The forecast is for the hottest day of the year so far. I’m battening down the hatches. Or the Summer equivalent. Opening hatches wide on the North-facing side of the house. The curtains at the South-facing windows are already half drawn against the climbing sun. I’m a Spring, Autumn and even Winter gardener. Summer is not my favourite temperate season. As the calendar tracks the shifts, Summer has not yet arrived. This is a late Spring sun, laying bluebells down to sleep and stirring gladioli to wake. The woodpecker is here. I haven’t seen her for a while, though I’ve heard her, or her mate, drumming, somewhere in the trees beyond the garden. A magpie is seeing off a jackdaw and a blackbird is showering beneath the sprinkler topping up the pond. The water evaporates quickly and needs daily replenishment. The pond is more of a large puddle really. A glorified bird bath with the first small waterlily leaves just breaking the surface and apical rush contorting itself along changing, geometric growth lines – repositioned, first this way and then that, by communally bathing pigeons, clumsily knocking the unweighted, submerged, small pots with their unwieldy, cumbersome bodies and gawky, heavy-handed wings. White butterflies swing around each other in clockwise circles and a warm breeze flutters the leaves. I’ve never planted gladiolus bulbs before. Neither has it ever previously occurred to me to plant traditional Summer bedding at this time of year. Or pre-order plug plants on-line without the slightest hint of a despatch date. The first garden centres were allowed to reopen a week ago but I still haven’t ventured anywhere further than the local meadow, a minute’s walk from our front door. Yesterday’s official UK death toll was a reported 35,341 lives lost, 545 people more than the day before, but the numbers are skewed. A likely truer number, which includes ‘excess’ registered but unaccounted-for deaths is said to run at a figure of at least 20,000 more. The meadow is mostly once-quarried, old agricultural scrubland. In Winter it is stark, the allotments in the North-East corner being the most prominent, peopled features in the self-contained, world-away landscape. Battered polytunnels, peeling, painted sheds, turned earth and standpipes. Wire fences and padlocks. The self-seeded birches and young oaks are barely perceptible when out of leaf and do not obscure any line of sight from one edge of the meadow to the other. In Spring something unexpected and magical happens. Trees appear from nowhere and broad leaves and tall grasses rise up to layer themselves into maze-like walls, edging long-trodden, criss-crossing paths where once there were only the barest of footings. Moths land, shrews shelter and kestrels hover. Despite the heat of the early afternoon sun I took a slow stroll up the garden path to photograph maybe the first brilliant blue meconopsis bloom this garden has ever known. I planted three young, petal-less Himalayan poppies, in the green, almost a year ago, beneath a white Chinese birch and beside Jacob’s bluey-purple ladder. I bought them from a specialist grower who, carefully managing my expectations, told me they might flower in their second year if I watered them with the tears of angels and had night sprites whirl a Gershwinian jazz-waltz around them an hour before dawn each day. And so the dance began. The first flower appeared, tentatively, two nights ago. Today it is wide open and a second symphonious bud is about to burst. Rhapsodic blues. I’m not at all certain the French marigolds, underplanting the senetti, add anything other than disharmony to that particular pot but if the old gardener’s tales of companion planting are true then les pom poms d’oranges – in the experimental ‘whatever you can lay your hands on in lockdown’ bed – might just keep the aphids away from the dwarf beans. I drove my car out onto the street to make way for two and a half tonnes of soil and stones. I last filled up with fuel in early February and the tank is still more than three quarters full. I miss driving. I miss listening to my old CDs in the car. Listening to Grant Lee Buffalo’s Soft Wolf Tread on a fuzzy loop. There are things I’d like to write about but have trouble focusing my thoughts on. Pictures I’d like to process but get easily distracted from. 363 more virus-related deaths since this time yesterday. 35,704 UK residents. Over 55,000 individuals gone. Perhaps the number will be 56,000 tomorrow. Perhaps it is already more. It is cooler at the front of the house now the sun has moved West. I cannot see the garden from here. But I can watch the TV. A weather man I do not recognise is predicting lower average temperatures tomorrow and gale force winds the day after that. The lowest windows along the front of the house have been kept shut all day as our home sits directly on the street. It sits a little below street level actually so that passing exhaust pipes go by somewhere between waist and chest height, if you happen to be standing. If you’re slouched low into the sofa beneath the window then exhaust fumes are emitted into the air column somewhere just above head height. With no front garden to buffer the fumes – or anyone coughing as they walk by for that matter – these windows are opened only early in the morning or late at night when the traffic is quieter and the air is fresher. The cat is half on the sill, half on the sofa back, watching intermittent wheels and legs go by. The news headlines are anxiety inducing. I mute the sound and turn back to my laptop. I wonder if it’s possible for me to not buy another book until I have read all the books I already own. I doubt it. Mary Oliver’s Upstream sits on the overmantle. On a shelf so old and fragile it wouldn’t take the weight of anything much heavier. I’m still about forty pages from the end. I read slowly. No faster in my head than I can carefully – legibly – say the words out loud. The loose jacket has an unusual waxy finish. It is very tactile. And strong. Tucking it between the pages as a bookmark has not damaged it at all – as sometimes happens with flimsier jackets wrapped around wider spines. This is a book that wants to be read outdoors. In Spring, Autumn or even Winter; but its coat is far too heavy for Summer.

Passing Thoughts...

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