It’s been a summer of two halves.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe June was only two months ago. The garden is barely recognisable as the same place, let alone the same season.
Everything, back then, was so green, so lush, so fresh and perky. We’d not had a particularly wet spring, but it had been a cool, gentle start to summer. Everything looked so happy, so at ease, so contentedly at home. I can’t help look back with an impatient longing for a repeat of this time much sooner than the allotted 10 months.
I’m never not going to be amazed by what appears in spring and early summer in this country. From nothing in March, the pond margin suddenly becomes the most complex habitat. All I did was sprinkle seed on top of bare soil three years ago and this has happened. No herbaceous border, however grand, can ever beat this, to my eye.
And where once we had nettles where the mower couldn’t reach, geraniums and ox-eyes now fill the strip along the fence line. All I’ve done is pull nettles and add a few tiny ox-eye seedlings from Mum’s garden – the rest has happened by itself. How can such perfection be created by such little effort?
I love the layers that spring up and fill out at this time of year. Sitting on the little bench by the pond, you see the water-loving marginals at your feet in front of the clear mirror of water to the wildflower meadow, then the openness of the lawn leading on to more colourful borders beyond.
The contrasts of the more wild and more tended; the mass and the void; the soft, restful green and the bright, vibrant flowers; all sitting under the comfort blanket of a mesh of established trees.
For a moment in time, all is perfect. Nothing jars, nothing fails. Everything seems to be nestled into its place; snug, happy and serene.
At the end of June, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with friends from Sydney, just south of Bergerac. It’s hard to describe how idyllic this was.
The old, blue-shuttered, stone house a picture of perfection, looking out across farmland to the village church.
Each morning, we’d start the day with freshly baked goodies from the local patisserie, before feeling perhaps we needed a little rest by the pool with a good book. Lunch might be assembled following a trip to the local market or could be sitting in the shade of a café in one of the old, narrow streets.
A walk through the sunflower fields might take our fancy in the afternoon, before a gin and tonic on the warm terrace and a long, lazy, laugh-filled alfresco meal as the stars appeared above. We made so many happy memories that week.
Lovely Sally, who I met through a love of plants at the David Jones Flower Show when I first moved to Sydney, then came back to stay with us in Oxfordshire.
There are few things nicer than sharing your special space with someone like-minded and we spent hours in the garden, just chatting about the different plants or me trying to convince Sally that she wasn’t here for hard labour!
She also taught me how to watercolour – or at least tried to – I have a bit more work to do on that! It was so sad to have to say goodbye to her, but she left me with the most beautiful painting of Harry, who’d she met during her stay. What could be more special?
It was after France and Sally that the garden took an about turn. Within two weeks of hot temperatures and no rain, it was a changed landscape.
Yet there is never a moment where the garden isn’t giving in one way or another.
Darylena arrived with her two new babes and all was well again. Whilst having time to munch the roses, she kept them tightly under supervision those first few days, nervously taking them back to the woodland at the slightest sound.
But one day, as I weeded, I looked up to see Mum heading off to her favourite patch of ivy, Daryletta following, at first. But then she stopped, a tiny little figure, all on her own. She looked from Mum to me and back again.
Then, not taking her eye off me for one moment, she slowly walked towards me. What was this large, kneeling animal she’d not yet come across?
We literally locked eyes for a good minute, until she was just a few metres from me. There was no question, she had come to say hello. Her inquisitive nature overcoming her fear.
It was one of those moments you wanted to never end. An experience you couldn’t quite believe was happening.
But then off she went – running to Mum and to safety.
We still play peek-a-boo in the meadow.
Harry has also got a new playmate and the two of them are quite inseparable.
As the ground has dried out, we seem to have reached the perfect equilibrium – the grass grows just enough to feed the residents, whilst not actually needing to be cut. Which was all rather perfect timing for our lawn mower breaking down. I really rather like have pet lawn mowers, rather than noisy, smelly, petrol versions.
There are little pockets of respite from the browning off plants, with the pond and stream supporting almost a metre of lush green growth, before the straw colours reign.
Whenever I start to worry about the dryness, the animals distract me and reinstate my joy. For the first time ever, I saw the baby roes suckling.
Sitting in the kitchen early one evening, I looked out and there they were on the haha. First one baby, then the other too. It’s hard to comprehend what we see from our house.
You get a real sense of their personalities, watching them grow and develop day by day. They are still in that super cute phase, such close siblings: clearly twins at times. Watching the whole family, grazing and playing, completely oblivious to us, is an amazing thing to observe.
The haha is also a favourite spot for Freddy, who can get a good view of potential dinner options. He, along with Sammy the stoat (who’s never around when I have my good camera!), have been about so much more since the rabbit population expanded; to the point where we now rarely see rabbits. It’s incredible how nature balances itself.
Harry wasn’t overly happy to see Freddy. He stood up on his hind legs, as tall as he could, for as long as he could. Then, a few seconds rest before repeating his act to show how big and scary he was. Freddy wasn’t interested, fortunately, and just carried on his way. Poor Harry sat tall for ages afterwards, ears pricked, on high alert, but all ended well.
Whilst many trees have lost their leaves, the tulip tree faring less well than those in dry old Canberra, the vegetable garden reminds us how robust plants are: the crops keep coming, despite barely any moisture.
Paul’s Helianthus giganteus (what a boy plant!) are close to 4 metres tall and have had no water since the June rains; the courgettes have supplied most of Oxfordshire for the last couple of months; and Dahlias keep on producing, no matter how many I pick.
There’s little more reassuring than seeing nature cope in the face of adversity. It’s so stoic, no matter what the external world throws upon it.
I do hope this hot drought is a once in a (few?) decade(s) event this summer. The last one like this was 1976 and we can manage with one every 46 years. But England is ‘supposed’ to be green and pleasant – it’s part of its identity and sense of place. We shall have to see, but I’m optimistic we won’t have a repeat next year.
How can you not be optimistic when you garden?