The writer's year: July, Santa Montefiore

Posted on 1st July 2014 by Guest contributor
Santa Montefiore looks forward to celebrating summer in the English countryside this July.


English Country Garden (©


Mother has thrown up her hands in despair. It is a losing battle against bindweed and elder. Nature is asserting herself against hedge cutters and secateurs. The shrubs have grown too big and the climbing roses are in need of some dramatic deadheading. The Alchemilla mollis is out of control.

She cannot cope. But to me the garden looks lush and vibrant and the more unkempt it is, the better I like it. In August the leaves harden and turn a deeper green, but in July they are still fresh and full of energy. Swallows gurgle and warble on the telephone wires as they rest a moment before flying off in perfect, daring formations. They return every year to the same shed and we wait for them with eager anticipation, because they bring the promise of spring, sunshine and long summer days. Now they are teaching their young, who will in turn fly back to the same tool shed whose door is always open for them.

Mother complains that my father always mows the lawn where we are sitting. They live in a big, old Jacobean farmhouse with lots of garden; my father could mow in some other part, further away, but she says (or shouts over the noise of his tractor) that for some reason he has to do it here. He sits in his blue boiler suit, tweed cap, his grey hair curling about his ears and neck like feathers, blithely cutting the grass into stripes, while Mother and I shout at each other across the table on the terrace. The dogs lie in the shade of a pear tree and snooze like sated lions. Pigeons, grown fat on the grain my father puts out for the pheasants, coo from the rooftop as they have done for hundreds of years. They are part of home. I cannot imagine the place without them. My childhood memories are sweet with the sound of their haunting tune outside my window at dawn, like flautists who can only play a few bars over and over again.

Now my children have discovered the corners of the farm where we used to find amusement. The old summer house, which used to be my Little House on the Prairie, is now a school for my daughter’s toy dogs. The tree house where we used to play The Famous Five, is now a platform for a zip wire and a monkey swing. The pond where we floated a raft Dad made out of empty farm containers is now their Swallows & Amazons.

I take a walk around the garden at sunset with my parents and the dogs. The light is soft, hazy, sugar-scented. I can smell the wheat in the fields and recently cut hay on the drive. All is quiet but for the last twittering of roosting birds in the lime trees. The tractor is in the shed, exhausted. The lawns are damp with dew, the shadows long, inky green, cool. The countryside is blissfully overgrown and shaggy; just the way I like it.

Santa Montefiore, for

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