By Roger Barbee
As Mary Ann and I walked out of Dulles Airport, we each sucked in our breath when we encountered the raw, powerful, July humidity. She, a native of D.C., and I, having lived here since 1968, are aware of the heat, humidity, and haze of summer in our area. However, having spent 10 days in a climate with no humidity, our systems were shocked by the blast from the summer furnace.
Suffering, we quickly found an air-conditioned shuttle to the long-term parking lot with anticipation of getting into our car, cooling it to a comfortable level, and driving to our home at Red Hill. But first, we had to take care of the faulty front tire, which meant more time outside in the three H's. But before too long, we were on the road, in heavy traffic, cooler, and headed home to Red Hill.
The English refer to July as "our summer" because it is the most lovely of months in their climate. It is during this time that the weather can be the best. The northern, July days are long, usually full of sunlight, and not too warm. It is during these days that the English gardens come to fullest life with an array of blooms. Each home, be it a cottage in the Cotswalds or a palace such as Blenheim, has a full, magnificent garden. Each college in Oxford has its own gardens, and the town itself maintains University Parks, a 77-acre reserve along the River Cherwell for all people to enjoy. And, no visit to Oxford would be complete without a stroll through the War Memorial Garden, adjacent to Christ Meadows.
On our recent trip, we visited all of these gardens and some of our friends. Lili, our granddaughter, seemed to especially enjoy the rich, vibrant garden of Sally and Dudley at their home, The Ridges. Perhaps it was that the adults were busy chattering away, or it may have been the pretty gray cat, or just that their garden overlooks the Thames River, or that she was not restricted by regulations, but to me it was here Lili seemed most at ease. I like to think it was because the garden is an expression, like all gardens, of the owners, and Dudley gave her his grandest tour.
In the Cotswolds, we sat in the garden of my oldest friend with his family and shared a long, lazy Sunday afternoon and evening. Druin and Marian recently purchased their cottage, which is really 3 separate ones joined over past years. The original section was built in the 1660s and the youngest in the 1880s. Not only did they purchase the cottage, but also its garden, which is rich in apple trees along the back and as the land slopes toward the back doors, packed with row upon row of blooming flowers and roses. On one wall grows Virginia Creeper, and their 5-year-old son, Theo, has placed a plastic green snake in the closest apple tree. It is a fine garden that they will need to bring back around as the previous owner did not properly maintain what the elderly, original owner had created.
After the faulty tire was filled with air, and we got on the road, it was not these gardens that I was thinking of. It was our home, Red Hill, which sits between The Pike and Powell Mountain
As quickly as prudent, I fled up 66 and 81 to our exit. Cruising into Edinburg in the hot summer evening, I slowed on The Pike to survey our little town, and crossing Stoney Creek, I cruised up the hill past Bowman's Crossing. On turning onto our small road, I slowed in order to see as much as possible. At the entrance of our driveway I stopped to see our front yard, the vegetable garden with the huge squash plants, and on turning into the back, I crept onto the cement drive in order to see our garden in its fullness.
Stopping before we entered the car barn, we both commented on the still blooming hydrangeas, the full butterfly bush, the bright coneflowers, and the Lyda roses with their second blooms. Forgetting the luggage, Mary Ann went in to be greeted by five cats and three dogs who were quickly released to come outside. As they sniffed us, whining, we two sat on Bob Moore's bench in our garden in the late shade of day. Yes, it was hot; it was humid; it was hazy. But, it is home.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at email@example.com.