August 2021: In the garden

It’s getting quite autumnal now, but I feel ready for it this year. We’ve had so much rain and hence, so much growth, that I’m looking forward to a reprieve and a slowing down. 

Not that I want to slow down myself, but I feel winter gives me a chance to get on top again. If that’s ever possible, single-handedly, in a four-acre garden.

August isn’t a good month for English gardens. It feels like the height of summer in many ways: schools are off and it’s often one of the driest, warmest months.

Yet the garden is well past its peak. Much of the flower colour has faded away, even greens are starting to turn more straw-like.  And everything is a little bit moth-eaten, a bit saggy; there’s just an overriding feeling of tiredness about it. Which feels somewhat incongruous with a gentle English summer.

Already, berries are filling the trees and whilst the leaves are a way off turning their various shades of ochre, dahlias, heleniums and even the peas in the veggie garden are exuding a dominating palette of deep reds and apricots. 

The house is filled with flowers, our tummies with courgettes, new potatoes, plums and raspberries. It still amazes me that groceries can be produced almost from thin air – a self-sown seed, a bit of rain, some decomposed leaves and not a lot else. 

Such comfort can be found in sitting down to a home-grown meal.

We had another staycation this month, travelling down to Dartmouth on the south coast and returning back via a few days in Bruton, Somerset, where we visited the Hauser and Wirth garden. 

I love the ease of jumping in the car, rather than fighting my way through an airport; I love being able to intersperse the holiday with visiting friends around the country; I love the more relaxed nature of localised travel: feeling I don’t have to try and see everything in one go, in case I never return.

But we also bought a tiny little investment cottage in Australia this month, which has made me feel closer to my second home. Australia had been feeling further and further away, less and less accessible and harder to retain that strong connection to.

I’m really happy to have this tangible link once more, despite me not having been inside the house! We have walked directly past it, we know, on holiday in Tasmania, so we do have a strong sense of the street. We had both said what an idyllic spot it was and that we’d love to live there one day. Perhaps things will turn out that way, who knows? I can’t help but dream about plans for the tiny garden already!

Back home, and Paul has now cut back the wildflower meadow, opening up our view from the house. This morning I watched two (herbivorous) muntjacs in the meadow watch a (carnivorous) fox with some suspicion, before – somewhat surprisingly – chasing the fox out of their space.

The roe deer have all moved out of the garden now. It’s strange not having them around. Things have returned to how they were when we first moved here – the odd muntjac bouncing about the place and lots of our lovely Harrys.

I also came across a beautiful (I think!) grass snake this month. The first one I’ve seen in its full glory. It was baking itself on the top of the stone wall, slithering down into the crevices as it detected my footsteps. 

A couple of weeks later I found his discarded skin in the same place. I love the idea of having grass snakes around, but do confess that the weeds in that precise location are getting a little older and taller than anywhere else!

I have started to tackle the woodland edge this month. It’s a really tricky balance, between wanting it to look really natural, and wanting it to look beautiful. There was a particular (non-native) very blobby honeysuckle that really added nothing to proceedings behind the daffodil field, which I decided I needed to do something about.

I’m not sure it has a permanent home here, but I thought I’d try and improve things at least for the next daffodil season. We’ll see if it lasts beyond that!

A large ash tree fell in the woodland this month; I’m hoping not due to ash dieback. Our woodland is predominantly ash, but I’m frantically burying acorns in the hope of providing some succession! It’s nice, however, to look forward to a winter of warmth burning the ash on the fire next year.

Admittedly, one of our oaks is also suffering from oak gall, but when I read up about it and found that ‘suffering’ doesn’t actually do them any harm, I decided it was really quite beautiful!

I think August really is about slowing down, taking some time out, appreciating there is still beauty in age and appreciating the bounty of nature.

I watched a film this month, the first film I’ve seen in years, which Paul decided we’d watch together. This Beautiful Fantastic was about a young woman who, having let her small garden grow quite jungle-like, learnt to love the act of gardening.

You wouldn’t say it was either profound or intellectually stimulating; just a very gentle, easy, pleasant way to spend an evening. It ended with the funeral of the man who had taught her everything in her garden and was quite moving to a well and truly obsessive gardening type.

Just as the credits rolled, our neighbour text to ask if we had seen the fog outside. She has lived here for fifteen years and had never seen anything quite like it. We wandered out into this quite surreal new world; layers of dense white cloud floating in the warm, evening air. 

It was just Paul and I outside, still in a slightly removed trance from the film, looking at such a familiar landscape, yet seeing something quite new. It felt almost mystical, other-worldly; almost as if it were the first time we’d seen these fields.

And then, bizarrely, fireworks began. Bright white, burning flames slowly lowering from the sky on small parachutes. Types of fireworks I’d never seen before.

After all the travelling around the world we have done, sometimes the most special and even unfamiliar experiences turn out to be right on your doorstep.

Those twenty minutes or so with Paul in our little Oxfordshire garden, I will never, ever forget.

