Sunday, October 27, 2019

Four Seasons with Susan Hill and Gladys Taber - Susan's summer

"The sky is gray and white and cloudy"

The old Simon & Garfunkel song is a perfect description for today, along with a temperature in the 40s, and rain pouring down.

It feels quite odd to be writing about perfect summer weather.

In the last entry from Susan Hill's marvelous The Magic Apple Tree  A Country Year, the spring season, I told you that I almost couldn't believe she was writing about a real place. And her summer season is even more like an English paradise. It is all the things that we Americans think we know about the olde country. It isn't that she brags or paints a rosy picture. Not at all. For example, she tells the not-so-good, as well as the good when it comes to gardening and weather in particular.

No, I'm just talking about all those magical things that we Anglophiles love so much. I think just by listing the words you may understand what I mean.


We do not have them. We have woods, period. In England more than a wood there is a forest.
It is a small wood, as all the best ones are, for small, in woodland terms is friendly and safe. It is forests that are terrifying and impersonal, deadening miles of landscape. Small woods [the plural of her wood, not woods like here] like this one, which is triangular in shape, can be walked in and through and out the other side of, can be known, and there is light at the edges, only in the very heart of it is there that oppressive green darkness, in which you glance over your shoulder, sounds are exaggerated and your heartbeats and breathing come a little faster.
 We have over 200 acres of woods, which are just as she describes. Since my earliest reading about a "wood" in England, I have recognized that this in what I could be happy walking in. My woods can be dense, they seem endless, and I fear I would get lost. And, I must admit, I've never gone in alone. I love our open fields. I love the little bits of the woods where the loggers have cut down the thickest areas and left open spaces where I can see out "the other side of". When you go hiking in the mountains, it is all slogging through woods until you reach the magnificent views from the top. That is not my idea of fun, though I did it a fair bit years ago. My hiking heaven is a hill in England or Wales where it is all open and you can see for ages. A hike that is magnificence in every step.

And add to that wood a host of bluebells, well that is pretty much my idea of what heaven must be like!

Herbaceous border

How I love to hear these two words. From the dictionary it sounds like the term originally meant plantings of herbs, but now it means what we call a perennial border. Such a boring word, whereas "herbaceous" conjures up densely planted beauty. I can "see" the words.


Here you might hear "sunroom" but not conservatory. My three windowed study (two south and one west views) is my little homage to the word conservatory. Just now I have six plants in here.


Apparently there are some in the US, but I've never read of them in an American book. I suppose in this case it is the romance of the unknown, but it sounds lovely to me.

Courgettes and Marrow

This book taught me the difference. Courgettes are what we in the US call summer squash and zucchini. And marrows are courgettes run amok. They can be huge. I mean really huge. Susan Hill writes, "Showmen used to put a special glucose drip to their marrows, and on this diet of sugar and water, and rooted in neat manure, a marrow will take over the world."

Women's Institute

They have probably changed with the times, but how I would have loved such a thing had I been born earlier. I love the idea of women getting together and doing all the things women did in those days - all associated with home - like baking and jams. But also, from what I've read, there were lectures that gave women an insight into the wider world. Over here, there is (was?) the Grange for rural women, though I think men were in it, too. But nothing like a village group of women like the Women's Institute. Of course, we don't really have villages. We have towns or cities.


Susan Hill writes of village life.
In summer in Barley, as in all the villages around, there are cricket matches, on the playing field at the top of the steep hill called Norman Way, where spectators and visiting batsmen waiting to go in and batsmen who have just got out spend as much time looking out across the Fen to the hills beyond, or lying on their backs watching the clouds drift by as they do watching the progress of the match. In the wooden pavilion, the identical model of every other village cricket pavillion up and down the country, the ladies toil over making sandwiches and the place smells of that white dubbin [prepared grease used for softening and waterproofing leather] that goes on the boots, of urn tea and freshly-cut cucumber and leather, and on the perimeter of the field, among the tatter of hawthorn and elder bushes, the children play in and out, and during tea the small boys have their own few overs on the pitch itself. 
These are the sights and sounds and smells of every English village with a cricket team in summer, they are unchanged since my childhood, when I went, Sunday after Sunday, with my grandfather to watch matches in half the villages of Yorkshire.

It took me a few television shows and books to learn that this is what is known here as a tent. A marquee is the sign that shows what the movie or play is in the US. I love "marquee". It gives the proper respect to what goes on in there, whether a party or a wedding or some other special occasion.

Brass band

We might have town bands that play in the bandstands on a summer night, but not brass bands. I love the sound of them. They can go from jaunty to deeply sad from song to song. There is a wonderful movie from 1996, which features a brass band - Brassed Off.


I have to admit that caravan sounds much nicer than trailer or RV.

Okay, I'll stop, but all of them were mentioned in just the summer section of this book. A country rich in language.

I was very interested in Susan Hill's journal of how her vegetables did that summer. She was a serious gardener. I wonder if she still has a vegetable garden.

Even in those early years of the 1980s, she speaks of a subject much talked about now.
The loss of hedgerow and coppice and individual trees, in the corn prairies of East Anglia and the Wolds, is a dreadful one.
I can remember sitting in the waiting room at the dentist with the kids when they were really quite small and reading a National Geographic magazine about the coming of fields and the loss of hedgerows. I believe the article was by Bill Bryson. So, this has been going on a long time. There is a most encouraging 2019 article here about hedgerows.

And now I am going to read both Gladys and Susan's chapters on autumn. What wonderful reading this has been, even though I haven't been as timely as I planned to be.


  1. With my regular visits to Yorkshire to see my family and friends there, I can relate to all you wrote. The WI is still pretty much alive. Women in the rural areas appreciate them greatly. Some of them live so far out that this is their best chance for regular socialising, even in times of internet nothing beats the personal contact. At village fĂȘtes and agricultural shows the WI is usually well represented, often not only hosting the tea tent but also organising and judging various competitions. Great fun to walk along the tables where the competition entries are displayed!

