and well established weeds throughout the garden – wild strawberries, avens, willow herb, every member of the dandelion-type family, herb robert, grasses, and some big patches of sedge grass. Even some of the ‘intentional’ plants are invasive and troublesome – hypericum, japanese anemone, solidago, euphorbia. We are going to have to work much harder at pulling all of these out when they appear in unexpected places. So, all in all, no real surprises, just confirmation of a lot of work to be done! Here’s to our second year!

Week 30th August

Sunday 30th August Book review. ‘All Among The Barley’ by Melissa Harrison. This novel is set during the summer and autumn on a small farm in the nineteen thirties and told from the point of view of adolescent Edie. Edie doesn’t quite understand anything she sees or hears, but tries very hard to be everything she is supposed to be. It’s a book about growing up, about illusions and delusions, about the narrow horizons of farm family life, and about the strain on rural England between the wars. Harrison’s love of the countryside and her historical knowledge of rural life forms a wonderfully lyrical background to the unfolding story. The barley harvest is a key character and is described in intimate detail, as much a living, breathing part of the drama as any of the personalities involved. It is a hymn to a lost and perhaps not so innocent time, and I was captivated by Edie’s experiences and her narration of her reality. I recommend it thoroughly. Five shining suns from me. I loved it. ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

Monday 31st August – The last Bank Holiday of the season. Warm and sunny. We stay home to avoid the crowds who will be heading for a last chance at the beach. The garden is overblown and untidy, most of the flowers finished, the foliage dusty and dry. The soil is bone hard, even after last week’s rain. The wasps are out in force, they are everywhere, on the fence, just above the soil, around the plants – I wrote about troublesome wasps in last weeks journal, so enough here. The small fields across the valley that were cut for hay not so long ago, are already green with new grass. I can hear the little tractor again, this time cutting the hedges back. The old rhythms of rural life are still around us, we just need to notice them.

Tuesday 1st September – A real treat today – sitting on the cliff top looking out on the expanse of Lyme Bay – noticed some disturbance in the water nearshore. At first we thought it was someone who had fallen off a paddle board, then maybe a swimmer, but it was a bit too far out really. The sea was very calm, cloudless sky, so there was no shadow on the water. We kept looking at these white wakes, short, something was breaking the surface in a number of different places. Too far apart to be the same thing. Two, three, maybe six or seven, more. Then, suddenly and quickly and very clearly, three curved bodies broke the surface together, dorsal fins obvious. Dolphins! We watched them for about ten minutes, really straining our eyes to see them travelling from east to west, breaching the surface in black curves, occasionally a bigger leap, and then they were too far away to follow anymore. First time I’ve seen wild dolphins. Fabulous.

Wednesday 2nd September – A trip to local wetlands this morning. A bit of a recce as we haven’t visited before. There are tidal pools from the estuary, sandbanks, reeds and mudflats. Apart from the ubiquitous herring and black-backed gulls, we see little egret, heron, black-headed gull, mallard, moorhen, quite a lot of curlew, and another largish wader that I can’t identify – I’ve always been rubbish at waders, I need a picture and even then I need comparisons in sight, unless they’re obvious like the curlew we are watching. There are nine or ten here; our largest wading bird, warm brown bodies, long legs, small head and that long downward curving beak. They are probing about at the edge of the mud. One calls; a rising bubbling sound, soft yet quite distinct, and distinctive. It really is a bird call like no other, evocative of open spaces, and loneliness. Curlew numbers have dropped dramatically recently. It’s now on the RSPB’s red list and considered to be the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species. Take a look here for how you can help with its conservation. Oh – and I looked up the other large wader when I got home – it was a black-tailed godwit (I think).

