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…

Coronacoaster

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

 

In a Vase on Monday: gratitude

DSC_1040DSC_1035DSC_1042DSC_1034Although we are all having to adjust our lives on a daily (even hourly) basis and cope with increasing restrictions on our movements, I am thanking my lucky stars right now that we have a garden, where spring is definitely happening, and a view of the sea. Never have I felt so fortunate.

I had the day off today. David and I are working from home, but I had a day’s annual leave to take before the end of March and today seemed as good a day as any and it has been lovely having an extended weekend. I was hanging washing on the line this morning, listening to a robin in full, clear beautiful song in a nearby tree. For a moment, I forgot about the alternative reality we currently find ourselves in. These moments of joy will become more and more precious as the weeks turn into months of restrictions.

Anyway… On to the simple pleasure of flowers and IAVOM, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden’s weekly blog gathering. After a wander around the garden, I decided on a mostly blue theme because there are loads of grape hyacinths popping up everywhere. Joining these are some Cerinthe major (which has been growing throughout the winter – it loves it here), twigs of flowering rosemary, a snapdragon stem (Antirrhinum majus ‘Appleblossom’, which has also been in bloom in a sheltered spot almost constantly since it was planted last summer), a few forget-me-nots (for added blue) and some ivy tendrils.

And here’s a close-up of the beautiful bunch of tulips and roses my children gave me for Mother’s Day yesterday:

DSC_0001

Keep safe, my friends, and I hope you find your moments of joy, whether it’s birdsong, flowers, or whatever floats your boat, as often as possible.

 

In a Vase on Monday: spring is happening

Hello! It’s lovely to be joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden this week for her Monday vases. I hope this finds you well and not a) poorly, b) totally freaked out by the bad b-movie we seem to find ourselves living in, or c) bored senseless by any social isolation. While we humans are adjusting to this shift in our reality, I am very happy and relieved to report that the birds, bees and plants out there are getting on with spring. Blossom is blossoming, bulbs are blooming and bees are a-buzzing. Thank goodness for that.

I missed the gorgeous sunshine we’ve had today and ended up taking the photos above in the back bathroom to glean the last of the daylight which casts an appropriate mood for the time, I think. My vase (a lovely leaping hares jug) contains a few treasures gathered from the garden – greengage blossom, a couple of pale lemony daffodils and blue/purple vinca major. Feast your eyes on these beauties and clear your mind of any troubles for a moment.

Wherever you are, however you are, I hope you’re hanging in there and managing to concentrate on loveliness whenever you can. With love x

January treasure inside and out

Inside: two-week-old tulips, supermarket daffs and scented narcissi delivered by the postman from Cornwall (the second delivery of three, a gift from a friend cheering up my winter).

Outside: early snowdrops, violets in the lawn, hellebores, a few early primroses in the sunniest spots, lots of bulb spears poking out of the soil, forget-me-not  and nigella seedlings and all the signs of the spring to come.

The gorgeous blue skies and winter sun this weekend have been a welcome respite from the wind, rain and monotonous grey and it’s been a tonic to wander in the garden and see what’s going on. It’s easy to feel disconnected from outdoors at this time of year, so I savour any time outside in the sunshine, especially when it’s cold and frosty (proper winter!).

I haven’t blogged lately because I hadn’t (until today) taken any photographs – there is no time during the week and weekends have been busy with non-photogenic chores – and my brain is so full of work and empty of blogging inspiration. But I genuinely enjoy writing here and love reading others’ blogs and the connections made, and I suspect that if I leave it too long I will just stop, so please forgive the occasional post about nothing much in particular (like this one) other than humdrum life and a few flowers!

It feels that it’s been much longer than two weeks since the end of the Christmas holidays. Ollie and Harriet have had mock A-level and GCSEs (some ‘good’, some ‘meh’ and some ‘don’t even…’) and Tom has gone back to uni. David and I have been full-steam ahead with our day jobs and we’ve all barely had a spare moment. I think I’m now into the swing of full-time, going out of the house to work again (bearing in mind that the last time I did this was pre-children), although some days are a very tight fit and I am much more tired come Friday evening than I used to be. Plus I miss being the only human in the house – I think I did become quite solitary and happy to be so.

Planning and being organised are vital and some weeks run more smoothly than others. I have been late (thank goodness for flexitime) and we eat fish fingers more often than we used to 🙂  The job I do is challenging at times but always interesting and I learn new things every day. Four months in and I’m still enthusiastic and positive and hope that good things can happen via community work but I now know enough to see that it could be disheartening after a long time. As with all aspects of life, it’s important to have a balance and that’s what I need to make sure I maintain a healthy sense of perspective. Yoga, good food, good books, long walks, seeing friends, having a good laugh, enjoying time with my family have all kept me on an even keel these past few months. What about you? Any top tips?

Right, I can hear the dulcet tones of David wielding the hedge cutter in the garden which is my signal to find the rake and broom and go and lend a hand. Until next time, my friends.

PS Thank you for your recent comments. I’m sorry if I haven’t replied but I read and appreciate each one.