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July - "I remember, I remember where I was used to swing, and thought the air must rush as fresh to swallows on the wing..." by Thomas Hood

Making progress with the cottage garden July has been a month of mixed magic across Britain this year. The glorious summer weather has presented problems for many people while others have been in a good position to make the most of the outdoors. I've watched the hay and silage continue to be harvested around us and remembered tales my grandparents would tell of hay making in their day. I can still picture Grandad Bobby, with his scythe, mowing the grass along the edge of his orchard and me being told to stand clear! In Lincolnshire there was, for many years, some division about the effectiveness of the scythe compared to the sickle. In the area known as the Wolds, the scythe replaced the sickle in the nineteenth century but, in the Fens, there was resistance. The sickle was used by women as well as by men. It required great strength to wield a scythe effectively. Of course there are some women who are able to use a scythe - but I'm not one of them! I tried when I was a Lincolns

JUNE - A Midsummer Morning's Reality

"Once in the wind of morning

I ranged the thymy wold;

The world-wide air was azure

And all the brooks ran gold."

from "A Shropshire Lad" by A. E. Housman

Close-up of our elder

I remember a song which my granddad used to hum - he was a hummer - he didn't often sing - although he was quite musical - having been a fiddle player in his youth - and a man who appreciated tuneful music throughout his life. The words to the tune I'm remembering go something like this

"For I've got silver in the stars and gold in the morning sun."

I think I shall always live by this. There can be nothing more luxuriant than the golden stole over a summer's garden in the morning, or an evening bathed in silver moonlight or a sky peppered with silver stars in relief against the dark night.

There is gold on our stone walls - the gold of that often-bypassed little plant - stonecrop. Stonecrop is a sedum and I'm thankful for that group of plants as they cover the ground and walls so efficiently that less appealing wild plants struggle to get a foothold. They are often clusters of tiny beauties. I photographed the stonecrop along the wall and I also took a close-up so that the tiny yellow stars are easy to see.

Stonecrop in the wall

Close up of the little yellow stars

We had our first radishes at lunchtime yesterday. There is something sharp and peppery about homegrown radishes which you just don't get with the supermarket ones. The packaged ones are often a bit bland and tasteless. The shallots, onions, brassicas, peas and beans are doing well - potatoes too. And the asparagus, which we thought we had lost, is coming through in its little bed.

The garden is filling up with weeds. We've been busy and, when we haven't been so busy, the weather has been against us so we haven't been able to do as much in the garden as we would have liked. The good news, however, is that the school holidays start on 1st July here and, since three of the household are currently teaching, this means we will be able to devote time to the garden again. We never expected to get things as we want them overnight but, then again, we never expected all the hold ups either! So, from 1st July, it's heads down and go!!

There have been two more birthdays! Keith was given a Ginkgo - a favourite tree. The Ginkgo is from China and has been around for millions of years. It's sometimes called the Maidenhair Tree. The leaves are very pretty and quite delicate to look at. That's going to be planted not far from Judith's aspen.

For my birthday, I was given a Tree of Heaven, a Bottle Brush plant and a Sweet Gum. These are all very exciting for different reasons. We planted a Tree of Heaven, from a self-set given to me by my auntie who lived in Northamptonshire, into the garden at Hope Cottage in Barrow on Humber. They are considered a nuisance in many places but I think they are a pleasing shape and the leaves are beautiful at the end of summer. We couldn't bring the tree with us when we returned to the far north in 2009 so I'm very happy to welcome this new one into the little cottage garden at the back. The label says its okay with temperatures down to -20c so we're in with a good chance.

The Bottle Brush plant has gone into a large pot. My friend, who still lives in Barrow, Lincolnshire, had some fantastic specimens in the garden of her former house and her late husband gave us one which he'd grown. That didn't do as well as I would have liked but I brought it to Caithness - and then it gave up the ghost! I'm going to keep a close watch over this one! Hence the pot.

Natasha Sinton (fuchsia) - the only one left standing - not flowering yet - I've planted wild strawberries with it

The Sweet Gum is completely new to me and, according to what I've since read about it, will be a colourful addition to the tree collection here at Stempster House. I'm waiting for my tree guard to arrive before I plant it out by the roadside - where the deer have seriously damaged the bark on the Western Hemlock.

