Common Ground – July 2020

“The summer comes with flower and bee….”

Felicia Hemans

Summer begins here in the valley when the baby phoebes fledge and fly away. The five of them flew away from their next on the top of a side porch pillar in mid-June.  Phoebes have returned to this same spot every year for as long as I have lived here. They occupy the same nest which gets a little renovation each spring.

June has unfortunately become the month of dealing with invaders like dog strangling vine, garlic mustard and burning bush. I am nothing if not nostalgic for the time when these were not a problem. But they are here now and a considerable amount of time and effort goes into dealing with them. So when July finally comes around it is a relief.

Some much needed humour in the garden is provided by the giant alliums in my newish mostly bulbs bed. A mostly bulbs bed is an extravagance, of course. It is almost too easy to not have to worry about interplanting bulbs and perennials. As giant alliums don’t really go with anything else except maybe each other they are perfect for this. They are just big attention seekers really.

In the same bed there are only two perennials, a sprawling species clematis and a large ornamental rhubarb. The ornamental rhubarb has been there for a few years now and is finally coming into its own. It has survived two drought years and I finally figured out that it needs a lot of water. It probably took me too long to come to that conclusion.

Early summer brings many flowers which have naturalised themselves in the field beyond the vegetable garden. Certain plants have given me a message over the years that they don’t like to be fussed over thank you very much. They prefer to take their chances in the field rather than be cared for closer to the house. These include lupins, oriental poppies, sweet william,

perennial sunflower, purple coneflower, hollyhocks and phlox. I have learned over the years to listen to that sort of message. It makes life easier to not keep putting plants where they aren’t happy and won’t thrive.

In the wild garden a curious red leaved species rose has finally bloomed with tiny red single flowers. I’m sure the birds brought it as I don’t remember planting it. I’m grateful for all contributions wherever they come from.

Species lilies which took years to become established now seem to move around with abandon. Or maybe they have some relocation help from the squirrels.

I have heard recently from a few friends who have scaled up their vegetable gardens as a result of the pandemic. Like me, they don’t do pessimism and needed to put their energy into something positive. They haven’t flagged in their efforts even as the heat and bugs of early summer followed the cooler spring days.

Finally, my pandemic reading has moved from poetry to rereading classic novels and back to poetry again. After coming across the quote at the beginning of this column, I was curious about the poet. It turns out that the most well-known of the poems of Mrs Hemans (1793-1835) is Casabianca otherwise known as The boy stood on the burning deck. I found the poem in an anthology called Gems of National Poetry which has no publication date but includes a personal dedication by a Reverend gentleman dated 1888. The edges of the pages are gold and the cover is a wonderful example of lurid Victoriana, featuring more gold and scarlet and a headache inducing amount of detail. It would surely give Marie Kondo apoplexy. I do love the go big or go home confidence of the Victorians. I will now dip into this book more as time allows.

Pandemic reading has turned out to be an opportunity to spend time with many older books that I might have otherwise overlooked. A silver lining indeed.

Happy summer everyone.

By Jill Williams

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