Summer has finally arrived, with a welcome run of long, hot sunny days which continue to stretch ahead of us.
The garden flickers with butterflies and is a-hum; we have to walk across the grass with a little care between cuts as clover quickly transforms the green sward to a polka dance of flowers and feasting bees. We have picked several kilos of strawberries; so many large luscious sweet fruits that we are giving them away to friends and family, and freezing batches. Raspberries and blackcurrants are cropping now too, and I’ve been picking small sweet courgettes for a few weeks now.
This week I also harvested our hardneck garlic, Sprint, whose bulbs are pleasingly plump. The softneck bulbs are still much smaller, and the leaves still greener, so I am leaving most of them standing a little longer to see if they can fatten further for our winter supplies.
We are also eating new potatoes, broad beans and peas, along with our widest selection of salad leaves so far. In the next few days, we must pick all the remaining broad beans and blanch and freeze them. We trialled the variety Stereo this year, a recommendation by Sarah Raven, and I must say we are impressed. Besides the few Longpod plants raised from the last of our old seeds, the Stereo plants are shorter, have required no staking, yet are covered in copious pods of sweet beans, with no sign of black fly or rust on the plants, unlike their taller neighbours, whose tips we have already had to pinch out once they began to accumulate a layer of black fly.
There are calendula scattered around both the kitchen garden and the ornamental borders, all grown from seeds of Indian Prince, although the flowers always show a little variation: the one above does not have the characteristic dark eye of most of its neighbours. Borage is also flowering madly all over the plot; we have spent many cucumber-scented hoeing and weeding sessions as its self-sowing nature thickly blanketed the vegetable beds with fast-growing plants in the spring. They are easy to hoe or pull out though, and I wouldn’t be without its lovely blue flowers, which draw lots of happy bees to the kitchen garden.
I have continued painting the fence behind the long border, with just a few metres left to complete – hopefully this coming weekend – before moving onto the remaining post-and-rail fences. It has been a delicate business so late in the season, tracing my way carefully through the tall plants, temporarily staking the himalayan honeysuckle bushes away from the woodwork to give me access, with the drone of bees in its dripping clusters of flowers rather alarmingly close to my face as I worked.
A handful of tall yellow spires of Verbascum also required careful navigation, standing along the back of this border, upon which I found several mullein moth caterpillars. Although they can defoliate plants completely, this cluster of caterpillars seem relatively restrained and I am happy to let them be while the plants continue to look healthy and provide their burst of sunshine yellow.
Even these tall verbascum plants are dwarfed by the Cephalaria gigantea at the back of the border, some of which must be eight-foot tall, many of their creamy-yellow flowers now opening far above my head. They have remarkable poise. Astonishing to think that these giants have each uncoiled from a tiny speck of a seed sown last spring.
Poppies are everywhere; jewel-toned Papaver somniferum mostly in scarlet, echoed by the clumps of Monarda Cambridge Scarlet in both borders, accompanied by a few of my favourite dark-plum coloured ones, which appear almost crimson when illuminated by the sun. We can catch a glimpse here of a brighter crimson rose which has just opened behind these purple poppies.
We have ladybird poppies, Papaver commutatum, in the kitchen border too, and the usual more subtle orange-hued field poppies that pop their heads up for a day across the garden before scattering their petals at their feet.
The cultivated Verbascum chaixi album are stronger in their second year, dozens of spires of beautiful white flowers, with their vivid purple furry stamens tipped with orange anthers.
Also more settled this year are the seed-raised Oenothera odorata; last year I found them untidy despite their beautiful flowers and sweet evening scent. This year they have bulked up so that despite their long stems only carrying one or two open flowers at a time, the massed effect is rather lovely.
Summer. Ahhhh. I could certainly get used to these languorous days, with the garden in all its finery, harvests flowing, and the cats tiptoeing through the shadows to flop in the border beneath the plant canopies.