Not that long ago in May and June, we began to release our reluctant and extended grip on the memory of winter, all the while continuing to keep a watchful eye for last minute frosts on the garden. By late spring and the subsequent arrival of a few weeks of sun and warm weather, everything seemed to erupt in a bout of growth and fertility: eggs hatched, flowers bloomed, and the leaves on trees finally gave shade.
Now, in the height of summer, and in the heat wave in which we currently find ourselves, all of that activity has slowed and it appears July is a time when there are to be no dramatic changes. The garden is growing steadily without sudden surges. The dawn chorus is quieter and while the birds regularly visit the feeders, they do so with less noise than in the spring when they were busy attracting mates, building nests, and raising families. Even the way Roger walks down the track has a quiet to it. Unlike last year, we are experiencing days of full sunshine, warm breezes and a pace that is reminiscent of the summers of childhood: Long, lazy days, seemingly without end.
The sunshine, heat and soft breezes have life around Crockern hiding in the shade. The chickens like it best under the car or the rose bush. The horse has a shady spot by the wall. Even the sheep seem to be in hiding, with only the occasional bleating noise from some faraway stand of trees. However, what we have in abundance are butterflies, moths, bumblebees, dragonflies and loads of other insects. They buzz, hum, flit and flutter, pollinate, bite, get eaten by birds and know no difference between the inside and outside of our house.
Once we finally managed to keep the sheep out of the yard, we had to address mowing the grass around the house. We elected to adopt a Slow Gardening approach and keep the grass long in some areas. No close-cropped, emerald green lawn for us. Instead, we have longer grasses, ferns and reeds, and with them, wildflowers such as buttercups, clover, speedwell, cow parsley, violets, daisies, stinging nettles, poppies and dandelions, among others. The Foxgloves and Thistles, with their purple heads, stand tall and spiky and accent, along with yellow gorse flowers, the green landscape. One might say we are being lazy, but we would argue that we are embracing the essential premise of a Slow Gardening approach where less intervention helps create an environment of wildflowers and grasses for all those beneficial insects that are helping with pollination around the garden.
Despite our slower pace, we have recently received a 20-tonne delivery of road plannings to repair the potholes, which developed with the torrential rains of winter, along the track to our house. We set aside two hours a day on this project in order to preserve our sanity and our muscles. From one of three large piles, we shovel the rocks into a wheelbarrow, which is then carted down the track to the next pothole in need of filling. We dump the contents into the pothole, rake it smoothly, and then return to the large pile and repeat the process on the next pothole. This is a labour of love and cheapness. My achy muscles have me wondering if we shouldn’t just learn to embrace the potholes? But admittedly, my vanity lights up when people notice the improved track. Either way, when I stop to take a drink of water, the beauty around me momentarily transfixes me and I’m happy to be enjoying the summer, forgetting my suffering shoulders and arms.
We still have an unending list of things to do, and the next big project is the downstairs and all that it entails: central heating; new floors, walls, and ceiling; replacing windows; installing stairs and a new bathroom. Oh my! But in this seasonal low activity of hot summer days, we appear to be settling into a nice slow pace. However, we do have another item on the “To Do” list and that is participating in The Big Butterfly Count in Britain next week. On the national count map from last year, there were no reports representing the middle of Dartmoor. How can this be? We have spotted Meadow Browns, Small and Large Whites, Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admiral, and a few that I can not identify as they flitted past too quickly during my practice observation. I am positive the day we do our count; we will add some numbers to the national tally.
I admire butterflies, with their highly coloured wings, and since they are unable to bite or sting like some of their insect relatives, namely the midge, I think they are marvelous! Sadly, butterflies and moths are sensitive to environmental change and in the past few decades, have suffered dramatic declines in numbers in the UK as their habitats have been destroyed. Sir David Attenborough said, “The Big Butterfly Count should be great fun. Butterflies are extraordinary, heart-lifting creatures – visions of beauty and visions of summer. Butterflies in profusion tell us all is well with nature. When they decline, it’s a warning that other wildlife will soon be heading the same way. So with the big butterfly count we will be doing more than just counting butterflies, we’ll be taking the pulse of nature.”
It couldn’t be easier to participate and does not disrupt our summer pace: Fifteen minutes of watching for butterflies, counting what is spotted and all this from my garden chair! So serve up a beverage and snack, hand me my notebook, and let me take a seat and register numbers while I delight in seeing the butterflies flit about from flower to flower, doing all the hard work in our garden.
Life can be so expansive and yet we still return easily to the elements of childhood. On a recent trip to Montana with a group of childhood friends, the smells from a backyard grill in the air, we sat on a deck reminiscing about our days growing up in Ohio, and I was instantly transported to a time when life slowed, laughter erupted, and we watched butterflies and clouds with carefree abandon. After a day of work outside, I admit to a weakness for the ordinary pleasures of the end of a day: a shower, a gin and tonic and a book. In the evening, while sitting in the hot tub, we are grateful for the diving patterns of all our resident Swallows as they feed on the midges that are in pursuit of our pliable, edible skin. As the evening draws in and the last of the Swallows head to their nests, the remaining million or so midges set about their full attack on us. We retreat, hiding deep in the water until the bats begin to sail past and pick up the Swallow’s abandoned feast. As the stars finally emerge in the night’s sky, we know to experience a long summer’s day is well worth a few itchy bites.