Thursday 3rd September – Lazy day. Checking out if there are enough windfall apples around to make apple jelly – there aren’t, but I’m pretty sure I can get some in the next few weeks. I love it, especially if the apples are tart to start with and even better with some cider added. Great with pork or poultry. Here’s a recipe I have been making for years from The Preserving Book by Lynda Brown. Enough for about 4 medium sized jars: Roughly chop 1lb of cooking apples and 1 lemon, put them in a preserving pan and add 1 pint of water. Bring to the boil, partly cover and simmer til pulpy (maybe 20-30mins), then squish it all together gently with a fork. Tip the pulp into a jelly bag (a sieve will do) over a large bowl and leave it to strain, preferably overnight. Try not to press or squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy. It doesn’t affect the taste, but a clear jelly looks so lovely in the jar. Measure the juice, and for every pint of juice you need 1lb of sugar. Put the juice into a clean preserving pan with 1 pint of dry cider and a few finely chopped sage leaves, bring it to a simmer. Add the sugar and stir till it’s dissolved, then boil it, reduce to a simmer again and cook gently for about 20 mins or until it reaches setting point. Leave it to cool for 10 mins or so, then pour into sterilised jars, seal and label. Store it in the cool and dark – unopened it will keep for about 9 months, opened – refrigerate it. Great as little Christmas presents if you can bear to give it away!

Friday 4th September – I had a rather special birthday this week so today was a celebratory day out. Off to Budleigh Salterton for a walk along its curving, flat beach, from the massive red Triassic sandstone cliffs in the west to Otterhead rocks in the east. Afterwards fresh, locally caught crab for lunch from the beach café. At the eastern end where the little River Otter flows into the sea there is a salt marsh nature reserve. Not much to see today – a flock of Canada geese, black-headed gulls, a couple of Oystercatchers – but later on in the year it attracts a substantial wintering wildfowl population. The beach is quiet, it reminds me of some of the north sea coast beaches in Suffolk – Aldeburgh, Shingle Street etc – it’s made up of very large, smooth, rounded pebbles; many flattened ovoids, others huge, rounded stones. They are a palette of beautiful soft shades of pink and grey, occasionally bright white, some striated. Locally known as ‘Budleigh buns’, it is an offence to take them away. We sit on the sloping beach watching the flat-calm sea; the sun is still warm through the clouds, a light, but not uncomfortable breeze. We talk about how lucky we are.

6 – -on – Saturday 29.8.20

Hello everyone. I’ve been a couple of weeks without a 6 but I’ve managed one (or should that be six?) today. Amidst the rubbish weather there have been a few things worth photographing, so here they are:

One is this Abelia. Smelling heavenly, it has survived a drastic haircut at the beginning of the summer and is flowering away as though nothing has happened.

Next is this rather lovely myrtle. We don’t see it much because it’s at the front of the shrubby hedge that faces the road, but against the blue sky here it looks really lovely. I might try to expose it a bit more and cut it down to see if we can get some blossom lower down.

Next up is the Cotinus coggyria. It’s done quite well in spite of the very hot, dry weather and is about to start fading to a bright, pinky red. I think there will probably be another picture of this in a week or two as it comes into its autumnal own.

Number four is the crinum. It’s not the best picture in the world, but it’s just beginning to flower. The blooms are slightly smaller than last year, but I think there are more of them. They look well with the grey foliage in front and the hedge behind, and tone beautifully with the hydrangea.

Here are the last of the lilies. The rain has done for them completely this week, but I plan to let the foliage die down and keep the bulbs for. next year. I shall plant them in the border and get new ones for pots.

And finally, earlier in the summer we broke the tile top of this little table when we were moving it around. I set to with a couple of old bulb catalogues, scissors and glue, a piece of board and a coat of varnish and hey presto! A new table top, artfully découpaged by me.

So that’s it. 6 things from the garden today – well, through the week really as I’ve had to run out when it was sunny enough to take a picture. Don’t forget to check out this week’s Core Edge Journal from the menu across the top. Thanks.

Readers who are new to 6 – on – Saturday can join in easily – If you want to get a glimpse of lovely gardens from across the world, and chat to lots of lovely gardeners, then go here https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/  and join in!

As always – stay safe, wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands.

Week 23rd August

Sunday 23rd August – The robin is singing in earnest now in the late afternoon. In the summer, male and female will defend their territory together, but as the year draws on the male’s autumn song is a marker for claiming winter territory, letting other robins know that he is a fine, strong bird and they should keep out of his way. Robins appear and behave in such a familiar way that it is easy to think you have a small friend, returning year after year to your mealworms and hedge cover. Sadly only about one in four robins see out their first year and the average life span is just thirteen months. Although I understand this rationally, I still see the garden robin as an old companion, appearing whenever I am in the garden, picking over the soil when I dig, and fixing me with his round black eye.

