Hay Up

Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn / A sunlit pasture field with cattle and horse feeding / And haze and vista, and the far horizon fading away. Walt Whitman: A Farm Picture

The summer heat wave has finally arrived, like a long awaited and keenly anticipated guest. Here in the far north of England we’re allowed to revel in its luxurious presence. House and garden are surrounded by fields and the lanes are busy with verge to verge fast moving machinery as farmers and contractors make proverbial hay while the sun shines.

Our neighbouring big meadow was finally cut and turned mid week and on Saturday morning the same contractors returned for part two. First the rowing up with tractor and tedder (machinery that can both spread and ‘row up’ cut hay), soon joined by the tractor with baler and finally a tractor hauled long flat bed trailer makes an appearance with another tractor whose hydraulic forks lift and load the round bales that the baler has just dropped. The whole exercise is fabulously efficient and as skilfully and gracefully executed as a piece of dance theatre.

I make little videos of each stage of process to WhatsApp for viewing by the youngest grandchildren, Max (7) and Lois (5) at home in London who love all things mechanical in action; from cranes to trains to agricultural kit. I did the same last year so this is probably old hat to them now, but I hope they like to be reminded of these classic countryside scenes none the less.

Eldest grandson Joe (18) has, to our delight, opted for a career in farming. We fixed him up for initial work experience with two of our neighbours last year and he’s gained a place at Newcastle University to study agriculture, starting this Autumn. Earlier this Summer he did a two day tractor driving course near his home in the Scottish Borders so in a few years time, who knows, maybe it will be Joe driving one of those tractors in a field near us at hay time!

The garden meadow has produced a flush of oxeye daisies where none flowered before. It was a bordering metre wide strip I’d scarified in previous years so chances of seed taking were greatly increased. Still surprised me though as it took a couple of years for them to finally flower there. Meanwhile the yellow rattle, now spreading freely of its own accord without me needing to reseed by hand, is colonising large patches of grass and consequently reducing the height and density of the sward so that next year, with any luck, other more delicate meadow plants should be able to join the floral cast on display. The pretty yellow flowers have now mostly died away to brown seed pods, whose characteristic rattle give the plant its common name.

The common orchids bought at a local nursery’s closing down sale last summer, re-planted as plugs in the meadow borders have, to my great delight, taken and spread. Having a clump of birds foot trefoil making a debut in the most intensively prepared top triangle of meadow made me very happy too. I hope it too colonises next year. And that, in essence, is the joy of any meadow a gardener creates. You never know what will happen year on year as the character changes with the appearance of different plants, whether deliberately planted or opportunistic arrivals.

I’ve a soft spot for that recurring symbol of pre Christian paganism, the green man. While walking the main thoroughfare out of Polperro when we were back in Cornwall  last month I discovered the workshop of a local woodcarver and bought one of his green man imaginings fashioned from a curving flank of ashwood, to station in our garden back home. Lots of places it could go but for now it has residence in the lush flower and shrub beds of the bank border. I hope it will be happy there, keeping an eye on the landscape.

I love gathering heads of elderflower from our garden trees for Kim to make cordial. Particularly like the blossoms of our single black elder which yield a beautiful deep pink cordial. Some we’ll have over the coming weeks while the rest (decanted in plastic bottles) goes to the freezer to re-conjure the scent of summer in winter.

We’ve caterpillar tent moths camping out on the apple fans for the first time this year. Going round removing them whole by hand eased the problem and reduced chances of the caterpillars devastating leaves and buds. All the apple varieties doing well and the fruit beginning to swell. The James Grieve, the oldest established and most productive of the fan varieties on our south facing wall, doing particularly well.

Two swallow pairs nested this year and one couple are currently sitting on a second brood we suspect, having built a second nest. I guess they have the time to do so, but why bother I wonder? Unless, of course, they’re not the same parents. I say this because the pair that set up shop in our open fronted garden shed (the old railway goods wagon chassis) seem not to have bred there successfully. After initial nest building flights in and out seemed to cease I found a dessicated newly hatched dead nestling on the ground beneath their nest there. There was also a lot of intense chirruping and chasing agro a few weeks back between adults in and around the traditional open porch area where the first pair nested. It could be that the second duo have forced their way in from the old hut to what is clearly the more favoured location. Only a team of ornithologists working with ringed birds could tell if my theory is true!

Swallow flight path…Nests and night roosts are above this viewpoint

Northumberland skies are the gift that keeps on giving. Sunsets crown the darkened uplands in spectacular fashion with an infinite variety of clouds forms, while daytime scenes remind us just how busy the skies are with summer flights, as plane vapour trails dissolve in the azure of a near cloudless sky.

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