What a wonderful summer we are having. I am enjoying reading about everyone’s holidays so much that even though I haven’t been on holiday yet I feel in a holiday mood. This feeling is helped I am sure by the slower pace and the quieter roads (some 2,500 children come into my village every day during term time for their education) not to mention the perfect warm weather we’ve been experiencing.
Funnily enough my days follow a similar pattern to when my children were young and on holiday. I’ve been cycling up the hills and into the shade of the trees ever since they were babies in bike seats. (On my son’s first birthday my husband gave me an off-road bike complete with baby bike seat. My daughter had her first bike ride when she was just four months old, she was already sitting unaided so I guessed it was safe to strap her in!) From this vantage point above we can see the London skyline which has changed immeasurably in the 25 summers I have lived here.
These are our local cows grazing on the Chapel Farm fields now owned by the National Trust. We used to visit Chapel Farm frequently to ride the tractors and see the farm animals. Unsurprisingly one of my son’s first words was tractor and I remember he could make a full repertoire of farm animal noises by the end of his first year. Sometimes this could have alarming consequences, most notably the time we met the bull when he was a baby in a back pack. I didn’t panic, just walked briskly away avoiding eye contact. I don’t think there was a bull in this field but cows do tend to congregate by gates so we’re used to shooing them away to pass through.
Our local woods are simply wonderful at any time of year, but the coolness that comes from the ground when temperatures are hovering around 30 degrees is very welcome.
We’ve been travelling further afield too. This was a trip to Bosham a couple of weekends ago. The spitfire was looping the loop over the harbour as part of a wedding celebration, the wind was brisk and perfect for sailing and a fun fair was in full swing on the shore meadow.
Back home the cyclists came to town. This is the professional race that looped around our hills three times before heading back into London. Clearly the mania for road cycling is not going to abate anytime soon. Nearly thirty-five years ago and in my first job after university I used to cycle on my fabulous Eddy Merckx 10 speed drop handlebar racing bike between Hammersmith (where I lived) and Teddington (where I worked). In those days I used to look forward to the summer when I could cycle along the Thames tow path to work and back. I cannot begin to contemplate what it must be like to be a road cyclist today.
And now for something completely different. My summer Elise shawl.
I can’t deny that it turned out more scarf-like than shawl. I used a hand-dyed yarn from Eden Cottage in colour Rambling Rose bought on a pilgrimage to Loop at the beginning of this year and I decided not to risk a colour variation by ordering a second skein but I’ll wear it as a scarf in the colder months. I enjoyed making it so much that I’ve just bought a skein of Fyberspates lace-weight silk and merino yarn from my local yarn shop and this time hope to make a full-sized shawl. The colour I’ve chosen is eau-de-nil and it goes perfectly with my best summer dress.
On the allotment the basil has been wonderful. Basil grown in the ground in a rich soil with plenty of sunshine is a completely different taste sensation to those pots of floppy leaves one buys in the supermarket. For my pesto I use toasted hazelnuts (from Turkey) rather than pine nuts (from China) and I prefer the difference in taste.
The French beans have succumbed to an aphid-borne virus so after half a dozen pickings I’ve ripped out the crop and re-sown direct with runner beans. Fortunately the Borlotti beans aren’t affected and are romping away as are the courgettes. One of our favourite ways of eating courgettes is to cook them in olive oil with garlic and chilli. Add the zest of a lemon and mix with fresh tagliatelle and plenty of parmesan and dinner is on the table in less than 10 minutes.
The Victoria plums are almost ready. The two or three weeks of eating fresh juicy plums straight from the tree is one of my allotment highlights.
The apples (Fiesta and Lord Lambourne) and pears (Fondante d’automne) are looking more than promising and the autumn raspberries are cropping well despite the dry conditions.
Ever-bearing strawberries are a much more worthwhile crop than the summer varieties. Although this year’s strawberry crop was fantastic it does mean daily picking before the birds and mice get the fruits and then there is all that jam and ice cream making to do on the same day. Whereas the ever-bearers (I have about 24 plants in quite a shady position) are producing a bowlful every two or three days and will continue doing so for a couple of months at least.
I’m looking forward to sweet corn. These South American crops need a good hot summer to prosper.
The squashes, Blue Kuri and Butternut, are not only producing masses of flowers and fruits but they are effectively suppressing all weed growth too.
Leeks, tomatoes (I ate the first ripe tomato fresh from the vine yesterday) and purple sprouting broccoli under the green netting are all thriving. This week I planted out endive and sowed a row of rocket and a row of beetroot, the latter for salad leaves rather than roots. An autumn salad of baby spinach, rocket and baby beetroot leaves with roasted squash and some crumbly English cheese makes a very good lunch.
I’m also keeping up to speed with my cut-flower seed sowing. For next year I have sown sweet-william, blood-red wallflower, sweet rocket and white Nigella. And this week I dug up the remainder of my potatoes and have a big sack of potatoes stored in the garage
I’ll finish with two photos from today: a red rose growing over an arbour in a quintessential English cottage garden and the view from my saddle as we climbed to the top of the South Downs. Whenever we bumped into a fellow cyclist or walker we universally agreed that today was the best day ever.
Happy summer days indeed!