Posted by: christinelaennec | May 23, 2015

Late spring or early summer?

I’ve missed the May 19th entry in Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, so I’m going to combine the 19th and the 23rd.

She began her essay of the 19th with: “If April is the cruellest month, May, so far this year, is not much kinder.” (p. 70)  It had been a long cold spring in Abriachan that year.  While we had frost on May Day here in Glasgow, this last week has seen a distinct warming, although it’s been wet.  We’ve had four inches of rain this month so far. But the combination of warm and damp makes the garden grow very quickly.  At the moment there are various shades of green and not a lot of colour:

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, peony.

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, winter jasmin, peony.

Almost all the spring bulbs are finished, but the camassia are lovely:

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

The columbines are flowering, and also the little heartsease that I planted from seed last spring:

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

Katharine Stewart describes going for a walk:  “The houses are fewer now, for they are bigger, the people in them not depending on their surroundings for a living.  But some of the little abandoned gardens can still be seen.  The little old houses would have had a few flowers growing near the door, but the word ‘garden’ would have meant a small plot, walled with stone for protection from the wind and predators, on the edge of the ground cultivated for the main crops of the croft- oats, hay, turnips, potatoes.  In the garden would be grown ingredients for the soup-pot – carrots and kale and some soft fruit for puddings [desserts] and preserves.

Some years ago… I came on one such garden, a long narrow stretch beside the burn.  Rhubarb plants had grown to the size of small trees, there were blackcurrant bushes drastically overgrown, but alive, and gooseberries still bearing yellow fruit.  I took cuttings of these and now have half a dozen good bushes fruiting happily.  Gooseberries and blackcurrants were always part of the summer diet and made valued winter preserves.  Raspberries were gathered wild, for puddings [desserts] also and for jam.  Wild mint and wild garlic were everywhere.  This little garden must have had a really devoted gardener, for in one corner was a lilac and in another a gean [sweet cherry tree]….  my thoughts went out and back, through the years, to the crofter’s wife who cherished this plot.” (p. 70-71)

This past week, I had a very special afternoon at a very grand estate with a grand garden, Ross Priory.

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

The weather was alternating heavy showers and bursts of sun, so we sat inside where it was dry and warm, having our lunch and looking out onto splendid views.  In one direction, massive rhododendrons in bloom, and in the other, a stunning prospect towards Ben Lomond:

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond.  May 2015.

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond. May 2015.

You can’t easily see it in the photograph, but there was still snow on the top of highest peaks.

On the 23rd of May, Katharine Stewart wrote about the “garden’s own secret flowering” – the plants and flowers that come along unbidden to surprise us.  I showed you a lovely surprise primrose that has similarly come along into my garden.  She writes, “Now, over the last few years, there have been some really astonishing surprises.  The sudden appearance of poppies, enormous poppies, in great profusion, and of all shades of mauve and pink, brought neighbours to admire and to beg for seed.  How they came is a mystery.  We accept their presence with great joy.” (p. 72).  A friend of mine had one such mystery poppy appear, and she sent me seeds from it.  The seeds have now germinated, and I’ve been very carefully tending them.  Fingers crossed there will be some beautiful poppies in my garden this summer too!

Katharine Stewart concludes: “Even with vicious east winds and cold mist, May is still the season of forward-looking days.  Everything will right itself in the end, we feel.” (p. 72)  Yes indeed.

A reader asked me if I would post photos of our young rowan tree, as she had wondered what rowans look like.  Rowan is the Scottish name for mountain ash.  Our wee tree has blossomed now:

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Sorry the photos aren’t better quality, but that gives you some idea if you were wondering.

I’ve been pondering the question of when spring ends and summer begins.  I remember years ago being puzzled when a Gaelic-speaker referred to August as the “autumn”.  They explained, “if May-June-July are the summer, then August is the autumn”.  This year, at least, May has not felt like summer.  When frost is still a possibility, I don’t think in terms of summer.  It was forecast to get down to 4C/39F last night.  But we are definitely on the cusp of summer.  It’s still light out at 10 pm, for one thing.  And it’s less than a month now until the summer solstice.

I wish everyone a very good weekend.  It’s a Holiday Weekend on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, Monday is Memorial Day; in Britain it’s a Bank Holiday, which means that some people in Scotland have the day off, but many do not.  The high school pupils have exams on Monday, so they don’t get a break.  But there are lots of sales in the shops, and a general air of festivity.



  1. I am thinking late spring rather than early summer, mainly due to the weather it has been so unpredictable here. Enjoy your long weekend.

  2. Hi Christine, I so enjoyed seeing the lovely photos of your garden. It is a three day weekend here but we have cloudy skies here in southern California. We received some much needed rain and hopefully there is more on the way. Enjoy your weekend. It’s always a joy to read your post. Hugs, Pat

  3. I, too, often ponder the question of the divide between the seasons. I suppose part of the reason for ambiguity is that there isn’t a clear set of criteria for what constitutes a “season”. In any case, whatever you call the season, I call 4 degrees C cold. On my (Sydney, Australia) Sunday run yesterday I was cold all the way through, wearing my running gloves and a British top designed to keep the body warm…and it was 8 degrees. I’m hanging out for summer but I’ve got a long way to go.

  4. Thank you all very much. oldblack, you would be cold in Scotland. The hottest it gets here is 20C, if we’re lucky. But it’s all relative. I remember when we lived in Central Illinois, where the summers are brutally hot and humid (but the winters sub-zero), travelling to visit Michael’s aunt in Ireland. I was amazed at how sensitive she was to what I felt were the most minute changes in humidity and temperature. Now that I’ve lived here for nearly 23 years, I notice that like her, I am attuned to very small changes in the weather.

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