I’ve been putting off clearing out the greenhouse for months. Actually months is a lie, it must be at least a year and possibly (probably) even more. But last weekend, the great greenhouse clear out and tidy finally happened, so I thought I’d take a few photos to document it along the way.
I must say, I did hardly any of the actual clearing out (or putting back in), that job was valiantly undertaken by Mr GF, who bravely wrangled the resident huge angry spiders to a new home (round the corner of the house). I don’t mind a distant spid, but when they’re massive and waving their hairy legs at you in rage after being ousted from their favourite tea-towel I come over all wibbly.
Here’s a few shameful before pictures. Over the last few months/years, the organisation I had at the beginning went to pot and I ended up just shoving everything wherever it would fit. I’m terrible for keeping garden bits to ‘make something out of’ in the future, which almost never actually happens. This time we unearthed a hessian sack, two empty compost bags, an entire bucket full of plastic bottles cut in half (no idea), a couple of glass windows, endless seed trays and pots, a jar containing a marble and a bit of wire (also no idea) and handfuls of wooden coffee stirrers liberated to write plant names on (we kept those!). Originally I had some baskets and drawers found in charity shops for all the bits, organised in themes, but the bottom drawers had become spider hotels and I had avoided them ever since.
We decided the best way to go about it would be to remove everything, then jig around as we needed before replacing everything that we wanted to go back in. Mr. GF removed and I wiped plant pots, organised tubs, cleaned tools and once everything was out, washed down the whole inside of the greenhouse with warm water and a good squirt of Dr. Bronners. We ripped off any tired masking tape and duct tape, but left the bits that were still sticking the panels together effectively – I’ve found this is the best way to stop the panels disappearing down the valley in the winter winds. I’ve taped the inside and outside and yes, it looks terrible, but it works!
You may have realised by now that this isn’t going to be an amazing transformation! Definitely no bunting here. Our greenhouse is pretty functional and is never going to be one of those Instagram-perfect glass houses with a sofa in and fairy lights! It’s full of worms, mud and spiders, and it leaks water through the roof moss into an old mushroom tray. I think if we had a posh greenhouse it would just blow away in the wind anyway so there’s no point!
Anyway, back to the job in hand. After Mr GF had cleared everything out, there was loads more room to move around. After whirling around inside for a bit in excitement, we decided to move the big pallet shelves to the side and keep one of the old sets of grey shelves (you can spot them in one of the photos above), but remove everything else. The shelves were really useful – originally part of those small stand-up greenhouses with see through plastic covers. I’d found them years ago in the Wilkos sale for £2 each and after a few years use the plastic had given up, but the shelves are still in great condition.
A quick sweep up and it was time to move around! Luckily, the pallet shelves and the grey shelves were the perfect fit for one side of the greenhouse.
We made these pallet shelves out of some spare wood. They are just two half-pallets, one at either side, joined by a length of wood along the back. The ‘shelves’ are just planks of wood balanced into the spaces in the pallets, so we can move them around as we need. Sturdy and easy to disassemble if needed! After moving the shelves the greenhouse seemed much bigger, mainly as we can now get the the back of the greenhouse. It’s strange how just moving one thing can make it seem so much larger!
After much tea, it was time to put everything back in. We cleared out anything expired, and donated the excess of plant pots to friends and to freecycle, keeping a few of each size. My pile of ‘projects that will never happen’ was sorted and recycled, although we kept the hessian coffee sack for future use – they’re great for hanging basket linings. I organised the baskets, using one for tools, one for garden twine etc, and one for plant food. Mr. GF has a basket for his carnivorous plant things too. We brought the geraniums in from the garden, and put back the physalis (we’ve had 3 so far from it this year and very delicious they are too!) and the avocado-or-mango (we can’t remember which).
