Into Autumn

Or more like, the last of Summer. In the sunny still days between the more frequent grey, wet ones we generate productive time in the garden. Our apples – James Grieve, Katy, Discovery – do best out front. Here they are warmed by the sun on that south facing side, sheltered by the road wall and grow as espaliers over heat retentive sandstone. We can rely on a good crop each year with most going to juicing and consumption in the here and now. A good job when you consider how active the resident blackbirds are in pecking and picking their way through the ripening fruit from handy perches, as the picture shows. What they don’t consume wasps, mice, voles and slugs etc will.

I’m convinced we’ve had such a good year for butterflies (and insect life generally) not just because of favourable weather but because the forest of nettles and thistles in the field round our dumping ground/bonfire has proved the ideal nursery for so many of them, especially peacocks and tortoiseshells. It’s always lovely at this time of year to see so many feasting, as here on the profuse masses of Michaelmas daisies in the bank border.

One of this summer’s pet projects has been to create a different kind of pond to the current one, and put it in another part of the garden. To that end I’ve turned a galvanized metal cattle watering trough into a container pond in the kitchen garden and set it in the lea of the stone wall that marks our western boundary, between the new greenhouse and a raised bed. There was a fern already in situ at the wallfoot so have neighboured it with a few more unusual varieties in pots. Re-positioned, and confined to pots, hostas and apple mint which had outgrown their respective berths in the rockery; adding them to the variegated green cohort around the tank. Reluctant to introduce tiny floating millweed to this new watery haven I thoroughly washed the plants taken from the original pond (hornwort, brooklime, scirpus, creeping jenny etc) and added some new ones (iris, lily, water-forget-me-not etc). Need to keep an eye so it does not overflow after heavy rain and also that access is possible for newts toads and frogs as some of the aqua plants are on stands near the surface with overhanging foliage….May need to introduce a small ramp or similar to be sure.

Apparently you can only get plastic baler twine these days. So when a friend who had attended the farm sale of another friend who was retiring saw this old style natural product amongst the host of articles she picked it up for Kim, who loves and appreciates such telling things. It will no doubt appear, in whole or part, in one or more of her future compositions. I can’t help but ponder that biodegradable material like this should be making a comeback in an age which now values all things sustainable and recyclable.

Border Shepherds

Last weekend I went down with a cold so missed accompanying Kim to one of our favourite local agricultural shows. Our river rises on the watershed between Northumberland and the Scottish Border. The upper valley at Falstone has proudly hosted its annual shepherds show since 1885. I asked Kim to write a few lines about her experience of the event…

Every year in late August sees the Falstone Border Shepherds Show. Up the North Tyne Valley, along a single track, and into a small sheltered field outside the pretty village not far from Kielder Water, I am reminded of farming days with some nostalgia. Wearing my judge’s badge and wandering past the penned sheep, the steady weathered shepherds leaning over stock, the border collies drifting through to sheepdog trials, the smell of wet grass drying in a surprising day of heat, I head towards the industrial tent to help in the looking over of children’s submissions to the art classes.

Thank goodness the partner is an ex teacher and knows much about childrens’ handwriting stages, while I find it difficult to decide between free and funny watercolours, collaged vegetable faces, and interpretations of northern dark skies on flower pots (though we all agree on the special prize going to a starry sparkly one of these).

I meet many old friends, catch up with news, and happily spend too long marveling at prize vegetables, gardens on a plate, and the beautifully carved shepherds’ sticks. This is a simple uncommercial show, meant for gathering at the end of summer, and I love it. Back home I quietly hang my little badge up at home and smile.