December dithering

There’s a mild tightening in my chest which often occurs at this time of year. The first cards that arrive in the post always throw me off balance. It makes me wonder whether I’ve missed a memo or skipped a week. It’s exacerbated by all the posts I see on social media of beautiful Christmas trees up and decorated, presents bought and already wrapped. Fair play to everyone who is ahead of the game and organised for the festive season but I am not. It seems too early to be in full-Christmas mode. I don’t want to be sick of it before it’s here but neither do I want to slide into a proper panic because I’ve left it too late to order the turkey or an important gift. It’s a fine line.

We won’t get our tree until after my son comes home from uni at the end of next week. Gift-wise, I plan to do most of my shopping online with a trip into Canterbury on a weekday when it won’t be as chokka as it is at the weekends. Fitting this in will be a challenge, though, as there isn’t a day between now and Christmas Eve when I don’t have at least one thing happening. (There’s that feeling again…) It would help if I knew what everyone would like. In years gone by, detailed lists would have been drawn up by now, but at 14, 17 and 19, there’s less excitement among my brood, less anticipation. To be fair, there’s less build-up. There aren’t the endless Christmas events that happened when they were in primary school – there are no school events at all that I’m aware of. (That’s not to say that there aren’t any, just none that I’ve been told about.)

Although we do have our family traditions, the stockings that we (actually, mostly David) made when the children were small, each one with a different coloured ribbon, our much-loved decorations, our favourite films like ‘Polar Express’, ‘Arthur Christmas’ and ‘Muppet’s Christmas Carol’ (just typing that makes me smile), our Christmases are definitely evolving now that the children are all teenagers. There’s no more waking up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, for one thing! This year, I’m planning to get them all more involved, to give them all jobs to do and I’ll try to not micro-manage every detail. Once the gift and food shopping is done, I intend to be relaxed about it, to enjoy the things that matter and not fret about things that don’t. This year, more than ever, I am acutely conscious of all that we have, of what’s important and how precious our time together is. My mother-in-law will be with us but my parents are going to my brother’s, so it’ll just be the six of us. I’m sure the teenagers will have plans and we’ve been invited to a few parties but I am looking forward to the times when we’re all here, when the curtains are drawn against the dark outside, the fire and candles are lit and we are safe and cosy together.

I took my daughter and a couple of her friends to the pantomime in Canterbury on Wednesday evening. It’s Cinderella this year and the ugly sisters were outrageous and hilarious, as were the puns, the costumes were amazing and fake snow fell all over the audience which was quite magical. And today was a gift of a day. I was due to attend a meeting in London but it was cancelled (I heard after I’d speed-walked the dog in the pouring rain but luckily before I left the house for the station), so I slowed right down, had another mug of tea and contemplated the kitchen. I spied the bowl of dried fruit in brandy for the Christmas cake covered with a tea towel which has been sitting on the side for a couple of weeks. It was meant to be soaking overnight but life got in the way.

Before I made the cake, though, I discovered that treacle had leaked out into the bottom of one of our big drawers where we keep all our baking ingredients, so I cleaned it out and threw away a load of out-of-date half-used packets. In full tidying mode, I cleared out the other food drawer and reorganised everything into similar products. THEN I made the Christmas cake. I always follow Delia Smith’s rich fruit cake recipe because it’s straightforward and always works and it tastes delicious. She says in no uncertain terms that you must NOT open the oven door for at least four hours. Meanwhile, the delicious smell is wafting through the house and David is complaining that we won’t be able to eat it for 18 days.

I hope all is well with you. Have a lovely weekend. I’m off to guard the cake.


End of Month View: November

Can it really be December tomorrow?! It doesn’t seem that long that I was writing about our autumnal garden at the end of October and now we’re careering headlong into winter. Not that it feels like it out there today – the temperature is in double figures and there’s a definite warmth to the sunshine which is so welcome after yesterday’s atrocious wind and rain. The rain was incredibly heavy but it topped up the pond and quenched the soil. Last weekend, we planted a little Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ that has been hanging on in a too-small pot for about a year(..!) and the soil that came out of the hole was incredibly dry.

Planting this little shrub in the gloaming on Sunday afternoon felt like a mini-achievement as I’ve been glancing at it guiltily for months and months. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also managed to plant all the bulbs (yay) – 50 Narcissus ‘February Gold’ have been slotted into the lawn outside the window where my desk is (to cheer me up in late winter) and 50 Narcissus ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ have been tucked in among the perennials and grasses on one of the lower terraces. My birthday tulips (30 each of ‘Veronique Sanson’ and ‘Ronaldo’) have been combined in the two big pots at the front of the house for a glorious display of colour in May. There are still some anemone and ranunculus corms to plant (maybe tomorrow morning if I get a move on).