I have a wooden fruit tray from the local veg shop that I kept a variety of gardening related crap in, now it’s nice and organised! I balanced it on four pebbles to escape the water that leaks through the roof. And talking of that, I replaced the mushroom tray with a larger one, underneath where it leaks through the roof. There’s moss and it drips lovely filtered rainwater into the tray, which is then used to water the plants! I should probably fix it but I quite like it. The potting table is made from spare wood and the marble from our old fire surround!
The two big tubs are where we keep the bird food. Nice and mouse-proof, and they keep everything dry as well. We hammered a nail in to hang the riddle from, and the bags of compost fit nicely under the bench once more!
It’s been so nice to be able to actually get into the greenhouse now. It’s made such a difference clearing stuff out, and you know when you’ve been meaning to do something for ages then the relief you feel when you actually get round to it is immense. It’s a lovely little spot now and I’ve found myself popping in to talk to the geraniums, grab some bird food, or just perch on the edge of the pallet shelves and listen to the rain on the roof. I’m sure the spiders are moving back in as we speak, but it’s so much easier to find what I’m looking for now, and after getting rid of the excess mess my head is a lot clearer too. It’ll never win any Pinterest award for aesthetics but it’s an unapologetic working greenhouse, and now I can actually work in it, that’s more than enough for me.
Happy gardening, all 🙂
The leaves are beginning to drift downwards from the trees, the days are shortening and the light settles into that familiar golden glow typical of October. As the season shifts, I like to bring a little of that autumn feeling into the cottage. I feel best surrounded by a natural, understated look, a few bits here and there rather than a big change of decor – I don’t have that many items, and I like to keep the same things year to year, switching them around as the months go by. Using natural autumn decor is kind of like free shopping – most of these items can be found in woodlands, hedgerows and in your own garden.
When I say items, I mostly mean the collection of twigs, cones, seeds and so on I seem to have wombled from my ramblings through the year. To bring a few of these indoors is comforting, keeping the cottage in tune with the changing energy of the season, keeping the heartbeat of the house in time with that of the earth. The faded browns of dried flowers and seed-heads mirror the colours of the leaves outside. I add a candle or two and my decoration change is done.
For an instant autumn feel, there are many natural things that are easy to collect. Conkers, of course, but also fir and pine cones, grasses, different coloured leaves to hang on thread from the windows, pebbles, twigs, seasonal veg, logs, the last of the flowers. This year I have Allium seed heads – most are two years old now and are still going strong. We left them to go to seed after flowering, then brought them in to dry out properly.
I also have a large pine cone from a reservoir walk over 5 years ago, and some honesty seed heads which have turned out brilliantly. Again, the Honesty has been a small labour of love – it takes two years to flower, grown from seed (I love the seeds from Higgeldy Garden), but this year was flowering year! After flowering, the seed-heads have dried well and look beautiful, shining ghostly white in the light. We had purple and white flowers and the stems reflect those colours. The purple makes an especially beautiful contrast against the translucent seed heads.
On recent walks I’ve collected some grasses to make small ‘pieces of places’ and a small posy of bog cotton and dried grass reminds me of a trip to the moors as the colours were just starting to change in early September. Collecting natural bits and bobs makes me feel more connected to the place in which I live, bringing evidence of the changing seasons into my home.
As well as this, you could collect twigs with seasonal berries (check they’re not poisonous first!) to make a display, or consider hanging ornaments from windfall branches. Filling glass jars with acorns or conkers makes a lovely display, and settling into the season by making jams, syrups, pies and more with the abundance that can be found in hedgerows this season. Always be mindful of who or what else is relying on the free decorations and food available – only take what you can use, leave enough for the local wildlife and for other foragers, too.
I hope there have been some useful tips here, I’d love to hear your seasonal decorating ideas too. Have you collected decoration from outdoors before?
Have a lovely, autumnal week (or spring week if you’re in the Southern hemisphere!)
