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Country diary: these wild grasses whisk me back to childhood

·2-min read

We’re a month beyond midsummer and have hit peak grass. The narrow lanes that wind through the countryside round here are narrowed further with the overspill of hedgerows on either side. The hedges have lost the shocked, raw look after the springtime flail and are bursting and frothy with life. Bracken tumbles on to the tarmac through sheer weight of numbers, in an unruly pitch invasion. The umbellifers lift their lacy white parasols to the blazing sky, and 12ft-high nettles lean in, hoping to skim some passing skin with their sting.

I’ve been nettled so often this year, I’m beginning to quite like it. There’s a stimulating bite to the sensation that makes you feel extra alive. The female flowers have ripened to seed, and each plant is festooned with strings of densely clustered green seeds. Up close they look like payals, the anklet-bells worn by Indian dancers, and it feels like, if your ears were sharp enough, you might hear their tiny jingle.

It’s not just the hedgerows that are zinging with life: the verges, roundabouts and lawns are, too. And once you get beyond the clumpy cock’s-foot grass, and the neat spikes of rye with its primly alternating chevrons, there are a bewildering number of grass species to choose from – all those fescues, and oat-grasses and bents. Rather like moths, listing the names produces a kind of poetry: smooth finger-grass, marsh foxtail, cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog, false oat-grass, quaking grass, colonial bent.

I often walk down a particular lane near my house just for the wood melick that grows along one bank. This little grass loves shady lanes and woodland edges, its tiny pale flower heads suspended on filaments so fine as to be almost invisible. They float like bubbles trapped in the amber of a dark-dappled lane at the drowsy, drunken height of the season.

Summer would not be summer without pinching a head of dry grass seed between the finger and thumb and sliding your hand up the stem till you are left with a floret of beige seeds that smell like biscuits and summer holidays and all the long-lost dizzy days of childhood. Perhaps, down among the wild grass amid all this effervescent inflorescence, we are finally coming to our senses.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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