The raspberry canes (in front of the greenhouse) are almost bare now but there are a few pale raspberries hanging on. I usually leave the canes until February then cut them down to the base but have read recently that it’s ok to cut them back now.
There are still quite a few small apples hanging on for grim life in the higher branches of the apple tree. I think it indicates that this variety is a good keeper but these fruits will be for the birds to enjoy rather than us.
The grasses on the lower terrace are at their best right now – bleached and eye-catching, they weave the garden together and add real interest (to my eye). I love how the winter sun catches them.
The rickety arch over the path is being held up by a climbing rose on one side and a jasmine on the other.
The topped-up pond.
Loads of forget-me-not seedlings.
I must move this aeonium to a more sheltered spot.
Marigolds ‘Sunset Buff’ still going strong, bare twiggy sweet pea supports and grasses.
More forget-me-not seedlings and cyclamen leaves (and assorted weeds).
Gooseberry branches – soon all the leaves will drop to leave the spiny bare stems.
I pulled out a load of nasturtiums the other week and found this lovely Epimedium (can’t remember the species, must check the label!) which I planted in spring. It’s survived happily under its leafy blanket.
I love the colour of fading hardy geranium leaves.
More marigold ‘Sunset Buff’.
A big pot of tulips tucked up for the winter.


So, there’s our garden at the end of November. As the festive season looms and the days become shorter, getting out there to see what’s going on is harder but always rewarding, even in the depths of winter. I hope you’ll come. back next month to see how the garden is looking at the end of the year. Thanks for visiting and bye for now.

[I’m joining in, as usual, with Helen, The Patient Gardener. Thank you to her for hosting the End of Month Views.]



(Not) In a Vase on Monday: leaf fall

It’s a real pleasure to be joining in with Cathy and other bloggers today to celebrate five years of In a Vase on Monday. Do click on the link to see what she and others have come up with to rise to her challenge of (Not) In a Vase.

I’ve used a sculpted wooden bowl – a polished piece of rhododendron bought at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall about 15 years ago – and some of the beautiful burnished cherry leaves that are currently scattered all over our back lawn. They have such glowing colours that I couldn’t leave them out there to all turn to mush in the heavy rain we keep having.

I’d like to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Cathy for hosting IAVOM and for keeping it going so brilliantly over the years. It’s a lovely thing to join in with on a Monday when I have the time and has really rekindled my love of flower ‘arranging’ (that’s in inverted commas because I go by instinct rather than proper arranging techniques) and of photography. I’ve started growing flowers specifically for cutting which brings such pleasure and I’ve discovered that one of my most favourite things to do is to stick some flowers in a jug and take photographs of them. I’d especially like to thank her for all her encouragement and kind comments on my blog over the years.

Here’s to many more Mondays of flower, grass, leaf or whatever faffing!

Home comforts

My boy has been home to visit us. His university had ‘reading week’ last week so he came home to do his reading in his bed, in his room, with access to clean towels and home-cooked food. It was SO wonderful to see his gorgeous face; I didn’t even mind the enormous pile of washing. The combination of having to shop and cook for himself, plus walking quite a long way to get anywhere, means he’s lost weight but he took full advantage of home comforts and returned to uni replenished, restored and with clean clothes.

I’m sure I will get used to the coming and going eventually but it’s early days. I know my three children will grow up and leave home and one day it will be a rare occurrence to have them all under one roof but in the meantime, I intend to make the most of these days. Roll on the Christmas holidays.

A big work project has just ended. I’ve not worked so intensely for a while; the two past weekends were spent at my computer and I’ve felt a little at a loss this weekend. I’m reminded of the children’s book A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson (of The Gruffalo fame). An old woman complains her house is too small and a wise old man tells her to take in more and more animals until she can take no more. They all leave and, hey presto, her house feels palatial. I suddenly have time to do all the things I haven’t had time to do lately but I’m finding it hard to settle to anything much. I probably just need a rest. And anyway, the incredibly heavy rain and wind are not ideal bulb-planting conditions. I did buy the ingredients for the (sshhh) Christmas puddings and cake yesterday, so I could get those on the go. Or maybe I’ll curl up by the fire with my book.

David put up a mantle shelf over the wood burner in the lounge yesterday. It wasn’t as straightforward as you might imagine because the fireplace opening isn’t central on the wall. After much deliberation, we lined up the dark metal brackets with the metal surround of the fireplace and the shelf itself with the panelling on the wall. I think it works and it’s so great to have a shelf to faff with, especially with a certain holiday coming up…

Our village is marking the centenary of the World War I Armistice after dark this afternoon with a torchlight procession to the lighthouse which will shine its light in remembrance tonight. We’re walking as a family (minus one) to join other families and we’ll all be carrying 100 real flame torches together. I’ll put a stew in the oven for us to have for dinner when we get home. We have so much to be thankful for – not least that we can walk in safety with loved ones, that we have our freedom – it’s important to remember that it came at a price.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday, whatever you are doing today.