I pad downstairs in the gloom, slippers quiet on the cold kitchen tiles. Tea, and the treat of a wheat bag warmed in the microwave for a minute or so. The quiet autumn mornings are darker now, but not the pitch black of winter just yet. As the steam curls from the kettle, the sky is lightening in the east, that October washed-out blue, hints of yellow and pink heralding the rising sun. Soon, that sun will struggle to make it over the valley tops until mid-morning, so I cherish this light, pale as it is.
As the tea mashes, I potter outside to the greenhouse to check that yesterday’s mammoth tidying session wasn’t all a dream, and to enjoy the deep red of the geraniums I moved inside yesterday. Satisfied that everything was still tidy, I wander back indoors, feeling better for the fresh morning air in my lungs.
Today is a day for the blog, so a relaxing ease into the day for me. I light a candle and take it back upstairs, along with my tea and almost-too-hot-to-touch wheat bag, climbing back into the warm spot under the duvet (the ultimate bliss!) and pulling another Welsh blanket up to my chest.
The candle flickers across the room and I watch it for a while, gaze unfocused, the light from the orange flame warming the crooked walls behind. Rummaging for my notebook and a pencil, I spend a little time writing as the day brightens outside, still trees and damp rooftops. The traffic noise, a low hum previously, begins to rise around 8am and I pop on a YouTube ambience to drown it out some. Currently I’m discovering a channel called ‘Nostalgic Atmosphere’, with real-life scenes. Today’s is rainfall in an English village that looks nothing like my own village – the streets deserted and the raindrops pit-pattering into puddles on the roads.
I think of the day ahead, and feel a fizz of excitement at getting to do blog things all day, although probably interspersed by a smidge of cleaning. Giving myself the time to choose to work on the blog is freeing – I’ve spent so long feeling guilty for not spending my time working on my university projects and it’s nice to have got to a space recently where I’ve changed the way I work and can feel comfortable about doing both.
The camera on my hand-me-down phone has finally succumbed to the google pixel curse, so I am using my husband’s real camera and I look forward to editing the pictures I took on our slow walk yesterday. But for now, the scratch of pencil on paper is soothing, so I write on into the morning. Happy mornings, all.
The chill in the air took us by surprise, in recent weeks. Those heady summer days of heatwaves and endless light snapped into an unseasonably cold September all of a sudden. The leaves, yellow from droughts, are now falling faster and faster each day. As September settles into October, autumn waves a gentle hand over the valley.
I’ve been quiet on here, I know. Summer, with its languid days, also had a dark side this year. Covid, a family illness followed by an eventual bereavement and alongside this, big decisions in the other part of my life, at university. This melting pot has meant the last few months have felt like a storm.
But all storms pass, or slowly move on, at least. I quietly accept the fallout, the grief, the recovery. I learnt some things about my brain and the way it thinks and sees the world which have also taken some adjustment. At 39, looking back, it explains so much. So I’m settling into an identity that’s shifted a little, bit by bit, but it’s not a bad thing.
As the year turns inwards, I feel the pull to do so too. To sow some small seeds in this season ad see how they grow and root over the darker months. As ever, Samhain approaches, bringing this turn of the wheel to a close, and I feel the urge to contemplate and look back over the last twelve months, good and bad , painful and joyous.
A seed I want to nurture is this space here, for sure. Now I know a bit more about how my brain sees things, I can begin to build a sustainable way of writing. I’m looking forward to it.
Otherwise, life rumbles on here in Yorkshire. We are clearing, organising and beginning to put the garden to bed. The fire has been lit and the blankets are out. As the nights darken here, I think of those in the Southern hemisphere and the light returning to them. Balance, as always. I’m not a winter person, but acknowledging that ebb and flow of seasons, the dark followed by the light, gives me comfort through the long, grey UK winter.
So, I will start to sow these word-seeds very soon, and nurture this space in coming months. Hopefully this space will soon bloom with cottage homeliness, small adventures, wanderings and wonderings. I send soft thoughts to you, this autumn, and if the days are also shortening wherever you are, I hope you are looking forward to kicking piles of leaves as much as I am!
