Yesterday we caught the train into Liverpool. It's one of my favourite cities and, since moving back to the Pennines after a few years in Cheshire, we haven't visited for a long time. The plan was to go to a couple of museums with Joe then for me to have a bit of a mooch around the Tate.
The train journey took us through the Cheshire plains, past endless yellow wheat fields and paddocks full of violet thistles and rust-coloured docks gone to seed. The embankments were a tangle of ripening brambles, sulphurous ragwort and brown hogweed stems.
Once we arrived in Liverpool itself we made our way from Lime Street to the World Museum. Although I rarely get the opportunity to take photographs in an urban setting (and I do love a bit of impressive architecture), I was immediately drawn to a little meadow area by the entrance. Teasels and cornflowers, poppies and knapweed all creating a late summer tapestry of colour and texture. A little urban oasis.
We had a lovely day but by the end of it everyone had tired feet and a sense of overwhelm and we were happy to escape the crowds and noise. So we boarded the train and came home again, back to our own little garden.
Things are about where you'd expect them to be at the end of July. The honesty seed heads are turning papery, the foxgloves are almost ready to have their seeds collected, and the teasels are flowering before they too dry out.
The hydrangea in the picture is one I bought on Friday afternoon. It was in a 'reduced to clear' area at the garden centre (I had a few precious hours alone whilst Joe's grandparents took him out). It was a real bargain and there were six of them altogether, all in my favourite colour combination, so I had to bring one home. Most of my pots in the garden are terracotta but I do have a glazed one that's a pale sea-green and will be a perfect place for it until we move house.
Although I do have a tendency to snip hydrangea heads and dry them indoors...
I also picked up a couple of houseplants. I was a bit sad to see how the garden centre has changed recently; I used to visit as a child when it had been more of a nursery - things were grown from seed in the greenhouses. Now there seems to be as much emphasis on home and gift wares as the plants, shrubs and flowers. There's a new cafe and 'farm shop', all wooden-clad and foodie-friendly, and the plants seem to be imported from Holland. It's become a lot more expensive, too.
Fellow Gardener's World fans will know from Monty Don's sage (no gardening pun intended) advice that buying smaller plants is the most cost-effective way to do it, so I picked up a spider plant, an 'elephant's ear' and another whose name escapes me. All quite small but I'm hoping they'll get bigger with the right care. They've joined my green menagerie of dinky cacti, 'string of hearts', an orchid, two ferns and countless cuttings (currently scented geranium, mock currant and chocolate mint).
The cuttings currently live on a rather crowded windowsill in the kitchen, but the others are dotted around the house in places where they should be happy. Occasionally I find a perfect spot for a particular plant and it thrives there; often I have to resort to trial and error. Apart from miniature cyclamen which I love but which refuse to love me back. Every year I try, every year I fail.
In addition to these growing things (and the wild specimens I've got drying out or in a press), it's the season of beautiful painterly flowers. We still have sunflowers in a jug on the dresser - they last for ages - and there's a vase of asters on the dining table. I've yet to buy some gladioli but they'll be around for a little while yet.
There's something special about these British-grown, seasonal bunches. I'm partial to dahlias too. They hail the garden's last hurrah when everything's vivid and at its best before the gentle transition to autumn begins.
I'm enjoying walking with Joe. The hawthorn berries are reddening and there's thistledown blowing through the fields. It isn't quite August, and I can't detect that autumnal feeling just yet. That little change in the air, that scent that comes with the damp earth and misty mornings. For now it's all about long grass and green leaves, bindweed flowers and the last of the strawberries.
I love autumn best of all and it's coming. By the end of the school holidays that feeling will have arrived. But I'm just crossing my fingers that the rain will subside so we can make the most of these next five weeks.
We're veering between bright sunshine and heavy showers with the odd bit of thunder thrown in for good measure. It makes those times when we can get out for long ambles even more precious, and we head outdoors at every opportunity.
Even when we're stuck indoors with our books and jigsaws, we're surrounded by plants and flowers and seed heads, nature books (this being one of our favourites) and my seasonal prints on the walls. The windows are always open, even if it's just a crack, to let the outside in and to remind us that despite the storms it is indeed high summer.