15 thoughts on “August 2021: In the garden

  1. Adriana says:

    I am with you Janna – once we are ‘allowed’ again – we will explore our country, rather than spend so much time getting to places overseas. It is just too far and uncomfortable, especially from Australia. Having said that, I loved England as did Ian and we stayed in Dartmoor National Park and also travelled through Somerset and so on, places you mention. All stunning. I even saw a grass snake in The Garden House garden (also in Devon). I don’t know how you could ever bear to leave your beautiful garden though (which has been transformed since our visit), even though Tasmania is a lovely place. Such an unplifting post Janna. Look forward to them every month.

    • jannaschreier says:

      That’s funny that you saw a grass snake – so few people here have ever seen one. Although you could probably say the same for Australian urban dwellers! And do hope you are free to roam again soon. Yes, I’m not sure how I will ever leave my garden – it feels such an intrinsic part of me now. But at some point the house will get too big, even if not the garden. I think living in the moment and enjoying where you are without too much looking ahead is probably the best strategy all round. You’ve managed to leave so many gardens you have created though – I’ll come to you for tips please, whenever the time comes!

      • Adriana says:

        I will look forward to a visit to Tasmania to see your garden when it happens — we have a lovely hotel we stay in, in Hobart, from time to time. I love Tassie. Yes it was odd that I saw that snake – nobody would ever have believed me if another man hadn’t also seen it at the same time – we looked at each other rather increduously! The last time I had seen a snake was in my childhood and we have almost always lived out in the ‘bush’ — even here they are elusive, unless you live in a very snake ridden area I guess. Yes Janna I have left many gardens but only really one that took me a while to get over, and then I still loved the new one I created as much. New challenges are always exciting.

        • jannaschreier says:

          Oh goodie, glad you will come and visit us in Tasmania. Not quite sure which year (/decade) that might be!! I’m amazed you have seen so few snakes. I’ve seen at least a dozen in Australia and I only lived there for six years. But then I do do a lot of hiking. Lucky you had a witness for the one over here! And I too love new challenges. But not in the slightest bored of this one yet!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for another delightful blog post Janna and congratulations on your Tasmanian cottage purchase. It looks lovely but an awfully long way to do some gardening…lol.

    I sometimes wish my garden would slow down a bit just so I can catch up. We had good rain over parts of autumn and winter and the plants are behaving like they’ve been on steroids, especially the weeds. That natural look usually eludes me but I’m great at making mess! I really am my own worst enemy, planting so many new ’must haves’ knowing it will be a nightmare to care for them during their first summer. You did an excellent job on that honeysuckle,btw.

    So Janna, when you do hop over to the big land of Oz to do that bit of gardening, please drop in for a cuppa and we’ll chat about all the wonders of nature, the joys of gardening and perhaps you can give me some pointers on how to be a more disciplined gardener. I was just thinking it might be possible now you’re having those yellow-brick-road-type experience. X

    • jannaschreier says:

      The new cottage is certainly a long way from here, but not too far way away to dream about! The natural look definitely does not elude you – seeing your garden taught me so much on that front. We all need those ‘must haves’ though; timings never work quite as perfectly as we’d like! I’m so so looking forward to hopping over to your big land. More in the news today saying that NSW might let us in without hotel quarantining first. But Qantas thinking of moving the direct London flight to Darwin rather than Perth due to your strictness in WA. We will see, but I do feel when I finally make it I’m going to need at least six months to go everywhere and see everything and everybody I’d like! You are on the list, but whether I could suggest anything about gardening discipline is another matter altogether!!

  3. Deirdre Mowat says:

    Lovely to read about your autumn garden. And what exciting news re the Tassie place!! Where exactly is it? It looks gorgeous. Do hope you can get back to Australia to visit some day.

  4. Suzannne says:

    I do hope Janna, that it’s not too long before you can visit all your Australia friends and spend time in that gorgeous little cottage. And I would be delighted if you were able to fit in a visit to the West, in fact beyond delighted! Yes, WA isn’t high on the popularity list with a number of companies but overall we are enjoying both the freedom from COVID related issues and the ‘notoriety’ that seems to go with it.

  5. Louise says:

    How wonderful to yet again wander through your garden! It brings joy to feel this connection from such a distance. What challenging times we are living in. It was lovely to take time away to sit in this blog, thank you Janna. I have been spending a lot of my day in the garden as we endure lockdown. To hear a response that you may be able to come to Australia is remarkable. Interesting that you have heard NSW might allow you in without quarantining. My husband can’t even come home on weekends due to border restrictions. We won’t be reunited until at least early next year and I haven’t seen him since beginning of June. He’s busy taking care of so many others with the relentlessness of this pandemic. It’s very challenging! Of course if you make your way to Australia and indeed to my state I would welcome a quick catch up! I hope you are doing okay in your little part of the world. By the way, that little cottage looks stunning. A complete opposite to where you currently live. Take care x

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh Louise, how hard for you being apart for such a long, long time. It really does test us, doesn’t it? At least you know how much difference he is making over there. Just as I feel Australia is not so far away, you remind me what totally different lives we are living yet again! I’ve been to two huge events in London this week, totally mask-free – which probably seems unimaginable to you. You were the clever ones to do the long lockdowns later and avoid the high levels of fatality early on, but no one escapes this, do they? Thank goodness for your garden – may it bring you much comfort this spring.

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