It’s nearing the end of August and the first rain has finally arrived after the heatwaves. Proper rain, falling freely from grey, leaden skies. I’ve been out, face turned to the sky, feeling the fat raindrops on my skin and breathing in that heady petrichor, water mixed with the dust of long summer days. With the rain comes relief, a release of a tightness I didn’t know I had.
Now, with my stripy top steaming dry on the bannisters, I sit in a blanket and bounce to myself on the old leather-covered poang chair in the office (a freecycle find). Ag the cat joins me, sat on the large office desk (again from freecycle), a drop of water on her chin from drinking out of my glass a few moments before. She is most disgruntled by the rain and has been complaining vocally, a yowl from a few gardens away, growing louder and more demanding as she nears the front door. She temporarily forgets her cat flap, of course. Either that or she’s got me well trained. I feel it’s the latter. I have some crisps and she is oozing towards them, trying to be subtle.
Summer this year has been hot and dry, with high temperatures, sticky days and nights spent sleeping downstairs covered only with a cotton sheet. The birch tree yellows now in pseudo-autumn, a result of stress due to the dry conditions. Blackberries arrive early, tomatoes are over and done. After two and a half years I finally caught Covid , luckily feeling only a little grotty for a week but left with a breathlessness that persists still. Uni work ebbs more than flows, as does the blog. A million possibilities makes it hard to focus on one. But the tide will turn, as it always does.
Summer has been full of wild swims and long, dusky evenings, moths and bats and parched grasses reflecting the setting sun. Slow, almost static days, spent under trees and parasols, eyes closed and the scent of baking flagstones in the air. A little upheaval, a little settling. Holidays and home days. A busy spring gave way into a slow, lethargic summer, and I fought against it for a while, but now, I slow too, matching that exhalation after lughnasadh, the ripening of harvest after the burst of spring growth and energy. Plants dwindle, readying for colder months ahead. I find myself reflected in them, a need to stop fighting against slowness and just be, for a while. Just breathe.
I hope, though, to write a little more here as I settle back into the rhythm of this house, this land and of myself. In these quiet moments, I hope I find direction, a little honesty, a little inspiration. To write out the reflections of days and to follow that focus. The blog will come from there, if I let it.
And that is it, for today. The cat has long disappeared back into the rain which is still falling, falling as if saved up for months. I feel the land stretch up to meet it, the water bringing a new energy to the valley. Time to shift, I feel.
I love old maps. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the lure of a seemingly quieter time, an expanse of fields and greenery. I’m fascinated by comparing old and new maps, to see what’s changed, names of roads hinting at old structures and pathways.
Luckily our local second-hand bookshop always has a great pile of maps and local history leaflets and booklets and I can’t go in without a few of them finding their way into my possession – I try not to visit often!
There’s just something about maps – obviously the old book/map smell and feel, but something more, something magical about looking at that record of human existence in a place, of how the land rises and falls and how we ride along with it. Sometimes changing the face of that land, sometimes the land reclaiming those once wild spaces back, footprints fading back to earth. It’s all there, in folded paper, in contour lines, funny symbols and dotted pathways.
I have an old cardboard box where I keep maps and other interesting ephemera. It’s a treat on a rainy afternoon to reach up to the high shelf, grab the box and pick out anything that catches my eye. I have a few favourites – the old material Ordnance Survey map of the Peak District, with the map separated and individually glued into place. A pamphlet on the M62, full of interesting titbits with which to gleefully regale your travelling companions as you whizz along at 70mph, Scammonden Dam blurring past the windows. Waterproof tracking guides to stick in a pocket when venturing for a snowy walk, following the pid-pad of footprints that are usually invisible.
I lose myself in layers of time, tracing fingers over footpaths that fade into fields, hedges that turn into housing estate boundaries. We were given an old map of our area as a housewarming gift, that had a tantalising ‘x’ in biro. Needless to say, an adventure was afoot.
