A day in the life of the garden

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It’s the start of a new July day. It gives me great pleasure each morning to walk around my tiny garden whilst my coffee is brewing. I love to look for any new flowers which might have opened up to greet the sunrise and I feel a childlike excitement when yesterday’s bud has become today’s bloom. I tread the little stepping stone path through the carpet of cat mint, banana mint, scabia, lavender, verbena, salvia and buddleia in shades of purple, blue and white. It’s almost silent except for distant sounds of traffic. The bees are already busy harvesting nectar for the hive. They are not the only fans of the cat mint.

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It’s very warm already today so I bring my coffee back outside. I love this time of day. I don’t like noise so I operate a secret ‘time share’, relishing the moments when others are not out in nearby gardens. At other times ear phones are a godsend. 🙂

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I have some chores to attend to but return mid-morning, coated in factor 50 sun cream and with a new book to begin. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that although the school holidays have started, it’s still quiet. Maybe families have gone out for the day. A dog barks somewhere. Somebody is mowing a lawn in the next street. I recline my chair and open the first page but am distracted by a butterfly settling on the banana mint. I watch it until it flitters away.

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In the heat I inevitably start to nod off. I can see the heat shimmering in waves as my eyes close. I don’t resist. The heady sweetness of the caryopteris and the intensely vibrant geraniums appearing through the tall stalks of verbena add to the almost hallucinogenic other-worldly feeling.

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The harsh chattering of a magpie in the tree wakes me suddenly. I don’t know how long I’ve slept. Wondering what has sparked the commotion, I check if my cat that climbs has caused the alarm call. Fortunately, the tree is cat free. I admire my yellow Chinese lanterns hanging in the lower branches, storing up sunlight for their after-dark display.

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It’s time to go back indoors for a sandwich and to top up the sun protection. I drink a couple of glasses of water and remind myself to water the garden later.

Back outside, I decide to dead-head some spent flowers to make room for new growth. I have left the red roses to cascade onto the ground, creating habitation for insects.

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Small pots of wildflowers change day by day. Next year I will grow more. I love the surprise of not knowing what will emerge from the soil.

Last year I discovered Nigella or ‘Love in a Mist’. I was enchanted by the intricate structure and ability to grow anywhere, even from between paving stones where seeds must have been dispersed by the wind. I scattered a couple of packets around May time and the results are delightful once again. They have sprung up in sunny and shady spots alike, and need nothing apart from a sprinkle of water – my kind of flowers!

It’s mid-afternoon. I’m not getting on with the new novel. Life’s too short so I abandon it after five chapters. There is more activity now; a paddling pool is being inflated according to the excited shrieks I hear from two little sisters a few houses down from mine. A hedge trimmer whirs into action, brutally cutting through the tranquility. Two of my cats, also lovers of peace and quiet, return from whence they have been and offer a quick greeting before heading indoors to a favourite chair or bed.

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I follow them. I’ve been lucky and have enjoyed more time to myself than I had expected. In an hour or two there will be barbecues, music and the sounds of play all around. They are joyful summer sounds, and I don’t begrudge them for a moment, but I prefer the quiet. I hear an ice cream van play the theme tune to ‘Match of the Day’ as I go indoors.

I’ve been out for the evening but it’s still balmy when I return. It’s also quiet again in the garden, the only human sound the low indecipherable buzz of a TV coming from an open window. I’ve been told some wonderful news and feel like a glass of something is in order. In the darkness, the garden is a magical place. Lights twinkle. I pick out the shapes of moths darting through the air. Sometimes there are bats, but not tonight. There are always cats though 😁.

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Derwent Water, North Lakes

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Derwent Water is one of the most popular of the Lake District National Park’s attractions. On the edge of the small but busy town of Keswick – a Mecca for walkers and visitors to the North Lakes region of Cumbria – Derwent Water pulls in thousands of visitors all year round.I have to confess, it’s not one of my favourite Lakeland destinations precisely because it’s so touristy. Far from being an idyllic country town, Keswick (in my experience) can become very crowded and doesn’t quite seem to have enough facilities. I know that mine is a minority view and that many people love both keswick and Derwent Water. I like it too…. I just like other lakes and Lakeland towns more.

Regular readers will know that I don’t drive, so Keswick is bit of a trek for me: a train to Penrith (that’s the easy bit) followed by an hour long excursion on a bus which runs once every couple of hours. Last time I went on my own I decided I would not return because of the crowds, struggling to find somewhere to eat and (mainly) a lot of time wasted waiting for buses. However, when a friend suggested a drive I was glad to accept. Being driven out for the day is a luxury for me, especially when it’s to a location not easily accessible by public transport.

