An English Summer Murder

It is English Summer Day Five and down here in South East England there hasn’t been a break in the weather. Today is hot and blue skied and even yesterday’s breeze has dropped. If you don’t live in the English climate system you will wonder why I am going on about it but we cling on to these Summer’s days hoping that they will last but knowing that they will soon be interrupted by rain and, if it stays as hot as this, thunder storms.

So I am basking in seasonal joy knowing that, next week, the second in the
Wimbledon Tennis Tournament is traditionally wet.

I don’t need to go to Wimbledon for strawberries though – already I am on my third crop here in my tiny back garden. If the most succulent strawberries imaginable are not enough for you – and mine are slightly more succulent than that – then what about those raspberries? They have ripened right outside my window forcing anyone even slightly tempted to stay out of the sun to throw open that door and celebrate the great English Summer.

I know it may sound greedy but sorry readers, you are not having any of them – strawberries or raspberries.

At every opportunity I head out there. All meals are now definitely al fresco and preferably Italian to keep up the pretence that all this is going to last. I might even pluck up courage and take the lap top out there next then I will never need to come in again. Well not until the first Autumn leaf flutters down onto the keyboard.

It always feels like summer when the sweet peas start to flower and that is just what happened last weekend. Do they have little calendars hidden in there somewhere telling them to burst out on 21st June? Probably.

I know that you can plant very big and very brightly coloured sweet peas these days but I always go for the old fashioned ones – smaller, all those varieties of pinks, whites and burgundies and blues and with the number one rule for this garden, highly scented, much more sensual than their glossy descendants.

Talking of strong heady perfumes, I must raise the delicate subject of Gertrude Jekyll – the ultimate in old rose perfume.

She is beautiful, no question and I have grown her before in previous gardens where she has been a spectacular success but here, this particular plant, has made some serious errors.

First of all she decided to have a problem, against my advice, with her leaves which have mostly shrivelled and fallen off. In a small garden this is pretty disappointing as your eye is always drawn to failure. Various remedies made no difference until I was presented with the less than perfect image of an almost leafless branch with a beautiful but definitely last rose of summer holding on up there telling me what might have been.

Well, I killed her. Let’s not hide it any longer – my guilt is palpable and I need to get it off my chest. Usually I try to nurse plants back and mostly it is a success but Gertrude, I am sorry to say, needed to be perfect or she would just have to go.

I felt a bit like King Henry the Eighth who was famously dissatisfied with his wives. Gertude was my Catherine of Aragon, no, not her, he put her out to pasture, the second one, Anne Boleyn, who seduced him, charmed him, cheated on him and then had her head cut off.

Gertrude ended up in small manageable pieces in a bin liner leaving me feeling like one of those grizzly serial killers who chop up bodies and leave them for unlucky dog walkers to find.

Just like Henry the Eighth too, I didn’t go in for much mourning for her either. The very next day, a delivery man with a large package arrived at my front door.

Gertrude Jekyll the Second is here and awaiting her place on the throne.

This is year two in this courtyard garden where failure is unforgivable. I always thought it would be the time to look my mistakes in the eye and to make quick and brutal decisions. Wow! I really am turning into a Tudor monarch.

First Gertrude and now Lavender.

Sorry Lavender but you too will just have to go. I planted it around the climbing roses to break up the straight lines of the York paving stones and to fill the garden with their own perfume every time my shins brushed past them. Perfect when doing my 66 taichi moves, I thought.

Well it is a mess and more importantly, it is stopping me in my new profession as rose gardener. I need to feed those roses and they they are obviously not going to thrive with Lavender creeping round their ankles.

So Gertrude, the new love of my life, is waiting excitedly in her pot, for Lavender to end up in that bin bag with Gertrude the First. I just need my recovering fractured spine to allow me to get down there and do the evil deed. I will try to find a miniature variety of Lavender that I have grown before, Hidcote, and I will plant it well away from those rosy prima donnas.

Murders in the English Summer are a national obsession – from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories onwards, sunshine, rose gardens, picturesque villages and a nasty murder or two have become reading favourites for even the most gentle of people.

Sitting out in the sunshine the other day, I wasn’t reading but writing. This time a poem with a Summery theme. Here it is but, maybe my guilt is showing through.


The flies got there first.
Exploring – greedy for it.
Soon a swarm
Busy in the oppressive heat.

All around breezeless silence,
Then that buzzing.
Insects, undiscriminating in their hunger.
Nature recycling – no siesta.

The sun paralyzes all other life.
Omnipotent, silent, unrelenting.
Juices dry, skin crinkles,
The shape of bones revealed.

Then a shadow,
Sudden movement,
Pincer beak with crow-eye aim.

Flies dispersed,
Plate cleared,
The chicken leg devoured.

Sun bathing, I shudder,
Hot flesh frozen.
Reminded and forewarned.

As I finish this Aran turned up. He is one of the men who laid all those York stones last year and today he has come with his big machine to cut back the overhanging branches from nextdoor, hack away at Nature trying to invade from the Mound and,yes, OK, I admit it, another murder. This time it is the Honeysuckle. Well that wall will look so much better with a Passionflower – that’s how it seems on a sultry day like today for sure.

And look, you can see the old wall again. Yay!

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