And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

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I find myself stuck indoors today due to the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha heaving her way across the country, having almost completed her Atlantic journey from the Caribbean. In spite of this, we’re at a hiatus in the year that is high summer. The bird song has subsided to the odd twitter here and there, the focus now being on feeding themselves up while shedding old feathers and growing new ones in preparation for winter.

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The crops are ripe enough to be harvested, so recent evenings have been marked by the distant grumblings of combine harvesters working ‘til the small hours, bringing home another year’s crop. In the hedgerows and woodlands, berries are forming by the day, (the daily tell-tale blackberry stains on my fingers are a testament to that) and the green hues of the leaves have got that much darker and the grass browner, although, this year things seem to have remained greener than usual, thanks to a regular gift of rainfall. Again, the show of native flowers has changed for the next act, with plants such as Willowherb, Sorrel, Dock, Hogweed and Fleabane providing food for the seasonaly increasing number of insects.

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My experiment with saving the seeds from last year’s sweet peas seems to have worked. I shall try it again this autumn, but I think I’ll add some other seeds to the mix as there seems to be quite a dominance of one colour rather than the variety of the year before.

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The greenhouse is now coming in to its own. I’ve more cucumbers than I know what to do with; friends and neighbours are politely featuring them in meals as a way of distributing the surplus bounty. Tomatoes are ripening steadily, and I’ve been impressed with a variety that’s new to me called Roma. It’s a reasonably good cropper and has a beautiful tomatoey taste, especially when just picked. When the home-grown tomatoes run out, it’s often an underwhelming experience to eat most shop-bought ones. I’ve grown melons too, but I fear that it’ll more than likely end in disappointment. Growing melons in the UK is quite an optimistic activity at the best of times, but my greenhouse doesn’t get a long enough period in full sun, and I did hear that this year has seen lower light levels than ‘average’. Still, there’s time, and, being a glass half-full sort of a person, I shall keep the faith. Next year I think I shall have a go at the old Victorian method of using hot beds, which basically entails growing them in a deep, raised bed that has lots of manure in the bottom half, generating heat, therefore encouraging growth of plants more suited to a more exotic climate than the British Isles.

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Another project for next year will be to put up another polytunnel. I did have one until a couple of years ago but, on a day not unlike today, it slipped its moorings after a strong gust of wind, ending up in the neighbouring field. I tried, in vain, to salvage what I could but to no avail. Next time I shall pay more attention to it’s safe anchorage.

Anyway, successes and failures all make up life’s pageant and, as ever with gardening, there’s always next year.

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I must go down to the sea again…..

By way of a change, and in a moment of spontaneity, I decided to go down to sea yesterday afternoon. It’s only about a half an hour’s drive from here and I should really go more often. I suppose it’s part of human nature to sometimes take things that are on our doorstep for granted. The county of Kent, tucked away in the south east corner of England, has a coastline on it’s North, South and East borders, so there are plenty of places to choose for a visit, the most well know being the chalky White Cliffs of Dover. However, I decided to go south to Dungeness Point.

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Dungeness has an almost desolate and other-wordly quality to it, particularly in winter. People either love it or hate it – I love it. I think it possesses a bleak romance, which is probably why it often attracts artists – trying to capture its spirit and ever-shifting skies in a painting or photograph.

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Because it juts out into the English Channel the weather can be quite unpredictable, although the one element you can generally rely on is the wind, and yesterday was no exception. Not a great day trip destination for wig-wearers. Most of it is a vast shingle beach – one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe, and is a species-rich nature reserve.

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Scattered across the shingle are a quirky, and often eccentric, array of huts, shacks and houses, mostly made from wood. They’re occupied by an eclectic range of local residents, including local fishermen, who’s boats are launched directly from the beach.

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To the west, a dominant feature of the landscape is the nuclear power station. It makes for a startling juxtaposition but, in a very counter-intuitive way, it doesn’t seem to diminish the beauty of the place.

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So that was my afternoon by the sea. It wasn’t a sunny, sand between the toes sort of a trip, but I prefer my beaches to be more windswept than sun-kissed, so the scudding clouds and blustery rain spots suited me and the dog very well indeed. There are many coastal landscapes in the British Isles that are more dramatic than they are in Kent, but I was born along this coastline so I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

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Midsummer Murmurings

The turning point of the year that is the Summer Solstice seems like a good point to take a literal, and metaphorical, snapshot of the garden and surrounding countryside. No matter how mild, cold, late or early Spring is, everything always seems to arrive at this point of the year at more or less the same time as it did last year, the year before and so on and so on. Before plugging in to the Matrix that is the internet and subsequently to my blog, I’ve kept (and still keep) a diary to jot down on a daily basis whatever was going on in the garden and its surrounds.

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As I sit her typing this I can see a couple of blackbirds balancing precariously on the thin branches of the cherry tree just outside my window. Every year they help themselves to a lot of the fruit long before it’s quite ripe enough for me to pick and eat. I don’t mind too much; their need is greater than mine. Any that drop to the ground are polished off by the fox that slinks through the garden at dusk and dawn. I think her cubs have matured enough to have moved on now as I haven’t seen them around for a couple of weeks.

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In the wider countryside, many of the native plants have reached their peak and are seeding like mad. The farmers around me are cutting what looks to be a good crop of hay, making the most of the continuous dry weather we’ve been having of late. This makes for a good hunting ground for the etherial barn owl that’s been drifting around the field margins searching for mice and voles.

