JUNE - Pale Lovers Who Sit In The Glow Unaware



There were five of us taking our early morning cuppa in the back yaird this morning. It is Saturday and our first and last fairly lazy start to the day for a while so there was no rush to eat breakfast - or to do anything really. I treasure my early mornings out there - and I love the solitude - but I wasn't disappointed that the others joined me on this glorious June day. They heard the birdsong, they took in the fragrance - not only of the flowers but of the rich earth too, and they were inspired by the virtuosity of Nature. Our back yaird is a private little corner linking the house with the garden. Because there are chairs and a tiny table out there, it is an inviting place to stop and feel fortunate for a few moments in an all too hectic life. No time! No time! It is, in good weather, also a restful place to ponder problems and to search for answers - sometimes even finding them!

At present the birds are still nesting or fledging or taking that first flight. Ours are multitudinous thanks to Alex building, for them, a feeding station and Keith regularly heaving great bags of seed from the car to the metal bins at the back of the house and giving the birds their daily portion. They know what to expect and they return the favour by keeping down the pests. Because I don't use chemicals, I rely on our avian friends.

I'm growing some dwarf stocks in the window boxes at the front of the house. They are not, so far, a great success. They are leggy and a bit sparse - but, even so, their perfume is exquisite. So they can stay a while. Perhaps I will add some other annuals to give a sense of fullness. I grow the window box plants in individual pots so that I can move them around should they become too big or too poorly. It seems to work well because it means that I can water from the bottom of the pots. The plants like that. They don't get much in the way of natural precipitation due to the shelter given by the window frame. They don't like that so much.

The window boxes are not our only front garden. Because we live on a tree filled square, this morning I was able to look through the bedroom window and appreciate the mass of greenery in front of me and, looking down, I was struck by stars - the millions of daisies which had opened their billions of petals in homage to the morning sunshine. When we first moved here, a neighbour told us that the residents of Argyle Square saw the trees as their front garden - and now I get it. I love to see people walking their dogs, heading out to the shops, going to their churches, taking their children to school - all through our front garden.

There is a wonderful mix of fellow human beings. I think there is too much readiness to label people - in fact, I will stick my neck out here and say that many of the problems we have in this fragmented society of ours are caused by labelling. Packs and knife crime. Gangs and gun crime. I used to pay my dues to a political party. Never again. Now I consider the intentions of all parties and weigh those up against the past record of each one with regard to honesty and decency. Then I cast my vote. There is a tendency to attach a tag to an individual and that word can either draw the person into a group or can immediately exclude him/her. I may be ticketed as an introvert and yet I have wonderful friends. I enjoy solitude but I love to share the experiences which lift me. My special time in the early morning garden is sacred - though what a thrill it is when someone else gets it! I stand at my bedroom window, alone, at dawn, and soak up the newness and peace of the square - then, later on, I am warmed by the human activity which goes on in our "front garden". How complex is that!

Those of us who enjoy getting our hands dirty and appreciate the divine gifts out there, are used to isolation, but we want the people in our own story to come and benefit from the life all around us.

When I was very young, many people were still "digging for Britain" in that their plots had cabbages, potatoes, swedes and other basics growing in them. The war ended eight years before I was born. We lived in Lincolnshire and the habit of gardening to feed the family was proving difficult to break. The produce was a big draw in the local agricultural shows - there are many old photographs displaying joyful competitors with their amazing marrows, their gigantic onions or their baskets of runner beans. (Last week we were staying near Lincoln and I was reminded of the quality and variety of the local vegetables.) Slowly more and more folk gave over more and more of their soil to flowers - for cutting and to create a growing tableau. Square lawns were trimmed with white alyssum and red salvia and blue lobelia. White, red and blue or "red, white and blue, what does it mean to you, shout it out loud, surely you're proud, surely you care!" Yes, we were still hammering out the flag waving tunes in the fifties and making our gardens reflect the union flag. Personally, I've no taste for a bit of rag on a pole but it helped the survivors of the war to plant patriotically. They were the ones who had been spared. What else could they do? 

Gardens have come a long way since then. The house we stayed in, on our very recent visit to Lincolnshire, had a delightful cottage garden with such a mix of colourful flowers that it made the rainy week brighter. It was a garden for sharing. There are many visitors to the property and others overlook it. The joy of sharing a garden fills the heart and satisfies the soul. 

Our Orkney gardens were a struggle. I won't pretend otherwise. The views were lovely but, because the gardens were, therefore, exposed to salt and wind, plants had only brief lives. Eventually I worked out the need to create shelter before planting even started. Choice was still limited. Some things simply won't tolerate salt air. The seaside garden we have now was, according to old plans and finds, once filled with trees and woodland plantings. There was little left of that when we moved in. It has taken a decade to establish - and I'm still learning. Some cottage garden plants haven't survived - but I've tried 'em all and now I increase the number of those which flourish whilst accepting there are non-starters.

The garden in Deerness, Orkney offered other delights. Eventually, as well as the enormous bed of rhubarb and the thriving mint, we had a good display of annuals inside the hedge of rosa rugosa. But the magic of that garden was in the sounds around it. Although there was little in the way of garden birdsong, I was charmed by the bubbling curlews, the piping of the meadow pipits, the expletives of the oyster catchers and I was captivated by the song of the seals. If you are not used to gardening with seals nearby, their music seems eerie - but when you are, you expect it, you listen for it and you are carried away on it. One evening I was gardening late - we can do that up here - and I was so much a part of the music of the wild that I didn't notice I had been eaten alive by midges. When I went inside, and looked in the bathroom mirror, my face was gruesome. It didn't stop me doing the same thing again - it is easy to see where the stories of mermaids come from - the song of the seals perhaps? I'm pretty sure I could have been lured onto the rocks! We hear the sea from our garden here but it is not usually on a gardening day. It means that the wind is coming from the east - and much of the year that means it will be too chilly to hang around for long. Although the northerlies are the coldest winds, the easterlies, from the direction of Russia, can bring us some bitter weather. The fishing communities worry about the east winds. Our garden has high stone walls around it so the trees and plants are sheltered to a large extent but the east wind sends me indoors after a short while.

The June weather this year has not been as we expected. We were looking forward to warmth and sunshine. When we were in Lincolnshire we came through floods. We drove through storms in Yorkshire. I have to say the weather improved the further north we came. Now - there's a novelty! In our little corner of Scotland, we don't expect high temperatures, nor wind-free days, nor dry weather for long. When we do get dry, calm warmth, we make the most of it. We know how to enjoy ourselves with beach, cliff or river walks and picnics, with harbour days and fun days, and with gala days and show days. Those who have not been ravaged by time will wear a modicum of clothing and some of those who have will do the same. The heat can prove too much - we just ain't used to it!

In spite of the rain over Britain this month, there is a silver lining. The gardens are fresh and green and will most likely stay that way further into the summer than is usual - and, also, the crops are looking really good - from strawberries to cereals. But now, please, may we have lots of sunshine to ripen them? Don't you just love juicy red strawberries with caster sugar and clotted cream! Sitting out, in the back yaird, with a bowl such as that - then summer has definitely dropped anchor.

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