    1. This is so wonderful! Thank you! It makes me very, very happy.

  2. Oh this did make me smile, seeing "our" words through fresh eyes! What a lovely post.

  3. Ah, gooseberries! I am sure yoou would love them Nan! On picking, they need top 'n tailing, which means cutting off the bit which was the flower, and then cutting off the bit which was the stalk. Time consuming, but a job to give the kids! Maybe that's why it's deemed an old fashioned fruit now, and you don't see it so much. I live in a small country town, and we can certainly get them round here in the Summer. You can always buy a bush at a garden centre.... perhaps gooseberry lovers need to have one to keep up their personal supply!They are green, usually (although there is at least one "red" which has a red cast to the skin. Some are sweeter than others - a few you can eat off the bush (not advised unless you know it's an eater) but it's a sour fruit which does need added sugar in the cooking. Lovely fruit to have under a crumble topping.
    When children asked where they came from back a while, one answer was "we found you under the gooseberry bush", but you don't here that much these days!! When we were small we always called them "goosegogs" and always ate one too many of the sour little buggers!!

    1. What a treat to read this! Thank you for telling me! You are lucky, you know!

  4. I love reading books like these. I always think I will read them during the same times as the author writes them. I end up gobbling up the books like a chocolate cake. Then sit back and think about the times as written wishing I had paced myself. I think this is why I so look forward to your written account of these books. Thank you for your persistent reading and sharing.
    I hate that feeling of being lost in a woods. I remember being in a forest in the UP of Michigan once. I walked in following the sound of a bird. The bird stopped singing, I turned around and saw only a thick green wall of spruce trees around me. I didn't know which way to walk or turn. Luckily I was with someone that knew where I was and she knew the way out. I stayed by the roadsides from then on out.
    Our house looks like a conservatory now. I brought in several big plants this year. I don't know if I can stand it all winter or not. We will see.
    Have a great week.

    1. Scary, scary about the woods. It must be a primal fear. Lots of fairy tales set in the woods.
      I know that room you are talking about, I think. I've seen a room on your blog with windows and plants. I love it!
      And thank you for saying that you look forward to these posts. That means the world to me. Really.

  5. What a lovely post, Nan...A blog I read that I think you would enjoy is this one = and today has photos of a lovely walk...Your study is so beautiful!
    I used to be a garden writer in a small local way and I remember writing about hedgerows once, based on the wonderful book by Eric Thomas and John Wright from the '80s. My acre and a half has my version of hedgerow around quite a bit of it. I think the birds like it, and lots of other small animals as well. And I have grown gooseberries but at the time could only get pixwell which is not a great variety.

    1. I've just added that blog to my bloglist on the sidebar. Thank you so much!!! And thank you about the study. I do love my plants.
      You were a garden writer! Is there any place I could go online to read your pieces?
      I just bought a used copy of the hedgerow book! I thank you very much for the mention of it!
      Are there pictures of your hedgerow on the blog?
      I'm going to look into gooseberries and see if any grow in my zone 3 climate.

    2. I stopped writing before the internet was really underway. I should go look in my attic for old copies. I am sure gooseberries are tough enough for zone 3. Pixwell is self-polinating but not my favorite variety. My 'hedgerows' are just a 4-5foot hedge where I let grow what will......Good for many things. But not a "real" hedgerow.

    3. Hope you have your old copies. You could make a book of them for your family! That's exciting about the possibility of growing gooseberries! And your hedgerow sounds pretty real to me!

  6. What is it the Brits call hiking? Rambling? I think that's it and, if so, rambling seems like a much better term for what I like to do when out walking, especially places I've never seen before. The thing I miss most about living in England is all the great hiking that I was able to do there almost every weekend. It's a whole different experience to hiking here.

    1. I almost used "ramble" but then figured I had gone on long enough! You lived in England?!! Lucky man! And yes, it is so different there. Have you seen Detectorists? They ramble with a purpose. Lovely, sweet show.

  7. Just reading Sam's comment about hiking versus rambling. For me hiking is more of a long distance thing... The Pennine Way or somesuch, rambling is more casual and shorter. We've rambled a fair bit in the UK, small walks in the countryside, and love it. I know this sounds silly but in America we were afraid to do it. Your countryside is so vast we were overwhelmed and maybe afraid of getting lost or something... I'm really not sure.

    I can't tell you how delighted I am that you're loving The Magic Apple Tree. I knew you would. In my opinion Susan Hill is the best writer of this kind of book... although I have yet to read anything by Gladys Tabor. Have you tried The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift? I'm certain you would love it.

    1. I am going to write a post about rambling after reading Sam's and your comments. It brings up a whole subject that fascinates me. And I agree with you about SH. I actually bought two books - Through the Garden Gate and Through the Kitchen Window - that look wonderful. This is the kind of reading that was over here during that same time, when people were way into gardening and the natural life. Not so many around anymore. We seem to be in a city phase now. I do have The Morville Hours, bought because of a recommendation on the Cornflower blog ages ago. Have I read it? Not yet. Those two words come up way too often in my reading life, and I need to change that! Gladys Taber is wonderful, but not the same.

  8. Very lovely and informative post, Nan. I have often read many of these words and understood them within the context as I was reading, but not really understood the differences. I love the meaning of hedgerow. The definition I found was "a hedge of wild shrubs and trees, typically bordering a road or field" which we have here in Santa Barbara and adjoining areas, but I would not have called them that.

    How I would love to visit various parts of the UK (but only if I can be "transported," not on a plane).

    1. Thank you, Tracy! You could take a ship over like Susan Branch did!


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