Posts in Summer
In Praise of the Summer Meadow

You can mark the progress of the seasons, and indeed the farming year, simply by the appearance of the fields. Here in the Pennines we don’t have much by way of arable farming so the welcome sight of autumn stubble isn’t something to be anticipated on nature’s calendar. But my garden gate opens straight into a meadow, which is indeed a lovely thing. In winter we have sheep poking their noses through the bars, trying to reach the tantalising flower borders. In spring the lambs arrive. But not this year. Instead, the lambs are in another field and we have a hay meadow. The grass is already waist-high in parts (there’s an unmarked path right through the middle so we often wander up to the hills this way).

It was whilst looking out of the kitchen window and beyond the gate, watching these long grasses rippling mesmerically in the wind, that I started thinking about summers past. As children we’d make little nests in the meadows, lying down and watching the grass and buttercups waving above us. The simple pleasure to be had from looking back at the path you’d made (even more satisfying when the grass is wet). Sitting on an upturned bucket in mucky jodhpurs making flower crowns.

In this landlocked valley the rippling of long grasses in the breeze is our alternative to sand dunes. A graphite-grey sky with bleached stems below, as far as the eye can see, is one of my favourite late-summer sights. I find it so evocative – to stand in the middle of it all is as close as I’ll ever get to a meditative state.

It isn’t just about grass, of course. Although these in themselves are fascinating; slow down, get up close and notice the sheer variety of form and colour. Meadows, like the moors above, are an intricate tapestry of plants and flowers. At this time of year we have buttercups, clover, sorrel, cuckoo flowers and vetch to name but a few. And all punctuated with fleshier clumps of dock, nettle and thistle.

But what about those of us who live in more urban areas? Where do we go in search of the great unmown?

Many parks and public green spaces are neatly lawned. Sometimes they’ll have wilder fringes if you stray from the tarmac. Go and explore the further reaches (worthwhile, as the outer edges are often much quieter too). A place I visit often is the churchyard in our village. Over half of it is gloriously wild, left to its own devices to grow and set seed. It’s filled with dancing buttercups and sedges, much of the ground being quite marshy underfoot, as well as red clover, purple wild orchids and Bistort. There are even some rogue forget-me-nots in there, apt for a place where people have been laid to rest over the centuries.

Now is the time to go out and find a wildflower meadow, or at least a little piece of one in an unlikely place. There are few things as truly magical as walking waist-deep through tall grass. Children love it too. And be sure to sit (or even better, lie) down and watch the sky from a secret little space, surrounded by nodding flowers and busy insects.

SummerSarah Hardman
A Seasonal Year: Summer

Welcome to summer!

 

Summer Rituals

  • Make sure you always have a batch of homemade lemonade in the fridge for cooling you down on hot sunny afternoons (or to take along on a picnic!).
     
  • Eat outside as often as possible. Even if it's just ten minutes with your morning coffee!
     
  • Choose organic fruit and veg. There's no better time to take advantage of veg box schemes than in the summer, when most products will come from the UK.


 

3 Seasonal Recipes


Strawberry spinach salad
Beetroot, chilli + rosemary spaghetti
Gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream
 

 

3 Books for Summer

  1. The Otter's Tale (Simon Cooper)
  2. A Sky Full of Birds (Matt Merritt)
  3. The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)

 

This post is a shorter version of our summer email sent out to members of our free community. Want to join? Click here - we'd love to have you!

SummerEleanor Cheetham
Retaining Our Roots & Merry Midsummer Festivals

How quickly spring seems to have shifted into summer this year, seemingly with no hesitation at all. The cherry blossom and wisteria have vanished and now, on this island, we have been left in that lingering transition period of faded spring flowers but not-quite-yet-summer-blooms. The first of May marks Beltane in the Gaelic calendar, the pastoral beginning of summer and this gives way to a flurry of summer celtic-revival and Pagan inspired festivals celebrating the coming of the warmer months. In the Gaelic calendar, there are four major festivals; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane & Lughnasadh, one for each season with both Beltane (beginning of summer) & Samhain (beginning of winter) being the most prominent. The celebration of such festivals haven’t so much as endured but rather experienced a revival since the 20th century, particularly in Celtic regions of the Kingdom such as Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Cornwall & Wales.