Monday 24th August – More ‘unseasonably’ windy weather expected this week. Storm Ellen hit last week and now we await Storm Francis overnight and tomorrow. In the UK the Meteorological Office started to name storms in 2014, christening those weather occurrences likely to result in an amber or red warning. Apparently, you can suggest names for storms to the Met Office but they make the final decision on which names are allocated. The list of names for this year can be seen on the website. Find out more here if you fancy trying to get a storm named after you!

Tuesday 25th August – Fierce winds and rain make outdoors an uninviting prospect. A niggling pain around my eye turns into neck, face, brow and headache by mid-afternoon. My classic migraine symptoms are relieved by the usual reliable pain killers but replaced with that strange, spaced-out, head-scraped-out feeling that strong pain relief causes. I resort to the sofa and watch Cormoran Strike on catch-up.

Wednesday 26th August – Bright and sunny, blue sky, no breeze to speak of. This weather is infuriating – I’m sure it’s partly responsible for the headache. We head off in the car to the Exe estuary at Topsham for a gentle walk and to blow yesterday’s cobwebs away. Coffee on the quayside and we are plagued by wasps. There are about 7,000 species of wasp in the UK and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are all around our table. The most common is the one that’s plaguing us, the black and yellow social wasp Vespula vulgaris, or it’s almost identical German cousin Vespula germanicus. Adult wasps only feed on sugars, which is why they love a picnic, a pub lunch or a cream tea. They do attack and kill insects – about 14million kgs (!!!) of them in a year in the UK according to the Natural History Museum‘s website- but they whizz off with them and feed them to their young. I don’t exactly like wasps but I don’t feel the need to constantly swat them away anymore, unless they’re in the house. I can’t share my private space with them.

Thursday 27th August – Another weather warning in force, this time for heavy and persistent rain. The warning is accurate, it starts raining at 10am and doesn’t stop. It’s so dark indoors that we have the lights on and toy with the idea of lighting the gas fire. An extra layer soon sorts that out. Lightning barely makes an impression on the gloom and thunder rolls in a desultory way around the valley. Local roofs run with water, rain gutters dripping, and road gutters pouring rippled sheets of water down the hill. Two wood pigeon sit dejectedly on the telegraph wires, thoroughly soaked – why don’t they shelter in a tree? – and only a few gulls flap overhead. Lord Byron had it right: ‘The English winter – ending in July, to recommence in August.‘*

Friday 28th August – The clouds are amazing this morning. Purple and grey and white, some blurry and pencil-shaded, some brilliantly defined with the sun behind, patches of bright blue in windows through them. The lower clouds are deep, smooth grey, massing into drifts and stacks like lava bubbling. They are full and heavy with rain, trees in full sun, sharply outlined against them. Suddenly, there is no more blue and the rain drops like a veil, everything in soft-focus.

*Don Juan (1819–24) canto 13, st. 42

Week 16th August

A small change for the Journal. On Sunday’s entry I’m going to write an occasional, short book review. It will mostly be a review of nature writing and I hope it encourages readers of the Journal to seek them out – if they’re not already old favourites.

Sunday 16th August – Today’s book is Lev Parikian’s ‘Into The Tangled Bank’. I get a glimpse of Lev’s sideways approach to life and nature from Twitter where his wry and often hilarious comments brighten my timeline. This book provides more of a conversation as Lev explores his own surroundings and further afield, chatting amiably about the plants and animals he finds there, mixing anecdote and fact in an easy, unpretentious way. He ‘visits’ the expected (Darwin, Gilbert White, John Clare), and the unexpected, even unknown (to me at least – Etta Lemon?), sparking curiosity and further reading. His style is easy, full of humour, self-deprecating and never assumes knowledge on the part of the reader. It’s an entertaining walk through nature with someone who is more self-confessed enthusiast than expert but still manages, as enthusiasts do, to impart a fair amount of knowledge without overwhelming the reader with dry facts. Two small warnings: he is an inveterate user of the footnote, which drove me mad for the first chapter or so, but they quickly become part of the conversation – Lev’s asides, if you like; and the first few pages include a very close encounter with a large house spider. It almost stopped me reading the book altogether. That said, it’s a charming, funny, accessible book and I recommend it to those adults who have discovered nature during lockdown, and to younger readers (who might enjoy the fact that he can get a bit sweary) just starting an exploration of natural history. Oh, and it has a fabulous cover. It’s a four out of five from me. ☀️☀️☀️☀️🌥

