August is not the shortest month of the year – but it has felt that way. When I add the days lost to the storms to those I skipped while on holiday in Cornwall, my garden has been a little neglected.
It limped through to the end of the month looking slightly battered. In the raised beds peas and beans came adrift from their netting and lay like tangled knitting. Salad leaves were flattened – crushed, limp and speckled with earth. The gladioli swords, heavy with buds, lay askew like a tipsy guard of honour. Nothing much was broken, only battered, and with a helping hand most recovered.
Against this backdrop the harvest continued its steady course, treading water here and there, and progressing in the lull between the storms. Blackcurrants and gooseberries were added to the pantry and now steep in bottles alongside the bejewelled jam jars. A weekly “jiggle” aiding the infusions of amethyst vodka and ruby gin so that they are ready for Christmas. Onions were lifted and dried in the potting shed before nestling into trays of shredded paper in the garage. Here they lie fragrantly alongside the boxes filled with potatoes freshly tipped from their growing bags. The joy of rummaging through the warm soil for each tuber, even the little ‘Hail Marys’, will be recalled each time they are served. They are delightful in a warm salad with some smoked trout and a walnut oil dressing or crushed with fresh herbs and butter alongside seared salmon.
All through the garden growth has slowed as plants take note of the shortening days and turn their attention to producing fruit and seeds. Now it seems as though everything is ready at once. There is a glut of produce to preserve for the winter months; tomatoes become a rich velvety passata and join courgettes in a variety of soups in my burgeoning freezer. See BBC Good Food for their lovely “Summer soup” and “Tomato and Courgette Soup” recipes. I also use them chopped to make a herby vegetable ragu and chilli sin carne, both of which freeze well and squeeze into my freezer to use for lazy suppers as summer fades.
Autumn is around the corner. The swifts, whose Latin name apus apus means “no feet”, make their final swoops over the lawn to gather the last of the summer bugs to sustain their long migration to Africa. They will not stop until they get there, even sleeping on the wing. In the early evening sky I see the geese practising their V formations as they search for final feeding grounds and against the spectacle of their pending migration, I tackle my flock of deadheading to prolong the season and the illusion that summer is not almost over.
Immersed in the throng of fading roses, happy in the haze of their sweet perfume, I watch the sun sink into the blushing sky. The last rays reach out to the old oak trees and leave them dipped in gold, transforming the treetops into a portent of autumn, which waits patiently in the wings.