According to Folklorists and historians, the original records of Beltane are thought to come from Ireland and describe rituals that were believed to protect cattle, crops and people by creating a special ‘Beltane fire’ from which the household fires would be lit and maintained. People were believed to leap through these flames, pass their cattle between the bespelled bonfires for protection and gather for large feasts where the people would decorate themselves and their doors and homes with with the yellow May Flowers to evoke the protective fire. Some of the feast food was offered to the Aos Si (the fairy people or supernatural race) in order to please them. It was believed that it was around both Beltane and Samhain that the Aos Si were most active which falls inline with some of our modern Halloween lore & beliefs in certain sectors that it’s during these phases of the year that the spirit world touches or comes near to ours. 

In the 1980s, Edinburgh began celebrating the festival in the city at its famous Calton Hill. The Beltane fire society formed and each year on April 30th, the city comes alive with fire, myth and drama in a spectacular arts & cultural festival inspired by the folklore of Beltane.

In Cornwall where I grew up, there have always been a constant flow of seasonal festivals inspired by Celtic lore. Although we don’t so much widely observe the popular and well known Gaelic festivals such as Beltane and Samhain in our streets, we have our own equivalents in which involve the entire community and borrow greatly from the Celtic traditions, myths and enchanting landscape that the county holds so dearly and with such pride. These festivals blend the modern with the traditional and are embedded in our culture and seasonal calendar, for even the most culturally unaware and disinterested teenager will be involved in some way or another with the shenanigans of Helston Flora day. Flora day is our own festival marking the beginning of summer and held in the market town of Helston at the gateway to the Lizard.

For this day each year, the houses of the town decorate their doors and garden walls with beautiful wreaths of flowers so that the streets are spilling with colour and blooms - a spring and more natural equivalent of the modern christmas tradition of hanging electric light displays on the front of your house. Lilly of the Valley is the traditional flower of this festival and young boys and girls will be adorned in white, dancing together in the streets to the songs played by the marching band, flowers in their hair.

Perhaps one of Cornwall’s biggest celtic-revival events however is based further west in the seaside town of Penzance. Golowan (The Cornish word for Mid-Summer) is a week long cultural & arts festival that has brought back to life so many of the ancient customs such as lighting and gathering around bonfires, parading an Obby-Oss (Penglaz) fireworks, lighting torches and carrying giant sculptures & lanterns crafted by the local children through the streets along with a marching band and decorated dancers. The original Golowan, celebrated before its abolition in the late 19th century was very much similar to Beltane in that fires were believed to ward off evil spirits and misfortune and the people would leap between the flames or dance the embers in order to secure their safety from such darkness. These days, although Golowan promotes and celebrates much of the Celtic traditions and stories, it’s expanded throughout the town with a funfair that spills onto the quayside by the iconic art deco lido, live music and open air theatre is performed throughout the town and market stalls selling a wide variety of colourful wares & local food produce line the cobbled sloping streets.

The festival attracts over ten thousand visitors each year and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction. It’s littler known more austere mid-winter equivalent, Montol, takes place of the 21st December which has a much more Celtic and local vibe, held in the dark of night around a bonfire that overlooks the twinkling lights of the sleepy sea town. My home county, undoubtedly like many other of the Celtic regions on this island holds firmly onto its cultural festivals that are seeing an increasing popularity and finding their place in modern day culture. As we as a society yearn to reconnect with our roots and nature, we find ourselves fascinated with these ancient festivals and traditions that give us a glimpse into another realm - one of whimsy and half-magic- ones that find their origins in a time where the people were ruled entirely by the natural world and its cycles.

Golowan festival takes place between 23rd - 28th June in Penzance, Cornwall. Other similar festivals in the county include Helston Flora day (8th May) Padstow Obby-Oss day (May 1st) and the St Ives September festival.

SummerSarah Porteus
August
Poppy-Creative-Countryside

August is... the late night whirr of a combine harvester, eating every meal outdoors, sticky fingers from making jams and jellies and slow afternoons in the sunshine.

Did you know? The Anglo-Saxons called the month of August Weod monath, meaning weed month, as it is the time of year when weeds are most rampant. Spend ten minutes every evening to keep on top of them!

Dates for your diary: 31st August is Bank Holiday Monday, so make the most of the extra day and organise a seasonal celebration with loved ones. 

