I was listening to a gardening programme on the radio at the weekend while driving back to Edinburgh along the East Lothian coast. It was the usual Sunday Q&A, this time broadcast from Northern Ireland where one woman, from the Ards Peninsula, asked why her foxgloves were eight feet tall this year. Most of the expert panel – being from the drier, sunnier south of England – had never seen such a thing and told her to stake them and admire them; they said that foxgloves of that height were the stuff of fairy tales. Ultimately though, they agreed her fairy tale flowers were the result of an abundance of rain. That’ll be right – I thought, as I drove on, taking in the profusion of green and abundance of blue salvia growing wild in the ditches. Scotland too has had ‘growing’ weather – the type we like to complain about. This time last year the earth was parched and yellow, the foxgloves stunted. This year it is different – the land is burgeoning, lush, fertile, rich, thick with weeds and so incredibly green. I try to learn the names of wild plants as I walk of an evening: hairy bittercress: four stamens with dainty white flowers; scraggly chickweed growing on the edge of a stonewall; long stemmed wild daisies like a snowdrift in June broken with the blue banks of borage; miniature clusters of dandelions – something called groundsel.
Erin’s green valleys would not be so famed were it not for the constant rain rolling in from the west; rain that then moves on across to the dark distant mountains of the Mull of Kintyre, pushing on further to fall upon Scotland’s famous wild mountain thyme growing around the blooming heather. We’re quick to bemoan the rain and yet in song we celebrate what it brings to the land. It must be twenty years ago that I was at a wedding in a church in Glenariff, County Antrim. At the very end of the ceremony, just before the bride and groom were to walk down the aisle, there was a power cut. It affected the organ meaning that the newlyweds – B. and S. – could not leave the church to whatever wedding march had been planned. Maybe it was to be something grand and majestic like the Trumpet Voluntary or the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – I don’t know, and no doubt, had everything gone to plan, I wouldn’t remember. But, because it didn’t go to plan, I remember it clearly, for it was better. The organist asked the congregation to sing, The Green Glens of Antrim and every person in that church launched into it at the top of their voices, as B. skipped down the isle, singing along, the happiest woman in the glen.
I know that in some parts of the country the rain has been excessive, causing flooding havoc, but, within the bounds of reason, I rather love summer rain. I love what it does to the land and I love what it does for me. A few weeks ago I got caught in a downpour on an evening walk around Arthur’s Seat. I had been feeling out of sorts, flat and listless, and I could feel the blues washing away as the rain drenched me. It was almost a cliché in how cathartic it felt.
‘A Thunderstorm In Town’, by Thomas Hardy
‘She wore a ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.
Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.’