So June arrived - always with a bang - never a whimper! There is nothing pathetic about June! By the second week of June, the wild roses in Lincolnshire are stunning and are well-paired with the elderflowers. The last time I was in Lincolnshire in June was in pre-Covid days, when we stayed in Normanby by Spittal - a village which has family connections. The area around the village fairly bubbles with Nature - so many birds and small mammals as well as a stunning display of wildflowers - the Queen Anne's Lace is particularly splendid in June.

Our Caithness wild roses and elderflowers are at their best just now - I'm writing this part of the blog at the end of June - so about three weeks later than in Lincolnshire We have enough to make elderflower cordial this year so I'm hoping someone else will do it as it's a bit messy! One of my favourites though!

Elder in the paddock, which we are slowly making into an orchard

In June my granny used to keep her door open - there was only one door in Granny and Granddad's cottage - and put up a heavy cotton curtain to keep out the flies. When they became available, she replaced the curtain with one of those fly-screens made of colourful plastic strips. It seemed to me that the door was never shut until the nights started to get cooler towards September. Many Lincolnshire cottages, before they were renovated, had low ceilings and small windows - so it was wonderful to let in the summer this way. The fragrance of the garden and the fields would linger in corners of the dark rooms and the heavy winter curtains had come down and been replaced by lighter summer ones so that sunshine could filter through.

It was a joy to visit my grandparents down Carrhouse. That garden has so many happy memories. My brother, my cousins and I had some lovely times there and there were occasions when my great aunts and great uncles would visit. They fascinated me. They all had interesting things to say - but, sadly, I didn't realise just how interesting they were until they were long gone - and I'd forgotten so much detail.

I remember picking gooseberries. Ouch! There were strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and blackcurrants - all in June. Sometimes Granddad would tell me to fetch some spring onions to take home with me - or radishes - or a lettuce. He didn't mean that of course.  He meant, "You bring some newspaper and I'll fill it up with salad". Then there were the new potatoes! You never forget the taste of those early potatoes. It doesn't matter how much you pay for baby potatoes at other times of the year, you will never get that same taste!

My little collection of herbs by the kitchen door 

Another morning walk and the skylarks are still singing and the silly little things are playing kamikaze in front of us as we walk with Orlando and Jess. Orlando would like to play with them but cute little, sweet little Jess is a skylark slayer. I'm sure she doesn't mean to kill them!

Looking at my Lincolnshire agricultural worker's ten year diary, in June 1886, George North was having some good weather interspersed with thundery and stormy spells. He was leading stones, hoeing, "milking out", "scuffling potatoes", "rigging for turnips" and manuring for turnips. I don't know what "milking out", "scuffling potatoes" or "rigging for turnips" means and, if anyone can tell me, I would like to know. George also put "Daisy to horse" and "sow to hog". No explanations needed there.

By 1895, George was less concerned about listing the weather. On 3rd June that year he married Lilly Barnet at Pilham, just down the road from Blyton, near Gainsborough. A couple of days later he was at Mr. Waterhouse's, hoeing in Sharpe's Close. He did a lot of hoeing that June. Interestingly, there is one weather reference - Saturday, 15th June, "At Mr. Waterhouse's hoeing barley in warps. Very sharp frost, nipped potatoes tops". A bit of social history there too - Saturdays were work as usual.

Here, in Caithness, hay-making is going on apace. When I stand by a freshly-cut hay field and look across its length, it seems the hay will float through my fingers - so light and dainty. And yet, dried and stored away for the winter months, it is the lifeblood of the livestock farmer. Many animals will eat it but pigs don't stomach it well. Grass silage is also being cut for winter feeding. While the hay will dry in the sun - hopefully! - grass silage will ferment as it is stored and is a high-energy food for cattle.

