This is Somerset, not Spain

When I was a child, my family holidayed in the west of Scotland 14 years in succession. Not for us the heat of the Mediterranean, beyond our consideration as a holiday destination. We enjoyed white sandy beaches all to ourselves, endured midges and freezing cold seas, went mackerel fishing and played a lot of Scrabble in the caravan on rainy days.

It was a great place to observe wildlife. We collected sea shells, gathered cockles and mussels, watched the herring gulls riding the wind, and occasionally basking sharks rounding the point of Ardnamurchan. On sunny days, the cormorants, known as shags in Scotland, dried themselves on the rocks, holding their wings out and raising their bills to the sun, enjoying the rare northern warmth.

This year we enjoyed a good deal of warmth in early June, and the August Bank Holiday was the hottest on record. Having had indifferent weather in between, we had a barbecue for family and friends. My mother raised her chin to the sun, leaned back in her chair and declared ‘Oooh, I feel like a shag on a rock’ to the consternation of guests choking on their burgers.

Since the advent of cheap flights and package holidays in the 1960’s, we have had a love affair with the Mediterranean way of life. We must have sunshine, red wine, olives, and sundried tomatoes for our summers to be successful. No garden is complete without a patio, table and chairs, parasol, and barbecue. The sales of exotic hardy plants such as palms and phormiums continue to rise.

At this point I warn you not to take the Mediterranean dream too far in the garden. In Spain and Greece we may relax with a glass under the shade of a vine clad pergola, for only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Back home, I have counted on the fingers of one hand the days that it was genuinely too hot to sit in the sun, and that only between 1 and 4pm.

Build garden structures such as pergolas, arbours, arches, tunnels and gazebos by all means. Invented in hotter climates to make summers bearable, in our climate they create instant height and great opportunities to grow roses and clematis.

Divide the cost of the construction by the number of hours you actually had to sit underneath them to avoid the heat and you may find it has cost several hundred pounds per sit. I think I would rather spend the money on better boundaries and soil improvement, and on the odd occasion the sun shines, I sit in the sun, lean back, lift my chin and say, ‘ Oooh……’