Celebrating the Solstice

I love the Summer Solstice and I never understand the negativity that can surround it. You know, that ‘Oh well, the days will be shorter now so it’s all downhill from here on’ sort of comment. Why such pessimism when there are so many beautiful months yet to come? I might be a bit of a dinosaur these days but forget the first of June: for me, summer has only just begun!

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Three years ago, when we were living in south Shropshire, we got up ridiculously early and walked to Stapeley Common with hot cheesy muffins and a flask of hot coffee. Our plan was to sit by Mitchell’s Fold stone circle and watch the sun rise on the longest day. Sadly, nature had different ideas; the cloud was down to the ground, so we ate our solstice breakfast listening to the ghostly bleats of sheep we couldn’t see and watched as the fog grew almost imperceptibly lighter. No such crazy plans this year. We’ve seen too much ground-hugging cloud and too many rain-sodden skies in the past few weeks so I feel the need for a few days of sun. It’s so easy to take that essential life-bringer for granted. Time to celebrate!

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Before I start to wax too lyrical about sunlight on petals or water, let’s start with the important stuff: food. Thanks to the tricky spring, most of our vegetable plants are several weeks behind where they were this time last year. It’s frustrating but who can blame them? They desperately needed a good dose of sunshine to help them flourish and it’s been fascinating to see the difference that a few drier, brighter days have made. Suddenly, the autumn-planted broad beans are producing a long awaited glut . . .

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. . . and the courgettes – both the no-nonsense, smooth-skinned ‘Green Bush’ and the fluted, flirty ‘Costata Romanesco’ – have leapt from soggy flowers to ripening fruits in a matter of moments.

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The ‘Crown Prince’ squash have decided to teach the neighbouring ‘Harrier’ butternuts a thing or two and have begun their inexorable march down the garden.

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On the sun-drenched terraces, the French and borlotti beans have finally lifted their miserable heads, the sweet corn has decided to give it a go and the many varieties of squash are smiling, although you’d be hard pushed to find them amongst the sunny splashes of self-set Californian poppies.

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The polytunnel residents have also shaken off their sulky huff and put in a decent effort this week. It’s all still behind, but just look at the difference now.

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There is a carpet of cheerful bright yellow melon flowers and the first demure white blooms have appeared on the peppers.

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The tomatoes – having been told several times that this year is their last chance to do something  – are, well, doing something. A very big something, as it happens. The stems have thickened into tree trunks and quite honestly, it’s all got so suddenly jungly in there that I half expect to be greeted by a howler monkey when I open the door.

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Flowers, too, have responded joyfully to the sunny skies. Roses, honeysuckle, hollyhocks, pelargoniums and lavender have all shifted up several gears.

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The ‘Polish Spirit’ clematis that went in as such a modest little twig last year has unfurled its deep velvety flowers with gusto and is making a lovely statement on the fence in front of the polytunnel.

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Along a different fence, the passionflower is singing out loudly in a profusion of exquisite blooms.

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Nasturtiums have popped up like mushrooms to create explosions of sunshine in the garden and salads alike.

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For me, there is something utterly captivating about sunlit petals and leaves and I have been happy to wander around indulging in the subtle shifts of shade, colour and pattern a little natural backlighting provides. What alluring beauties the starry courgette flowers become . . .

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. . . and it seems I’m not the only one to appreciate those shameless Californian poppies!

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It’s typical of the season that the first sweet pea to flower is a self-set one; there’s a white spider on it grappling with a hover fly – a bit gruesome, but that’s the nature of Nature, isn’t it?

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Away from the garden and what better way to celebrate the season than to get out and about and lift our faces to the sun in some rather beautiful places? We had a picnic at Playa de Pormenande where waves broke against the rocks in rainbows and crabs scuttled in and out of rock pools, their sunlit metallic carapaces glinting like armour.

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In the Parque Natural de Redes, we walked up the narrow gorge of the River Alba. Compared to some of our recent walks, this felt like a stroll in the park: 14 kilometres out and back with the gentlest of 360 metre climbs, much of which was walked on a wide, paved path. Just look at that brilliant blue sky, the sunlit greenery, the pull of those dramatic mountains; how could we resist?

