The first official day of summer

You might have thought that it’s been summer for weeks, but yesterday was the first day of meteorological summer. I thought that as we continued our walking habit, which has been so welcome these last ten weeks, I would document the wildflowers which are in huge numbers along our coastal path. But I begin with a snap of Polperro as I’ve never seen it before. Barely a person in sight, the pasty, fudge and ice cream shops all shut, the opposite of a usual summer day.

Probably the most common flower we saw was valerian. It grows so well here, and is often found in or on walls as well as flowering freely by the side of the road.


Along the road from the fort is an enormous expanse of irises, which I’ve not seen on the coast path itself. Not, unfortunately, the irises of early spring in Greece, white and enormously strong, nor the stunning yellow flag irises (I might cheat here and post a picture of those at Mount Edgcumbe), but the stinking iris, also known as the roast beef plant.

the rather pallid stinking iris
Versus the cheerful and non stinky flag iris – no contest!

Here come two that I could not initially identify. First, hebe, in massive quantities as the coast path climbs out of Polperro, providing yet more purple flowers of early summer. I haven’t repeated my foxglove picture, but there are lots of those everywhere we go in Cornwall. Like valerian, they have a medicinal use, but can be fatal. Not a plant to experiment with!


And this is the other (clary) that I couldn’t identify. I actually took the picture more for the stonework, for a post I hope to write some time on the many varieties of stone walling to be seen in Cornwall. But it’s seen quite frequently in amongst these dry stone walls.

Of course you will find elderflower everywhere, the smell of summer and the flavour of summer drinks. Do try making elderflower cordial, which is summer in a glass. You will need 1kg sugar, 1.5 l water, the peel and flesh of four lemons, 50g citric acid and 40 or more elderflower heads, in full blossom. Bring the water and sugar to the boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the peel of four unwaxed lemons (use a potato peeler), the lemons cut into slices, the citric acid and the lightly washed flower heads. Leave for 24 hours with the lid on the pan. Strain through a clean tea towel and a colander. Then bottle in sterilised bottles. It really is that easy! I’ve just made a second batch. Add to gin for an English martini, to fizzy water for a refreshing non alcoholic drink, to prosecco for a bit less acidity.

I would like to recommend elderflower champagne as well, but the experience of several bottles bursting many years ago has put me off making it at all. It makes an alcoholic drink of deceptive strength, and a terrible mess of your understairs cupboard when it explodes!

I end with one of my favourite plants. Its smell is that of high summer, its delicacy of flower in contrast to its powerful growing habit. And the lanes all around us are full of it.

2 thoughts on “The first official day of summer

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