We navigated only by the old map, travelling in a time-bubble of 70 years ago. Watching present-day people driving by, it really felt as if we were time travellers. We were only occasionally surprised by the odd new dual carriageway or dead end that had appeared in the intervening decades. We grumbled at these intruders, turned around, and carried on on the old roads. What would be at the ‘x’?
Eventually we arrived at an inconspicuous corner, populated with a few trees and surrounded by farmland. Would there be riches, buried just below the surface? Archaeological artefacts? Did something important happen here, many years ago? As the car doors clunked shut behind us, we stood in the silence and looked around.
We’d come entirely unprepared, and scuffed around under the trees for a while with our feet, avoiding crisp packets and pop bottles. This area was decidedly unromantic, and we felt very much back in the present day the more we scrabbled around. Suddenly, a glint caught our eyes… could this be it?
Parting the long grass, half concealed in mud, we pulled out a thick, clear glass bottle, possibly an old milk or pop bottle with ‘Laws’ on the side. What a treasure! The map spoke true to us, there was indeed buried treasure at the ‘x’! Full of joy, we headed homewards, again on the old roads, our find safely nestled in the footwell. It is now used as a candle holder, along with other old bottles – I love the look of the melted wax as it builds up over the years. It is as much a treasure now as when we found it.
I’d fully recommend navigating via old maps. I find it takes me away from the present day, back to a time without motorways, which only occasionally pop up to surprise you where you least expect it. It’s even more of a treat when navigating to a point of interest that is now decidedly built up, but still exists in the ‘real world’, as it were. It’s like finding a treasure all over again. And of course, finding an old map with an ‘x’ on it fuels anyone’s imagination, and treasure can be anything you want it to be. Put your own ‘x’s. Find your own treasure! Or, hide some beforehand and take the family.
I find having a box of maps brings immense joy. Similarly-minded people will pop round for a cup of tea and find the same delight leafing through a collection of maps. Annotated maps are even better – our Iceland map is full of campsite reviews, exciting iceberg finds and locations where the showers are free – it brings back great memories to spend a nice half hour or so reliving our road trip round Route 1. Another of my favourite maps is one I got as a present a few years ago – a map of the rude place names in the UK which always leaves me in fits of giggles every time I look at it. I have added a picture below for your viewing pleasure. I think Bell End is my fave! Although Cockstubbles is a close second.
I love this box of interesting things. Spending a few quiet moments leafing through is one of life’s joys, especially as you can then go outside and actually find yourself in the places you’ve just looked at. Planning adventures to interesting looking places and features, finding out what used to be built down the road, or just wandering from map to map following a road. Picking up a pamphlet of local history or something interesting about nature and settling down with a brew and a biscuit. A box of interesting things is a must. What would you put in yours?
I saw a hummingbird hawk moth
but I did not take a picture
Instead I followed it, insides all squiggly
heart beating as fast as blurry wings
as it hovered near a vegetable patch and
dipped its tongue delicately
into a flower
then went about its day
and I went about mine
with excitement in my soul
Thank you hawk moth
Back in April, we were treated to a few days in Portugal courtesy of family. The first proper holiday abroad since the dreaded C, we were really grateful for the chance to escape for a little while. We hopped on a Ryanair (luckily getting through security with minimal delays or hitches) and a few hours, locator forms and vaccine passports later, we landed in Lisbon. A family member was chauffeur, and we piled into the back of the rental car. As darkness fell, we headed to an Airbnb in Colares, a few minutes from the coast.
There’s something magical about arriving in the dark, in a strange place, in a new country. The living room lights welcomed us in, as did cups of tea and the dumping of carry-on bags into new bedrooms. A pool glinted temptingly from underneath sliding covers – but that could wait for the morning. Yawning with that specific travel fatigue, we headed up the wooden stairs to bed.
I always look forward to that first glimpse of surroundings in the light of the new day when on holiday. We opened the shutters (shutters!) and were greeted by pine trees swaying in the breeze, the April clouds floating by, and the giggle of our younger family members playing around the pool below. Ahhh. Holiday!
