Summer solstice, the peak of the year


A little posy of freshly picked sweet peas, as colourful as they are fragrant, sits on my desk as I write this. I am in the sunroom where, with the door and window open, the sounds, sights and smells of the season waft in and mingle around me. As always, they provide much of the inspiration for these posts and the time of the Summer Solstice, tomorrow in the northern hemisphere, is no exception.

The air is filled with the distant sound of agricultural machinery working in the fields, making hay or silage for winter fodder. A thrush sings a few trees away down the lane and a blackbird gives a polished musical performance perched high on the birch while sparrows chatter noisily in the holly. A wren at the top of the woodshed adds his voice to this rich and diverse summertime orchestra, joined by the goldfinches squabbling at the feeders. The white rambling rose just outside the sunroom door is in full bloom and has attracted several bumble bees buzzing busily from one flower to the next.

A clutch of five great tit chicks are almost ready to fledge and I can see the adults coming and going with food in their beaks. I hear them call as they land near the box to prepare the young for their big day when they will leave the cosy nest to fly out into the world. On the telephone line that stretches from the house to the wooden pole at the top of the drive, a male swallow preens himself, occasionally stopping to catch whatever flying bug passes his way. His female is currently sitting on eggs in the nest they have built in the eaves of our workshop. A few oxeye daisies, self-sown in the flower border across the driveway, sprawl over the low willow hurdle and, heavy with the overnight rain, land on the ground, their bright yellow centre bulging upwards, white petals down and a little shrivelled by now. The purple blooms on the wild foxgloves reach the top of their tall spires, only a few bells left for the bees to get their nectar fill before the flowers drop and the seeds ripen. The meadow is looking magnificent with a lot of yellow rattle this year and in the lane, the first sprigs of rosebay willowherb are flowering. We have picked strawberries and I have made our first batch of jam of the season. Peas and broad beans are not far off picking while we enjoy our homegrown lettuce and beetroots daily. The kitchen has bunches of mint hanging from the beams and there is little vase of roses on the table. Last week, I made the last batch of elderflower cordial, bottling that delicate flavour for drinks over the coming months. Summer is such a feast for the senses!

As I type, a young squirrel, full of the cheek and innocence of youth, hurriedly bounces across the lawn in front of me. A tap on the window stops him in his tracks and he momentarily retreats but then decides to take the longer, more inconspicuous route to the strawberry patch at the side of the house. Another one follows a little behind… A few minutes later, they pass in front of me, both with a piece of red fruit held tight in their jaws. I swear I saw them wink at me when they briefly paused in front of the window to take a juicy nibble out of their prize!

Nature is at its fullest right now, in leaf and blossom. Active, productive and full of growth and life. At the Summer Solstice, the solar cycle reaches its zenith with days at their longest and nights at their shortest. A momentary pause that invites us to celebrate the fullness of the season, the peak of the year, before we cross the threshold into the second - and darker - part of the year. Now is the time to capture some of this fullness for ourselves, to celebrate our achievements and to tap into the expansive energy of the life-giving sun. Rituals suitable for this time of year include: an outdoor midsummer feast to absorb the warmth of the day, sleeping under the stars, picking herbs, a solstice fire with oak logs… What will you do to mark the Summer Solstice this year?

I have gathered fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage) together with borage and chive flowers that I chop and mix with salt for a few jars of summer-infused, herby salt. I enjoy the sensory stimulation that the summer season offers and I make sure to smell the roses, the lavender, the sweet peas. I deliberately pass the walnut tree for a sniff of its fragrant leaves; I do the same with rosemary, brushing my hands over the oily leaves to release its scent. I have spent many hours being creative too, particularly capturing the season in my nature journal. As well as enabling me to be present and connect with the spirit of Summer, it also helps me ground when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required in the garden at this full time of year. Keeping on top of the weeding, watering, training, supporting, feeding etc can leave me feeling frazzled, spent. The recent spell of prolonged heat and drought was especially challenging! Making time to slowly and mindfully take in the Summer through my senses helps counter-balance the demands, fast pace and over-stimulation of the season.

May you pause to celebrate the bounty of the Earth and give thanks to the power of the Sun. Happy Summer Solstice, folks!