In the dog days of summer as muslin curls on its own heat
And crickets cry in the black walnut tree
The wind lifts up my life
And sets it some distance from where it was.
~ Meena Alexander
We are deep in the throes of a sultry summer.
The dog days seemed to come early this year. The colours of the fields and verges are bisque and wheaten, with the smarting danger-scent of wayward bonfires and lavender. With the rising of Sirius the dog-star following the constellation Orion into the night sky, it is a time of heat and fever, dust and lethargy, and superstition. During one of the hottest weeks of the year I buy a sturdy pair of leather gardening boots and a navy blue woollen Guernsey pullover and find myself longing for the briskness and crisp mornings of autumn, for branches of fruit arranged over the fireplace, planting bulbs and corms, embers crinkling in the log burner and a Sunday roast in the oven. One of the resolutions I swore to keep to this year was to live in the present moment - because I’m horribly prone to rushing ahead, always onto the next thing, the next season, and because I know that come November the siren-call of long, balmy days and sun-dappled evenings and sandaled feet will have the same pull, and on the cycle will go. But perhaps this is just a symptom of the human condition; forbidden fruit will always be the sweetest, or so it seems to us mere mortals.
Yesterday afternoon as Jess and I walked along Mercer Street in Soho, the rain finally came. And with the thunder the surrounding streets erupted with jubilant shouts and shrieks; the drinkers at the pub on the corner broke into an impromptu dance, waving their arms in the air. It reminded me of a Luke Kennard poem. ‘I’m scuppered: the way the silhouettes play on her dress; The metre of her footsteps in the hall; The nervous flowers drawn on the backs of her hands….. That night I hear she vanished in a yellow cab To the wild applause of the rain’.
Rain does sound like applause, and the wind like the sea, especially after weeks of drought. How welcome that tiny storm was! We tucked under an awning and celebrated with ginger beers and could almost palpably feel the raindrops sluicing away the smell of hot stone, sweet, spoiled fruit and inertia that has permeated the city this summer.
With the end of July in sight we are able to slow down a little and catch our breath. Since April we have been working very long hours every day of the week – spring and summer were a constantly whirling blur of activity. A travelling floral circus, armed with toolkits and secateurs, and buckets of flowers we’ve decorated weddings in London, Somerset, Surrey and Gloucestershire and shared flowers, food, and numerous pots of coffee with guests from all over the world who’ve crossed our threshold to arrange flowers at the studio. I sometimes – often, actually – have to pinch myself that what we’ve built, and are still building, is even real, as though it might be a dusty mirage, an optical illusion that if I blink, just for a second, will vanish into thin air. Other days, of course, it feels hard-won, especially wearily climbing out of bed at 4.30 in the morning. I have never been a morning person and sometimes I think that no matter how practiced I get at these early rises, that time will always seem to me like it’s the middle of the night; perhaps I’ll always feel indignant about it!
We take a few days off and after weeks of pasta and takeaways at odd hours I automatically switch straight into cooking-from-scratch mode. I can’t be idle, even though that’s exactly what I ought to be, what these days are for – but I have to have some plan to the day, an achievement to tick off. I make fresh mackerel fishcakes, fritters of courgette, feta and dill, a salad of cantaloupe melon, parma ham and buffalo mozzarella with an unctuous dressing of oil and lemon (life-alteringly good, thank you Nigel Slater), a sugary fool of fresh gooseberries and cream, my husband’s favourite.
A self-confessed disliker of fruit (although I realise this is just something I have said for a long time, an affectation, when really I mean that I don’t like apples and mostly prefer fruit in cooked puddings rather than raw), I buy peaches from the greengrocer and carry them home in their crisp, waxy brown paper bag as carefully as if they were eggs, intending to store them up to make a cobbler, but they are so delicious that instead I eke them out and eat one every night in bed, the occasional droplet of juice running through my fingers and onto the sheets. It feels like the most decadent of treats.
This morning I look over the hundreds, thousands probably, of images we’ve taken over the last few weeks; we’ll be sharing a few edits here over the course of the next month or so. The frail, gossamer poppies with petals like crinkled crepe paper, the roses and whitecurrants, the martagon lilies - a moment in time. The flowers are what mark each day or week as distinct from the next, and every so often, after so many scrolls and swipes, the palette changes and there is another shift. What’s in the garden, what’s almost blooming, what’s going over? What's next? And there I go again...
The narrative of this summer for us could be told in the descriptions of woodsmoke drifting in among the ancient scent of warm roses. Yellowed grasses and bleached seedpods. White bunny tails and scorched pink dock, panicum fireworks glittering in the sun with a heat-haze behind them. Yes, I suppose the drought had a certain savage beauty to it.
I think of the highlights of this long - and still ongoing - heat-wave. The smokebush, of course. Every week from mid June through July we luxuriated in buckets and buckets of smokebush that came up from Oxfordshire, lime and pale rose plumes darkening to fluff the colour of wine. Early morning drives to the garden with the mist lifting off the fields. Cutting tobacco flowers to the soporific humming of insects. An iced coffee under the shadowy awning of La Fromagerie on a hot afternoon. Evening river swimming with Mavis. An obsession with Chopin. The jasmine in my garden at home, which has never looked healthier, long stems of green leaves twirling around the gate latch, dotted with clusters of sweetly scented white flowers.