We had a peep at the baby great tits in the mail-box but I couldn't get a video because we didn't want to alarm the parent birds in case they wouldn't return to their family. We are now surrounded by bird families and the hunger cries of the little ones make the air rattle towards the end of the day. Their parents make a much more tuneful sound however and there are some songs I just don't know. One day a whitethroat came to the bird bath. I have paid particular attention to keeping the bird bath clean this season as we have bird flu close by. Can you imagine your world without any birds?

We have big birds too. Most of the feathered crow family is well represented here. We have herons and owls and yet we haven't seen our friendly hen harrier in a while. Aerial activity isn't just limited to birds either, as well as butterflies and moths, the bats are in abundance but not until very late at night. It was Midsummer's Eve when Ginny, Judith and Clemency were the object of teasing by myriads of bats. And let's not forget the midges!

On the way to the windfarm with Ginny and the dogs

When the blossom started to fall from trees such as the apple and the Swedish whitebeam, the laburnum was at its most brilliant. I love how that happens. Always something exciting happening just when you think a plant has finished flowering or a bird has flown away. Shortly afterwards, the irises began to open up near the river and in the now dried up pond just past the next-door farm. The walk along that path has been a real charm of wildflowers lately. Amongst others, there are red and white clovers, purple and mauve orchids, yellow iris (as mentioned), Queen Anne's Lace, buttercups, Lady's Smock and marsh marigolds. By the roadside the silver leaves of the silverweed blend delightfully with its little yellow flowers - and amongst them all are the pretty grasses - not to be sneezed at!!!

We were into the second week of June before the may blossom on the hedges started to turn. At the same time the first large blood-red oriental poppy came out in the cottage garden at the back. They don't last long and that is their sadness - and mine. Amazingly, the oh-so-red of the poppies and the brilliant mauve of its neighbour, the scabious, don't clash in any way. In Nature, things just don't.

Wind-damaged Honesty - but just look at those seeds!

After the rain, the ornamental cabbage took off. It started life in one of the window boxes we had at the townhouse in Wick. It was small and green with a significant amount of mauve at its heart - very pretty - and it blended well with the other plants in the window boxes. If you have window boxes, you'll know that the plants which grow in them are better-off, after a season or perhaps two, being planted out in the garden. So that's what I did. I brought it here when we moved and planted it in the cottage garden by the kitchen door. It survived the winter and grew -  a little. Spring came and it grew some more. Late Spring arrived and brought the rain. Now we have a wall of cabbage in front of some of the little plants which are meant to give that cottagey effect to the plot! I can't kill things. This is a problem!

Monster cabbage

I took exception to my birthday! How dare it rain? And why did the wind think it was welcome to join in? In the middle of the month of June I'd come to expect good weather but this birthday wasn't a good weather day. It took me back to another birthday - can't remember which one but it was before I was ten - when we were living at Studcross Cottage, Battlegreen, Epworth. I seem to remember my granny cycling over from the next village, Belton, to wish me a happy day. (You have to remember that few people in our area had telephones in those days and, if you wanted to speak to someone on their birthday, you had to get on your bike!) It rained! Poor Granny! I was displeased - not to see Granny - but that the weather fairy had messed things up!

Actually, on both days, I had a wonderful celebration - thus proving that the weather can do whatever it likes when you're in good company!

A walk in the summer rain can be an uplifting experience - especially if you're wearing the proper clothing - which is probably as little as is decent so that you can change when you get home! The grasses at the side of the lane look as if they are covered in filigree and, if you take a step back and survey the view, everything appears to wear a cloak of silver. The rain also brings out the fragrance of the flowers and grasses and, sometimes, the dusty roadsides. 

So many weathers, so many new things and so much growth - June!

Wild rose growing across the lane - simple but perfect!

"But pause - a solitary star, it is Arcturus, which Job the great poet watched and wrote of in the old-world days, shines down through the elm branches, and the bats are wheeling in mazy circles round the trees."

from "The Commonest Thing In The World" by Richard Jefferies 1877


  1. A gentle stroll along summer's lanes, past and present. The sights, the sounds, the scents tickle the senses and lift the heart. Thank you, Susan. xxx

    1. Thank you Dolly. You are so kind. I love writing my blogs and always hope they will lift the heart as you say xx


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