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What a stunningly beautiful walk it was, encompassing so much that is typical of Asturias: flower-studded meadows of contented cows, fascinating rock formations, a clear and sparkling river and more waterfalls in a single walk than I have ever seen. Surely these must be the haunts of xanas, the beautiful mythological Asturian water nymphs, smoothing their long blonde hair with golden combs made from sunlight?

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The trees, as always, were spectacular in their lush, verdant plumage and with fairly easy going underfoot, I could wander a bit with my eyes turned upwards. How incredible to see oak and ash, birch and beech, maple and chestnut all seemingly growing out of the rocks – not little seedlings or strappy saplings chancing their hand but huge, ancient, magnificent trees.

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At the top of the gorge, waited on by fearless rock buntings looking for crumbs, we ate our picnic in a meadow full of dancing butterflies; so many sizes and colours, but it was the little blue ones like shards of summer skies that caught my eye.

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What a lovely walk, what a wonderful day out. Back at our starting point, Roger was delighted to find a map of extreme runs he rather fancies going back and doing. Well, that suits me fine; he can go off and do mad stuff in his running shoes while I pootle up the gorge again on my own. Why not? It is such a pleasure and privilege to be able to walk in that special place, and we have plenty of time . . . after all, summer’s only just begun! 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Celebrating the Solstice

  1. Well, you really seem to have the full summer there! And I see you are a fan of the passion flowers, too – last year we grew a purple one outside a greenhouse; it flowered till October. Now we have again a purple one and second one like yours – we gave one such to my sister-in-law who remarked, “The days go by with me gazing at those flowers…”

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    • Yes, I love them and I’m very happy to be living somewhere where they flourish. I know you have lived in Zambia and seen far more impressive things but they always strike me as so complicated and exotic, somehow. I know exactly how your sister-in-law feels! Happy Midsummer, I hope you are having a lovely Finnish celebration!

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  2. Actually, one of my favourites in Zambia was passionfruit as its flowers with their wavy fronds are unbelievably beautiful – do you grow it?
    According to the forecast we’ll have torrential rain tomorrow – so no bonfires or night boating on the lake. Doesn’t really matter – whatever weather now the high summer is beginning!

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      • Rather well-behaved, passionfruit, so heartily recommended!
        Once again it depends on your sense of humour – woke up early because of the howling wind and rain lashing onto the window, went to the kitchen to make coffee – and realised that the roof was either absent or leaking as the floor was flooded. Fortunately only leaking; so sat down (NOT on the floor!) and thought ruefully what a waste of time and energy it had been to wash the floor yesterday…

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      • Oh dear, NOT funny. At least leaking is preferable to absent, though. Can’t say I miss all the rushing about with buckets we used to do here in heavy rain before the new roof was done. On the bright side (and I am reliably informed that Sagittarians are ever optimistic!), hope your coffee was good! 🙂

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  3. I think little blue butterflies are my favourite. Partly because I only seem to see them when we go on coastal walks, so they are associated with chalk cliffs and meadow flowers. There is such a range of blooms (and veg) in your garden. They are a complete delight. And I agree about the most beautiful sight being petals and leaves backlit by the sun. Ah…I love summer. Am with you about pessimism after the longest day. This is my favourite time of year, and I want to feel it is endless – summer is just beginning!

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    • Thank you for your lovely comment! Other seasons have their own charm but I am a real summer lover (partly I think because I have a birthday at the darkest time of year). I think it’s such a shame to always be looking forward to the next ‘thing’ instead of indulging in the beauty of now – especially when the weather is kind and the garden is gorgeous. Enjoy the sunshine! 🙂

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  4. Being a Leo I donned rubber boots, made the coffee, woke Pekka up, told him the coffee was ready and could he please do something about the kitchen situation, then opened the computer and ordered the Gems and Jewels pattern for myself.

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  5. Yes, the proper harvesting season is just beginning! The autumn equinox is the time to start getting depressed. Midsummer seems a bit of a misnomer. And there’s never good weather to celebrate. We wanted to see the sunset from the top of our little hill but the fierce arctic northwesterly drove us back inside. Last year it was overcast and rainy. Anyway, the first nasturtiums are open, the first borage and calendula. Strawberries. Broad beans. Mangetout. And a whole dry week coming up to harvest onions and dry herbs (and do some more watering but thankfully not as much as in May). Happy summer solstice!

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