August in words:

We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

William Blake

Things to do at home and in the garden:

  • It's time to start preserving soft fruit to enjoy past the summer months. If you grow your own it's usually a frantic rush to pick everything before it goes over, but if not you can pick up some good deals at pick-your-own farms or local shops. Try jams, jellies, fruit cheeses, cordials and fruit vinegars to really make the most of the fruit.
  • While you're at it, why not preserve some summer vegetables too? Courgettes and green beans are delicious as a side to cold meats and salad once they've been pickled in vinegar, or if you've got a little more time try chutneys or relishes.
  • Keep on top of those weeds (see above)!

Be creative:

Lavender is also ripe for the harvesting during August, so if you've got any growing in your garden, pick as many stems as you can and tie together in bundles with string. Hand in a warm place inside your home and leave to dry. Then pull off the dried flowers and place in small muslin bags. These are perfect for putting under your pillow if you struggle to sleep at night, or make sweet-smelling additions to sock drawers.

SummerEleanor Cheetham
Eat Seasonably in July

July feels like a bit of an in between month in our garden. The tomatoes aren't quite ready and neither are the courgettes, but the strawberries are nearly over and the elderflowers are browning in the sunshine. Luckily, though, if you know what to search for, there are still many delights to enjoy on your plate this month.

Lots of people are unsure about gooseberries and find them too tart, but they are a wonderful fruit that we really should utilise much more in the kitchen. Try baking them in a tart or turn them into jam (particularly good with leftover strawberries) and enjoy with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Beetroot is starting to come into its own by the time July rolls around. Don't be put off by any you've had from the supermarket swimming in vinegar - the real stuff is so much tastier! Grate into curries and chilli dishes, blend to form a soup or roast with other summer veg for a quick and easy midweek meal. If you've got time it's also rather wonderful in a chocolate cake, and makes for a much healthier treat.

French beans and mangetout are two other summer staples for the month ahead. French beans in particular are so easy to grow and take up so little space, and they just keep on coming over the summer.  Add to stir-fries, pasta dishes or use them to spruce up a salad. If they're picked early you can enjoy them raw, but if not don't overcook them or they'll be limp and bland.

Lamb is also at its best, so get the barbecue out and grill some lamb and mint burgers. Throw on a few vegetable kebabs and serve with nettle jelly (nicer than it sounds!). Finish the meal with homemade rose petal ice cream and you're in for a treat.

July
July-Flower-Creative-Countryside

July is... opening every window in the house and still feeling hot, relishing the smell of freshly-mown grass, an ice lolly a day, flashes of brightly coloured butterflies, and a houses full of flies.

Did you know? The days from the 3rd to the 11th of July are known as 'dog days', originating from the Roman belief that Sirius (the Dog Star) gave greater heat to the sun at this time of year as it was so bright in the night sky. It's actually to do with the tilt of the Earth which gives us these hotter days of summer.

Dates for your diary: 15th July is St Swithin's Day and according to legend if it rains on this day, it will continue to do so for 40 more days. The proverb 'He who eats oysters on St James' Day will not want for money' refers to the 25th of July, so get yourself to the seaside and indulge in fresh shells.

July in words:

Blue July, bright July,
Month of storms and gorgeous blue;
Violet lightnings o'er thy sky,
Heavy falls of drenching dew.

George Meredith, from 'July'

Things to do at home and in the garden:

  • If it's hot, not a lot! This month enjoy the outdoor space you have and try to eat alfresco whenever possible. Throw a linen tablecloth over a table, light a few candles and enjoy salads and barbeques in the summer air.
  • Keep on top of dead-heading flowers to make sure they continue to bloom.
  • Make your own ice lollies to save money and to make sure you always have something cooling when you return home. My favourites contain just one ingredient: fresh orange juice. 

Be creative:

Flower pressing isn't just for young girls - it's a simple way to preserve beautiful blooms.

Eat Seasonably in June

June is the month when the abundance of summer begins. If you grow-your-own, you'll be spending the next few weeks podding peas and trying to resist eating them like sweets from their tiny green cases. Why not try making your own mushy peas to devour alongside a traditional fish supper? Simply blend butter, salt, mint (ideally fresh but sauce will do) and the peas for the freshest mushy peas you've ever tasted.