Colares is handily located for travel, with regular buses and excitingly-old trams (well, one tram) rumbling to and from Sintra. Exploring the local area, we wandered down to Praia des Maçãs with its huge beach. Being April, it was quiet, with the beach absolutely deserted. The sea breeze was bordering on chilly, and we headed to a nearby beach café for fantastically garlicky cheese toasties and copious coffees.
Having chronic fatigue is slightly annoying for travel and so I slept a lot in the first day or two whilst everyone else did some exploring! Although lying on a deckchair under a pine tree wasn’t bad at all, and somehow way more restorative than back home…! A main aim of the trip was to eat as many Pastel del Natas as humanly possible and to go on a yellow tram. With this in mind, we caught the train from Sintra into Lisbon (cheap, clean, quiet and on time, a very different experience to the UK!) which took about 40 minutes.
Lisbon was a lot hotter than Colares – the sun beat down onto the pavements and we were glad to find a fountain and play in the mist for a while to cool down. With slight hanger setting in, we headed to one of many street cafés for lunch where I had a great lemonade – still, bitter and ice cold. I am still dreaming of it!
Luckily the café also sold pastries, so armed with a box of Pastel del Natas, we headed down to Commerce Square next to the sea, walking through the Arco da Rua Augusta. Watching a huge cruise liner float into the port, we devoured our pastries (excellent!) and headed up the hill in search of a tram. After some debate we luckily managed to catch a busy famous yellow 28 tram. I was a little disappointed with the huge adverts covering the trams which left only a slight hint of yellow on each, but once we were inside, it didn’t really matter! The interior is dark brown wood, with a standing area at the back, and we creaked along up the winding roads with the horn ringing to move people out of the way. It’s cheaper to pre-book tickets, but we just got them on board as we weren’t that organised, paying around €10 each.
There are many different tram routes, some there-and-back and others circular, so it’s worth having a look at a guide beforehand.
Back in Praia des Maçãs the next day, we ventured to a Roman fort – the Sítio Arqueológico do Alto da Vigia, located on the cliff next to the beach. Once the most Western point of the Roman Empire, we wandered around the ropes protecting the small excavation site, imagining life here, from baking summer heat to the wild waves of winter. A few miles down the coast at Praia Grande are dinosaur footprints (Pegadas de Dinossauro) – we didn’t manage to get to see them this time, but I’d love to go back to visit those, too. Looking down the rugged coastline and huge beaches, it seemed easier for me to imagine dinosaurs plodding along, leaving trails of footprints behind. Even though the world looked incredibly different in the time of the dinosaurs (the footprints are apparently on a vertical cliff!), there is something still ancient about the coastline.
In between all the exploring, we bobbled around the Airbnb, swam in the pool and visited some great eateries. Souldough Pizza was a particular highlight, located with a handful of other restaurants, Hops and Drops bar (great beer) veggie & vegan friendly, and with amazing wood-fired pizzas. You can order from any of the restaurants and they bring everything to your table – a great place to while away the hours, and a swing park for kids too. I had a pear, honey and parmesan pizza and it was *chef’s kiss*. We also wandered along to HopSin brewpub in Colares, a small brewery. They do small plates to eat, and we definitely recommend the 10-beer taster! I’m not a huge drinker any more sadly but the beers went down very well amongst those I was with!
It goes without saying that we just had an absolutely lovely family time. Catching up with everyone, having the laughs, the adventures, loud times, quiet times, play times and exploration times was just exactly what we needed – we had an amazing time and are so grateful to our family for the experience. I somehow managed to catch the plague in between England and Portugal, and for the last couple of days I was flat out with a stinking cold (not covid! Isn’t that a familiar phrase now whenever we are ill. ‘It’s not covid!’) and spent a day asleep feeling very sorry for myself whilst everyone else did some more exploring! I managed to wander the garden and loved all the exotic plants and flowers in bloom, even though it was only April. The bird of paradise plants and the huge cacti were my favourite.
