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:
Almost all the spring bulbs are finished, but the camassia are lovely:
The columbines are flowering, and also the little heartsease that I planted from seed last spring:
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.
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:
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:
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.