blackberries in September

Late Summer

path next to arable field in late summer

Late summer is beguiling and wistful. The days are sunny (mostly) and reasonably long but the high summer heat and dust of harvest are over. The landscape has a fabulously wild and unkempt air as parched grasses and weeds grow knee high, seeds scattering in the wind and the stubble fields are roughly tickled, no longer a swathe of regimented wheat plants. Slowly, the first signs of autumn are tentatively creeping in as the berries in the hedgerows belatedly turn colour and the first tiny conkers fall to the ground.

log that looks like a crocodile floating in a pond

And crocodiles broken branches float in the pond.

skeins of naturally dyed wool

Over the summer, I’ve been dyeing with plants and now it’s time to start planning what to knit with all the yarn. A few years ago, I became very frustrated with natural dyeing as everything seemed to be a different shade of beige, which is not my favourite colour. This year, I’ve managed to get a few more colours using nettles, walnut husks, blackthorn twigs, knapweed, rhurbarb leaves, oak galls, avocado stones and alchemilla mollis as well as some solar dyeing with hollyhock flowers (beautiful greens but I’m not sure the colour will last). I have vague thoughts of knitting a fair isle jumper or tank top – heavily influenced by stumbling upon an episode of All Creatures Great and Small in which half the cast seemed to be wearing such items. If I start now, then maybe it will be finished in time for cold winter days. Though possibly not this winter.

blackberries in September

Every year, late summer brings a desire to lay down supplies for autumn and winter. I usually find it ridiculous that I have this hard-wired drive to stock the pantry and freezer when abundant supplies are a click or short distance away. But then last year happened and in lockdown, a well-stocked pantry suddenly seemed rather appealing. So, there will be a few jars of Raspberry Jam and Apple Chutney. Maybe some Blackberry & Apple compote in the freezer and some Hedgerow Gin. Not too much, because (finally) my brain has absorbed the fact that there are only two of us in the house now but enough to make me think I’m well prepared. Just in case. Even though jam and chutney could hardly be termed Essential. I think we can agree that Gin has a place on the Essentials list.


paddock in late summer

dyeing days of summer

When does summer turn to autumn? The Met Office defines each season in a neat three month block, so according to them, autumn started on 1st September and lasts until 30th November while for astronomers the start of autumn is marked by the autumnal equinox, which falls on 23rd September this year.

Of course, summer doesn’t just end one day but gradually peters out. The days get shorter and instead of waltzing around all day in shirt sleeves we need a jumper first thing in the morning and in the evening.

hawthorn berries

On the farm the hedgerows are full of colour as autumn creeps in. The red hawthorn berries and orange rosehips grow alongside sloes that have already turned a dusky blue colour, even if they aren’t quite ripe yet and the blackberries are ripening fast so that there are now more deep purple berries than green ones.

 

Once I’ve helped Beth pick all the fruit and flowers that she needs to use in Slamseys Gin, my thoughts turn to the different ways I can use those that remain. Normally, this means making jars of jam or chutneys and baking cakes like these blackberry fudgy fingers but this summer I’ve also been throwing the flowers and berries in the dye pot. Since my initial foray into natural dyeing, when everything I dyed was beige, I’ve read a couple of books, ignored some of the more outrageous claims on the internet and had another go at dyeing over the summer.

wool natural dye colours

I’ve discovered that using plants to dye wool a beige colour is simple and if that’s the colour I need then it’s far easier to chop up a few bramble branches than dig up tiny roots from hard ground. It’s good to know that there’s a use for the feverfew plants when I cut them down (other than throwing them all on the compost heap) and for the seed heads of the docks that proliferate in the rough ground near the pond. If you’ve ever handled green walnut husks, with resulting brown stained fingers, you won’t be surprised that they dye a deep brown colour. I’ve also learnt that natural dyeing with plants is a little addictive.

As summer turns to autumn, I’m looking forward to trying out some new things to use such as ivy berries and elder berries and when I divide the rhubarb in the garden I suspect some of the roots may find their way into the dye pot. If this current craze lasts, who knows, there may be some new plants in the garden.