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Derwent Water is three miles long, one mile wide and 72 feet deep, so not one of the largest bodies of water in the region. It is fed by the River Derwent and above it rise the peaks of Skiddaw and Cat Bells, both popular with walkers. Walking around Keswick, almost every other person looks like they are kitted-up and bound for a hike. Cat Bells in particular is popular as at a mere 451 metres it is considered an easier climb for the non-hardcore walker. Being a cat person, I just like its name which is believed to be a distortion of Cat Bields home of the wild cat. I don’t know if there are still any wild cats living up there – I doubt it – but there have been, sadly, a number of lost dogs over the years. When I last visited a couple of years ago I saw appeal posters all over the area for two different dogs which had gone missing during walks. I can’t understand why people don’t take better care of their dogs in potentially hazardous environments. Thankfully, one of the dogs was found by a rescue team funded through a social media appeal; I remember reading about it shortly after. Brilliant news! Not all outcomes are so good.

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There were dogs aplenty frolicking at the water’s edge on this occasion, or swimming out eagerly to retrieve a skimmed branch or ball, bringing it back like a top prize to smiles and praise, eagerly waiting for it to be thrown again.

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Further down the lake there were quieter spots to be found away from the crowds at the north end near to the town.

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Like the bigger lakes of Windermere and Ullswater, Derwent Water also runs pleasure cruises but on much smaller vessels. It was far too warm to be crammed like sardines inside one of the launch boats, though I would have liked to see more of the islands. I may try to persuade my chauffeur to take me back in winter.

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Instead, we watched from the bank as the voyagers sailed off on calm water. Shaded by overhanging branches, we sat for another hour or so enjoying the gentle melodic ebb and flow of Keswick’s lake and watched the dazzling sunlight dancing on its surface.

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I’m officially on leave for five glorious weeks. Even if the sun doesn’t shine every day it’s still glorious having more time to relax and recharge the old batteries and having weekdays at my disposal to do as I please. Monday was scorching hot; too hot to do anything except laze around in my garden for most of the day – so that’s exactly what I did.

Yesterday was another very hot day and I decided to brave the sticky discomfort of travelling on a hot and potentially crowded train to Southport, the nearest seaside resort to my home, 35 minutes away on the west Lancashire coast. I wasn’t going for a paddle – though the idea was tempting on such a sweltering day – but because I wanted to buy some curtains from a well-known retailer which happens to have a store on the sea-front retail park. I dislike shopping and tend to do it online when I can, but at least this was for something specific (quick in and out) and the beach was a bonus. The train wasn’t too bad as the schools around here don’t break up until tomorrow or Friday – next week will be a different story.

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The sea was in when I arrived. To me, nothing is as soothing as the gentle rhythmic rolling of waves, and I can happily sit for a couple of hours, just listening. I think I was about 40 when I first saw high tide at Southport beach; all through my childhood that sight had evaded me and, like many people, I had come to believe that the water never advanced any further forward than a point about half a mile out. As kids, we always had to walk for 20 minutes just to get our toes wet.

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Southport is a different place now to the exciting resort that I remember from my childhood. But that can be said of everywhere, and change isn’t always a bad thing. British coastal waters are certainly much cleaner now, for sure. I don’t think people worried too much about that back in the day, or possibly were not even aware. I don’t ever remember being told in the 1970s that I shouldn’t go into the Irish sea, though in the 1990s I was certainly saying that as a mum myself. Fortunately, legislation and Health & Safety initiatives have improved seas for recreation, if not yet sufficiently for marine animals, sadly and shamefully.

In the 1970s Suthport was buzzing. It had a big funfair with the usual thrilling rides, candy floss kiosks and all the rest. There’s still a fair now though a much scaled-down version. Though Southport is known as a retirement town, the young families still arrive and appear to enjoy its charms. I was happy to see buckets and spades still seem as popular as ever with the little ones.

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns, both incoming and outgoing. The seaweed-strewn sand was revealing more and more of itself as I sat and reminisced. Reluctantly, I dragged myself up and across the coast road to get some lunch and search for curtains. In the end I found that the ones I’d liked online were a pale imitation in reality; a bit like memories and the present day. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time though

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Crossing the road back to the beach I saw that during the hour-and-a-half or so that I’d been gone, the sea had also gone, leaving pools and rivulets and sand sculptures fashioned by the waves.

Closer to the sea wall, the grasses gently moved in the delicious breeze. I could have been somewhere far away, tantalisingly exotic…. as long as I didn’t look behind and back across that road 🙂

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