This year, summer solstice occurs on Saturday, June 20th. It’s the longest day of the year (with the most daylight hours) for people living in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been a spring like no other with COVID-19 still lingering. As much as I love spring, I have to say that this year, I am looking forward to turning its page. I’m ready now for the warmer, drier, and sunnier weather summer traditionally brings here on the Lower Mainland.
Of all the seasons, summer is the season I find most comfortable spending time outdoors. The sun’s warmth feels good upon my skin; and the natural Vitamin D it produces, boosts my mood, and increases my energy.
There are so many things I love about summer. I love the fresh berries, leafy green vegetables, and herbs I can grow in my garden. I am fortunate and grateful to have access to a space so close at hand that provides me with homegrown food and plants with medicinal value like my beloved Calendula officinalis (aka calendula or pot marigold). Calendula’s strong orange colour and slightly bitter taste, has traditionally been used as a substitute for saffron, hence the folk name “poor man’s saffron”. Both dried and fresh petals can be used to add flavour, colour, or, as with all edible flowers, to brighten a simple dish. The sunshiny flowers are also a traditional remedy for supporting the immune system and lifting the spirits.
During summer, I love wandering through community gardens and experiencing each garden’s unique character. There are multiple benefits to allocating city space for community gardens including increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and increased opportunities for social connection and physical activity through garden maintenance activities.
One of my favorite videos about the importance of community gardens goes back to 2013. It’s a TED talk that tells the story of Ron Finley, (aka the Gangsta Gardener), and his mission to create vegetable gardens in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along curbs, for the people of South Central LA.
Another of my favorite plants to grow during summer is lavender. Lavandula angustifolia (aka English lavender) has nervine properties and such a nice, gentle, and calming scent to it. It’s also the type of lavender that is known for producing the highest quality oil. The lavenders in my garden produce a range of flower colors including white, pink, blue, and the typical violet.
Once I see that the individual flower buds on the English lavenders are opening, I will begin harvesting flower heads. I make sure to leave half of the flower heads unpicked for the bees. I hang dry the harvested flower heads in bunches, in a place out of the sunlight, and with good air circulation. Once the flower heads have fully dried (about 4 weeks), I shake all the dried buds from the stems, and store them in a jar or container. I use them for culinary purposes throughout the rest of the year. The rule with lavender is a little goes a long way.
- Add one – two teaspoons of ground lavender to a batch of sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, or shortbread. Don’t forget to add either lemon or orange zest for extra zing.
- Remember that Herbs de Provence usually contain lavender; so combine lavender with other savory herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary to make roasting rubs to roast potatoes, chicken, lamb, or make cream cheese dips.
- Make a strong tea out of whole lavender. Then use some instead of water in lemonade.
The beach is also a good place to do some grounding /earthing. Removing shoes and walking barefoot on a sandy beach, is supposed to help remove positive electrons that build up over time from stress. Did you know that wet sand acts as a natural exfoliant? Walking on it peels off dead skin cells from your feet, leaving them feeling much softer.This past March, COVID-19 brought an abrupt halt to coaching the English Bay Swim Club, and my own weekly swimming workout at the West Vancouver Community Centre. With the arrival of summer though, I am looking forward to going for regular swims again in the ocean, and being able to experience the health benefits associated with ocean swimming. Taking in ocean views, also has positive impacts on health. Listening to the rhythmic ebb and flow of the tide is calming, and I find that deep breathing of ocean air seems to immediately activate my parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response).
Going for a walk outdoors is one of my favorite ways to get green exercise. This summer, I’m looking forward to many walks in the forest. In April, I officially became a Horticultural Therapist Registered (HTR) with the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association. Now that I have the HTR credential to go along with my previous training in horticulture, and being certified in Wilderness First Aid, I feel confident I have the training, experience, and credentials to lead others on walks through the forest competently, and safely. Currently, I offer two guided nature walks; one in Lighthouse Park, and the other in Stanley Park. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, I am guiding only small groups of up to four people maximum at a time for now. Contact me to schedule a private walk for yourself or group.
Finally, summer for me is a season to slow down and enjoy every precious moment of it; like you would watching the sun setting. With the death of my older sister Carol this past April, I was reminded just how short life is, and how important it is to experience all life has to offer in the present. To help me do that, I’ve started listening more mindfully to the birds around me. It’s amazing how many different sounds our resident songbirds can make. I’ve now learned to clearly identify the sounds of the American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Spotted Towhee, and Northern Flicker. It has added a new sensory dimension to my experience when I’m connecting with nature.
What is your relationship with summer like?
What feeling, thoughts, and activities does summer evoke for you?
However you decide to spend your summer, I hope you make connecting with nature a daily activity too. Spending time daily connecting with nature is an important way we can all look after ourselves.
Be well, and be safe.
“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?