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In the garden, the roses are coming to an end, but many plants are in full flower, with more to follow over the next few weeks. The bees are still busy and are starting to gather under a smalled-leaved lime tree , drawn to the countless tiny flowers. If I stand underneath it I can hear a continuous murmering and humming which, curiously, makes for a very relaxing few moments.

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On a more utilitarian note, I’ve been eating my first produce from the veg plot. I have peas, carrots, early potatoes and French beans. The tomatoes are flowering and the cucumbers are forming, so not long now before I get a taste of those. Even the apples are forming well already. I feel it’s going to be a good year for fruit this year.

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The Garden of England

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As is often the way on public holidays in England – it’s raining, albeit the soft, summer rain that can be quite refreshing at this time of the year. The maritime climate of the British Isles does produce rather unpredictable weather at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been fiddling about in the garden this morning and I shall go for a wander later this afternoon with Jess, regardless of the weather. In the meantime, I have retired indoors and thought I’d use the opportunity to pop a few pictures onto the blog.

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We’re on the cusp of the seasons. Spring slips quietly into summer as blossom turns to berry, and the fledgeling birds keep their parents flying hither and thither in search of bugs ang grubs to fill their gaping beaks. The cool yellows and blues of native spring flowers are replaced by the warmer looking cultivated summer flowers, many of which originating from the distant shores of the the Americas, Southern Africa and the Far East.

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In the greenhouse, the tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and courgettes are josstling for space, which tells me that I should be thinking about planting them out into their beds and pots with the grown-ups.

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Well, the rain’s stopped so time to put my boots back on and step outside again.

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A Dog’s Life

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After having been asked about my border collie, Jess, I thought I’d write a little bit about her.

She’s around three and a half years old and came from a dog rescue kennels not far from here. She’s the latest in a long line of rescued dogs and my fourth collie. When I collected her she was about 10 months or so old, stick-thin and semi-feral.

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The first week home

I don’t think she’d ever been in a house before. Her background was a little hazy, but she’s very good natured and friendly so I don’t think she was beaten, but was obviously seriously neglected. She’d only been in the kennels for a few days when I picked her up so I had to carry on with the treatment she had begun for worms, fleas and ticks that she’d acquired. As well as going for walks, I spent about ten minutes a day teaching her the usual sit, stay, recall etc, which has paid off. She comes out with me more often than not, and I’ve even taught her a few basic commands around sheep, which come in handy now and again when collecting escapees from the neighbour’s fields.

 

She gets jittery with bangy things, especially fireworks. Collies seem particularly sensitive to them, although, my last one, Shadow, was oblivious to all of that sort of thing. He was a lovely dog. I only had him for about 3 years but we had such a close bond. I was so very upset when he died.

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Shadow

 

So that’s Jess. A lively and loyal companion who’s a joy to have around. I can’t rescue them all, but hopefully I can at least help a few of them have a better life than the ones they found themselves in through no fault of their own.

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 Two old friends

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A Glimpse of Honesty

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May has to be the most glorious month. The overwhelming exuberance of new growth. the freshness of the green, interupted only by the dazzling white of the may blossom.

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The hedgerows, field margins and undisturbed corners abound with the likes of cow parsley, red campion and comfrey which, in turn, entice insects to their nectar as they’ve done for generation upon generation. These are sights that often go unnoticed by many people as they speed by – needing always to be somewhere other than where they already are.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFemale Orange Tip butterflies resting in the sunshine on red campion

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On one of my many wanderings with the dog the other afternoon, I happened across a fallen pine tree. A casualty, I supect, of the winter storms. It did, however, give me the opportunity to see the wonderful textures and colours of the bark from a different perspective.

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One up-side of the very wet winter appears to be the reappearance of Honesty under a hedge in my garden. I hadn’t seen it for a couple of years so was delighted to see it peeping out again.

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The veg beds are starting to fill up with seedlings sown earlier in the year, and the greenhouse is supporting the more tender plants until they’re transfered outside or to the prepared beds either side of the greenhouse path. Not long now before I get to taste the first morsels of this season’s home-grown produce.

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Here today….

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The soft fingers of spring are gently unfurling the leaves, and the warming sun is tempting the blossom into painting the hedgerows and orchards with a perfect palette of pinks, reds and white.

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Under my feet the woodland floor is undergoing the same metamorphosis as the canopy above. The bluebell leaves emerged alongside the wood anemone – the first flower to carpet the ground, and the woodland fringes still yellow with celandine, but accompanied by the dainty stichwort and the white flowers and clover-like leaves of the wood sorrel. The bluebells quickly follow, forming this perfect moment of nature’s cycle when all are in flower together. It’s a fleeting one but, perhaps, one to be savoured all the more for its ephemerality.

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No matter what time of year it is there are always interesting and often beautiful things to be seen between the trees and wild flowers.

 

 

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Back in the garden, all the seeds I sowed last month have (nearly) all germinated, and a few more have been sown since, such as French beans, runner beans, peas and carrots. The second early spuds are tucked up under the soil, with the maincrop due to go in this weekend, topped off by a layer of home-made compost – this year being a particularly good vintage.

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One thing I’m quietly chuffed about is the 90% germination of my sweet pea seeds that I collected last autumn. It was probably more luck than judgement that they’ve done so well as I wasn’t absolutely sure what I was doing but, as with life in general, I find it’s best to just go with your instincts; things usually work out for the better that way. It’ll be interesting to see how they flower. Hopefully with an abundance of colour and scent, otherwise my smugness might be a little short-lived.

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