Broad beans should also be featuring on your plate, but if you can't find them in your veg patch you'll have to search for a local supplier as they're not readily available. You can blitz like the peas and enjoy as a dip to go alongside a Mexican feast, or add to summer soups for a nutty, earthy flavour like no other.

Sticking with veg, June is officially the start of salad season: lettuces are at their best (no wilted leaves or bolting) and you can enjoy alongside new potatoes, flans and lining the sides of your sandwiches. Throw in a few radishes, some slices of cucumber and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and you're on to a winner.

You might not find British strawberries early in the month, but by the second half they should be readily available. Don't be tempted by shipped in punnets - they're usually bland and have been stacked high for days before you've bought them from the supermarket shelves - and besides, the anticipation of enjoying homegrown varieties makes the reward so much sweeter. Make sure you make the most of their season and enjoy whenever you can: scatter on your cereal, as a snack to take to work, turned into jams (and stored to brighten up the winter months) or switch things up and add to a salad. 

If you're looking for a simple supper dish, try mackerel kedgeree - the fish is freshly available this month and its punchy flavour will bring a depth to any salad dish. Boil an egg, add onions and peas and wild rice and you'll have a light midweek meal perfect to enjoy after a tiring day at work.

A Summer List
  1. Reconnect with nature on a micro-adventure in the wild.
  2. Go and see a play or adaptation outdoors.
  3. Make mornings easier: simplify your wardrobe.
  4. Explore and find your new favourite walk.
  5. Make jams and jellies and preserve the summer surplus.
  6. Develop a relaxation routine you love.
  7. Leave a part of your garden to grow wild to encourage wildlife.
  8. Make your own ice lollies with fresh juice to cool you down on hot days.
  9. If you don’t grow-your-own, visit a PYO farm for fresh berries or vegetables.
  10. Celebrate Midsummer with a bonfire and family.
June

June is... gorging on the soft flesh of ripe strawberries, al-fresco cooking, the crackle of midsummer bonfires, thundery showers, and the humming of bees.

Did you know? At one time the days from the 23rd to the 29th of June were all considered as 'midsummer festival', whereas now we tend to see Midsummer's Day as the 24th of June. According to John Stow, in London in the 1590s, doors would have been festooned with greenery: from white lilies to long fennel and green birch. Bonfires were the traditional way to celebrate the season, intended to bring peace and encourage neighbours to converse, and also to purify the air. As June is often the month we migrate outside (in the UK at least), it seems fitting to make time to celebrate the height of summer and nature's bounteous offerings. This year I'm hoping to revive the custom of a week's worth of revelry, with a midsummer bonfire, and green door decorations: will you join me?

Dates for your diary: The summer solstice - or the longest day - marks the turn of the year once again, and falls on Sunday 21st June. A precursor to midsummer, this final week of June means the daylight remains until past 10pm, so make the most of the light before it begins to slip away again.

June in words:

The bonny month of June is crowned With the sweet scarlet rose; The groves and meadows all around With lovely pleasure flows.

(Cornish Midsummer Bonfire Song)

Things to do at home and in the garden:

  • Leave part of your garden to grow wild. As a nation of lawn trimmers, we get used to neatly mown grass and not a lot else, but just leaving a small part, or the edges of your garden, to grow wild, will enable you to help a menagerie of tiny wildlife. Wild flowers are integral to our landscape (see here for more on this) and are an essential source of nectar for honey bees (something which we are passionate about with our newly acquired hive!), but so often we hack them down and only admire from afar. This year, make them a priority in your outdoor space.
  • Take part in 30 Days Wild. A new scheme for 2015, the plan is for everyone to make room for nature this June - no matter where you are or how busy your life! With tons of ideas for Random Acts of Wildness - record the birds singing for your ringtone, make a hedgerow brew and wild exercise to name just three - it's a fantastic way to introduce nature into your everyday routine without it becoming too onerous. Click here to sign up and receive the free welcome pack.
  • It's not too late to start growing some veg. For an easy salad, plant lettuce and radish seeds straight into the ground or in a pot. If you're looking for something more substantial, chard is easy to grow, looks wonderful on your plate (rainbow-coloured stalks!) and lasts right through the summer and well into autumn. Get planting.

Be creative: If you're thinking of celebrating midsummer, then you definitely need to try your hand at Midsummer Cushions - all explained in this month's letter for subscribers.