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head home. Half of us had to return early as our flights were changed, and we left the rest of our party for another couple of nights. They managed to explore the castles of Sintra some more, catching a bus in between.
Dosed up on paracetamol and armed with an extra loo roll to blow my nose with, I still enjoyed our flight home – although security both at Lisbon and back in the UK was rammed and it took ages to get through. The route home was clear and calm and I loved watching the land and sea pass by far below. We even spotted a few other planes in the sky. After passing out asleep on the sofa when we got home, I felt a lot better the next day, typical!
I’d love to go back to Portugal – everyone was friendly and I feel we’d need a few weeks to even get started on all the places to explore. Even Lisbon itself would need a whole separate holiday! In April there are a few hot days, but near the coast I definitely didn’t bring enough jumpers – although getting them in a Ryanair cabin bag might prove a problem…
To finish off, here are a few more photos from our trip: the pear pizza, the infamous Pastel del Nata with the Arco da Rua Augusta in the background, and an obligatory plane window photo! Have you ever been to Portugal, or would you like to go? Where would you recommend?
I’m not too sure what a first glance at our garden would be like. To me, it’s years of light neglect that has somehow settled into a faded haven for slugs, bugs, and the things that like to munch on them. Letting go of the need for neatness allowed us to welcome in a growing number of cohabitants – nesting in gaps in the roof tiles, scurrying through hidden paths in unmown grass, hanging from spider webs between the plethora of spiky teasels that have self-sown this year.
The gravel ‘drive’ is couch grass, mostly. The lawn is unmown and long grass gently sways in the breeze under birch and willow. A rambling rose, perpetually angry at the world and anyone who dares walk near it is left to climb into the sky near the pond. Occasionally we’ll attempt to trim it, but it always fights back and usually wins, leaving us to retreat and tend our lacerated hands with tubes of germolene.
Four large trees live in the garden, and we exist underneath them, in a little green world of dappled shade. They drop catkins and sap onto our heads, and in turn we pat their trunks , occasionally turn the hosepipe on them, and tell them everything is going to be ok. They’ve raised blue tits, magpies, and dozens of sparrows. Wood pigeons roost and take great delight in pooping on anything and everything below.
We’re located on the side of a valley, with no part of the house facing south. This means that half the house gets morning sun, half gets evening sun, and some gets no direct sun whatsoever. In the winter, we’re mostly in shade as the sun struggles over the valley top, rolls along a little, and falls back down behind the hillside at around 3pm. The winters are long and grey. In the summer, the trees provide a cool, shady area to potter about in, whilst the other half of the house bakes in direct sun and the drying wind that is channelled down the valley most days.
I’ve spent years stressing about the encroaching grass, especially on the driveway, but recently am seeing it for a new habitat – the area is boggy, and after watching Nick Bailey on Gardener’s World suggesting planting irises in between long grass, I think I’ve come to a nice conclusion. I have a chronic illness so energy is in very short supply, which is why the garden has somewhat overtaken me over the years – it can be overwhelming, especially when I see people pottering about for hours, pulling up weeds, replanting and dividing – that’s mostly unachievable for me.
At first it was a challenge learning to live within those limits, to sit with it and notice the positives of having a wild garden. But of course, the more overgrown it became, the more wildlife came to join us within these stone walls. It’s changed the way I look at gardens entirely.
I think there’s a pressure to have a traditionally ‘beautiful’ garden, or at least an organised one. I admit I still get frustrated a little, but then I sit out with a cup of tea, on a bit of wall or stone, and just watch and listen to the buzz of life around me, and that feeling of comparison fades away. Frogs plopping into the pond, or raising their heads above the water covered in duckweed. Wasps scraping away at the beanpoles. Badgers bumbling through at night, the hedgehog snuffling around at dusk. The absolute rampant display of dandelions in spring, accompanied by just as many bees. Although I’m almost obscured by couch grass, it’s what supports the life that belongs here.
