It’s been a while…

Hello! I hope you’ve had a really lovely Easter weekend (it took me by surprise this year). Gosh, where to start… It’s been so long since I posted here. Who was it who said the best place to start is at the beginning? Ok. Well, I started writing my blog about 6 years ago to record progress in our garden and to write about the ups and downs of family life. The garden is where I find solace and joy, and I love photographing flowers; I was also a busy mum of three children when I started writing here and the garden and family life mostly filled my days.

My eldest child is now 21 and in his final year of university (a very unsatisfactory experience for him, sadly), the middle one is 19 and in his first year at university (all under strict pandemic conditions) and the youngest is now 17 and about to start applying for university! During term time, there is only one child at home – it is very quiet – and I am now also working full time in a very busy job (which I wasn’t when I started blogging). As well as having much less free time, I’ve not picked up my camera for months and I completely lost my writing mojo: no pictures and no words.

As well as the pandemic and the lockdowns (the impact of which we have all no doubt felt), I have been trying to navigate large and immensely challenging life issues – one of my beloved children struggling with ill-health and my dear mum going seriously downhill due to her long-term degenerative disease. As if all this wasn’t enough, we recently adopted a four-month-old cockapoo. What on earth were we thinking?! It’s been a distraction, that’s for sure, but I admit the extra responsibility has got close to tipping me over the edge a couple of times. She’s very sweet and loving (see photo at the end of this post) but this headstrong puppy is quite tiring.

Today is the first time for a while that I have taken a few photos with my SLR (because, hey, spring flowers!) and tentatively ventured back into WordPress land, only to find it’s all changed. Weird editing tools and stuff. Goodness knows what this will look like when I press ‘Publish’. It might be all over the shop. Anyway, I hope you have been keeping well and that you have found solace and strength where needed to keep plodding on in what has been an extremely tough year indeed. I don’t know when I will write here again but I do post more frequently on Instagram if you’d like to keep in touch there.

Wishing you all the very best for the weeks and months ahead – take good care of yourselves x

Cassie is still not sure but Pip (the pup) is quite persistent in her affections.

In a Vase on Monday: an excuse to say hello

Hello! How are you keeping? I’ve been working long, full days and have been struck dumb by the current state of everything which has not been conducive to writing regular blog posts at all, so it’s been a while since I’ve had the time or the words to pop in here. But, it’s a Monday and I picked a few flowers and snapped some photos with my phone, plus I have a few hours off, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to pop my head around the door, so to speak.

It’s been incredibly grey, chilly and wet here for days but this weekend was mostly sunny (such a tonic) and we made the most of the weather by sanding, priming/undercoating and painting our wooden balcony railings. Not a particularly pleasurable job but it needed doing and the extra coats should see it through another year or two. I did find time to have a wander around the (sadly very neglected of late) garden and was chuffed to find a few dahlias still blooming. These poor dahlias are in pots and do not receive the care and attention they need at all. I deadhead them when I remember but the watering and feeding are sporadic so the fact that they are still kind enough to reward us with a few flowers is surprising! I’m always envious of people who can grow enormous, free-flowering dahlias – Instagram is full of them. Our chalky soil isn’t the best for them and I think we’d need much bigger pots for them to grow bigger, which would require more work. One day…

Joining the dahlia flowers in the jug are a few blue/purple geraniums from a plant that is still flowering away, some white Japanese anemones (an autumn stalwart here) and some chard. Yes, our chard has bolted and I thought the lovely deep red leaves and stems would work in a vase. It’s a bit of a dog’s dinner, to be honest, but, hey, it’s a jug of flowers and an excuse to join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her Monday vase gathering 🙂 Do click on the link to see her vase today and others from around the world who will have made a much better job of it than I have.

In other news… Elder son, in his third year at uni, has had a Covid test after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive. He is relieved that it was negative and is making the most of his limited freedom and now being cautious/sensible. Younger son, in his first year at uni, has had a Covid test because many of his fellow students in his halls of residence have it. He is waiting to hear and trying to keep cheerful with his fellow newbie student flat-mates. He has been doing proper cooking and sending us photos of his meals, which warms my heart. Our daughter is slowly getting used to being the only child at home but is unimpressed by my efforts to alter our eating habits to include a lot more vegetables. Spinach with everything. She reckons her brothers wouldn’t stand for it.

