Posted by: christinelaennec | June 9, 2015

Happy St. Columba’s Day

Following along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, she wrote essays on the 8th and 9th of June.  She began with the comment:  “A June day at last!  They have to be counted in ones, or at the most, twos.”  (p. 77)  She was experiencing a very cold spring and early summer, and it has been the same with us this year.  Not only has it been cold (most days in the 40s / under 10C) but very stormy and windy:

After the storms...

A morning after a stormy night…

On her warm June day, Stewart mentioned the inconvenience of the Highland midge:  “[Lotion] is not totally effective.  Gardening friends have invested in masks which, though expensive, do seem to keep the creatures at bay.  I have tried my bee-veil, but the mesh is not fine enough [to keep midges out].” (p. 77)

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

There are midges in Glasgow, and I have already been bitten by one.  But our Lowland Midge isn’t nearly as much of a menace as its Highland cousin.

The spring has been cold, but the blossom has been just magnificent.  I don’t know if there is a causal link.  I walked past this hawthorn on one of the rare occasions that I had no way of taking its photo.  The blossoms were very pink, with many pink dots on the ends of the tiny pistils (if that is the right term).  When I went back a few days later, much of the pink had faded:

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Oh well, something to look out for next year!

Yesterday we had a lovely sunny afternoon.  I had the distinct feeling that in the course of a few hours, flowers were blossoming:

A lupin colouring up.

A lupin colouring up.

Today, June 9th, is St. Columba’s feast-day.  (I wrote a bit about St. Columba / Colmcille here.) Stewart devoted much of her essay that day to him:  “He passed this way some 1,400 years ago and has left his mark in the remains of his settlement down by the big loch [Loch Ness – not sure what the settlement is she refers to, though].  The sanctified ground extended well beyond the initial boundaries.  At one time the whole area was considered a sanctuary, though it is not marked out, as it was in Applecross.  A sanctuary meant safety in a place beyond the reach of the law or the sword.  It is said that in this place some MacDonalds sought refuge after the [1692] massacre in Glencoe.  It is certain that the name MacDonald is still the oldest here…” (p. 78)

Quaking grass.

Quaking grass.

She continues:  “Columba’s island, Iona, is a magic place even today. … I understand his love of the place, for an island gives one a sense of wholeness, of circumscription.  One is held by the surrounding sea, but not limited by it.  It bathes one round in reassurance, yet it beckons, too.  It carries pictures, visions, of boundless, unnamed possibilities, not outwith one’s grasp…

It is sometimes difficult to remain whole on the mainland.  I try to visit an island every summer.  I come home wearing what my friends call my ‘island smile’.” (p.78)  I know just what she means:  ever since we came to Scotland nearly 23 years ago, islands have been our choice of retreat.  (See my posts about Scalpay, and our trip to Lindisfarne.)

Violas, astrantia, columbine.  Early June, Glsgo, 2015.

Violas, astrantia, columbine. 8 June 2015, Glasgow.

The end of her June 9th essay is taken up with one of her favourite topics, the medicinal uses of common plants.

More violas.

More violas – they have survived over the winter from last summer! – and nigella seedlings.

She writes about the bog-plant meadowsweet, “that supreme provider of cures”.  Its city cousin is feathery astilbe.  She notes: “It deserves its name ‘queen of the meadows,’ for its properties are many.  Its fragrance made it a ‘strewing herb’ in older times… It has anti-inflammatory properties, so is helpful to sufferers of rheumatism.  Its tannin content can cure cases of diarrhoea.  It has an antiseptic action and also contains vitamin C.  It really is a miniature ‘pharmacopeia’.” (p. 79)

I should say here that I am not advocating that you rush out and start medicating yourself with meadowsweet, or any other plant.  However, I don’t think we should discount the wisdom that our ancestors gained.  Stewart continues, “Often, as I walk around the garden, going from job to job, I pick a handful of feverfew, leaf and flower, to chew on, though I’m lucky enough not to suffer from bad headaches.  Thinking about it now, perhaps this habit is the reason why!” (p. 80)

Apricot foxglove.

Apricot foxglove.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to eat foxglove, which can be poisonous because it contains digitalis.  Like so many plants, it can also heal (heart maladies, in particular) if administered properly.

Most of the days of June so far have left us all shaking our heads and wondering at the weather:  “It’s just like March!” I hear people say.  We have had the fire going for guests, and the heating on to dry their soaking wet coats and shoes as they’ve come dripping and windblown through the door.

But, on those few fine June evenings, we’ve been reminded that it is indeed summer, and indeed not all that far from the longest day:

Nearly 10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

These Scottish summer skies are such a treat to experience.  I leave you to imagine, perched on one of those antennas, a blackbird singing its melodious song.

Katharine Stewart says that St. Columba’s day is the “best day for making a start to anything” (p. 77)  The Dafter began sixth year (very part-time) yesterday, so that’s good to know.  Whatever you are making a start on, I wish you well with it!



  1. Whilst we have seen the sun, there is no warmth in it. It really is a like a day in March, cold winds and temperatures to go with it. I am so pleased the dafter was able to start 6th form, praying that all goes well for her.

  2. Friday afternoon we got back from camping on the east side of Mt. Hood. I saw a variety of wildflowers and we have some foxglove blooming here at home, but your lupine is brilliant! As the days speed toward the official start of summer our temperatures have been heating up to near 90 degrees for the last few days! Unusually hot in my nearly 10 years of experience living in Oregon 🙂 Yay for another fresh start for Dafter! Praying for happy, creative days for you and yours, Christine. xx

  3. Really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and lovely pics. Wishing the Dafter all the very best for 6th year! (6th year?? how time flies!!) xx

  4. I think June is my favourite month. The plants all look fresh and colourful and not yet tired as in July. Your Lupin looks magnificent. I cannot grow a lupin in our garden as they get decimated by snails! I have a lot of snails 😦 I love our late light nights and always dread the longest day as it means the days will begin to get shorter again. A lovely post. x

  5. Lovely pictures great post! Good luck to your daughter on the sixth year.

  6. I hadn’t realized your weather has been so dreadful! We too had a colder spring, with little rain, which was unusual but the tree blossoms were magnificent! I think they stayed on the trees longer than usual. Of course our “cooler” in no way compares to yours. : ) I am so excited that I’ve had two yellow foxgloves pop up in my garden. Such a lovely surprise. I remember planting them a few years ago but I’m not sure they bloomed last year.

    • Heather, I meant to reply to this earlier. Foxgloves are biennial. They produce only leaves the first year, and the flowers the second year. So perhaps that’s why they took a while? They self-sow quite prolifically, and in my case are aided in the autumn by me shaking the stems when the seedcases have dried, in order to scatter the seeds even further. Then the next spring I select small seedlings and transplant them to where I want them to bloom in two years’ time. This way you can have foxgloves every year, but just in different places and sometimes they surprise you with their colours.

  7. I like what she says about islands, very nicely put. The hawthorn blossom has been very good up here this year, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: