Thursday 21 July 2011

Waiting for the Heatwave, Living on the Edge

Sometimes I think summer is a state of mind. It pulls you back into memory like no other season: to your picnic childhood, brief summers of love, books set in intense heatwaves on the brink of adulthood, at the end of empire. The past is a different country. They do summers differently there. Even looking back at the photographs of last year everything seems somehow more numinous, more vibrant, more . . . well hot.

High summer is seaside and the people flocking from the cities to sit by the glittering, watery edge of the island. To be unmoored in time, naked to the elements, set free for a moment on this last strip of permissible wildness. It’s cycling down to the dunes in the morning and going for a swim (not today though, it’s raining). So this is a picture from last July when we met Beth from our lane one fine day.

BIG GARDEN But whatever the weather and our fragile happiness that depends on it, the natural world is still out there doing its thing, which in this moment outside the window is expanding in all directions.. Up to midsummer everything shoots skyward in an orderly manner. Then July comes with its big summertime moon, the trees grow dark and shady and the garden becomes huge, resplendent and unruly. I walk about with a pair of shears in my hand and wonder how bushes can turn quite so Amazonian. Here it is at dawn, with some of the local seaside plants - fennel, wild carrot - and surely the biggest buddleia in the world.

INSECTS: Summer is when all the insects arrive. Some are welcome and some are really not. Summer for the black cat (now curled up in the long grass like a small lion in the savanna) is scratching ticks and fleas. For us it's swatting the massive mosquitoes from the marsh and bloodsucking flies known as clegs (maybe should be renamed camerons), avoiding lying in nests of ants, negotiating with the wasp battalions over the greengages. Oh, and aphids . . .

But summer is also the “lawn” full of grasshoppers, the dramatic webs of garden spiders, stag beetles under the logs, the thrilling experience of dragonflies whizzing past your ear on their zig-zag patrols. And it’s sitting beside the buddleia amidst a cloud of butterflies – peacock, scarlet admiral, tortoiseshell, painted ladies - and sometimes those butterflies and dragonflies landing on you. Clocking you with their highly-tuned intelligence. It’s predicted to be the best butterfly summer in 30 years this year, so keep a look out!

BEE PLANTS: All this week I’ve been looking out for flowers in the lanes for our Bungay Beehive Day on Sunday. I’m organising the Plants for Bees stall where we're having a display of the main honeybee plants of the year and a live exhibition of high summer flowers in honey jars. I'm really looking forward to talking with Katherine from the River of Flowers project about planting urban meadows and creating pollination streams.

June is tough for bees in the countryside. Agrochemicals and vergecutters destroy all the “weeds” that once provided them with abundant pollen and nectar. But by July their “hungry gap” is over and there are flowers growing like reckless rebels everywhere they can. Here are some of the ones that are growing by the edge, through the cracks, on the verge of an ecological breakdown. Great mullein on the A146 outside Beccles, viper’s bugloss by Adnams' brewery outside Southwold, St John’s wort on platform 3 at Lowestoft station:

STORING IT UP: Everything is fleeting – childhood, love, the flowers, a summer’s day - and sometimes you just have to take time, even five minutes, to notice the sweet moment as it runs through your living body like a river. Store it up for those long dark winter nights ahead, like fruit in a jar. Like the cherry jam Ed gave me from his tree in Bristol, like the strawberry jam from Malcolm’s smallholding in Darsham, like the whitecurrant jelly from Julia’s garden next door, like the wild cherry-plum pie Nick brought to our Low Carbon Cookbook meeting in Norwich this week and Mark making me laugh on the train going up there.

Here he is in shock response to rising food prices (one of the discussion topics for our Burning Issues chapter), standing with Erik beside Christine’s small city orchard of peach, plum and pear. Smile!

Beth, Jessie and me on Southwold beach; big garden at dawn; scarlet admiral on buddleia in Philip and Irene's meadow; by the great mullein on the A146; by the viper's bugloss outside Adnams' distribution centre; St John's wort on Platform No 3, Lowestoft;
Mark on the train (with banana), edible flowers from the garden; with Erik on Christine's balcony.

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