August in the Territory of Rain
It is harvest time now, and the air is hot and heavy. The forecast promises us three days of thunderstorms, but so far the air is still and grey. SEPA have issued a flood alert, but actual floods are relatively rare here, as we are on the higher bank of the river. This is the apothecary border, which is peak flowery just now. As well as this mass of marigolds and lavender, we have the hyssops, the blue peeping out from behind the purple sage
and pink, with just a hint of goldenrod beside it, coming into flower.
It is also peak berry bug time, and as I have very thin Celtic skin, I try to go out in the garden only when wearing full protective clothing, otherwise my life becomes a misery. I had to harvest my herbs and the gooseberries and redcurrants in the gardener’s equivalent of a hazmat suit – tights under my trousers, which were tucked into socks, my t-shirt tucked into my trousers, elasticated cuff on my jacket, and muffled up to the chin with a scarf. It was sweltering! But thyme and oregano, lavender, marigold and yarrow are safely gathered and dried, and redcurrant and gooseberry jelly are in the cupboard for winter.
All the birds have fledged by now, and the new generations have taken over the garden. Usually we have sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds and starlings, but this year starlings have been fewer, and the space has been taken over by goldfinches which have been increasing in numbers over the last few years, bluetits, and for the first time, a group of long-tailed tits. Feeding the birds had to be stopped this year, as the riverbanks flooded in the winter, and rats moved into the village in large numbers, but this meant that pigeons were fewer, and it may have created safer spaces for the small birds. The swifts are gone, but the first clutches of swallows and housemartins are very busy over the fields and gardens.
Outside the village, the first barley fields are being harvested, and the wild raspberries are almost over. These are a yellow variety, which I’d never tried before, but which are delicious.
In the greenhouse, cuttings of herbs are putting down their first roots, peppers are fruiting, and I have picked the first tomato. It is an unusual variety, Paul Robeson, with very large fruit, with a Gothic tinge to it.
I’ll leave you with this poem about a garden tomato, first published in Gutter two years ago now.
From the Garden
A tomato should be warm,
the skin loose as on a granny’s hands,
fine as satin, but electric bright
with hoarded sun, a blaze.
The scent of that twiggy stalk
will cling to your hands all day
Your knife must be sharp.
When the edge is only a little blunt
the silky skin puckers and the cut
is ragged, the flesh bruised,
and all the sweet fluid lost.
You pierce the skin, and slice.
Red circles fall under your hands.
Seeds cling to the core, suspended
in a jelly carapace, a swim of juice.
Salt grains, fragments of crushed
black pepper, sweet balsamic sting
of dressing – summer on a plate.