End of Month View: October

The garden has had to amuse itself recently as we haven’t had time to do much out there for a couple of months. David and I cleared leaves and pine cones and needles off the paths and lawns a couple of weeks ago and did a partial weed but there are leaves and weeds everywhere again, of course. Our neighbour’s large copper beech showers the back garden constantly at this time of year. Having not managed to post an end of month view of the garden since July, you will be able see a difference, though. Plants get on and do their thing regardless of intervention from pesky gardeners.

David cut the wild patch at the bottom of the garden a month or so ago and cleared that off (hence the builder’s bags dotted about the place). The trampoline is still there but it’s days are numbered; I know I’ve said that before but they really are! Our younger son spent a day carrying the massive wood pile of huge logs that was by the pond – you can see the dead patch of grass to the left of it – up to the side of the house (we did pay him!) and David built a wood store over the weekend to house it while it seasons. There is
far more wood than room in the store, though, so he may need to build another one.

The grasses have come into their own, adding structure and a lovely airy movement around the mini orchard. We did shove these in the ground in a hurry, though, and I can now clearly see where they need spacing out. I hope you can see why we planted them, though – I love the layered see-through effect you get when you’re at eye level with them. When we’ve sorted out the interplanting and spaced them out more, they’ll look even more effective.

There is still plenty to do in the garden before winter. I bought a load of daffodil bulbs to plant in the lower garden from the Crocus sale, which arrived on Monday – these need getting in the ground as soon as possible as it’s a bit late for daffs – and my parents gave me some beautiful tulip bulbs for my birthday in August, yet to be planted. I’m still deciding where to plant them for the best view of them next spring. There’s no rush with tulips, thankfully, as they’re best planted when it’s colder in November. Oh, yes. It’s November tomorrow..!

I’m joining Helen, The Patient Gardener, who kindly hosts garden bloggers’ End of Month Views. Do visit her blog to see the lovely autumn colour in her garden.

In a Vase on Monday: saving daylight

It’s flipping cold outside today with the wind blowing from the east – the waves on the sea are heading in the opposite direction to the way they usually go. As I sit here looking out over the Channel, the sea is pewter grey and a dull greenish brown where the sun pierces through the dark clouds. The boiling waves are topped by white horses and I can see a yacht in the distance valiantly riding the wind.

What a difference a week makes – last Monday I was wearing a light jacket over a t-shirt when I walked the dog ; this week I was wrapped up in several layers wearing my winter coat and sheepskin mittens! Brrr. Not only is it colder, the clocks went back at the weekend so it’s now dark by 5pm and soon it will be getting dark even earlier. Boooo. We had a large log delivery last weekend and spent a day splitting and stacking wood so we were prepared for the cold weather and have already had the two wood-burners going. I’m just not mentally prepared for winter, though. It’s crept up on me this year. I don’t like going out in the dark – I need all the daylight, preferably with sunshine.

Anyway, on to this week’s vase. It’s always a great pleasure to join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her weekly get-together of flower-arranging bloggers (or, in my case, flower-plonking). I have a feeling my jug of flowers might be rather similar to one I put together a few weeks ago, but never mind – it’s the taking part that counts.

I’ve gone for an autumn colour berry-and-seed combo: a few  guelder rose stems with red-tinted leaves and bright red berries, a couple of stems of snowberry, a tendril of jasmine with green and black berries, beautiful seedheads of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and a Miscanthus (can’t remember the exact species), some Euphorbia oblongata, a few hardy geranium leaves that are turning red at the edges and sunny orange marigolds and blue hardy geranium flowers to add a bit of contrast.

I hope you’re keeping well and warm and enjoying as much of the light as possible. Wishing you a good week.


Plans, hopes and dreams

Growing up in the UK at any time in the past 60 years, you will have seen Blue Peter at least once. I remember watching it every week and being inspired to make something from cardboard tubes, newspaper and sticky back plastic on a regular basis. The programme fired me up about their campaigns (did anyone else collect hundreds of shiny milk bottle tops?!) and I loved watching the challenges the presenters put themselves through. We can age each other by the presenters we watched – mine were John Noakes, Peter Purves and Lesley Judd; my kids loved Matt Baker, Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton. The pets, the Blue Peter garden, the lighting of the advent candle and so much more… There has been no other children’s tv programme that has touched lives the way Blue Peter has.

To celebrate 60 years of this British tv institution, the poet Tony Walsh has written a tribute. I watched it yesterday with tears pouring from my eyes. Have the tissues handy.