July

Whilst driving country lanes yesterday, I saw combines working in the fields for the first time this summer – both cereal crops and rapeseed falling under the rotating barrels of scythes, dust rising as thick as the gathering thunderclouds on the horizon.

The first corn cut signals the start of the season of plenty. It also reminds us that the summer is moving on, time to gather in and prepare for the next part of the year. The bittersweet wonder of Lammas, on some calendars this is the first pagan harvest festival of the year. A moment to reflect and be thankful, save seed and break bread with loved ones. It seems fortuitous therefore that we happened to discover a new farm shop today, stumbling across it when visiting somewhere else: a sign on the roadside and a cheery welcome. The Grange Farm shop in Funtington village is just 14mins drive from home, over towards the border with Hampshire. Locally grown fruit and veg, wonderful ranges of preserves and condiments, and fresh baked breads. I’ll be going back with my shopping basket.

Back home the air was heavy with humidity, threatening to dampen the efforts of the harvesters. 

I’ve been feeling restless, unable to settle to anything. Caught in limbo of swelteringly hot days and anticipating ripening forage. This morning we woke to a welcome change in the weather; it has been raining all night, and continues to drizzle with occasional heavier showers. The birds seem just as relieved as we are. The wren was shouting loudly in the garden, whilst the birdfeeders were busy with blue and great tits, the goldfinch family and a coal tit. The bird table and peanut feeder in the front garden attracted those commoner tits as well, along with a marsh tit. The juvenile great spotted woodpecker dropped in for his daily visit too. Whilst lingering at the window I spotted a movement in the heavily laden apple tree across the green, a juvenile robin, not yet blessed with a red breast. There was one in the back garden yesterday too, so hopefully a successful brood.

July has drifted towards its final weekend in a hazy blur of hot days and showers, to-do lists and slow productivity – the year, and us, seem a little tired out by the season’s excesses. Its time to listen to the signals of nature; time to slow down a little, savour the days as they grow increasingly shorter, and to rest in the heat, rehydrate in the damp mornings, gather-in like the evening dark.

It seems only days ago I returned from my trip to Kent, and yet here we are almost at the end of July, school holidays have started for the families in neighbouring houses, the crops are ripe and coming under the harvesters’ blades, and summer seems to running away from me. Once home from my trip away, I quickly fell back into the daily routine of ‘work – cook – sleep – repeat’, and the swelteringly hot days, particularly the 30c plus heat wave that dominated this past week, have kept me from my regular walks. Despite this, the month hasn’t been bereft of nature, quite the contrary. The small patch of garden beyond my backdoor is a haven for more than just myself.

The showers have refreshed the tiny pond; as if from nowhere a scattering of the miniature lily pad like green leaves of duckweed have appeared on its surface, and in the depths an army of tiny pond snails are munching algae.

The roses in containers along the fence are attempting another blooming, despite my neglecting their need for watering and feeding. One of the roses had some semi-circular cut-outs in its leaf edges, which prompted me to inspect the bee hotels on the sunny bank. Between the two boxes, there are more than half a dozen tubes sealed off, most are capped with a pale clay, the work of red mason bees, but a couple contain green leaves, confirming the breeding presence of leaf cutter bees. A third species of solitary bee graced the garden with a visit this week. On Monday I was home from work with poor health, and having slept most of the day I ventured into the garden mid-afternoon for some fresh air. The sight of a wool carder bee, stripping the ‘fluff’ from the silver-furred leaves of stachys or ‘lambs ears’ plants (which I had chosen to grow in hope of exactly this), was precisely the tonic I needed.

Nature sightings in the garden often come in snatched moments such as this. House martins swooping and chattering overhead, when walking to the car with lunch box and work boots in hand. The scolding of a family of long tailed tits that arrive in the bushes as I gather in the washing from the line. Peacock butterfly basking on a broken paving slab beside the soon to bloom sedum. Blackbird, stealing the scarlet jewels of wild strawberry from the shade border, brazenly pecked from the plant I haven’t even got around to planting in the ground yet! I opened the back door at 5.30pm when I arrived home from work one day last week just in time to see a roe deer, a young buck, melt into the tree shadows through the bramble and bindweed scrub beyond the garden boundary. I suspect he had been browsing on young hogweed shoots or other ‘weeds’ amongst the thornier vegetation. There is a notable ‘deer sized’ track through the brambles up the slope there, but I haven’t seen him since that occasion; a case of right place right time. A pair of goldfinches has been visiting the bird feeders for some time. This past couple of weeks they have been joined by a couple of juveniles, identified by their duller plumage and lack of red facemask. They first appeared with the adults one evening, dropping into the arching bramble stems beside the feeders, twittering, then moving on to next door, as though being taken on a tour of the neighbourhood facilities.

Looking out of the window beside me now the drizzle looks set in for the day. Much needed by the flora and fauna, less welcome for the harvesters. A handful of house martins are hawking low over the treetops, plucking insects forced low by the rain. I might pull on my wellies and a waterproof coat and go for a walk regardless.

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