Monday 17th August – This morning there is a little condensation on the bedroom windows, a sign of a cooler night. Outside, the fir tree is wreathed with the ghostly, silvery lace of dewy cobwebs: every branch has its delicate embellishment. I wonder how many tiny creatures have their home there? Mites, caterpillars, scale insects, aphids, beetles, spiders (obviously) – there must be thousands of them – it’s no surprise that the small birds love it so much. Wrens and robins, blue tits, great and coal tits, dunnocks are all flitting about. Another few weeks and it will be time to start filling the feeders.

Tuesday 18th August – Frequent showers, so a rush to the dentist and then a soaking on the way back to the car. Proper ‘summer’ rain too: big, fat splodges of drops meeting quickly on the paving slabs (and on my trousers) and just as quickly drying off in the heat when it stops (fortunately for my trousers). We have rain forecast for most of the week, heavy showers today and more persistent rain tomorrow. In the north of the county there are flash floods, and television pictures of swirling spates of water with people sweeping out their flooded properties like so many Hercules at their personal Augean stables.

Wednesday 19th August – That promised persistent rain is here, and with it strong winds. The runner beans have blown over, leaning crazily across the path. A dunnock braves the wet, searching along the bottom of the wall, and the robin, very bedraggled, perches on the seat whenever there is a lull as if to show off his continuing jauntiness in the face of such damp adversity.

Thursday 20th August – A respite between stormy weather, today is bright and sunny with a light breeze. We head off to Bicton gardens to explore the parkland. It’s busy, but once away from the entrance with its shop and café and leave the kid’s play area behind, there is scarcely anyone on the paths. The park is full of beautiful, old, native trees. Huge, smooth, beech with thick horizontal limbs, made for climbing and sitting in; gnarled English oak trees with their trunks scarred and knotted from dropped limbs and pruning, bulging and knobbly and bearing their ‘Champion tree’ labels with pride; and my favourite, the sweet chestnuts – massive trees with crinkled, furrowed bark made to fit your fingers into, the fissures swirling up the trunk like so many miniature pathways to the crown. It’s impossible to walk through the arboretum without touching these grand, old specimens. Looking at the ground beneath them there are broken stems and branches from the stormy weather, covered in delicate grey lichen and mosses. Underfoot it is soft with beech mast and the old tails of the sweet chestnut flowers; acorns stubble the earth and the spiny sweet chestnut fruits are beginning to fall. Through a gap in the trees there is a view back to the house and beyond: a golden meadow, the middle distance with bronze and pale green foliage from the trees in the formal gardens, the small patchwork of east Devon fields rising to the cliff edge, and then blue sky. We sit and feast on it before making our way back.

Friday 21st August – Rough weather overnight and today. Gale-force winds with gusts up to 60 miles per hour, combined with spring tides mean that the sea is lashing at the Esplanade and part-way up the soft red cliffs on either side of the town. The Coastguards are out, inspecting the cliffs through binoculars and walking along the only tiny strip of beach exposed. The cliffs here are soft and there are frequent landslips, usually small, but enough for a constant erosion, particularly to the east. The old footbridge over the Sid has been rebuilt further up river and a section of the coastal path shifted inland from the cliff edge. Tattered ends of gardens can be clearly seen where the ground has fallen away – bits of wooden fencing hanging, a shed perilously close to the drop, unusable. We are walking on the west side, where the waves are red with disturbed sand, crested dirty white. There is an oddness to it, the temperature is probably 21 degrees, yet the warm wind is winter-blustery – it feels like walking in the airstream of a giant hair-dryer.

Week 9th August

Sunday 9th August – Spending most of the day indoors. 27C is too hot. Baking in the sun is for the young and well-protected, and those physically more tolerant of heat. Through the window is a perfectly valid way to participate in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count and 15-minute watches from indoors are duly recorded. The veg garden, of course, has the White butterflies – Large and Small but so far no Green-veined. There are Gatekeepers, small and orange and brown with a prominent dark spot on the upper wing. They have a way of fluttering so quickly and in what seems such a haphazard way, that they induce a certain nervousness. Why are they so panicky? There are Small Blue and Holly Blue in the garden but without seeing them together identification eludes me. Two are spiralling up over the hedge so an educated guess puts them down as Holly Blue – they like ivy and there is ivy in the base of the hedge. A Red Admiral bumps against the glass before floating off towards the shrubbery and a brown butterfly – is it a Ringlet or a Speckled Wood? – is considering the verbena bonariensis. As it opens it’s wings it reveals the white spots that are the dotty costume of the Speckled Wood.

Monday 10th August – Very hot again. We are early enough for the beach to be fairly quiet. The water is flat calm, the tide full. The pebbles are visible below the clear water for two or three metres out. There is a soft ‘shushsh’ of sea against shingle, a small dog is is chasing pebbles thrown by its owner, bouncing and barking at the water’s edge. The heat is building, the sky hazing, there is a threat of thunderstorms later. We head home, hot and sticky, thinking of ice lollies.

Tuesday 11th August – Walking near the formal pools at Bicton Gardens, the air is full of brilliant blue damselflies. Some mating, some flying, some dipping into the still water. In amongst them are red damselfly although wether they are the large or more rare small red, is beyond my identification capacity. They are fascinating, darting left and right, hovering then swooping down to the water. Tiny bursts of jewel-brightness against the dark and weed-greened pool. A shadow moves on the water and two grey heron circle a large tree before dropping their scrawny legs and huge feet and landing clumsily. Within a moment or two they have struck up again and back the way they came, large broad wings lazily flapping, necks tucked in, legs trailing behind.

Wednesday 12th August – Heat continues. On the side of the hill across the valley the smaller fields are cut for hay. The tractor tracks have looped a new labyrinth of parallel lines and now the little baler troops round scooping up the hay and chugging it out into oblong bales. It’s much more common now to see huge rolls of hay wrapped in black plastic, but these fields are tiny and the sort of machinery needed for that just wouldn’t be sensible here. It takes me back to being a child and ‘helping’ with haymaking on an uncle’s farm. We weren’t allowed into the fields with the machinery, but once the hay was baled we could make dens and clamber over it. There was also the joy of sitting on top of the hay on the trailer as it was taken back to the farm and the barn, swaying along the lanes, laughing and hanging on. I can smell the hay and the diesel smoke and see the blue haze from the tractor exhaust and I am eight years old again.

Thursday 13th August – Still no break in the weather, but there is a subtle change in the season – the garden robin has started to sing. It’s a cliché, but that melancholy, wistful sound really is a harbinger of autumn. In spite of the oppressively still air and the unrelenting heat, the robin knows that summer will not last much longer.

Friday 14th August – Overcast and stiflingly hot. We head to the beach to try to find some breeze. It is quiet – surprisingly so as it is so hot. I guess an overcast sky doesn’t equate to visiting the beach in many people’s eyes. We sit, chatting idly and drinking tea, just watching the water, smooth as grey silk.

6 – on – Saturday 8.8.20

Hello! A quick look around the garden today as all my pages are due to be published – the 6, the monthly garden catch up, and the Core Edge Journal. Phew! Do check them all out from the menu across the top of this page.

I had a wander round the garden early this morning because we’re expecting temperatures up to 28C today, so I will mostly be hunkered down inside, trying to keep as cool as possible. First off is this lovely crimson rose. I don’t know its name but it repeat flowers through the mid to late summer. For some reason the people who lived here before us planted it in a raised bed that sits cleverly half way down the driveway, making getting two cars on the drive an interesting squeezing experience. The bed will go when we have the drive relaid, but the rose will stay.

Next is this lonely little petunia in the (gone-to-seed) lettuce bed. Probably planted by a sparrow, it’s a pleasant shade of red, and relieves the unremitting green in the veg bed, along with this flowered radish. French Breakfast, I think.

Third is a ‘proper’ flower. This came up from a seed mix of supposedly meadow plants that I scattered in a big shallow container. It’s very pretty, but I think a flowering annual rather than a meadow flower. There is a deeper red one too. If I knew what they were (anybody?) I’d look for some more seed for next year.

