Scents of summer

Round & About

Helen Grimbleby

Artist Helen Grimbleby shares her love of nature in her monthly Nature Sketchbook

“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full grow and luxuriance of its richness.” Charles Dickens

Summer is the season when our senses may easily delight in the natural world and the fairer weather means the opportunities to engage directly with nature are greater.

The wind of blustery seaside cliff tops is kinder and more inviting when it is warmer and drier. Its gentler brush on bare arms may even be welcome on hot summer days. Pink sea thrift flowers break up the wild expanses of rocky coastal scenes dominated at other times by blues, greens and greys. Such rocky coastal locations can also be home to puffin colonies who at this time of year are kept busy feeding their single chick broods.

Puffins can be found on the mainland in the very North of Scotland and also at Bempton in Yorkshire. Most are found on small islands such as Skomer (Wales) and the Farne Islands (Northumberland).

Badger cubs are actively playful now and I am so very hopeful to see some this year. I plan a few night-time hikes for this purpose. This brings excitement and a hint of trepidation in equal measure as the familiarity of darkness and shadows was left behind in the long-ago winter months.

After re-reading Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows in late spring, I was longing to see a badger in the wild, something I had never seen before. A short while later, I was slightly lost making my way back to a campsite in Wales after a friend’s birthday party. Having gone off track, driving up a high-hedged narrow single track, steep mountain road in the Black Mountains, I was focused on fretting about meeting a vehicle coming the other way. Then, turning a corner, I found myself face to face with a badger. Only momentarily perturbed by the road blockage cause by my car, it set off making its way through the embankment hedge, its slightly brownish, warm black coloured body perfectly camouflaged, wearing an intelligent expression set on a moon river face. What a joy!

I am assured of the scents of summer on my night-time walks with honeysuckle, wild rose, elderflower and pyramid orchids all in June bloom and my jaunts may be accompanied by an orchestra of grasshopper making their reedy music as I go. Will you walk with me grasshopper?

Helen Grimbleby is a West Berks/North Hants based artist who is inspired by the natural world’s changing seasons. After exploring outside, she enjoys writing, illustrating and painting larger landscapes at her home studio (@helengrimblebyart).

The Nature Sketchbook: March

Round & About

Helen Grimbleby

Artist Helen Grimbleby shares her love of the natural world through her work in a monthly series of observations

March many weathers is here. Although, the first month of meteorological spring, March is such an unresolved month, sometimes clinging on to freezing conditions and snow, unsure whether or when to allow the slow warm fingers of spring to get a hold.

It is nevertheless a joyful month with spring flowers ignoring the meteorological hesitancy, harnessing the sunshine to bring us verges of yellow primroses, cowslips, celandines, dandelions and narcissi/daffodils.

Where there are flowers, there are usually butterflies. In March we begin to see them emerge and arrive. Red admiral butterflies typically migrated from North Africa and were seen from spring onwards. In 2023, there was a 400% increase in their UK population. Experts suggest this may be due to the species now overwintering here rather than migrating due to warmer temperatures resulting from climate change.

Many of our early spring flowers are yellow as early pollinators, mainly insects, are attracted to the colour which appears as ultra-violet blue to them.

And it is attraction which brings us to the final association with March, and idiomatic mad hares. I have seen hares in West Berkshire but not engaged in the boxing behaviour which inspired the phrase. This is a tale of unrequited ardour with male buck hares pursuing female doe hares in the hope of mating and then, it seems, taking it too far. The unimpressed doe will demonstrate her lack of interest in dramatic fashion by turning on the buck and thumping him, initiating the boxing when fur may fly!

Helen Grimbleby is a West Berks/North Hants based artist who is inspired by the natural world’s changing seasons. After exploring outside, she enjoys writing and illustrating her Nature Sketchbook and painting larger landscapes at her home studio (@burbleartstudios).