British Wild Flowers

British wild flowers have long been the heart and soul of our countryside. From the humble cow parsley to the rare chickweed-wintergreen, the appearance and spread of these delights can herald the change in seasons long before cultivated varieties. But why is it so important to conserve and protect our nation's wild flowers?

  • You will help to prevent rare plants from becoming extinct.
  • Insects - and bees in particular - will enjoy the nectar and pollen the flowers offer.
  • In turn, birds will feed on these insects and also the seed heads once autumn arrives.
"None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones." 

(Forbes Watson)

So we've established that wild flowers are essential to the flora and fauna of the countryside, now the question remains - which flowers should you grow? Here's a round up of my favourites:

CORNFLOWER (Centaurea cyanus)

Originally a common cornfield plant, there are now only 100 ancient cornfield sites known and numbers are dramatically declining. 

DOG ROSE (Rosa canina)

Though its flowering season is short, this hedgerow shrub's simple pink flowers are worth every moment they are in bloom. It is virtually scentless, but the red-orange hips that follow the flowers more than make up for that.

HAREBELL (Campanula rotundifolia)

Similar in appearance to the bluebell, the harebell is a flower of dry, open, windy places from the hills to the sea. Its delicate translucent petals bob slowly in the breeze and the clumps are pretty additions to hillsides and verges. My favourite overall.

HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera periclymenum)

The heady scent of honeysuckle is evocative of muggy summer evenings and golden hours. Nothing smells quite like it.

SNOWDROP (Galanthus nivalis)

Brought to the country by gardeners in the 16th century, this much loved flower is a welcome sight as the depths of winter draw to a close. It is a sign that life is emerging and signifies the cusp of seasonal change.

Dog-Rose-Creative-Countryside

One of the easiest ways to encourage wild flowers is to leave part of your garden free of cultivation; simply leave a corner or an area of your lawn, avoid mowing the grass and throw a few wild flower seeds into the mix as the weather begins to warm in the spring months. It may take a little time to notice a difference, but believe me it will be worth it once life begins to emerge from your soil.

What's your favourite wildflower?

All photographs courtesy of Bob Gibbons.

Late Summer

Late summer is one of my favourite times of year. The crisp hint of autumnal air is appearing on the horizon alongside the long lingering sunsets that seem to stretch endlessly across the sky. In the countryside, harvesting is high on the agenda and we are lulled to sleep by the soft whirring of the drier in the farmyard next door before receiving an early morning wake-up call from the tractors at daybreak. The owls are out too; their melodic calls float across from the tree-lined track and permeate the sounds of industry to signify that twilight is upon us.

Best of all, berries start to blush on the hedges and bushes, their tantalising fruits waiting to be turned into jellies and jams - when we have a free moment of course; this time of year is often so busy, as we prepare for the months ahead both in the garden and at work. My eyes are forever hunting out ripe blackberries to make my favourite pie, and when I catch a glimpse it is as though nature's treasure trove has been revealed just for me and frantic picking takes place until there's just enough left for the birds to peck and nibble on.

Long evening walks clear my head after a tough day - and there have been a few of those this week - but the cathartic sense of being outdoors and following the footsteps of nature as the seasons drift and change is what keeps me going. The fresh breeze on the back of my neck, the crunch as I walk through the strands of leftover wheat stems, the feeling of stealing those last few moments of warmth as the sun slowly sets; these are what I'm noticing right now. I always wait impatiently for the start of the mellow, fruitful season of autumn, but when I stop and think about it, late summer is so beautiful that perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

Eat Seasonably in August

Lettuce can often start to bolt during a hot August, but it’s still wonderful to add to pretty much any meal. If you’ve got a surplus, or the selection in your fridge is past its best, blitz it and add potatoes, cucumber and fresh herbs for a cooling summer soup. If tomatoes are more your glut of choice, try something similar and cook up a gazpacho.

Raspberries are best enjoyed freshly picked from the plant, but you can also preserve them in a number of different ways. Try adding to the juice of lemons to create a cordial or lemonade, or whip up a raspberry vinegar to add to salads in the winter. Or just keep things simple, and freeze ready to make smoothies and desserts later in the year.

The season is short, but if you can get your hands on fresh sweetcorn, it’s a delight and makes such a simple supper dish when served with lashings of butter and slices of crusty bread. To make more of a dinner party dish, add a side of peeled courgettes fried up with lemon juice.