Right, I’m off to dig up the last of the potatoes, pick the few remaining tomatoes and clear the bolted lettuce and chard. I plan to sow some winter veg next weekend so my daughter will have more greens to moan about 🙂 Wishing you a very good week and hope to be back again soon.

In a Vase on Monday: a day late

Hello, hello. I hope you are keeping well. These beautiful Japanese anemones – which although are thugs in our garden, I forgive because they are so elegant and poised – were picked on Sunday, photographed yesterday (Monday) and uploaded today. I picked the pears, too, so they made a cameo appearance. I had full intentions of joining Cathy’s vase gathering yesterday but I hope she won’t mind me being a day late 🙂 Her vase this week is a riot of colourful zinnias in contrast to my very simple offering, so do click on the link to her blog for a blast of colour and to find links to many other beautiful vases from around the world.

My head is a jumble of everything that’s been going on here lately and all the thoughts that pass through a middle-aged mother of offspring who are on the cusp of flying the nest. After six months of having everyone at home (because of you-know-what), the boys will soon be going off to university – Thomas for his third year and Ollie for his first – and because of you-know-what, it is unlikely we will see them again before Christmas. They’re excited and anxious – it’s not going to be the usual uni experience – and I’m anxious and very emotional because I am going to miss them both very much indeed. Harriet is not looking forward to being the only child at home, nor is she particularly looking forward to starting sixth form (but she is happy at the thought of studying three subjects instead of 11). We are all dealing with yoyo-ing emotions on a grand scale.

I’m in the middle of two weeks of holiday (at home) and the heatwave that was bathing the UK in glorious sunshine earlier in August disappeared at the beginning of it. It’s mostly been chilly and wet and windy but I have managed some energetic and therapeutic clearing in the garden (my scratched arms are the scars of a perpetual war with brambles) and cut back the lavender. I’ve picked a load of raspberries and made jam and a raspberry and yoghurt cake (from Diana Henry’s Simple; I used orange zest and juice instead of lemon which was delish) and I’ve roasted loads of plums and greengages which are now tucked into the freezer to use in winter. I’ve stripped all the leaves off my tomato plants in an effort to get them to ripen – they seem very slow this year – and I’ve pulled and roasted the last of the beetroot. I’ve also been perusing the Sarah Raven catalogue and made a list of tulips – I’m going for ‘La Belle Epoque’, ‘Slawa’, more ‘Ballerinas’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ (because you can never have too many of these scented beauties), ‘Copper Image’ and ‘Spring Green’, which are meant to be highly perennial. I still dream of being able to cut armfuls in spring to bring indoors.

It’s back to work on Monday (still working mostly from home) but in the meantime I will be trying to make the most of my remaining holiday, seeing friends, catching up on household chores, as much gardening as I can fit in, shopping with my boys for uni stuff and trying to prepare all my children for their new academic years in this strange and confusing Covid world.
Wish me luck.

In a Vase on Monday: August blues

Lacking in inspiration and oomph (a common state, these days), I wandered around the garden, scissors in hand, to find a few flowers to pop in a vase to join Cathy’s Monday vase gathering. We have several types of lavender in the garden and there are two bushes with paler flowers on long stems down by the mini-orchard (I think they are a Lavandula x intermedia).  The flowers reach out over the path as if they’re trying to hold hands with the white agapanthus on the other side. There are so many flowers that a bunch won’t be missed. Likewise the mint, which I ill-advisedly planted next to one of the pear trees – this plant seems to be on a mission for world domination and needs to be taken in hand. Snip. Next, I cut a few Japanese anemones. They don’t last long as a cut flower but I do love the way the flowers and buds are held aloft long fuzzy stems (although they do droop) – soft and peachy.

Finally, because my bunch was looking too blue and white, some red Salvia (can’t remember its name). The scent is strongly sage-like (funny that) and mixes well with the mint and lavender. The combined fragrance momentarily whisked me off to the south of France and hot blue-sky days, perfect croissants and sunflowers. Like many others, we are not going on holiday this year but David and I do have some time booked off work at the end of the month. There is a long list of jobs to do in the house and garden but if the weather is good, I think we will mostly be here  🙂

I hope you are well and managing to remain chipper. We are all very up and down but doing our best to keep things on an even keel. The non-exam results are looming so there is lurking tension and no doubt more drama ahead. Oh good. Take care and see you again soon x

In a Vase on Monday: a flower in a jug

Firstly, thank you so much for the lovely and thoughtful comments on my last post. This is exactly what the internet is brilliant for – connecting people across the world and facilitating a conversation. How our worlds have grown in the past 20 years; our minds expanded, our eyes opened.Tempting as it is to batten down the hatches and stick firmly within one’s comfort zone, it is reassuring and heartening to know that you’re all there and we’re all persevering in our own ways.