I think of this little piece of land and the phases it has been through. Old aerial photos of wartime veg beds, extending out into the fields beyond. A small road that ended in the garden (and that we uncovered when trying to build the veg patch – the plan changed rapidly to a raised bed!). The rocks and earth beneath, the water running through, deep below the surface. All we can do is exist lightly upon its surface, with our quirky human views of ownership. It’s a blink of an eye, our time in this place. We just try and make a good home for whatever else is here alongside us.
As what we would usually class as weeds amble slowly into the garden and make themselves at home, I’ve been looking them up and seeing how to make use of them. Viewing them this way reminds me that it is such a treat that they’ve chosen to spend a little time putting down roots in the same earth. I’ve made rosebay willow herb tea, bramble leaf beer and dandelion jam, whilst learning of the healing properties of plantain, clover and cleavers. I’ve held my nose bubbling nettle leaves into fertiliser, and woven reeds into Brigid’s crosses for Imbolc. After a while, weeds become abundance. Even the angry rose bush donates petals for tea and hips for syrup, albeit grudgingly.
These long June days are my favourite time of year. Time where the garden is rampant, spilling leaf over leaf in an exuberance that is unmatched. The more I take time to exist, quietly, alongside these plants and grasses and trees, the more I’m pulled headlong into that joyous energy that abounds. That relentless stretching growth, fuelled by the sun almost directly overhead. It’s a different feeling to spring, or summer proper, where flower heads are blooming then setting seed, veg is ripening, and everything seems to breathe out in readiness for autumn. June is the golden time for this rambling cottage garden – and rambling it most definitely is!
It’s the day before solstice, the shortest night. As the breeze floats through the grasses and the branches, I watch the robin pipping angrily at the woodpigeons that have dared to take over the shallow plant tray used as a birdbath. Dunnocks flit along the ground under the fir tree, skirting the variety of grasses there, the result of bird seed spillages over the years. It feels very much like it’s a space for all of us, no matter whether we have wings, arms, roots or many pairs of legs. We all just co-exist, in this little piece of land, no matter what we are. And that, I think, is the best feeling of all.
I find it hard to describe the few weeks run-up to summer solstice. I feel as if there is not enough of me to stretch into the heady long days. I cannot expand myself to feel it all – the smell of summer coming, the fresh leaves, the expectation, and that undercurrent, that something else none of us can put a finger on. I want to dissolve into it, every molecule fizzing into the season, expanding and stretching my soul into the dusk, the 3am light, the days that could go on forever, if we just let them.
I belong here, in these few weeks. It tugs my heart and I wish with all my being that I could just hit pause and stay in this rush of energy, of light and warmth, for just a little longer. It’s the final few seconds before the rollercoaster tips over the top of the track. That last held breath, the possibilities, the surge of adrenaline and hope and fear and just life, life, the joy of experience, all wrapped up in endless daylight and growth and wonder.
I feel the sun, pulling us all upwards, trees spreading branches into huge skies, reaching as far as they will go. I reach my hands upwards, stretch, lengthen my limits and my soul and my thoughts. Every part of me belongs, finally.
I hop and fizz each evening as twilight begins to descend, eyes bright in the gloom that’s never quite darkness. Soul season, bare feet in late nights with the ghostly flit of moths, the bats, the deer quietly whispering through the long grass. The campfire twang from millennia past, the feeling that one moment stretched back over echoes, hints, a scent on the breeze. For these few weeks I am wholly, truly me.
It’s four days before solstice and I breathe this headiness deep into my lungs, treasuring every smell, every rustle of every leaf, each caress of that breeze on my skin. I place my hands on tree trunks and share that deep contentment, where light is plentiful and the days are warm. I push down that knot of sadness that all too soon it will be over, darkness returning, temperature falling, the UK grey seeping in at the edges – but for now, I dance into my season, on and on and on into these endless days.