Sunday, 24 June 2007

God in the Garden in June – Midsummer Madness

A midsummer day lasts 17 hours here, and the night only 7. I love the long bright mid summer evenings: the sun will set after 10 pm, and it will still be twilight at 11. I give thanks to God that we live so far west in our time zone!

On the summer solstice it poured and it blew, so different to the bright sun and balmy warmth of the winter solstice last December. This June has been unusually wet and grey, which has rather delayed my getting to grips with the garden after my recent absence on the hustings. I’m still clearing the autumn bed for the dahlias and tender salvias. I’m close to giving up on the vegetable garden, though I still hope to get in a few rows of beans and peas.

In the gaps between the showers, I’ve been out looking for bees, prompted by a fine website set up by researchers at TCD (google ‘Trinity bees’). We have 101 bee species in Ireland, including 1 native honeybee and 19 bumblebees. Very many of them are in serious decline. I found two common bumblebees in the garden, the white tailed and the common carder, and I was also delighted to find the red tailed, which is supposed to be becoming scarce. After days of searching at last I saw a single honeybee. It is very disturbing that this species once so common is now hard to find. The Varroa mite is said to have wiped out many wild colonies, and I suppose no one locally keeps bees any more.

Where the bees suck, there suck I’, sings Ariel in Shakespeare’s Tempest. Earlier the bumblebees busily worked Susanna’s tall foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea in purple, pink and white forms), now nearly over. Then they moved to the smaller perennial D. obscura from Spain, with its yellow foxglove-flowers marked inside with red veins. The tiny lemon yellow blossoms of D. lutea from Italy seemed to defeat them – it was rather pathetic to watch a big bee trying to squeeze itself into a flower half its girth! Now they are starting on Penstemon ‘Garnet’, a foxglove relative from America, in which they fit snugly.

Great excitement: Susanna’s Cornus capitata trees, grown from seed given her in South Africa ten years ago, are flowering for the first time. Just a few flowers, but I hope a promise of more in future years. The tiny green flowers, surrounded by creamy yellow bracts two inches long, will be followed by red fruit clusters looking like large strawberries. Now 10 foot high, the trees should grow to around 40 foot, if not killed by frost - they are reputed to be a little tender. Please God we and they will be spared long enough to see them put on a big show!

As I go down to cut some artichokes for supper, I spot green and silver caterpillars eating the last leaves and developing seed pods on the Dames Violet (Hesperis matronalis). Unsure what they are, when I look them up I find they are larvae of the Orange Tip butterfly. I stop to look around when I hear some soft but urgent bird-calls. I catch sight of the bright carmine breast of a cock bullfinch, a flash of wing betrays the hen, and then I realise the calls are from several fledglings, just out of the nest. This is the most dangerous time of their young lives, and I hope they make it, but I also hope they will leave a few caterpillars to grow into butterflies to enchant us next spring!

Tonight is St John’s Eve, tomorrow is the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, six months before the birth of Jesus at Christmas, as Luke tells us. Country people used to celebrate it by lighting bonfires, making merry and indulging in all sorts of midsummer high jinks. But this ancient custom has its roots in pre-Christian times. Midsummer Night was when the Celts celebrated Áine, a Goddess of love and growth associated with light and the sun. Later she was Christianised as Naomh Áine and rituals in her honour took place until the nineteenth century on Knockainy (Cnoc Áine – the Hill of Áine) in County Limerick. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream also celebrates midsummer madness. And in the 21st century, we celebrate it still – Susanna and I will go to the Midsummer Ball tonight, where we too will make merry and indulge in midsummer high jinks, dancing till dawn with our friends.


Glo.Ball.Beats said...

I like the thought that my revalry in Glastonbury was being echosed by the animals and plants in your garden as well as you two in the yacht club. Everyone partying! A god I can identify with!

Glo.Ball.Beats said...

oh - for some artichokes. How I miss them. I bet yours don't have earwigs in them either, if Susannah has anything to do with it!