It was a day off work for me today. The combination of a stiff breeze and sunshine meant a good drying day, so I ploughed through the laundry – always satisfying to wash and dry several loads in one day – made a cake for my parents who came over for coffee, sat in the garden and read my book, ate lunch outside (on my own – bliss) and pottered, feeding the plants and weeding the veg patch. Dinner is currently being prepared by middle child. Not a bad day at all.

I don’t usually cut the hollyhocks – they’re too wonderful growing where they put themselves – but this one was lying flat across the path, so I snipped it off and popped it in a jug so I could join Cathy and her weekly gathering of Monday vases. It’s a simple offering but I don’t think she’ll mind 🙂 Do click on the link to see her vase and links to many other lovely floral creations.

Hope you are keeping well and have a good week. Until next time x

PS That book is very good, by the way. I bought it because I identified with the title and because it’s about suffragettes. My daughter and I have been having lots of conversations about womanhood but that’s a whole other blog post…


Hello! How are you bearing up? It’s day two hundred gazillion in the weird, unsettling, up-and-down pandemic world and here at acoastalplot we’re coping with the current state of the nation in our own ways with varying degrees of success. I haven’t written a post for over a month because I have had neither words nor energy – I’m not sure I have words now, to be honest, but I felt like dropping in, sharing a few photos and and having a little brain ramble, so please bear with me.

Work has been incredibly busy. I don’t think I have ever worked as intensely or been so challenged. I’m not a front-line worker – I haven’t had to go out to work like nurses, cleaners, teachers, refuse collectors, lorry drivers, cashiers, or any of the other wonderful people who have kept the country going. I am working from home on the phone and at my computer as part of the community hub, helping people who live in this area to access food, medication and all the other forms of support that vulnerable people need, particularly if they are shielding and live alone. People are frightened, lonely, poorly, confused, frustrated, cross, grateful. Some calls take 10 minutes; some take over an hour. I’ve had conversations that have made me laugh with lovely people who are grateful that others care and conversations that have left me tearful and shaking with a fury that we should be doing better. As a country, we should be doing better. I won’t go into a full-on political rant here, but the pandemic has shone a light onto the chronic deprivation and the failure of successive governments to fund social care and other support networks. It has also highlighted the incredible volunteers who do far more than could be reasonably asked of them, who keep many of the caring organisations going. If it wasn’t for these amazing people, we would be even further up shit creek without a paddle and in a leaking boat.

And on top of all this, there was the murder of George Floyd. The graphic and horrifying images of his death were heartbreaking and difficult to watch. Shame on us humans. Shame on a nation where the police – who are meant to uphold law and order and keep people safe – can behave in this way. There has been much social media outrage and people giving their opinions and judging other people for their opinions. Who am I to add my opinions to the fray?! I am a privileged white woman who has not personally experienced racism. But I do know that it is wrong, wrong, wrong and I will do anything I can to counter it. We should rage against it all.

Yes, we should rage but there has to be respite from raging. Otherwise we’d all  suffer from a collective breakdown. My three darling children – young adults – veer between rage, despondency, boredom, hysteria, positive motivation, despair and stupefaction. We are doing our best to help them navigate a way through this but we’re feeling our way too. Some days, when the sun is shining and the fridge is full and funny things happen are good days; some days when you hear about a friend who’s ill, or you make the mistake of watching too much news and the house is a tip, are bad days; some days are just flat, meh days. It’s not easy. I quite often want to get in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere, far away, or stay in bed and pull the duvet over my head, but I can’t. We have to keep on keeping on. Do the laundry, clean the toilets, wash the dishes, cook the food… And while doing all this, we might as well try to do it to the best of our ability and enjoy it.

We have drawn up a weekly rota for cooking the evening meal – David and I each cook twice a week and each kid does an evening – and we’re experimenting and widening our repertoire. Stand-out meals have been a fragrant daal spicy with roasted butternut squash and flatbreads, a spaghetti carbonara made without cream and roasted salmon with turmeric rice; all absolutely delicious. David has been baking bread and croissants and Harriet has been baking brownies, biscuits and cakes… My waistline has expanded. We also drew up a cleaning rota but the less said about that, the better.