Fourth is, or was, a patch of bare soil that we turned over a while ago. As soon as there is a patch of bare soil it is immediately colonised by these wild strawberries. I would like to say I don’t mind because of the fruit, but they’re tiny and sparse. Although very tasty.

I know I’ve posted this before but it’s so bright and cheerful I thought you might like to see it again. A lovely vibrant cerise cistus, and a little hoverfly! I’ve never noticed that white pistil in the middle of the stamens before, it’s amazing how a photograph encourages closer ‘looking’.

And finally, another view. This time from the side garden over to Trow Hill in the morning haze. I bloody love living here.

That’s my 6. Hope you found them interesting.

Readers who are new to 6 – on – Saturday can join in easily – If you want to get a glimpse of lovely gardens from across the world, and chat to lots of lovely gardeners, then go here https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/  and join in!

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. We’ve a long way to go.

The garden in July

The weather is now pretty consistently warm and most plants are doing well. We have cut the front hedges – quite a marathon – it took us two days with a day’s rest in between (we are not as young as we were!). We have a battery powered hedge trimmer with a long handle and a positionable head, bought specifically for this job, but it proved to be so heavy and unwieldy that we quickly resorted to a stepladder and the electric trimmer. If you are considering battery-powered tools do think about the weight and ease of use. Even though ours has a shoulder strap to help balance it, it’s still quite a skill to manage it. The leaf blower attachment is brilliant for clearing up though.

In the big side garden we haven’t really made much progress. We have been waiting to see what grew, so that we can keep, move or dig out and discard. In the spring there were oriental poppies; we have cut some down, dug some up and collected seed for spreading elsewhere. There is also a lot of pulmonaria which we will spread around the garden, it’s leafing up beautifully at the moment, the spotted leaves at an almost perfect point for transplantation. There were a few gladiolus byzantinus here and there – I tied pieces of coloured wool round them so I didn’t forget what they were and I shall take up the bulbs and group them together. They’re so lovely I’ve also ordered more to make a decent sized clump. Now, later in the summer season, there is a huge clump of orange day lilies – hemerocallis flava – which we will divide and transplant to a couple of places in the garden, crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is making a wonderful show and can stay where it is, right next to what will be the new vegetable bed. There are huge clumps of solidago that I will cheerfully dig out and put on the compost heap and japanese anemone is also quite thuggish here, not to mention the dreaded hypericum. After a year of thinking about the main bed in this part of the garden we have decided it will be traditional, cottagey and very flowery without a colour theme, more of a colour riot. So we are looking at geum and hardy geranium for long lasting flowering, allium, gladiolus and crocosmia for height, maybe an oriental lily here and there. Mostly hardy perennials and spring and summer bulbs. This morning I’ve found an astrantia that wasn’t there before. The long east-facing bed has shrubs – camellia, pieris, hydrangea, dreaded hypericum and needs lightening up. Here will be variegated hosta under the shrubs, and lots of spring and early summer bulbs. All of the overwintered bulbs from containers will end up in this bed, so various tulips and muscari from this year. I can hardly wait for a little later in the season when ordering, buying and placing and planting can begin in earnest.

The vegetable plot has far exceeded our expectations and those spindly little plants are producing very well indeed. We are are starting work on the new (permanent) vegetable bed at the top of the side garden. Our plan is for these to be no-dig beds, but first we have to clear them of any green growth and get them edged to raise them a little. They are pretty much empty now but for a few clumps of pulmonaria that we can transplant elsewhere and some wood avens and japanese anemone which may be a bit more difficult to completely clear. Once the current beds at the front are finished the plan will revert to them being a hot (colour-wise) bed and a cottage garden bed.

In the small rear garden, where we cleared the old jasmine away, we have planted tree echium, echium pininana. They have put on lots of growth and we are hopeful of ten foot spires of flowers next year. We lost two of the plants, but looking at how they are growing, there wouldn’t have been room for four anyway!

There is so much to do, it’s quite daunting. It’s so hot at the moment that any serious work in the garden is out of the question for us oldies. But soon, soon.

See you next month, when I fully expect to be showing you a dried up desert of a garden if the current temperatures keep up. 28C today and climbing. Do check out the other blog pages from the menu above. 6 on Saturday and the Core Edge Journal.

Thanks for reading and keep keeping your distance, wear your mask and wash your hands. Stay safe.