This is a delicious time of year, I think. For a long time in my life, May was the season of exams and stress (either studying or marking). I often felt I wasn’t quite able to take in the beauty around me. I very much hope that next year the Dafter will be well enough to sit her Higher Art exam, so I am keen to make the most of springtime now.
Katharine Stewart’s May 3rd essay describes a trip she took from her home near Loch Ness to the West coast. She wrote: “There’s always a feeling of growth in the west and of kindness, kindness in the air and in the people. Frost and snow don’t linger. The prevailing wind is soft and brings welcome rain.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 66)
I agree with her about the kindness of the people in this part of the world. So many people smile at you, or stop to talk. And the rainy weather has its own soft beauty.
She writes of visiting a Victorian garden on the shores of Loch Broom, which “for 45 years, from about 1940, lay unattended”. So the restoration would have been underway for a decade when she went in about 1994.
“We followed the path and pushed open an enormous door. It was like entering the realm of the secret garden of childhood days. The lilac was in bloom. There were rhododendrons of colours that took the breath away, trees that had overgrown into the most fantastic shapes and small, unexpected patches of plants among the rocks. Paths led in all directions. We followed one to the shore, lured by the scent of salt water and seaweed, then back by mysterious ways to the vegetable plots. Here seaweed was mulching strawberries! I grew the tatties, one year, on a bed of seaweed. They throve magnificently! Then we came on a real surprise – asparagus! The balm of the west was at work.” (66-67)
On May 8th, back home in Abriachan, she set about planting her potatoes. “In they go… with a blessing on their heads. They are Kerr’s pinks. I’ve never found one I like better. Sometimes I wonder who this Kerr was and how he grew his pink potato.” (67) I don’t often eat potatoes because I have found they (and peppers and tomatoes) make my incipient arthritis flare up. But I agree that Kerr’s pinks are very nice. Wikipedia tells me they were created by J. Henry in Aberdeenshire, in 1907. But it sheds no light on why they are called after Kerr. (“This potato-related article is a stub.”)
Michael had some raised beds in our garden in Aberdeen, but having downsized very much, we (I) concentrate on growing flowers. This was something my father could never understand – why would you grow something you couldn’t eat?! Well, the pleasure I get from my flowers is very great. And I am fortunate to be able to leave the vegetable-growing to the experts.
Katharine Stewart wrote, “At this time of the year if you turn your back on one bit of the garden for five minutes or more it goes completely out of hand. You wonder if there will ever be a time when you can walk round appreciating everything without seeing something – an outcrop of weeds, an unpruned bush – that urgently needs doing.” (p. 69) Although my garden is quite small, I have the same sense of things happening even faster than overnight. For instance, the rowan tree that we planted last autumn. One day there were fat buds, and then the next day there were tiny green leaves and blossoms:
I have written before about the magic of the beech hedges. One minute they are covered in dead leaves that have clung on stubbornly through all winter storms, and then in the twinkling of an eye, the dead leaves have gone and new leaves have come out:
Katharine Stewart writes about her patch of grass: “I prefer to call it the ‘green’ … Let it grow and it’s a meadow, a dampish meadow with lots of moss, wild flowers – eyebright, lady’s smock, lady’s mantle, self-heal, speedwell, stitchwort, hawkbit, bird’s foot trefoil, buttercups and daisies. … Over the years it has given so much to the life of the house – picnics, night out in a ‘bivvy’ [bivouac] to catch the early sights and sounds, sunbathing and football games. This year I shall cut a good patch in the middle for the ball games and leave wisde swathes round the edges for flowers.”
I love how perfectly she captures the meaning of a garden: not something you look at from a path, but a place to play, rest, and just be. The Dafter was appalled when we realised our new back lawn had no daisies! What is the point of having a lawn if you can’t make daisy chains? So winter before last I planted a number of the wildflowers Stewart names into the lawn. I see the clover, birds-foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw and two kinds of daisies are doing well. I’m so pleased.
I wish you all a very enjoyable weekend, which hopefully will include some enjoyment of nature. Check back here next week for my last Harris-related post, which will be a giveaway!