And the weather… Thank goodness for the sunniest May on record. It has been flipping fantastic to lie on the grass in the sunshine and gaze at the blue sky, or sit on the steps and watch bees busily going from flower to flower. We’ve been gardening, of course, sowing and growing veg and watching our little orchard maturing. It’s been wonderful to escape outside to pull a few weeds, see the progress in the veg bed, tend the roses, pick the wild strawberries and just sit quietly taking it all in, soaking up that nature. Flowers are helping to soothe my fragile mind.

Since we’ve been allowed to gather with others outdoors, my parents have visited us a few times to sit at the front overlooking the sea and it’s been lovely to chat in person. We haven’t hugged each other, though, or been able to hold hands and that’s been weird. It seems very strange that holding someones hand could make them or you ill and be potentially life-threatening. But there it is. These are strange times, my friends.

Apologies for the rambling post. I hope you are keeping well and I hope you are having more up days than down days. Take good care of yourself.


In a Vase on Monday: goodbye Alf

It’s been a strange and sad week. After work on Monday, I went for a walk around the garden in the evening sun and noticed Alfie, one of our two cats and very much the outdoors cat (the cat pictured in my previous post), sitting in a flower border rather too close to an emerging allium for my liking. I picked him up and carried him around for a while before setting him down next to the pond to sit in the sunshine. He’d been ageing recently and he seemed rather stiff and withdrawn but I didn’t think much more of it. Tuesday dawned with pouring rain and no Alfie to be seen but later in the morning Harriet heard a miaow from under the sideboard in the kitchen and found him lying very flat against the skirting board. This is the usual spot for hiding when there are fireworks or thunder, so we all kept an eye on him, tried to coax him out with some pilchards, talked to him and stroked him gently. By the afternoon we were seriously worried and called the vet. With the lockdown situation and the fact that our cats hate visiting the vet with a passion, we agreed to see how he was and maybe take him in the following day, but by 5pm we decided that he had to be seen. I managed to slide him out from under the sideboard and lift him carefully into a box. David drove while I sat with Alfie, trying to comfort him. I think I knew in my heart of hearts that it was bad but the vet confirmed our worst fears. He was in heart failure and there was nothing they could do for him. I’ll spare you the details but there were a lot of tears and not all of them were mine. We had to leave him at the vet but I drove back on Wednesday to collect the body and we buried him in the garden in a spot where he used to sunbathe and where the primroses grow in spring.

As a friend said, it is such a pure sadness when a pet dies. Alfie was part of our family for 11 years (he and his sister were rescue cats, so we reckon he was about 14), he was a dear character and he seemed to love living here. Whenever I was in the garden, he would appear from the bushes or run up the front steps miaowing in a conversational way and it feels so strange to be out there with no Alfie around. I think my sadness has been amplified by these devastating times we are living in and I think my copious tears over the past week have been a release of sadness for everything.

Apologies for tainting Cathy’s lovely Monday gathering of beautiful flowers with my sadness but these are my May flowers in memory of a much-loved cat. Aquilegia vulgaris (common columbine), snapdragons, Cerinthe major, red valerian, Calendula Indian Prince and a few tendrils of honeysuckle. All these plants love this garden too.

Staring out to sea

Since Wednesday, I have been taking some time off work, which I really needed; the intensity was starting to get to me. I switched off my work phone and have only turned it on again a couple of times to check my emails. I needn’t have done that, really – my lovely colleagues are handling everything – but it is hard to switch off entirely.

The weather has been absolutely lovely for this time of year, perfect spring weather, which has really helped (imagine if we’d been in this situation in November!). I’ve done laundry and hung it outside to dry, I baked a cake, I’ve started reading The Mirror and the Light (the Hilary Mantel doorstop of a book), I have hung out with my children (all of whom are struggling to some extent with this less than ideal situation) and phoned the mums. I’ve cleared the kitchen worktops several times a day,  I’ve walked the dog and I have sat outside and stared at the sea. A lot. What I haven’t done is any gardening or picked up the vacuum cleaner and so I have been feeling guilty that I’m  squandering precious time and frustrated at my lack of motivation. I did what I usually do when I’m overwhelmed and idly scrolled through social media, and I came across these words in a post from my sister-in-law’s lovely mum:

~ Elena Mikhalkova
My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You see?
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Praise yourself.
Take another step.
Then another.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

Thinking about the future – even the next-week future, let alone next month or next year – is impossible at the moment. There is so much we can’t control and no clue as to when it will be safe to go about our daily business as we used to do. My darling kids are completely flummoxed by this, especially as all their academic lives have been brought to an abrupt halt. No amount of reminding ourselves how lucky we are compared to many others really helps. They know that. It doesn’t make them feel better.

