After days of heavy showers I’m resigned that my irises are over for another year. They do not die gracefully. Rather than scattering faded petals on the whim of the breeze, each bloom coils into a slimy knot and then slowly atrophies. I will enjoy tidying up the spent stalks.
A couple of weeks ago, while they still looked good I spent a glorious day painting outside... and I wasn’t the only one enjoying the warmth of summer on my back. Nearby, the chickens were so spreadeagled in the sun they looked as though they had been spatchcocked ready for the barbecue. Wings fanned and bodies sprawled, the only clue they were still alive was the sound of gentle communal purring.
Last weekend we took advantage of Open Farm Sunday to go and have a poke around the localKenton Hall Estate; a multi generational farm with with an inspiring enthusiasm for diversity which includes not only arable, beef and pigs but also wedding venue, glamping and cookery school!
No wellies necessary, the weather was perfect; the tractors had been scrubbed up, lawns cut, there were teeny piglets to make us ooh and ahh, and magnificent Longhorn cattle with their suckling calves. Of course in the food tent there was also home reared ham to nibble, outstanding beef to savour and tasty bacon to bring home.
There were dozens of local food producers, all rightly fanatical about their artisan wares. Breads, sauces, cakes, honey, and superb Baron Bigod brie, hand made from raw milk.
I had already met this young man from Fen Farm Dairy at a food festival last year... I just loved the way he cradled his brie with a tenderness normally reserved for new born babies!
May has been a month chock-full of blossom. First blackthorn in the hedgerows, pure white, starry clusters.
Then the orchard fruits. Unashamedly frilly cherry, plum, pink flushed apple and delicate pear.
Candy stripe buds on the quince uncoil with poise while the deep crimson crab-apple buds rush onto the stage with pantomime exuberance.
Horse chestnuts burst into leaf at an alarming rate and then throw out a spectacular firework display, which for a few glorious days is suspended mid explosion. Meanwhile hawthorn and honeysuckle weave their way nonchalantly along the lanes.
The other week I stopped to admire the knapped flint tower of a local country church.
From where I stood between a row of craggy tree trunks I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear the hollow drumbeat of a woodpecker echoing around the churchyard.
In fact, as I circled the church I felt sure I could detect a rhythmic tap. But it had an unusual muffled quality, which ruled out the woodpecker, and anyway it appeared to be seeping out of an inauspicious village hall across the road.
Mystery solved as I pressed my nose to the window. I had stumbled across a weekly Wednesday morning orchestra rehearsal. The players were chomping their way through Beethoven’s ninth with palpable application, and due consideration for arthritic fingers.
The tap I had heard earlier was from the resonating skins of a pair of shiny kettle drums.
The timpanist stored her spare drumsticks in a vast wicker basket…. now that’s very country!
And I've a sneaking suspicion there was room in that basket for some foraged wild garlic on her way home too!
May, prime time for fussing and fiddling in the greenhouse. Maize peeping through, too early to plant out the beans, tomato side shoots need pinching out. Not to mention a good deal of primping and propping in the garden, sweet peas need wigwams, peonies.. supports, dahlias.. stakes.
Regardless of my efforts the wild flowers are just quietly getting on with it.
"I have never planned anything illegal in my life," Aunt Augusta said.
Graham Greene 1904-1991
Neither of my parents had siblings so as a small child I sometimes used to wonder what it must be like to have ‘real’ aunts and uncles. Having said that, we did manage to accrue an engaging array of substitutes.
We visited ageless Jewish spinsters in lofty north London bedsits, that had the magical allure of squeaky polished floors, colourful cushions lined up on the divan, and carved wooden camels marching across the mantlepiece.
There were soft cheeked Aunties that moved gently in a haze of talcum powder, wore slippers and silky stockings, and gave us embroidered cotton handkerchiefs on our birthday.
And then there was Aunty Ethel. She was a country-woman at heart but lived in the local town. When calling on her unannounced, we knew to circumnavigate the house, wander straight into the back garden and listen for her melodic voice rising from the bushes. Spotting us she would straighten up from her reverie and smile. I remember a spider gently letting itself down from the rim of her straw hat as she excused herself for soliloquising in the rose-bed.
I mention Ethel because whenever we took her out on garden visits she came with a commodious handbag, complete with secateurs. We would invariably lose her as she strayed from the path to scrutinise an unusual plant. With her back covering her actions she would be busy taking cuttings and stuffing them into her handbag. If she were ever apprehended we had prepared our retort... she was not related to us!
It was with her in mind, that on a trip to the magnificent Cambridge Botanic Garden last autumn, shhhhh, I snapped off a seed head from a Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ and popped it into my pocket. So immaculately tended were the beds, I felt sure that if the gardener had got there before me he would have simply tossed the unsightly straggling stem straight into his wheelbarrow; I was simply doing him a favour.
Back home I sowed my booty straight away, a couple of weeks later tiny green leaves appeared and now I have nice sturdy little plants ready for the white garden.
Just think, if I’d slung my jeans in the washing machine without checking the pockets first it could all have been in vain!
P.S. I’ve taken to writing on my pots rather than using labels... too oft’ did one get separated from t’other.
Last weekend we visited friends who have just made the move from city to country. It was lovely to share in their excitement, to oooh and ahhh about drifts of daffodils and clumps of hellebores, fruit trees in blossom, clipped yew hedges.... slippery paths, crumbling entrance gates, ivy covered walls and neglected woodland.
Their emotions will fluctuate.
An owl hoot at dusk takes your breath away. But, trying to contact plumbers, tree surgeons, telephone engineers and bricklayers whilst still waiting to be connected to the internet leaves one struggling for air.
We should know. Having moved here over a decade ago we thought we were old hands. Except, since a dramatic hailstorm ten days ago we have had no internet nor phone connection. We are blue in the face, and can empathise completely with newly arrived Jane and Ben.
Welcome to country life, inhale slowly and focus on the horizon.
“I found poems in the fields
And only wrote them down”
John Clare (1793-1864)
I'm delighted that "Rapeseed Ripple" (above) will be for sale over the Bank Holiday weekend at Art for Cure with all the proceeds going to the very well deserved charity. Lots going on at a wonderful venue... definitely a date for your diary.