All the roads ahead are dense with fog. And I’ve decided to use that metaphor as an approach to daily life for the time being – take small steps very carefully, slow right down, concentrate on the detail and trust that we’ll get there eventually.

I hope you’re keeping safe and well and finding your own ways of coping. I’d love to hear what they are x


In a Vase on Monday: for Gill

I spent the glorious-weather days of this Saturday and Sunday reacquainting myself with the garden – hello tulips, oh, I’d forgotten I’d planted you, hello geums, you’re about to flower, ooh you lovely pear blossom… Anyone else talk to their plants? Goodness me, I had forgotten just how much I LOVE my garden, being out there, deep in the foliage, weeding, cutting back, pottering and how GOOD it feels (particularly now, in these extraordinary and sad times). It’s been a long, long wet winter but two days outside in the warm spring sunshine up to my shoulders in plants has done me the power of good.

Today has been cloudy and cold, with a strong wind and not conducive to spending hours in the borders, but I did have a wander and collected a few treasures so that I could join Cathy for a Monday vase. Four different varieties of tulip (‘Queen of Night’, ‘Sarah Raven’, ‘Ballerina’ and a violet-purple one whose name I can’t recall), some bluebells from the bottom of the garden, Cerinthe major (overwintered), Erigeron karvinskianus, which is coming into flower on the steps and walls, and some Heuchera leaves.

I also took a few photos while I was in the garden to give you a flavour of what’s going on out there. Look at that orange tulip with the forget-me-nots – I’m fairly sure it’s a ‘Hermitage Double’; there aren’t enough to pick for a vase so I have made a note to plant more for next year. Always more tulips 🙂

My vase today and these photos are especially for my dear friend Gill whose mum very sadly died on Friday (she is very much in my thoughts), and for my mum and my mother-in law who can’t come to and see the spring flowers this year…

We have three pear trees – an old established one in the back garden and two young ones in the mini orchard in the front garden. All three are covered in blossom so I think/hope it’s going to be a bumper pear year this year.

I hope you are finding ways to cope at the moment. Many eminent gardeners have written expansively on the therapeutic effects of plants and the very act of immersing oneself in the act of gardening – it is calming, healing and restorative,  and it helps us look forwards to the days to come and all the beauty and good times ahead. If you’re reading my blog, the chances are that you know this already 🙂

With love  xx

In a Vase on Monday: sustenance

Being able to pick a few orange and blue flowers from the garden to arrange together makes me inordinately happy – there’s something about this particular colour combination that speaks to me. I know that sounds daft, but I just love it, always have. While I was taking these photos, my daughter was watching me (giving me one of those looks that only a 16-year-old can give her mother) and ignoring my enthusiastic suggestion to “Look! Look at these flowers – see how gorgeous these little forget-me-nots are and the colour against the orange marigolds and the tulip – just look!” Oh well. I suppose appreciating these little wonders isn’t for everyone.

Flowers in the small green jug: marigolds, wallflowers and forget-me-nots.
Flowers in the apple jar: cherry blossom (the big blowsy tree in our back garden is just coming into bloom), more forget-me-nots, grape hyacinths, more wallflowers and one sweet-smelling ‘Brown Sugar’ tulip. I’m not there yet with my dream of being able to pick armfuls of tulips but there are more coming into flower, so I hope to have a few more for vases soon.

It is a great pleasure to be joining Cathy’s weekly Monday vase gathering today – I have a day off because I worked on Saturday and I’m trying to make the most of it. My three offspring actually all got up this morning (the middle one hasn’t seen many mornings since school shut) and joined me for a dog walk to the lighthouse through the wooded valley and home again, which was a real tonic. My other plans include some pottering in the garden – there is a lot to do out there but I’m taking it slowly – and cleaning the bathrooms (which is not fun but entirely necessary).

We’ll have pork noodles with loads of veg for dinner, then probably feet up in front of the tv. David and I are working our way through Detectorists on BBC iPlayer – have you seen it? I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t. Beautiful English countryside, gentle humour, wonderful characters. Just the sort of thing to help you forget the current state of things.

I do hope you are well and also managing to find small things to keep your spirits up. More soon x